Around this time last year Monica and I released a Let’s Discuss podcast episode about periods, hormonal health and contraception (listen here if you missed it). During the episode I mentioned that I was about to get the IUS Mirena coil fitted, and I promised to share an update once I’d been through the experience.
I’ve now had the IUS in place for almost a full year (it lasts for 5 years). So I thought it was about time I followed through with my promise.
Read on for a detailed account of my experience with the Mirena coil… My reasons for choosing the IUS, what the procedure was like, and how I’ve got on with it over the past 12 months.
Why I Chose the IUS Mirena Coil:
I’d taken the contraceptive pill on and off for years, but in late 2017 I started to get really bad headaches at the end of each 21-day cycle. And instead of trying yet another variation of the pill, I consulted my GP about switching to a different form of birth control.
I’ve had heavy periods ever since I was a teenager. And, as well as crippling stomach cramps, I’d also experience nausea, dizziness, headaches and flu-like symptoms with each period. The pill always minimised these symptoms, so my priority was to find another form of contraception that would make my periods lighter.
The Mirena coil is a small, T-shaped plastic device that’s inserted into your womb. It works by releasing the hormone progestogen to stop you from getting pregnant. It’s more than 99% effective, and once fitted it lasts for 3 to 5 years.
Having the IUS Fitted:
Both the IUS and IUD coils need to be fitted by a trained doctor or nurse. I had mine fitted at my local sexual health clinic.
One week before the fitting I had to have a short appointment with a nurse, to check it was the right form of contraception for me. During this appointment the nurse explained the procedure, and I also had to take both an STI and pregnancy test.
I wasn’t at all worried about having the IUS fitted. I assumed it would be no more painful than a smear test/cervical screening exam. And the fact I was so relaxed about it probably worked in my favour.
One week later I had the IUS Mirena coil fitted by a female sexual health doctor (a female nurse was also there assisting). She started the appointment by explaining the procedure, showing me what the IUS device looks like (it’s tiny), and answering any questions. I was offered the option of having a local anaesthetic, but I decided to try without it first. (The idea of having an injection in my cervix sounded more traumatic than the procedure itself).
The fitting took about 5 minutes in total. If that. You hop onto a bed with your feet in stirrups, and your vagina is held open (everyone is different, but I didn’t find this painful or uncomfortable). The doctor/nurse then checks your cervix and womb, before inserting a device that opens the cervix (this was uncomfortable, but not unbearable). Once the cervix is open they then insert the IUS through the cervix, into your womb. The IUS insertion was the painful part. It was like being hit with really severe period cramps, and the shock of it made me feel slightly nauseous.
What happened afterwards:
Once the IUS was fitted, the doctor very quickly trimmed the two thin threads that hang from the IUS and sit just outside your womb (these are to check the IUS is still in place). And then I was able to get dressed.
I had really bad cramps almost instantly, and was told to wear a pad because I’d experience some bleeding. I also felt quite sick, shaky and cold – which I think was my body going into shock from the sudden wave of cramps.
My mum drove me home (she knew it would be more uncomfortable than a smear test, despite my protestations that I’d be fine). And I spent the next few hours on the sofa with a hot water bottle and regular doses of painkillers. Within an hour my body started to relax. And by the next morning the cramping had stopped. I experienced light bleeding for a day or two, but that was it. (I was lucky on the bleeding front, because it’s common to have bleeding for longer).
My experience with the IUS Mirena Coil, one year in:
I’m now just days away from the one year mark (not that it’s an anniversary you celebrate), and I’m really happy I chose the IUS.
Like I said, I was lucky not to have too much cramping or bleeding when the Mirena coil was fitted. However, the first period I experienced with the IUS was quite uncomfortable. I had really bad cramping, and the pain even travelled down into my legs (which had never happened to me before).
But once that first period was out of the way my body seemed to calm down. For the next 3-4 months my periods were significantly lighter (I’d bleed for a day, if that). And then they stopped altogether.
I still get the “period blues” once every 4-6 weeks, and sometimes experience light cramping or headaches during this time too. So my body still appears to be operating in some kind of cycle. But I no longer get a proper period, where I bleed.
If you’ve been thinking about switching to a different method of contraception, and have been considering the coil, the NHS website has really helpful guides to the IUS coil and the IUD copper coil. Obviously we’re all different – and what’s right for me may not be the best choice for you – so consult your doctor before making any decisions.
Photos by Chloe Ely