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Laura Marsden gets a coil fitted and ponders the benefits

Published on April 4th 2011.


The intrauterine device (IUD), aka ‘the coil’ is a form of contraception that fits inside the womb.

‘The nurse inserted it through my cervix, into my womb and twisted the mechanism at the end of the ‘straw’ thus opening the arms of the ‘T’. She said I might feel a ‘funny sensation’ in the pit of my stomach - she wasn’t wrong.’

For centuries, people have shoved all manner of things into wombs to prevent pregnancy; stones, weird pessaries and rings wrapped in silver. Researching early forms of IUDs makes for uncomfortable reading. They were large and often caused grizzly infections and sometimes death, which is one way of avoiding pregnancy, but not ideal.

The IUD (almost) as we know it today was developed in the 1920s by the German physician, Dr. Gräfenberg, the same Dr. G who ‘found’ and named the G-spot.

In the 1970s, ‘second generation’ coils became available, made of plastic and copper. Nowadays there are two types of coil. One contains hormones, the other doesn’t. The latter is more popular and can last for up to 12 years. It works by creating a ‘hostile’ environment in the womb, thinning the lining and making it almost impossible for a fertilised egg to set up shop. Also, handily, copper kills sperm.

The second type of coil contains levonorgestrel or progesterone and is patented as Mirena. This works in two ways. Like the copper coil, it thins the lining of the womb but it also makes the mucus around the cervix thick and sticky, so sperm can’t get in. In some women, the hormones even prevent eggs from being released. This type of coil can last for up to five years.

Both forms of IUD are about an inch long and shaped like a ‘T’. They also have threads that hang from the cervix. These should be checked each month and also aid removal, when the time comes.

A lot of GPs are reluctant to fit IUDs due to the risk of infection. Some practitioners believe women who have not had children are more susceptible to infection and are more likely to reject the coil.

In Manchester and Salford, it seems you need to attend a family planning clinic, and where you go for these largely depends on what day it is. I had a non-hormone IUD fitted three years ago and although I lived in the city centre I had to go to a clinic in Higher Broughton. Not having had children, I was a little concerned about potential problems but the nurse said these were more prevalent 30 years ago.

It’s recommended you get a coil fitted when you’re on your period. Firstly, you’ll have an examination and your wombwill be measured. When I asked about the size of my womb, the nurse told me it was about the size of a hazelnut. I still can’t believe this.

The measuring stage felt uncomfortable but not any more than your average smear test. The nurse showed me the IUD, which looked smaller than an inch, and attached it to the end of what looked like a long drinking straw. At this stage, the arms of the ‘T’ were down so it looked more like an ‘I’.

Then the nurse inserted it through my cervix, into my womb and twisted the mechanism at the end of the ‘straw’ thus opening the arms of the ‘T’. She said I might feel a ‘funny sensation’ in the pit of my stomach and she wasn’t wrong.

It was very bizarre as I became aware of part of my body I had never hitherto felt; not exactly painful, just weird and nauseating. She checked the threads were hanging from my cervix in the correct way and showed me how to check them each month.

My body then went into shock. I felt faint and had to lie still with a piece of green hospital paper over my hips. They brought me a cup of tea and after a few minutes, I was allowed to go home.

My sister drove me back into town and then the pain started. Now, I’ve always had pretty heavy and painful periods. Not endometriosis territory but hot water bottles under work clothes and prescribed painkillers a go-go. These were off-the-hook cramps though, that didn’t subside for a week. The following month when I got my period, my boyfriend took me to A&E because I was in such a state.

I thought it was either an ectopic pregnancy or a terrible infection (both of which are apparently more common in women with the coil). After a long wait in reception I was told that this type of pain was normal amongst women who haven’t had children but have a coil fitted.

It took about five months to get used to it but I know that in terms of contraception, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. Friends of mine have had varied experiences. One girl who has had a baby said it ‘really disagreed’ with her despite giving it the full six months.

“It was awful - random spotting, ridiculously heavy flows that lasted a week. I never forgot it was there but I know it's amazing for others. Having it fitted was an invasive procedure but I underestimated how traumatic it would be. Having it removed was the best bit; quick, painless and the end. It’s the catholic calendar and condoms for me now.”

Everyone I know who has a coil bemoans the heavy, painful periods that sometimes last for half the month. It seems there is no advantage. However, I’d say not having to worry about contraception for 12 years or cope with the effects of mind-bending synthetic hormones, makes the pain and the price of sanitary products worthwhile.

Next week: The Pill – Patriarchal conspiracy or sexual liberation?

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