The IUD Chronicles, Part 4: Recovering from Copper IUD Insertion
How much did I bleed? How long did the pain last? Did tooting make the IUD fly out of my body? And more.
TW: Blood mention, vaginal/cervical anatomy mention, pain mention
I had a copper, non-hormonal IUD inserted on Tuesday, January 9th, at about 4 pm. As detailed in my last piece, I took 400 milligrams of ibuprofen (two standard-sized pills) about an hour and a half prior to the procedure; the doctor gave me an additional 400 mg right after. She suggested I continue to take that combined dose, 800 whopping milligrams, twice per day for the ensuing few days. That seemed like a fucking lot.
I immediately checked in with my sister, an athletic trainer, who confirmed that taking 800 mg of Ibuprofen over-the-counter is, in fact, a fucking lot. This left me Concerned — how much pain was I gonna be in? The procedure itself was terribly, bizarrely painful, but so brief that my mind didn’t shatter from the uncanny, inner-body-achey-ness of it; would I be doubled-over in lower abdominal pain for days, unable to work or move?
It was too late to go back. It was time to find out.
— — — —
I left the clinic on foot and walked towards the Dollar Tree by my house. I needed maxi pads and pain patches. I had already stuck a large capsaicin pain pad to my stomach, immediately following the procedure, while I was still in the office, but I knew I’d be needing more. So I started hoofin’ it.
I was bleeding steadily into the thin maxi pad I’d been given by Planned Parenthood; the trickle of blood felt unusually thin, unlike menstruation. It wasn’t menstruation, of course; it was real bleeding, from an injury, caused by the painful, pinching clamp the doctor had used to hold my cervix open. My lower stomach was aching from the inside and I felt slow and fragile. Still, I made my way down the sidewalk. It was exactly one mile to my home, and I wanted to see if I could handle it.
The pain came and went in intensity, though it never went away completely. I experienced odd surges in hot, stinging pain deep inside my cervix if I walked too quickly or stood with poor posture (this would become a recurring theme — bending over in any way caused shooting cramps). Sometimes the pain surged for no discernible reason, making me feel very slightly disoriented. It reminded me, vaguely, of when I used to have severe anemia and had to sit down and ride out waves of unpredictable dizziness and fatigue. However, I was able to keep moving.
I walked at about half my usual speed, toddling side-to-side and frowning like a little forlorn penguin. The world felt distant and watery around me — the way it does when you’re sick or traumatized. I could feel that something was Inside Me, something stiff and unwelcome. Everything about what I’d experienced — the freakishness of the procedure, the pain, the presence of a metal foreign object inside me — seemed like something no human was meant to experience. It felt odd and wrong. I wasn’t disturbed, but I did feel deeply out-of-sorts.
At the Dollar Tree, I bought a big pack of the super-thick, diaper-like pads with wings, and a two-pack of heated capsaicin pads. I considered stopping at the grocery store for food, then a thrum of pain hurtled through my lower abdomen-cervix area. I decided to get a shitty ramen cup from the Dollar Tree and call it a night.
— — — —
By the time I got home, the heated pain pad was starting to kick in. If you are getting an IUD, or recovering from any kind of intra-vaginal procedure, GET SOME OF THESE, TRUST ME. I stuck it right over my uterus-zone, below my belly button. If you go through the insertion procedure, your doctor will probably tell you precisely where your uterus is (mine did). That area — not your vagina or labia or anything that far down — will be where you experience pain. Pain can occur in the front, back, and sides of your body. I felt pain both in my stomach and back.
Pain pads filled with capsaicin are a godsend for this kind of suffering. They relax the muscles around your uterus and numb the pain. You want the kind with capsaicin in them specifically, because they generate heat — you don’t want the Icy Hot ones, or any ones that just have menthol in them.
The heat in these pads is created by, essentially, a hot pepper applied directly to the skin via the pad’s adhesive — accordingly, it takes them a while to feel warm on your body. For me, it was about forty-five minutes after sticking the pad on before I felt anything. I was worried I had a dud. However, once it started heating up, it got REALLY HOT — for me, the heat eventually came to hurt in a good way, like sitting next to a radiator on a really chilly day. The pads also last for hours and hours and hours, so they’re truly worth the investment. I only needed one that night.
— — — —
I got home about an hour after the procedure. I made ramen on the stove, then sat on the couch to slurp it and watch Mad Men. That was when I learned an essential fact of IUD recovery: bending at the waist or placing tension on your abdomen will make your body clench and cramp with internal pain. It seemed like I could feel the stiff, hard metal IUD poking me from the inside, agitating my organs. I had to stretch out, belly pushed forward, shoulders back, torso completely unbent, to find any kind of relief.
Sitting became laying very quickly. The more I stretched out or leaned backward, the less pressure I felt on my yelping, sensitive uterus. My insides felt knotted up and tight. During the insertion, I’d been afraid to sneeze or move, lest the device tear me up from the inside. Now, I had similar fears; if I didn’t keep my uterus and stomach absolutely relaxed, and my torso as long as possible, it seemed like I might convulse or go into labor contractions.
Everything below my belly button felt alien and raw. Nothing inside me could just exist calmly as it always had before. It’s like when you become aware of your breathing, and then can’t relax and let it happen on its own again. I’d been internally relaxed my whole life, apparently. Now I couldn’t go back.
— — — —
The next few hours were devoted to keeping calm and keeping my body stretched out. My doctor, Marybeth, had warned me that my cervix would be dilated for the next day or so; my belly also felt a bit swollen, and seemed to jiggle and feel more jelly-like than I was used to. I felt a little bit puffy, like my body had swelled up around my midsection, to protect the damaged cargo. I breathed very slowly. I rubbed the pain pad on my stomach.
I got up after two and a half Mad Mens to pee out the ramen water I’d ingested, and to change my maxi pad. I was very afraid to pee. It seemed like even Kegeling would make my IUD shoot out. Gas gurgled in my intestines, but I didn’t dare let a single toot escape. The whole system was connected, all the muscles and organs jostling and sloshing against one another in a big, uncomfortable knot. All it would take was a change in pressure, a little bit more stress, and my uterus would close up like a clenched fist and my new copper friend would shoot down, and cut its way out of me.
I peed slowly. It was fine.
— — — —
I bled a lot that evening. The blood was thin and yellowy-red, like the blood from a paper cut, not the dark, globular purple-red blood of a menstrual period. It felt odd, to have thin, injury-related blood trickling out of my body like that. It didn’t clot. It just drained. It seemed to come out constantly. The volume wasn’t huge, but it was relentless. I worried, a little, that my cervical wound wasn’t sealing up. How the fuck does shit like that heal itself? It sure doesn’t scab!
I took an iron pill. I would be needing it. But I was worried it would gum up my intestinal works. I didn’t want to shit ever again. It all seemed so precarious up in there.
— — — —
The pain was not unbearable, at all. With the ibuprofen and the pain pad on my stomach, I was clear-headed and relatively comfortable. I laid on my belly and wrote a whole essay (the “Expectations” piece in this series), edited it, added images. If sitting hadn’t been so painful, I would have felt pretty damn functional. But as soon as I did anything that made my body curl in at the waist, I was tormented with heavy, pulses that hurt and made me stretch out again.
— — — —
Four hours after insertion, I took a shower. I kept the capsaicin pad on my body when I hopped in.
DON’T. DO. THAT. Hot water and an adhesive pain medication made out of chili powder do not mix. My pain pad began to positively sear my flesh. I didn’t want to take it off, because it was helping so much, but I didn’t want to get out of the shower, so I stood with my back to the spigot the entire time. Occasionally water would run over my shoulder, down my chest, and across the pain pad, and it would begin to cook my belly skin all over again.
It hurt. I was worried it might leave a mark. But…the pain felt kinda good. It certainly beat the tense cramping that erupted inside me.
— — — —
I took a single ibuprofen before bed. Just 200 scant milligrams. My doctor told me to try not to take any more that night, beyond the 800 she’d already given me. But I was afraid I’d be woken up in the middle of the night by convulsions of uterus pain. Taking one weak lil’ pill made me feel protected, in a kind of superstitious way. I didn’t know what to expect. I had to fortify myself.
I turned on my electric blanket, cuddled up with my Porg doll and my boyfriend, and drifted off to misty dreamland.
— — — —
And it…was completely fine!! Totally, utterly fine. My uterus still hurt, but it did not convulse or worsen. The pain pad stayed warm all night long. I was able to sleep on my belly and my back, variously, throughout the night. In the morning, I was feeling zero pain at all.
I was skeptical of my own body. No pain? No violent cramping? I was still bleeding. I changed my pad again. I took a single ibuprofen again. There was still an immense stiffness and knotted feeling in my body; I was still terrified to poop or toot or burp or pee with any force. I could still feel the hard foreign thing deep inside me, digging into my delicate, fleshy organs. But. Nothing hurt.
I walked to the cafe that I typically work at. I sat at a table, drank coffee (but did not shit), wrote a paper for a client, graded student homework, and felt no pain. After a few hours of sitting, my stomach felt too tight, and I developed mild cramping. So I got up and took a (slow, ginger) walk. I ate, I drank water, I peed, I changed my pad. I was still bleeding very steadily, I was still a bit uncomfortable, but nothing was aching.
That evening, I rode a bus downtown, ate some nachos at a bar, sat in a chair with no posture support, then got into a Lyft. Halfway home, cramping reasserted itself. I puffed my stomach out and curled my spine, shoulders back, belly forward. I breathed very slowly. When I got home, I took a hot shower. By then, I had taken off my pain patch, and I hadn’t replaced it. The pain disappeared after I was comfortably settled into a lying position.
— — — —
Two days after getting my IUD, I pooped. It was fine. I mean I was scared, don’t get me wrong. I felt like there was too much “stuff” in my body — between the dilated cervix, and the metal object, and the poop, and the blood, my body felt packed full. I imagined that if I strained too hard or clenched the wrong way, the IUD would move and jab the sides of my reproductive organs, and I’d be shot through with pain. But nothing happened. I just pooped. I was okay.
(I read a few forums and Reddit threads about post-IUD-insertion-poop-fears, before I tried it myself, of course).
— — — —
Two days after my IUD insertion I felt about 85% recovered. At first I thought I was completely healed up, but then I realized it comes and goes over the course of a day.
At the end of every day, I get crampy, stiff feelings in my lower stomach — I can still sense exactly where the metal object is. I can’t bend over or curl up into the fetal position, or there is pain. Most of the day, I feel fine. I have an appetite. I can walk and lift things. If I sit for a long period, especially with poor posture, the pain clenches and pulses inside me.
When I stand up, a steady, heavy, but watery trickle of blood comes out. The blood is bright, ketchup red, not the clotted purple of a menstrual period. The flow is very substantial. I have to change my pad every few hours. After a few days I started to feel woozy and weak on my feet, and had to up my iron intake.
My vagina and labia and everything below the cervix feel completely normal. For many days, I did not try to insert anything into my vagina, nor check for my IUD strings — that would definitely have made me tense up, and the tension would have made me cramp.
I am currently still taking my birth control, as directed by my doctor. I’m on the third week of my birth control pack — Hell Week, as I called it in my previous posts. After this week, I’m on the placebo pills. My period will start.
Until Saturday, I was afraid to insert a tampon. I didn’t want to make my reproductive system twitch and convulse in pain. I didn’t want the tampon to get poked by the IUD (which I know is impossible), or for the tampon string to get tangled up in the IUD’s strings (also impossible), or for the removal of the tampon to drag the IUD out with it.
Eventually, though, the blood flow got so relentless and the number of pad leaks I had experienced got so I high that I went for it. Inserting the tampon felt normal at first, but then I felt uneasy and tense. Pain radiated from my uterus, albeit mildly. I was acutely aware of my IUD and its placement inside me, and the placement of the tampon, the whole night. I was on edge, with mild aches, but it was tolerable. When I took the tampon out, I felt freedom to breathe, and relief. Then I started trickling with blood immediately.
Several days out, I still don’t want to have sex. I am sure I would feel an uneasy, gut-punched feeling in my uterus if I tried it. I didn’t even want to masturbate until the end of the week. I could sense that the small contractions caused by an orgasm would make me double over in pain, at least at first. This abated by the weekend.
I am looking forward to feeling what it’s like to not be on hormones. I’m curious to see how it will affect my moods, my skin, my body. I’m excited that I won’t have to get a birth control prescription or pick up pills or pay for medication. I’m totally pumped that I might not need to consider contraception for another 12 years. The short-term pain and risks are looming, and a bit bracing, but I can’t wait to ride this thing out until…let’s see….
2030. If all goes well, I won’t need another IUD until 2030.
— — — —
This is part of a continuing series on my transition from hormonal birth control a copper IUD. You can read the series from the beginning here. In the next entry, I describe my first few weeks post-IUD-insertion.