I recently celebrated a new anniversary in my adult life: five years with the same IUD! As happens with many relationships that last a long time, I thought about making a change; or rather, I had to: After five years you are supposed to replace your Mirena. So I made the appointment to trade up for a new model.
It’s funny to think I can recount a narrative of my life through gynecologist appointments, but that’s the reality of being a sexually active woman. There are pregnancy scares, STI tests, pap smears, irregular pap smears, the colposcopy that follows an irregular pap smear — so many ways for our bodies to betray us or worry us. Yes, men have their own gender-specific reasons for seeing a doctor, but once you factor in pregnancy — whether you want it, don’t want it or are trying to prevent it — women have more reasons to visit the doctor for matters concerning sexual health. This isn’t an honor I’m particularly excited to own as a woman.
I left work and headed downtown to the first OB/GYN office I’ve ever gone to that made me feel like an adult. With its bright colors, bottles of trendy lotion and nurses with visible tattoos, it felt leaps and bounds above the clinic I used to visit when I worked without health insurance. I sat in a tiny examination room with art on the walls that resembled a child’s project — one piece was a sculpture of painted toilet paper rolls, mounted on the wall. I kept myself busy by reading Roxane Gay’s “Bad Feminist” while I waited for the nurse to enter the room.
The nurse entered, rounded belly first. I considered for a moment the irony of a pregnant woman implanting me with a thimble-size device intended to keep me just the opposite.
During the procedure, the pain I felt was acute, a tiny stabbing in a sensitive part of my body I don’t pay much attention to in my daily life. It felt like the nurse had plucked the IUD out of me as easily as a peach from a tree. The initial pinprick of pain blossomed into the familiar feeling of cramps. Three more intense but contained sensations, and I had a brand new shiny birth control method in place.
It amazes me how technology has made the routine of maintaining our sexual health so mundane. In 10 minutes time I could have the IUD removed and replaced, all during my lunch break. I returned to work and went about my day — sending e-mails, talking to my co-workers — without giving off any sign that I had just placed a thing inside me that would mean I don’t have to worry about pregnancy for five more years.
Five years. That’s a long time. I was another person when I had it inserted, a recent graduate in Seattle working a stable but boring 9-to-5 job and in a long-term monogamous relationship. The IUD outlasted the relationship.
My life experiences are tied to my body, for better or for worse. I can see the girl I was five years ago, sitting in the lobby of a Planned Parenthood with her boyfriend, the boy she was convinced she was going to someday marry and make babies with, all the way up to today: the career woman who trades IUD stories with her boss while they mail invitations to the annual fundraising gala. Another five years from now, maybe I’ll be as pregnant as that nurse or replacing my IUD for a new one. I’m thankful that I have the privilege to make that decision for my body, and that I have the health insurance to cover it. Many women don’t have those basic needs met.
After the nurse was finished, she warned me about the cramping and asked if I had a current sexual partner. Nope. The last one had moved across the country. She left me alone to wait out the pain and get dressed. I lay back on the padded table and picked up my book. As easily as getting my teeth cleaned, I had chosen to control the course of my body. I am in control of its story: Whether it’s a coming-of-age, a comedy or hopefully an erotica, it’s mine to tell.