What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I was on “the pill” from 1995 to 2005.
Getting off of it when I got divorced pretty much ensured that I would never go back. Seeing how my acne exploded and my body went nuts, I resolved not to ever again use the pill (which contains estrogen and progestin) because it caused such dramatic changes and also increased my risk for stroke.
In the years since, condoms have worked just fine for pregnancy prevention.
But when I entered into a serious relationship earlier this year, as soon as we became exclusive and monogamous, we increasingly relied on the fact that I’ve never had a pregnancy scare in 40 years and used that old faithful technique relied upon (ever so irresponsibly) by so many high stakes gambling sex partners: The Pullout Method.
That didn't last long.
One day, I freaked out at a late period and proceeded to spiral. Not just worry—but like, make things worse and start unnecessary bargaining with God kind of worry. Like, do stupid magical realism ploys to somehow figure out what will happen and try to control fate kind of worry.
In that spirit, I pulled up a dumb fortune-telling app on my phone (because, hey, that’s a solid idea), and electronically shuffled the cards until I decided that right before I tapped whichever random card I selected to flip over and reveal itself, this would be the one true answer to any question I might have about the situation at hand.
I immediately ordered a same-day EPT test from Amazon Prime. I know a doomsday sign when I see one.
To pass the time, I logged onto G-chat and struck up a conversation with a friend who kept me chill while I prayed for that big beautiful minus sign on a stick. We schemed and planned.
ME: i think i’ll take the test and then get an IUD
but i've said i was gonna get an IUD so many times and then doctors always scare me away from it
but i dont wanna do the pill again
FRIEND: I love my Mirena
The insertion is maybe the worst moment of your life, but worth it.
ME: hopefully this is just God prompting me to get my shit together to get an IUD through the old Scare a Bitch By Making Her Pull a Pregnancy Fairy Card
FRIEND: happy peeing!
ME: totally not pregs
and I just found out
my other friend also has an iud
so i'm def getting one now
When I arrived at Planned Parenthood for my appointment a few days later, I excitedly gripped the research I had done on various Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptive methods, which usually have a single low-dose hormone. (And, the copper IUD, which doesn’t have any hormones.)
“Mirena, please!” I told the Planned Parenthood receptionist when I arrived. (For anyone who is interested in Mirena by the way, it’s a flexible IUD that releases low levels of hormone into the uterus with 99% efficacy in preventing pregnancy.)
When I made my appointment I had already been instructed to take 800 mg of ibuprofen an hour before my arrival so I was about as doped up as it’s possible to get on ibuprofen (meaning: not too doped).
“Just change right over here, and then get up on the table,” instructed the very kind middle-aged nurse who smelled like baby powder and cigarettes and greeted me in the small fluorescent-lit white exam room I entered around the corner from reception. Everything about her warmth made me feel right at home.
As I changed, I told her how refreshing it was to even have the IUD as an option at all because my previous doctors had told me that it was really only for women who had already given birth. But that party line has changed over the last several years.
Apparently, back in the 1970s a really piss-poor intra-uterine device was manufactured called the Dalkon Shield which caused 17 deaths total and many cases of pelvic inflammatory disease, which ultimately culminated in a class-action lawsuit against the company. (I’d actually recommend reading this fascinating and tragic piece by Barbara Ehrenreich who wrote about the treacherous Dalkon Shields which were later unloaded onto Third World countries, causing more deaths and heartache.)
“Now lift your feet up into the stirrups,” my nurse told me as I sat on the exam table in my flimsy white little paper gown.
“No problem,” I said, steeling myself for the sharp but hopefully not too drawn out pain I knew was about to occur from reading online and talking to friends.
“I’ll be using this speculum, and you’ll feel some cramping,” she warned me.
“No problem,” I dumbly repeated.
The insertion consisted of said larger than normal speculum along with a metal instrument called a “sound,” which essentially worked as a probe to measure the length and direction of the cervical canal and uterus.
“Owowowow,” I said, flinching first at the speculum’s clamp and then emitting an even louder, more pained yelp as I felt the device reach farther.
“OWWWWWWWWWWWWW. Ow ow ow.”
It’s hard to describe the pain of the sensation except to say that my insides felt pinched in a vice grip.
Something didn’t seem to be right. Everything I had read online made the procedure out to be relatively quick. I couldn’t see what was happening, but there seemed to be trouble afoot. Five minutes passed. Then ten.
“It really hurts,” I whimpered.
“Okay, we’ll try it again. This happens with some women.”
“Is it supposed to hurt like that?”
“It’s your cervix is all.”
I tried to find a bright side, like that this must mean I had the world’s most compact pussy or something.
“So...like I'm really tight? That’s what you’re saying?”
“No. Your uterus is tilted.”
“Okay,” I nodded and gave her a look as if we’d settled it. “I’ll tell people the problem was my pussy was too tight.”
She smiled politely.
“Let me try it again.”
This time, she spent even longer trying to get the damn thing up into me before finally looking me straight in the eye and saying ominously as the “Jaws” theme played somewhere in the distance:
“I think we’re gonna need a bigger speculum.”
Just kidding, she said she was going to call in another nurse.
“I’m too tight,” I helpfully updated Nurse 2 when she arrived. “My pussy, that is.”
Like Nurse 1, she was middle-aged and friendly. I was comforted thinking how they must have seen all kinds of cervixes in their day. And what we had here was two-nurse cervix.
Nurse 2 confabbed with Nurse 1, then poked, prodded and finally after another 10 minutes of futile pain inflicted on my poor lady parts, it was officially decided: My uterus was indeed tipped/ backward/ retroverted/ tilted/ whatever you want to call it, let’s call a spade a spade.
“If my cervix and this IUD were on Tinder, it would NOT be a match,” I summarized.
They looked at me like I was losing it.
“It’s okay, we have another option, don’t worry,” Nurse 2 said.
I think she said that because she could see I was finally looking down.
There was blood on my gown, on the floor, on me, which kind of freaked me out, but I was psyched to learn about this other option that didn’t involve prolonged speculum torture.
Steered into another room of Planned Parenthood, I then met Nurse 3. She was a small blonde woman who was excited to pull out laminated charts and point to posters showing me the glory of “the implant,” an option I had never even heard of before today.
The implant, it turns out, is a 4-cm device inserted into the arm that contains 68 mg of etonogesterel that is released slowly throughout the device’s three-year lifespan. (It’s the same hormone used in the Nuvaring.) Essentially, the etonogesterel causes the cervical mucus to get thick while the lining of the uterus becomes thin, which causes the fertilized egg to have difficulty implanting.
“You’ll bruise a little when we insert it, but after a while you won’t even notice it,” Nurse 3 told me.
“How much is a little?”
“Some people get quite black and blue but it goes away.”
She then measured eight cm from my elbow and made a mark between the bicep and the tricep. She made another mark about 4 cm further up to indicate where the implant is supposed to stop. Numbed with lidocaine, my arm was visibly slit open by the top of the needle, but I couldn’t feel it because of said anesthesia. With the skin lifted up, the applicator slid the implant into my arm, and then once the needle came out, only the magical baby-preventing device remained.
It was all rather surreal. I felt like I was in an episode of Black Mirror.
I looked at the slice she made in my arm and the rod bumping out through my skin and was both pleased and slightly creeped out.
“So, I’m like, part cyborg now?” I asked her.
She gave me a polite tight-lipped grin and assured me, “You’ll totally forget about it after a month,” as she pressed a firm white bandage that soaked with blood instantly.
“That's really cool," I said. "It's like, I’ll have vaginal-arm superpowers.”
She smiled wryly. “Well, you very likely won’t get pregnant if that’s what you mean.”
“One hundred percent?” I asked.
“Ninety-nine point ninety-five percent, yes.”
I was satisfied with that.
Pretty soon after the procedure, I saw the friend who had counseled me through my IUD discussion weeks earlier on Gchat, so I jumped on to let her know the exciting news about my new identity as part woman, part vaginal-arm rod person.
ME: so i had to get the arm implant
instead of da iud
and i'm a cyborg now
FRIEND: WHOA REALLY?
Did the arm thing hurt?
ME: the IUD attempt(s) did!
i was like OWOWOWOWOWOWOW
nah the implant was fine
i was numbed up
but i had a huge bruise for a few weeks
and now i'm a cyborg
so i like that part
In the weeks after, strangers would catch a glimpse of the bruise on my upper arm and express concern that I might have some strange flesh-eating disease that I might not fully understand the gravity of.
“Oh that,” I’d say. “No, don't worry. That’s just my cyborg implant.”
“But you’ll go to the doctor if it doesn’t get better?”
I applied makeup to the bruise to avoid the questions. And then, like so often happens with my body, voila, my lizard-like regeneration abilities kicked in to rev up my favorite stretchiest organ on my bod: the skin. One day, I looked, and not only was there no more bruising, but I could hardly even see where the implant began or ended.
It’s like, I had BECOME the implant.
Then I touched my arm.
Definitely still there.
I have my handy little card reminding me of when my next Planned Parenthood checkup is years from now. Overall, I would say my periods have been more erratic and heavier at times, but this is normal, and it’s been so wonderful to just not have to worry about accidental offspring creation. I’ve been told that after time, in many cases, the erratic periods lessen and for some women, they stop altogether.
Such a rad Mr. Roboto menstruation side effect.
But I won’t forget it’s there, even though the bruising and marks are long gone now. Because every time I get a massage from my now-husband and the pressure reaches that small special left arm area, I remind him to please be gentle. There’s a rod in there, dude.
Only I don’t have to say all that.
I just whisper, “Cyborg.” And it’s totally understood.