Mental Health versus Reproductive Health: My Mirena Story

A Brief History of Birth Control.*

Contraception. A word that is so closely equated – for many at least – to women’s freedom. After its creation and official on-the-market date in 1960, it has continuously been hailed as a literal lifesaver for women all over the world. The Pill, as it became to be known, has changed the way we as a society look at women’s reproductive health, right to their bodies, and without a doubt altered how individuals throughout the world are able to plan their lives.

Roughly 62% of women worldwide use some form of birth control today. With 98% of women in the United States using some form of birth control during their lifetime.**

The first intrauterine device (IUD) was developed in 1965. Due to many health risks and side effects, this product – called the Saf-T-Coil ironically – was pulled from the market. The next, called the Cu-7, was developed in 1974 and used copper to kill sperm entering the uterus. After 12 years on the market, this option was also pulled off the market for severe health risks resulting in physical harm.

It wasn’t until 2000 that the Mirena IUD was approved by the FDA for contraceptive use for women of childbearing age. With its new t-shaped design and improved method of hormonal release, the Mirena quickly became popular among women who had already delivered children, and has since also been deemed safe for use for women who have never had children. It has been approved for extended use where one IUD will last up to 5 years before needing to be replaced.

Risks associated with the Mirena IUD include: ***

  • Perforation/Dislodging and traveling outside the uterus
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Hormone disturbances
  • Irregular bleeding or stopping of menstrual cycle

While these risks have affected thousands of women across the world, and have been subject to various lawsuits, Bayer, the developers of the Mirena IUD, has still not responded to accusations and the product is still on the market for use.

 

I wasn’t Ready to have Children.

That’s the primary reason why I decided to get the Mirena in May of 2016. Well… it was more or less pushed on me… But I just wanted to ensure that I wouldn’t get pregnant while I went to grad school. I knew it lasted up to 5 years, and figured by the time I was 27 (I was 22 at the time of insertion) that I would be stable enough to consider having a child. 

Let’s all laugh together now.

The truth is that it was pushed on me because I had already survived 4 years with the DepoProvera (the hormonal contraception shot) and since the two were the same hormone my doctors felt that I would do well on the IUD.

It should be stated here that my doctor never discussed any of the side effects with me except for the loss of period because I had already become accustomed to that due to the Depo. I was also never informed of the side effects related to mental health including a possibility of increased of anxiety and a risk for worsening depression.

I’ve had both since I was 13.

But I went through it. And let me tell you now, that pain was probably the worst I had ever experienced in my life. I would – hands down – rather get another side tattoo than ever go through that again. I actually passed out. Almost vomited. My gynecologist had to stop mid procedure in order to get me an ice pack and a fan. After it was over, I went home and cried for 4 hours in between periods of restless sleep because no position I laid in was even remotely comfortable.

Dude I was fucking scared to even piss.

My uterus felt like it had been stabbed with a butcher knife. And I think the fact that I didn’t really bleed after made it worse, because I didn’t have anything physical to explain the amount of unbearable pain that I was experiencing.

 

I Survived 2 Years and 10 Months.

Shortly after I had the IUD inserted I began to notice changes. Like they had told me, I didn’t have a period. But I did have this constant, and irritating pain on my left side beginning after 3 months. The pain was sharp, like someone was stabbing me, but when I called my OBGYN to express concern they told me that it wasn’t anything serious and that there was no way it could have been caused by the IUD. 

I believed them.

I also began to notice a change in my sexual performance. Primarily that sex began to hurt. The only position I could be in without any form of pain was missionary, and even that was painful about 30% of the time.

Again, I was told that there was no way that could have been caused by the Mirena.

Then in July of 2017 the issues began to get exponentially worse. After a routine exam the nurse practitioner at the clinic on campus realized that she couldn’t find my strings. I was ordered to rush back to my OBGYN office in my home town (90 minutes away) and have an emergency ultrasound done. During the ultrasound they discovered that both of my ovaries had cysts.

In fact, I had 14 of them in total.

I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and was told that my chances of having children naturally – without the use of medical assistance – were significantly decreased. If you ever want to quickly watch a woman’s heart break and see her cry, tell her that her chances of being a mom – when that is the only thing she has ever truly dreamed of being – was possibly never going to happen.

Once again, I was assured that it couldn’t have been caused by the IUD.

In June of 2018 my problems began to get even more apparent. Because out of nowhere, and completely inconveniently, I began to have periods again. Except they weren’t regular periods. I would bleed, then a week later I’d spot. A week later more spotting. More bleeding. I began to start buying pregnancy tests as a worry that the spotting could be implantation bleeding, but it wasn’t.

 When I informed my doctors of this they were excited. Not concerned. And told me that this was a great thing since I had been diagnosed with PCOS. They certainly did not share the same worry that I did.

Also at this time I became plagued with never ending bacterial infections. For three months I swear to fucking God I took so many goddamn antibiotics you would have thought I had the worst immune system in the world.

And again I was told it couldn’t be the Mirena. 

Fast forward to January of 2019. I began experiencing mental breakdowns. The spotting and pain on my left side had become a daily routine. My anxiety and depression were beginning to be absolutely horrendous. I had begun throwing up everything I ate, being adverse to smells and tastes – including cigarettes which I have been smoking since I was 15 – and my core temperature began to rise. When tests results came back that I wasn’t pregnant we were at a loss.

Then Dallas had a thought. 

 

Surgical Removal and Life Post-Op.

Literally everything I had been experiencing started shortly after my IUD had been placed. And while I don’t blame the IUD for causing me to have anxiety and depression, it had long been a running joke that they had both gotten persistently worse since I was 22. I had always believed that it couldn’t have been the Mirena because the doctors had continuously told me that everything I was experiencing was in no way related. But looking back, I realize now how blind I was.

Dallas and I made the decision to have my IUD removed. 

Except there was a problem. My strings had once again disappeared. After going in for another ultrasound I was informed that the IUD had actually dislodged and was sitting sideways in my uterus. I think it goes without saying that that fucking hurt and I literally fucking hated everything in my life.

So on March 20, 2019, at 7:00 am, I went in for surgery to have the IUD removed. Everything went great and I was back home drinking milkshakes by 12:30 pm.

That night, and into the next two days, I felt like a weight had been removed from me. My body physically felt lighter. My brain less cloudy. The pain on my left side had literally disappeared. And still remains to be gone almost 3 weeks later.

Then came the “Mirena Crash”. 

This is the part no one tells you about. At least I was never informed of it. After the IUD is removed, your body becomes a war zone as it attempts to regulate itself. In the 2.5 years that I had used the Mirena – and really in the 7 years total that I had used progestin-only birth control – my endocrine system had become lazy and reliant on the synthetic hormone. Suddenly that hormone wasn’t there and my body had to wake up from hibernation.

I began to have constant headaches. Hot flashes. I puked up literally everything I ate or drank for a week. I bled for 2.5 weeks straight. My breasts swelled and ached like no one could ever believe. Sleeping was awful, when I got it, and I woke up every morning in a panic attack. My overall mental health quickly declined.

Getting out of bed in the morning became an impossible task. 

In general, I just don’t feel like myself.

 

What You Should Take Away from This.

This is in no way a complete bashing of birth control or the Mirena IUD. At least, that’s not how I’m intending to come off. In fact I made the decision after my sister announced that she was pregnant to go on a low-dose hormonal pill to give my parents some sense of relief that I will not be having a kid as well. And I will always dedicate energy towards fighting for a woman’s right to take ownership over her own reproductive health. 

Because a general fuck you if you are one of those trying to say access to birth control of any kind should not be available to women who desire it. 

No. This is a message of how to be your own advocate.

No one in this world knows your body more than you do. You know how it works. How it feels. You know when something is wrong.

That’s what I failed to do. I failed to push for a better answer. I failed to listen to my body when there were quite obviously some issues. I failed to speak up and even say that there was something wrong. I was one of the unlucky few who did not respond well to the IUD birth control, and I ignored that for almost 3 years.

While I am not saying that the Mirena was the cause of all of my issues, I am without a doubt certain that it didn’t help any. That is made things worse. Yeah, not having to worry about pregnancy was great… But I’d rather have a baby than deal with what I did again. That’s for damn sure.

This is also a message to not be afraid to ask questions, or even seek out the guidance of a second or third physician. Getting a second opinion is never a bad idea. And it took Dallas and I meeting with a different doctor in the same office as my OBGYN to sit and say ‘uhhh… you probably should never have been given the IUD with your history of anxiety. And with everything else you are experiencing it might be a good idea to have it removed.‘ to reassure us that having it removed was a good idea.

You should always keep in mind that just because something works for one person does not guarantee that it will work for you. 

Everyone’s bodies are different. We all have different chemical makeups. And whether we want to be “IUD Buddies” with our friends or the other women we surround ourselves with does not mean that it will work out that way. It didn’t for me.

The only voice your body has is your own. Use it.

 

In the future I will provide an update to this story…

XOXO Nykole

 


As a brief aside about me, I am a history master’s student specializing in gender roles and expectations during the “Atomic Era” (1945-1969). If you would like some interesting resources about sex and sexuality, including women’s reproductive health, I would love to recommend a few books regarding the topic.

** This information was found via Google search

*** For more information see either the Mirena website or the FDA report.


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