Why I'm calling quits on the copper coil

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Photo credit: IUD via photopin (license)

You should all know by now – I'm so sorry, Mum* – that I have no filter. When people say, "you should never write anything down that you wouldn't have read out in court," I honestly have to rack my brains to think of something I would be ashamed to hear, read back to me from the mouth of Judge Judy. When I make a decision in my life, or come to a particular revelation, I have no qualms about sharing it – with friends, family and, y'know, people I don't know, via the medium of the Internet.

So, when I decided to head to the Well Woman Centre in Dublin to have the copper coil inserted as my chosen form of contraception, I didn't hesitate to document the experience on Snapchat. And now that I've decided to take it out? Well, y'all deserve to know that, too. So, let's start at the beginning.

Life before the copper coil

I like to call this BCC (before copper coil or, what I wish everyone in the world would do when they send group emails) – and I think it's important to outline both my contraceptive history, and to establish the general rhythm of my menstrual cycle, ie, what my period was like when left to its own devices.

Not for the first time, I should preface this with a short and to-the-point: Parents (mine), please stop reading immediately. I've been using some form of contraception since I became sexually active, around the age of 18. For a good few years, I tried the Pill, in various forms: combined, mini, progesterone-only. In each instance, I suspected that this hormonal contraception, taken in tablet form once a day, did something dodgy to my mood. (I didn't know, to begin with, that I suffered from depression; I do now, and I try to avoid ingesting any extra hormones.)

Other things I've tried: the injection (I gained half a stone immediately and, when it was done, my period didn't return for about six months, meaning I spent the entire six months convinced I was pregnant – despite using condoms every single time I had sex, which was about twice); the Mirena IUD (similar to the copper coil, but it contains hormones), which was fine, but I had it removed when I was changing medication for depression and wanted to make sure that I knew exactly where my moods were coming from. That was the last time I ever used hormonal contraception.

Lastly? Duh – condoms. I like condoms. They're fun – like putting a little poloneck on a big banana – and they keep things neat and tidy. To paraphrase ABBA, my favourite band: I'm a fan.

While on the Pill, my period was, as it tends to be, regular – and appeared within my handy little Pill break. On the injection, I got no period (which was neat!) and, while I had the Mirena inserted, I got a whisper of a period, once a month (if even), which was also quite pleasant.

Without any outside interference, my period is pretty regular – my cycle lasts around 26 or 27 days – and light. It lasts about four days, three of which are heavy enough to necessitate the use of regular tampons (Lil-Lets are my faves), and one of which is barely visible – just enough to use pantyliners and think of all of the pantyliner talk there used to be in J-17 magazine.

Why the copper coil?

I'd been in a relationship for a little over two years when the subject of contraception – or, rather, of changing contraception – came up. To be honest, while I do enjoy condoms, there's no denying that, at a certain point, you get a bit tired of every single intimate adventure being interrupted by that moment. Reaching over for the condom box (because I'm dead classy, I keep mine in a teeny cardboard Chanel box I got as a press gift), unwrapping, er, re-wrapping...

I don't subscribe to the school of thought that says that condoms are unsexy, because if you're careful about the look in your eyes, they can be dead sexy, but at a certain point in my long-term relationship, we started to look for alternatives.

And, let me tell you, non-hormonal contraception is hard to come by (no pun intended). Condoms, fine. The femidom? Seems fiddly and, y'know, coitus interruptus. The diaphragm? I hadn't heard of anyone using the diaphragm since Carrie in SATC, and that was back in the early days where she used to talk to the camera, House of Cards-style.

When my doctor suggested the copper coil, I was initially a bit reluctant – I'd tried the Mirena, and had been a bit suspicious of its hormonal effects. But then she explained that the copper coil is hormone-free, and that it had been enjoying a resurgence of late: it's really reliable, is cheaper than the Mirena and lasts 10 years. Sign me up!

The insertion process

I'll resist the urge to go into incredibly explicit detail – although those of you who've read this far are obviously fairly hardy as it is – but to explain how it works: the copper coil is a tiny, T-bar made out of copper, which is inserted into your womb via your cervix.

Your cervix is dilated – when I had my Mirena done, this was by way of little metal rods, which didn't hurt but caused fairly uncomfortable cramping – but it's a testament to the work at the Well Woman Centre that, this time, I have no idea how it was done. Around 10 seconds' of wiggling and it was in. Uncomfortable? Yes. Painful? Not really.

The aftermath

Directly afterwards, I was warned, there would be some cramping – and there was. For about two weeks after I'd had it inserted, I had some light bleeding (also normal) and it felt like I had bad period pain. Loads of Nurofen Plus – and why am I so bashful that I always lie to the pharmacist and say it's for back pain?! – and moaning to my fella made it pretty bearable.

Then, I waited. Unlike the Mirena IUD, the copper coil can make periods heavier and more painful for a lot of women – that's the most common side effect that I was told to expect, so I was a little nervous for my first period to arrive. But, like I said, I was used to light periods with very little pain, so I thought, how bad can it be?

Why I'm getting rid of it...

As it happens, it can be pretty bad – and the cramping isn't even the worst of it.

From the moment I had my copper coil inserted, I experienced a serious slide downwards in terms of mood. It's hard to say whether I can attribute all of this to the coil; at the time, I'd started doing a few seriously early morning cardio sessions (think, 4.30am or 5am, three times a week), so they could definitely have had something to do with it. And, y'know, I suffer from depression! So the specific reasons for a dip in mood aren't always easy to figure out.

But I can tell you, with 100% certainty, that my mood has taken a nosedive since I had my copper coil inserted.

What else?

I spent six months there eating incredibly well, demonstrating willpower I never knew existed, and generally kicking ass when it came to my training and diet. Then – around the same time I had my copper coil inserted – it all came crashing to a halt. I was ravenous, all of the time; I had no control whatsoever – whereas, beforehand, I had become the person who turned down the free donut, I suddenly went back to being the person who was first in line; whenever I felt sad or angry or frustrated, I ate something that most definitely did not fit my macros. I was out of control.

And then, of course, there's the pain. Now, when I get my period, it's weirdly unpredictable. It pops up for a day, before disappearing again for three. Then it'll be back with a vengeance: think painful, twisting cramps in my womb; extreme flatulence for the duration (okay so I guess I am being graphic); really heavy bleeding that has ruined two sets of PJs and one sheet, and requires super plus tampons, for six whole days. In short, it's fairly fucking unpleasant.

It was this last period – a week of cramping, bloating, bleeding and whining – that put the nail in the proverbial coffin. It's just not worth it, for the sake of avoiding that slight blip in a moment of intimacy. It's just not.

The worst thing is, I don't know if it really is to blame for all of these things. Maybe I'm just experiencing a slight dip in mood. Perhaps I only ever had a finite store of willpower, and I used it all up. But heavy cramping and heavier bleeding really can't be helping my mood, or my desire to comfort eat – and so, for me, we've come to the end of the road.

Being a woman – ain't it grand?

I would hope this isn't necessary, but I should add a disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor am I a medical professional. This account is based solely on my personal experience, of being an emotional eater and someone who suffers from depression and having the copper coil inserted. This will not, in any way, be everyone's experience with this form of contraception.

* I love you, but I'm not that sorry, really.