This week, Naga Munchetty opened up about her experience of getting an IUD fitted, the long-acting contraceptive device often referred to as ‘the coil’, calling it one of the most ‘traumatic physical experiences’ she’s ever had.
In a segment on BBC Radio 5 Live, Naga started the conversation not to discuss the safety or effectiveness of the coil – of which it is very safe and effective – but to open up a dialogue about pain and women’s health, a topic so often ignored.
‘I thought I was prepared for a routine procedure,’ Naga began. ‘I’ve never been pregnant, therefore my cervix until then had never been opened. I was told that the smallest sized speculum, which was used for cervical smear tests, wasn’t big enough for this procedure so I had to have the next size up. That’s when the pain began…”
‘My screams were so loud that my husband tried to find out what room I was in to make it stop,’ she continued. ‘He said that those in the waiting room hearing my screams looked horrified. The nurse accompanying the doctor had tears in her eyes. I was asked by my doctor half way through if I wanted to stop, but I was so determined that the pain I’d suffered so far wouldn’t be repeated, so I said, “We’ve got this far, let’s finish it.” I fainted twice.’
Naga isn’t the first to detail her haunting experience of IUD insertion, last week Caitlin Moran also spoke of her ‘torture’ having an IUD fitted explaining that she – like Naga – fainted multiple times because of the pain. Her column on the topic in The Times came after campaigner Lucy Cohen started a petition to offer better pain relief for IUD insertions and removals, which was picked up by feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez’s newsletter Invisible Women.
In almost all of these women’s experiences, they describe having high pain thresholds, of being prepared for the ‘discomfort’ they warn you about before the appointment, but not of course, the agonizing torture they ended up experiencing.
‘Several who work in the medical industry point out that during colonoscopies – a unisex procedure – people are offered either gas and air or sedation,’ Moran wrote in her column, highlighting the double-standard in the way women’s health issues exclusively appear to be excluded from conversations around pain relief.
And yet, according to Lucy Cohen’s petition, pain is a common occurrence for IUD procedures. ‘Almost 1500 people have so far shared their experiences with me. On a pain rating scale of 0-10, 43% of respondents rated their pain as a 7 or higher,’ she wrote. ‘With the associated descriptions of “extremely painful”, “almost unbearable”, “excruciating” and “worse than childbirth”’.
I remember when I first started experiencing pain because of an IUD. It wasn’t during the insertion – although getting one removed and replaced right after certainly wasn’t a walk in the park – but during the year after my first IUD. Almost every day of that year, bar maybe a few each month, I experienced agonizing cramps. Curl up and just focusing on breathing so you don't pass out level cramps. I’d had the same experience with the single-hormone pill and been told time and time again ‘Just give it six months, it takes a while for your body to adjust’.
We shouldn’t have to start petitions for our pain to be taken seriously, the screaming and fainting should be enough.
I Googled the pain, aghast at the fact I was just expected to put up with keeling over every 10 minutes for the next six months, and remember reading that cramps experienced because of an IUD are akin to early contractions in labour. So essentially, pain wise, I was just expected to ‘put up’ with being early labour for six months of my life, with pain relief not offered to me until I’d complained to three different doctors.
In my case, six months became nine months – all of which time I was also on my period, FYI - and the pain began to subside after that, relieving entirely after a year. It’s been six years since then and I’ve been largely pain-free (and period-less) that entire time. I’ve gained freedom from the annoyance of daily contraceptives, plus an incredibly high pain threshold– but I can’t shake the feeling that I shouldn’t have had to experience that.
Whether you experience pain during your IUD fitting and removal, or during the months after while our bodies ‘adjust’, we shouldn’t have to start petitions or national conversations across the media for our pain to be taken seriously. The screaming, crying and fainting should be enough.
But of course, we do – because women’s pain is never taken seriously until someone stands up and forces the healthcare industry to take it seriously. So if you want to sign the petition and make your voice heard, click here – you’d think our screaming would be loud enough, but these days a signature on a website seems to say a lot more.
To find out more about IUD contraceptives, visit the NHS website here ****or speak to your GP.