Whatever you call it, ‘contraception’, ‘birth control’, ‘family planning’, ‘anti-baby stuff’, it’s a real pain for most women. When you find the right method, it’s amazing! But the whole decision process that some women go through before they find their method is a real ball-ache. Or ovary-ache, I should say. Here’s my story.
Before I got my first boyfriend at the age of 25, I’d never really given a thought to ‘choosing’ a contraceptive method, not a long-term one anyway. Before that, I just relied on the traditional condom (yes, I just said ‘condom’). And condoms are great; plenty of couples just use these by themselves and don’t give it a second thought. But after it became clear that my boyfriend and I were going to be together for the foreseeable future, I decided that I wanted a more foolproof method – or Kristina-proof method. So like any unsuspecting woman, I went to the gynaecologist and asked for the pill.
Oh boy … was I about to become a way bitchier and depressed gal. I legit don’t know why my boyfriend didn’t dump me.
The pill and the tears
In the summer of 2018, I went to the gynacologist and was prescribed Symbella, a hormonal birth control pill containing oestrogen and progestogen. Soon after I started taking this pill, I started getting headaches along with that nauseous feeling that makes you lose your appetite but not actually throw up. I was taking this pill during my friend’s hen do, and I had to just sit and just look at my burger and chips on a night out instead of demolishing it as I normally would. It really sucked.
On top that, I got real touchy with my boyfriend. I would flip out over the tiniest things. On a week day, he’d call and say that he was too tired to come over. In a normal world, that’s acceptable; he’s tired, so let the guy rest. But hormonal Kristina was like ‘Uh NO, F*CK YOU BOYFRIEND!’ So in a way, the hormonal pill is a kind of contraceptive because, if anything, it should make your boyfriend want to break up with you and your chances of getting pregnant zero! All jokes aside though, I don’t know how he coped with such a moody girlfriend. The thing is, he knew that it was the pill turning me into a monster. But when he said “don’t worry, it’s just your pill”, hormonal Kristina wanted to punch him in the face. I’m sure a lot of women can resonate with that. Looking back, he was being pretty reasonable and I was bat-sh*t crazy. I was also very depressed. I’d come home from work and feel a sense of hopelessness, and living abroad made it a whole lot worse because it wasn’t like I could pop to my mum’s for a cuppa. So I’d sit and cry, and call my boyfriend and cry. And I was pretty pathetic to be honest.
After about five months or so, I tried a different pill called Dionelle containing ethinyl estradiol and dienogest. This had the same effect, if not it made me even more depressed and hormonal than I already was before. I continued this one until late January 2019 when I had an enlightenment.
One dreary January evening, I was crying on the phone to my boyfriend. Again. And I didn’t know why. I mean, there probably was a reason but it didn’t warrant a bucket of tears. Suddenly my boyfriend said:
“Just stop the pill, honey. It’s making you crazy.”
The penny dropped. This tiny pill I was taking every day was indeed turning me into a little psycho and on that depressing January evening, I just wanted to be happy. So the idea of having my own natural hormones telling me what’s what instead of these artificial ones really appealed to me. So I said:
“YOU’RE RIGHT. SCREW THE HORMONAL PILL!”
And that was the moment that I gave up on the pill for good. I was DONE. At the time, I just wanted to get back to me for a while, which is something I’ve seen quoted in many other articles about getting off of hormonal contraception. A lot of women also say that when they stopped taking the pill, they felt ‘so much better’. And it’s true! I got my appetite back, my headaches went away, and I could tell if I was actually p*ssed at my boyfriend or not without having fake hormones doing the work (badly) for me. Just to clarify, I’m not often annoyed at my boyfriend – he’s a sweetheart.
I soon got to thinking about what my options were. I knew I didn’t want anything hormonal for the minute, and thanks to MTV’s Teen Mom, I’d heard about the copper IUD. People moan about that show but I actually love it. Those women bravely show you what happens when you don’t use birth control and how to be kick-ass mothers despite their circumstances. And both ’16 and Pregnant’ and ‘Teen Mom’ have been shown to reduce the teen birth rate in the US (see : https://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/13/health/16-pregnant-teens-childbirth/index.html). And those shows definitely had an impact on me as a young woman across the pond in Europe. One day, I was stumbling around the internet when I found a short video of the Teen Mom women discussing their birth control stories. And all of them were so different, which also blew my mind. Then when Catelynn Lowell mentioned the ParaGard and what copper IUDs do, again, my mind was blown. So after I was done with the pill and looking for a non-hormonal option, a copper IUD seemed to fit the bill quite nicely!
Have you heard of the IUB BALLERINE?
I made yet another appointment with my gynaecologist to discuss my options, but really I just wanted to ask for the copper IUD. I wasn’t even sure if it was a thing in Poland where I’d been living for 18 months by this point. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get, right?
During my appointment, my lovely doctor asked me if I’d consider the NuvaRing, a ring you wear inside your vagina that releases hormones. I remained firm on my non-hormonal idea and asked about the copper IUD. It was at this point she dropped a complete game changer into the conversation. She asked: “Have you heard about the IUB?” I very politely said “no” and asked for more information.
Essentially, the IUB Ballerine is a string of copper beads or pearls, coated with polymer, that is inserted into your uterus and then coils up into a ball shape. Like the ParaGard T-shaped device, this one works as a contraceptive due to the copper; it’s basically toxic to sperm and therefore prevents an egg from being fertilised. The video below from Ocon Healthcare (who makes this device) displays what it looks like.
After researching a bit about the IUB, I decided to take the plunge. My reasons were:
- It’s non-hormonal.
- It’s small; smaller than the normal T-shaped devices.
- It’s a long-term option that is reversible; the IUB lasts 5 years.
- I wouldn’t have to take a pill every day.
- My periods weren’t too painful already.
Let me tell you, I felt like a legit adult when I made the appointment to have my IUB inserted. I called my best friend immediately and was like “OMG!”
This is the part I was dreading. Like any normal woman about to have something pushed through her cervix, I googled it and YouTube’d it, and it was the worst thing I could have done. I mean, there were some positive videos about it. For a positive video about getting an IUD, try Hannah Witton or Alayna Joy on YouTube; they tell the truth but they don’t scare you! But do NOT watch videos with titles like “My IUD Horror Story” or “I Got Pregnant on the IUD”. Just don’t do it to yourself, and remember that the things that go wrong only make up a teeny tiny percentage.
The long wait
So it turns out that you need to be on your period to have the procedure. Some doctors might do it if you’re not, I suppose, but I was told it’s easier to do on your period because your cervix is already a bit dilated from your monthly flow. But getting my period to align with when the doctor was available to insert my IUB was another story. Back then, I was with a different medical provider and there was only one doctor in my town that was trained to insert this particular IUD. And he was only ever available on a Friday. But did my period cover Fridays? Hell to the no! She’d come on Monday and be gone by Thurday or turn up on Saturday and say ‘later aligator by Wednesday. It was so frustrating! The one time that did coincide with a Friday was right before I went on holiday. Both me and my sister agreed it might not be smart to get an IUD before I went on holiday …
After I came back from my trip, once again I found that my flow coincided with a Friday! And I freaked out. I started googling and researching about ‘just how painful is an IUD insertion’ and ‘how to prepare for an IUD insertion’. Most of the material I read and watched freaked me out, of course. Then the day of my appointment rolled around and I decided to woman up. I told my boyfriend to meet me at the doctor’s office for moral support. Fun fact, it was his first visit to a gynaecology department. You’re welcome babe!
Months after trying to get my period to coincide with my doctor’s availability, on the 26 July 2019, I had an IUD inserted into my uterus. This is when my expat life took a real juicy turn … here’s what happened.
It’s absolutely boiling weather outside; at least 30 degrees. I had to sit on a tram with no air-con for half an hour, with my IUB Ballerine sitting pretty in my tote bag (weirdly in Poland, it seems that when you’re prescribed an IUD, you actually buy it like you would pills at the pharmacy and you get to take it home with you – it sat in my cupboard for months).
My boyfriend met me there and he accompanied me to the gynaecology department of the doctor’s office. After a few minutes, the doctor came out of his room and greeted us in Polish. We said politely that we didn’t understand and he made some kind of nice gesture to us, smiled and walked away.
“Oh my Godddd,” I sqeaked. “How is this going to work?”
It was typical that, for such an important appointment, I’d get a doctor who didn’t speak English. Noooooo … I’d been so lucky for my wisdom tooth removal …
My boyfriend calms me down and says, quite rightly, that he is a doctor and he knows what he’s doing, language barrier or not.
I calmed down a little, and when the doctor called me in, I tried to channel tranquility as I went in to have my birth control story changed forever.
First of all, we establish the language barrier. He asks me what I assume was ‘How can I help you today?’ in Polish and I whipped the IUB Ballerine (in its packaging obviously) out of my bag and placed it on the desk. At that, he seemed to get very excited. Maybe he’d seen too many cases of thrush or done too many pap smears and he was excited to do something different, I don’t know. In any case, he was very friendly about the whole thing and asked me all questions you’d expect. It’s actually amazing what I understood in Polish. Basically, he’d ask me a question in Polish and I’d answer with the Polish I knew or English, and we both understood each other. The language barrier wasn’t really a problem.
He was also very happy that I was on my period, which is also quite surreal. Most of the time, I’m only happy to get my period if it’s late and I think I’m pregnant (albeit obsessively); the rest of the time, I could live without it. And it was lucky I was on my period that day; I really think he would have turned me away if I hadn’t been.
I asked the doctor how long the procedure would take and he estimated five minutes or so. The thought struck me that in five minutes time I would be 99% protected against pregnancy and have a device inside me. It’s quite a happy and ominous thought really.
Shortly after a round of questions about my general health, periods, pregnancy history, the doc pointed toward the table and my heart started pumping. There’s a fine moment in New Girl where Jessica Day says ‘It’s happening!’ before she falls over. I felt like that.
The procedure was fine. The pain that so many women threaten about on YouTube and random forums was more an intense cramping. I did swear. A lot. And the doctor simply smiled and reminded me to relax, otherwise he couldn’t put the device in (all in Polish obv.). But I think it was more the shock of the cramp rather than the cramp itself. It’s no gradual period pain, that’s for sure. I’m not sure if it’s when the instrument holding the device went through my cervix or when the device was pushed through its tube and started coiling up in my uterus that I felt the pain. It’s also a strange pain because apart from dull period pains, I never really had any indication before of where my uterus is actually located. When the IUD goes in, you know where your uterus is, that’s for sure! Hello uterus! In any case, the cramping lasted all of 30 seconds before the device was finally in and the doctor went about trimming the strings attached.
When my IUB was in, the doctor left me for a minute to relax. My body was in shock at what had just happened. In 2020 language, I was ‘shook’. Before I left, the doctor did a quick ultrasound to check the device was in the right place. I remember joking with him asking: “No baby?”
He confirmed: “No baby.”
A minute later I walked out to my boyfriend, heart still pumping from the adrenaline of the whole thing, and his face was a picture. It had seemed that he and everyone else outside my doctor’s examination room had heard all of my ouches and loud cursing. Weirdly, I didn’t feel embarrassed. I felt empowered … and also that I’d have one hell of a story to tell my girlfriends.
As soon as I started walking, I realised the impact that the procedure had had on my body. I felt a bit weak and sick. Luckily I’d thought ahead and brought my heat pads with me. Top tip: Take heating pads to your insertion appointment. It really helps!
I will admit that I felt a bit delicate after the insertion procedure. I took the rest of the day off work and laid low over the weekend. After an IUD insertion, it is normal to get cramps, and I sure did, but they were the dull, period kind. I chilled at my boyfriend’s place and he did everything for me. We watched Netflix and ordered Chinese food and it was good. A few days later, I was ready to get on with life. I think the recovery period varies from woman to woman really. Some women can just get it done and go back to work. Others, like me, need to rest for a few days.
After a couple of weeks, I was feeling so empowered that I’d made the decision to go non-hormonal and to go for a different IUD to the normal T-shaped device that I made a YouTube video about it (see above). My main reason for making this video was to give a positive yet truthful review of the IUB Ballerine in English. When I was looking for a review of this IUD, there were no videos in English about it – probably because it’s not available in the US yet, nor is it available on the NHS in the UK (but it is from private practices, I believe). So I thought, if I was looking for information in English, there must be other women out there looking for the same thing! And my YouTube channel and my IUB Ballerine video were born.
One of the questions I was asked in the comments of my YouTube video was about my periods since I’ve had the IUB. I’ll be honest, they are heavier than they used to be and the cramps last a bit longer, but as long as I have access to a hot water bottle and paracetamol, I’m fine. I’m also quite lucky that I have an office job with access to remote working, so I’ve made use of this when I really just want to stay home in my PJs and eat Nutella out of the jar – all whilst working of course!
Yes, there are times where I question my life choices; when I’m cramping for the third day in a row or when I stand up and it feels like a waterfall between my legs. But I remind myself that it’s not as bad as some women have it. Some women with endometriosis can’t even walk during their periods due to the crippling pain and some women change their pad ten times a day or more. My period is heavier these days but it is manageable for sure. Plus a week of a slightly heavier period versus five years of 99% protection against unplanned pregnancy? I know who the winner is! And I’m no longer a hormonal monster – hurrah!
Birth control has been a significant part of my life in recent years. In tackling my own situation, I found stuff out about myself and I grew as a person. I realised that I’m a strong, confident woman who can make a decision about her own body. I realised that the pill is not the answer to everyone’s problems. I realised that when I’m a hormonal b*tch, I want the hormones turning me into a monster to be my own natural ones. Most importantly, and I think all women should be aware of this wherever they are, I learnt that we have options – more options than ever before. You don’t have to accept the hormonal pill if it doesn’t agree with you. You don’t have to get a copper IUD if you have heavy periods or any IUD at all if you don’t want anything in your uterus. You don’t have to get the Depo injection if you hate needles, nor do you have to get the NuvaRing if you can’t be bothered to fiddle with inserting it every month. You can just stick to condoms if you want. We live in the 21st century and we have a plethora of birth control options available to suit our needs. And this is something awesome. To brainstorm your own birth control/contraception plans, Bedsider.org is a great place to start: https://www.bedsider.org/methods#effectiveness
- Info about US birth rates since the beginning of MTV’s Teen Mom/16 and Pregnant series: (see : https://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/13/health/16-pregnant-teens-childbirth/index.html)
- Hannah Witton’s IUD video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4_96PV8D8M
- Hannah Witton’s IUD comparison video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhwJf7RtPQc
- Alayna Joy’s IUD video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSGKylFehrQ&t=5s
- OCON Healthcare IUB Ballerine website: https://www.oconmed.com/en/contraception/intrauterine-ball-iub/
- Bedsider website: https://www.bedsider.org/methods#effectiveness
Check out more of my rambles …
- I have a podcast now!
- 2020: Has Anyone Actually Had a Good Year?
- Green smoothie
- Healthyish chocolate smoothie recipe
- Going home and then coming home