Pregnant with an IUD: The Story of My Abortion


I just had the quite bizarre experience of getting pregnant. Bizarre because for the last two and a half years, I’ve had the Paraguard IUD – as effective as tying your tubes, they tell me. Then one day my period doesn’t come. My breasts are swollen, my back aches, and I have the crazy thought that this feels like pregnancy. Something is definitely wrong, at least. So I head to CVS to get a home pregnancy test, just to rule it out. We have plans for brunch with friends, so I slip into the bathroom to get the test out of the way while my boyfriend puts away groceries. And then I stare at it. For a really long time. Because that is most definitely a plus sign.

Hmm. That’s odd. Of course I’d only bought one test, so after a moment of staring, we hurry down the street for more. Another, and then another, and this time the digital ones that say “Pregnant” or “Not Pregnant” clear as day. Every one has the same confusing answer. “Pregnant.”

On the drive to the urgent care center, I remember all the mornings in the past month I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, staring at my protruding stomach and half-heartedly thinking: It’s like I’m pregnant. How did I know? My boyfriend drives, one hand resting firmly and supportively on my knee. We joke nervously to distract us from the shock.

In the exam room, the nurse is young and friendly. She admits she’s nervous for me, clearly shaken by the news that IUDs are not a guarantee. I laugh with her to try to make her more comfortable, that makes two of us. We wait and wait for confirmation that our lives are, in fact, upside-down, while a Nickelodeon sitcom plays in the background. Finally an old male doctor comes in and tells me the same thing as the CVS family planning aisle. I’m pregnant.

It still isn’t clear what I should do about the tiny piece of metal inside me. It seems dangerous now. For so long it was a faithful friend, but now it’s a foreign object lodged next to embryonic cells inside of me—I can’t believe that’s good for anyone.  But the urgent care doctor just says call my doctor and take some prenatal vitamins. And no one else picks up the phone on a Sunday. My IUD is still there, and I’m pregnant.

Safely at home with the reality, the full weight of what is happening finally settles in. I lie down on the bed and am overwhelmed by sobbing, full-bodied I can’ts. I curl into my boyfriend, alternately gasping and apologizing, as over and over I insist I cannot do this. I am not ready. He soothes me with his own admission: You don’t have to. I’m not either. We cling to each other until exhaustion pulls us into sleep.

First thing Monday, I make my calls. I get an urgent appointment Wednesday with a highly recommended ob-gyn who promises to get that meddlesome piece of metal out of me—turns out I’m probably fine, but no use pushing it longer than we have to. While I’ve got her on the line, there are more words I never thought I’d say. Do you have any recommendations for abortion providers? She gives me a list over the phone, and I start to make the calls.

I’m struck by how few really are abortion providers. Out of a list of seven recommended doctors, none of the ones who answer their phones actually offer pregnancy termination. Only two family planning clinics in the area provide the service. I go with Planned Parenthood. I spend so much of my time defending them and giving money monthly, it seems only right to maintain my loyalty in my moment of need. Plus, they can fit me in Saturday morning for an in-clinic procedure. A quick call to my insurance confirms that the federal plan covers 100% of pregnancy, but no elective abortion. I have a hard time appreciating their ideological consistency.

When I put down the phone I’m hit with a wave of relief. This all seems much more manageable now. Something went wrong, but now there are steps to fix it. Yes, I’m pregnant, but it’s a temporary state. I can see the day on the calendar when it won’t be true anymore. I just have to make it through the week. We’ve got a solution, it’s the solution we want, and now we just have to wait until we can act. Wednesday, then Saturday, then freedom.

But that still leaves a week of being pregnant. Time to learn all the practical ways my body prepares to make another. I find myself holding my stomach as I walk, either by instinct or imitation, not quite sensing life inside me, but acutely aware of something different. I never knew pregnancy came with cramps—it makes sense when I stop to think. There’s no explicit morning sickness, but I have no interest in eating either. I avoid caffeine and alcohol, just in case, and also because the thought turns my stomach. I tire easily and walk more slowly—and just six weeks in, I already feel way too big. As I go about my workday, I find the physical experience unsettling me in conversations with coworkers, even when my mental haze recedes. A wave of nausea or sudden loss of appetite reminds me in the middle of a meeting that I know something no one else knows: there’s another person growing in this room.

Wednesday I beg off work with a cryptic urgent doctor’s appointment, and my boyfriend and I head for to the ob-gyn. Yet again, I terrify the young women doing my blood work and taking my weight. My presence, pregnant with an IUD, shakes their faith. The nurse practitioner, friendly, competent, communicative, says she’s seen about than five cases like this in her career—at least I’m not the only one. Maybe you should stay away from Vegas. I disagree. With this kind of luck, we should have gone for Mega Millions. Since the Planned Parenthood appointment is already lined up, she kindly forgoes the pregnancy spiel. Just a speculum and a quick cough, and the IUD is out. My boyfriend, ever the supportive partner, is by my side to see the tiny copper T we’ve relied on for two-plus years. I can’t believe something that small worked as long as it did. God, I’m glad he’s here.

He’s right next to me too during the ultrasound, watching the dark circle in my uterus on the screen. There it is, says the technician. You’re about six weeks. I expected the visualization to have more impact. It’s just a black circle; it doesn’t make it seem any more real. What the hell are you? You aren’t a person yet. Someone once told me that before modern medicine, you weren’t considered pregnant until it showed. The time between a missed period and a belly was just “abnormal menstruation.” You weren’t not pregnant, but you weren’t yet pregnant either. That’s exactly how it feels. I can clearly tell that it will be something, but it doesn’t feel like it yet.

With the ultrasound over and IUD out, it’s just killing time until Saturday. Our home becomes a nest of orange juice, comfort TV, and quiet, weighty affection. Friday night we fall asleep relieved and ready to act.  Saturday morning I wake up before the alarm, thinking hard. We never talked about the other option, about trying to keep it. We never even talked through the logistics. I suddenly want to do that. I feel overwhelmingly selfish, to be making this choice based on what I want, not what I can handle—we could do this, we could take this on. It seems selfish to defer responsibility based on preference. We could keep it, practically speaking. It might even be good timing, since we do plan on doing this at some point anyway. Our gut reaction was so complete, so visceral – did that make it right?

When my boyfriend wakes up, I carefully lay out this alternate scenario. He listens carefully, calmly. He agrees we could make it work. Do you want to reschedule the appointment?

That stops me cold. I’m still ultimately talking to my boyfriend. We are committed to each other, and we say we will be parents together someday, but we haven’t yet taken that one last step and told the world “This is it.” Who knows when—if—we will take that step. I look at this man, who I know to be kind and sweet and good, who gets so infectiously excited about new plans and dreams, and I know we aren’t there yet. I want to preserve the milestones; I want us to be sure without a faulty copper wire forcing our hand.

No, let’s go. By the time we reach Planned Parenthood, I’m firmly back at certainty. We head in past the single aggressive protester, who seems to think pushing and yelling at us will make us want to take her pamphlet and listen to her crazy. Her invasion of our personal space makes me irrationally angry. It’s all I can do not to engage. But I keep it together and we’re in.

Now that we’re taking real steps again, my mind is clear and calm, and I’ve got plenty of time to consider our waiting room neighbors. There are quite a few young women alone —I say a silent prayer of thanks that I have a partner by my side. There’s a couple who look like high schoolers, affectionate but clearly nervous, just next to the door. A Russian couple barely understands English and pays all in cash, and an older Chinese woman waits patiently for a follow-up after a miscarriage. I look around and am reminded that every woman I know gives money to Planned Parenthood but gets her medical care somewhere else. This clinic serves people with far fewer options than us, for far more than just the abortion services we champion. As I sit there, I feel fiercely proud of Planned Parenthood for providing so much to so many. These people are truly caring for women. My small donations every month feel much bigger in this space, and I want to do more.

The clinic works like clockwork; slow, but well-oiled, with clear steps and constant affirmations. My boyfriend is not allowed in the back; a precaution meant to protect against outside pressure on women’s decisions, I assume. I appreciate the rationale, but every time I leave the waiting room, I wish he could come with me.

First comes a quick blood test to make sure my iron’s up and my blood type isn’t negative. I’ve got yet another technician I get to scare with my IUD story, but by this point I’ve got the joking responses down, complete with strategically placed laughs. Then comes the ultrasound: no, I don’t want to see it, yes, I would like to know if it’s a multiple pregnancy. It’s not, and I’m out of my second “probe” of the week in just a few minutes. On to counseling. Did anyone pressure you into this decision? Are you sure? Do you have any questions? I’m sure. The words are easy, relieving. I’m happy to be moving down the road to a solution.

Finally they call me in to the exam room. The doctor is kind and attentive and very good at distracting me from my nerves. There’s a speculum, and then another and another as they prop open my cervix. The doctor gets me talking about our trip to Peru next month; I share more than I usually would as my head gets lighter and lighter. The doctor puts anesthesia on my cervix and my vision goes almost black with dizziness. Still, I’m awake and talking and the pain is less than I expected. The doctor takes a small hand-pumped suction device with a very thin tube and slides it into me. My insides feel like bellows. I’m nervous about losing consciousness, but the pain remains tolerable—no worse than getting the IUD inserted originally. In three minutes, she’s done. I’m surprised by how low tech it all is and frustrated I couldn’t go to my regular doctor for something this simple, in a comfortable space with my partner by my side. Why such an easy process needs to be done in a special clinic, politicized and alienated from the world, is beyond me.

I’m extremely light-headed, so I lay there talking with the nurse as she holds a bag by my head, just in case, for another 10 minutes. I even get smelling salts. Then I dress, putting a pad in my underwear (I haven’t done this since middle school) and slowly walk to the recovery room.  Apple juice and a heating pad are waiting for me – both very necessary. The apple juice calms my stomach while the heating pad wards off a sudden bout of chills. I lay still for about 15 minutes, with a nurse checking my vitals every five, until my pulse is back to normal. Then I take my out-patient packet with condoms and antibiotics, and I’m done.

I shiver uncontrollably on the way to the car. My boyfriend holds me carefully as we walk slowly, looking at me with a mixture of relief and terror. I wish he could have been there for the process; it’s hard to explain to him what I’ve just been through. He seems so worried that it was worse than it was. I’m really cold, but otherwise feeling just fine. At home, I huddle under mounds of blankets curled up against him, watching The West Wing and sipping on juice. He holds me tightly all day, kissing my head tenderly. We fall asleep early, wrapped around each other.

And then it’s Sunday and I’m not pregnant any more. We go out to brunch and meet up with a friend at a coffee shop. Sorry we haven’t been around. I’ve been sick, but I’m better now. My boyfriend works on a paper due that night. I chat about authors and law school. And life goes on.

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  • wallace-finch

    Thank you for posting this, NW. It was touching and informative and I felt your anguish.

    Darned good question about why such a simple procedure can’t just be done in your own doctor’s office.

  • amy-phillips-bursch

    Although I also have a ParaGard. *whimper*

    I’m glad you were able to receive the care you needed. I second the irritation that such a simple procedure can’t be done in a regular doctors’ office.

  • agenevitz

    I have to tell you that this was a  beautifully written and really accessible piece. I’m at a similar point in my life, and have recently gone through similar emotions for what was actually a pregnancy scare rather than the real thing. I think that pieces like this that take the real experience of abortion without politicization are so important and I applaud you for using such a personal account to hopefully help someone else in your situation. Thank you.

  • histoire

    Thank you for sharing this even though you’ve just scared the hell out of me! Perhaps I shouldn’t be relying solely on my IUD. I got mine after an abortion (which, for me, happened in my normal ObGyn’s office with their complete disregard for my state’s informed bullshit laws) and I haven’t even thought about the possibility of its failure.

  • thebrabblerabble

    I, too, thought that I was safe with Paragard, but after 5 years (it is supposed to last 10), I became pregnant with my third child. I was definitely not planning on having any more children, but we figured she was meant to be. It was scary getting the device removed, because we were warned that we could lose the baby. Thankfully, the pregnancy was uneventful and she was healthy.

    I got pregnant with my first kid while taking the Pill. My second was conceived while I was breastfeeding exclusively and had not yet started having a period after having my first. I thought the IUD would be the best bet for a fertile girl like me, but no.  I’m glad that I am in a stable, committed relationship! My sister also got pregnant with a different type of IUD, Mirena, but it was an ectopic pregnancy that could have been life-threatening and was not a viable pregnancy.

    My tubes are now “tied,” but the doctor has scared me by saying that even that is not 100%! Short of celibacy, what’s a girl to do? But five years after my third child, it seems we have finally found a lasting solution! But most women wouldn’t want to do that until they are older and sure about not having any more kids. I wish there were better, safer, and more effective options than abstinence and getting your tubes tied. 

  • tazzle

    I was only 23, but I had two kids already and my marriage was on the rocks. My OB thought I was too young for such a drastic reproductive choice and tried to talk me out of it. But, I persevered. Over a decade of being a single parent and struggling working minimum wage jobs would have made a pregnancy disastrous and I would have hated having to make a decision like yours. I admire you for your courage in weathering through such a difficult decision and hope that your future is bright and happy.

  • jean-smith

    Thank you for sharing your story.  This is exactly why abortion needs to be legal, safe, and affordable.  Best wishes for your future.

  • lindzanne

    Wow. Besides the IUD part, you so captured all the nuancies and complications I felt when choosing and experiencing an abortion.  This is so well written.  It made me especially grateful I was allowed to have my partner sit next to me and hold my hand during the procedure (although he wasn’t allowed back until that very moment).  Thank you for writing this.  

  • rjm

    Just FYI, y’all – IUDs are about as effective at tubals – they both have effectiveness of about 99%, meaning 1% of women with IUDs and 1% of women with their tubes done will still get pregnant. The Essure hysteroscopic tubal where you get a study done 3 months later to check that the tubes are blocked is the most effective, but it still isn’t a 0% failure rate. Nothing is perfect, but the statement above that IUDs fail “all the time” is not really accurate.  Still way better than typical use of the pill or any other method.   Sad but true, the only way to be 100% sure you never get pregnant is to never have sex with a man,  or to have a hysterectomy.  

  • deenice

    That really hit home with me.  It brought me right back to when I had an abortion 1.5 years ago.  You wrote beautifully and I wish more people could understand how hard it is to go through something like that.

    I have never wanted children and thankfully my boyfriend of 5 years doesn’t either (he’s 26, I’m 25), but when I got pregnant, I contemplated keeping it.  I think it was from the guilt I felt (I was careless with taking the pill).  When I tried to express this to my boyfriend, he kind of brushed it off because I’d been saying for years that I don’t like children and never want to have any.  I guess it’s just hard for people to know what it’s like.

    I don’t regret my decision at all, but I still feel sad when I think about it (just not guilty anymore).

    Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your experience, I’m glad you had such a supportive partner to go through that with!

  • deenice

    That really hit home with me.  It brought me right back to when I had an abortion 1.5 years ago.  You wrote beautifully and I wish more people could understand how hard it is to go through something like that.

    I have never wanted children and thankfully my boyfriend of 5 years doesn’t either (he’s 26, I’m 25), but when I got pregnant, I contemplated keeping it.  I think it was from the guilt I felt (I was careless with taking the pill).  When I tried to express this to my boyfriend, he kind of brushed it off because I’d been saying for years that I don’t like children and never want to have any.  I guess it’s just hard for people to know what it’s like.

    I don’t regret my decision at all, but I still feel sad when I think about it (just not guilty anymore).

    Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your experience, I’m glad you had such a supportive partner to go through that with!

  • aujusazu

    there is an option – vasectomy.  simple outpatient procedure.  also not 100% like tube tying, but definitely an option.

  • aujusazu

    a much needed perspective

  • laura-mcgrath

    While I appreciate your point about the IUD’s being very effective your interpretatio of 99 % effective is not quite right.  

     

    What birth control producers mean when they say 99 % effective is that if 100 women have sex  for 1 year using that particular form of BC, only 1 will get pregnant.  Therefore if you account for the fact that women don’t only have sex for one year, the risk is actually slightly higher than 1 % of women still getting pregnant. 

  • rjm

    Well, the 1% is a composite figure, taking into accout literature covering the dozens of IUDs that are on the market in different countries over the past 15-30 years.  Looking accross multiple studies you will find reported rates ranging from 0.2%-5%. The rates can also be affected by the users age as well.  Many recent studies generally show a rate UNDER 1%, for either the Paraguard or the Mirena if they take only the 1st year of use into account. For example, the CHOICE study in St Louis, lumping implants like implanon in with IUDs and following 7000 women for 2-3 years showed a failure rate of 0.27%.  

    It definitely happens, and I’m not trivializing. And if you are pregnant, you are 100% pregnant, so at that point, the probablity of it happening doesn’t really matter very much to you.  Heck, I did an abortion on someone with an IUD just 2 days ago. But too many people’s take home message from stories like this is “IUDs don’t work”.  They do work, they just aren’t perfect – just like every method of contraception. Way too many women decide to use no contraception because they hear about something “not working” and they think that means it is equivalent to using nothing at all which is far,  far from the truth.  So, when there are comments titled “IUDs fail all the time”, I just think a little perspective is important….

     

     

  • tishkit

    This happened to me about 40 years ago with the Dalkon Shield.  At the time, the Dalkon Shield was the only IUD prescribed for women who had never been pregnant.  I had it for about three months before I became pregnant, and had no hesitation about getting an abortion, even though, back then, I had to get letters from two mental health professionals stating that a pregnancy would be damaging to my mental health.  Much later, there was a class action lawsuit filed against the makers of the Dalkon Shield; I understand that people had worse experiences with it than I did–in my case, it just didn’t work.  I also heard that in some cases where women continued with a pregnancy, with the Dalkon Shield still in place, there were birth defects attributed to the IUD.

  • eli-spark

    I would just like other people to know that the statistical likelihood of an IUD failing is .05%. That’s 5/1000 people. Yes it does happen but it is incredibly rare. IUDs are still one of the most reliable forms of birth control possible. It’s about as effective as sterilization. Here is some information about a long term study comparing the two forms of birth control. http://tinyurl.com/ad9cbgm IUDs typically cost about $500 and tubal ligation (aka getting your tubes tied) cost about $1500 to $6000. I just want people to not be discouraged from getting an IUD because of one anecdote. Anecdote does not equal data.

  • threeofseven

    I got pregnant at 18 with a copper 7 IUD. After my abortion, my boyfriend and I decided to go with the IUD again, but with a backup plan — a diaphragm. The doctor at the clinic refused to fit me for a diaphragm after I told him I also had an IUD — even though I said I’d already been pregnant once with one. I went home, feeling defeated. Within 2 months I was pregnant again. At the clinic for my second abortion, I made sure they knew that I still had an IUD (I was concerned about a preforated uterus). Thus, I was shocked and surprised when, during the procedure, the doctor exclaimed “there’s an IUD in here!”

    When I was 36, I was injured by an uninsured driver and filed a lawsuit. The other side gained access to my medical records and cited my abortions as proof of my irresponsibility and poor character.

    I am still hurt by this and I am now 54. Thanks for listening.

  • barbara-e

    I got pregnant with a copper 7 IUD about 25 years ago.  I’d had it for two months, and had a six month old baby at the time.  I chose to get the IUD removed and continue the pregnancy.  Now, I have a wonderful daughter as a result, and her 14 months older brother passed away due to a drug overdose. 

    There is an alternative besides vasectomy for men.  The procedure called RISUGin India (reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance) takes about 15 minutes with a doctor, is effective after about three days, and lasts for 10 or more years.

    Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where men had to make a conscious choice to become fathers, instead of all the burden being on women?

     

  • colleen

    Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where men had to make a conscious choice to become fathers, instead of all the burden being on women?

    The ‘pro-life’ movement will never hold men accountable for anything including their own fertility. The movement is based on the notion that, post ejaculation,  the entire burden of human reproduction falls on women and that’s how God wants it.  If they held men accountable for the harm they cause or the children they father there would be no ‘pro-life’ movement. The purpose  of the ‘pro-life’ movement is control with a strong admixture of sadism thrown in for the entertainment value of some very sick people.

  • lotcha

    Thank you for sharing your story! Great point about not being able to have it done at the doctor’s office, I’d never even thought about that.  

    Women do get pregnant with an IUD sometimes, but I just wanted to give a counterbalance to all the (definitely worrying!) stories of IUD pregnancies here: I’m in my eleventh year of using a copper IUD, and on my third coil, and have never had a problem. I’ve been worried a couple of times that I might be pregnant, but all it ever was was a slightly late period or particularly bad PMS.

    Thankfully, for most women, it does work, and for me has the huge benefit of being both hassle- and hormone-free: on the pill I had constant yeast infections, and after I stopped taking it I realised it had been slightly suppressing my moods – the bad, but more importantly the good – all the time I took it. 

  • czlc89

    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s scary that you can get pregnant while using the IUD, I’ve heard that this is much more likely to happen if it relocates and you aren’t able to see the strings anymore. I’m also surprised they didn’t mention the fact that when you do become pregnant while using an IUD, there is a higher chance of miscarriage because of the increased risk of an ectopic pregnancy.

    http://www.publichealthwatchdog.com/fda-receives-over-45000-adverse-event-reports-related-to-mirena-iud/