In 2011, after the birth of my third child in three years, I was desperate to find a form of birth control that would actually work for my body. I had mood swings and gained weight on the Pill. I took a shot at Natural Family Planning (NFP), but due to some bad mental math while things were getting hot and heavy, I wound up pregnant with number two. We even went with the tried and true condoms and pull-out method and that is how we have number three.
When my midwife told me about the copper IUD it almost seemed too good to be true. I wouldn’t have to remember to take anything or count days, and the hormones were localized so I wouldn’t be affected by mood swings or weight gain. Needless to say, I was very excited and had my IUD implanted that day.
An entire year went by with no issues. I made a habit of always checking for my strings on the first day of the month, and none of my usual, unwanted symptoms had reared their ugly heads.
However, in July 2012, I started to feel another set of usual symptoms. But these were not birth control symptoms. No, these were pregnancy symptoms. Around 9pm one evening I looked at my husband and told him that, at the risk of sounding irrational and possibly deranged, I was just going to take a pregnancy test and put these questions in my head to rest.
Two minutes later, I had two little lines staring back at me confirming my suspicions. I couldn’t believe it. The IUD is supposed to have a 99 percent success rate and here I was, part of the one percent. You never expect that you will be a part of the tiny number they warn you about, but I was.
I told my husband and even though we were excited, we were still shocked. Thankfully, we wanted another child and, though it didn’t happen at quite the right time, we could get on board with the idea fairly easily. A couple of hours later, I went to bed hoping that in the morning I would call my midwife’s office, get my IUD out, and everything would be fine. Healthy pregnancy, healthy baby.
Unfortunately, that is not how this story goes. I tried lying down and felt in my shoulder discomfort I had never felt before. I sat up and the pain immediately went away. Uncertain, I propped myself up on some pillows and tried to fall asleep. I was OK for about thirty minutes until the pain came back again with a vengeance. I got up to sit in our recliner and again, felt a bit better. I tried drifting off to sleep and got maybe another thirty minutes of rest before the excruciating pain was back.
I decided to get in the bathtub but the fluctuating pain carried on all night. I think I drifted off in the tub a few times, but mostly I stayed awake, talking to this new life inside me and encouraging the tiny force to be reckoned with. At 8am, I called my midwife’s office. I told them what was going on and they told me to come in right away. My husband’s job wouldn’t allow him to take off work on such short notice, so we called my mom and his sister and they came to be with me. My mom came and loaded me into her car; by the time we left I was very, very ill. The shoulder pain had increased exponentially and everything hurt.
When we arrived at the building I waddled in, the pain immense, and slowly made my way up to the third floor in the elevator. As I started to get out of the elevator, I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I collapsed right there in the hallway. My mom ran into the midwife’s office and the office staff came out immediately to help.
Moments later, one of my midwives came to check on me. I was sitting up on the table answering her questions as best I could. She asked me to lie down so she could check my IUD strings and I started crying as the pain was unbearable. She said she understood and she would be quick, but it needed to be done. So I laid back, pain washed over me, and I passed out. I came to about 30 seconds later and the room was in a panic. The midwife told me she thought the IUD perforated my uterus and I was bleeding internally.
My midwife called my OB, I was checked into the ER, and the doctors immediately administered an ultrasound. My OB told me that there was so much fluid in my abdomen that he couldn’t actually see where my IUD was or what the cause of the bleeding was, so he was going to have to go in blind and I would have to trust him. Thankfully, this man had already been an amazing doctor with one of my pregnancies and he had all of my trust.
Terrifying moments in the ER
By this time, my husband had arrived at the OR and it hit me that this could potentially be the last time I ever saw him. As best I could, I told him I loved him and to tell the kids I loved them. Then I just cried. From hurt, from pain, from uncertainty. They rolled me back to pre-op and shortly after arriving, I passed out from pain again.
When I woke up after the surgery, I was in a lot of pain but surrounded by family. I felt dead; I couldn’t move freely and it took an incredible amount of effort to even try. My OB came in not long after I awoke and explained that my IUD had perforated my uterus which caused an ectopic pregnancy, an egg that was fertilized in one of my fallopian tubes. The growing pregnancy caused the tube to rupture, and I was bleeding internally for nearly 15 hours.
My doctor went on to explain that I lost between one and a half and two liters of blood—about a third of a person’s total blood volume. He said it was incredible I was still here to tell the tale and had I shown up to the hospital even 30 minutes later, I would have died from losing too much blood. He had to resect my left fallopian tube, leaving me with just the right tube to work with if I ever wanted to get pregnant again.
For two days I lie in recovery even though I felt there was no life left in me. I couldn’t speak out of sheer exhaustion. My doctor finally ordered a blood transfusion and after four bags of donated blood, I started to feel better.
It was a slow recovery and I still feel lasting effects to this day. I have a much harder time regulating my body temperature and the catastrophic event caused a hormonal response from which my thyroid has yet to bounce back.
I don’t share my story to scare people into different forms of birth control. There is no doubt that the popularity of IUDs has increased over the past few years and many women have had success with them. I share my story as an example of the one percent of cases you always hear about on warning labels but never believe will happen to you. It’s imperative to fully and wholly educate ourselves so we can all make the best decisions for our bodies and our health. I share my story so it becomes real, so other women are aware of what can happen, and so women can learn how to advocate for their health.