When I was a junior in college I was one of the only vagina-having people I knew that wasn’t on birth control. I’m lucky, I’ve never had unbearably heavy or painful periods, nor did I have bad acne as a teenager, both reasons some of my friends went on birth control at a young age. I’m also queer so the getting pregnant thing wasn’t ever something I had to worry about. I heard about the Mirena through the grapevine. Someone knew someone who had gotten it and she didn’t get her period anymore. That sounded amazing! No periods? Hell yeah.
It’s a little plastic device that’s inserted into your uterus that emits a low dose of progesterone. You get it put in and it’s supposed to just chill in there for 5 years and keep you from getting pregnant. It’s advertised to fix the problems of traditional birth control. It’s a one-and-done procedure so you don’t need to remember to take it everyday, the hormones are localized so it won’t affect you the same way traditional birth control does. Also the hormone it is using is progesterone and not estrogen, which is supposed to cause the weight gain associated with “the pill.” That sounded like a miracle. Why not get it? It seemed so easy. So I set up a gynecology appointment.
In my tiny college town in southern Indiana there was one gynecologist. I was nervous going in, but she was very nice and seemed to be super liberal and forward thinking (it’s always a toss up in Indiana). She was super excited that I was considering getting the IUD. She had only positive things to say about it, so I made an appointment. It was very painful when it was inserted, but I was told to expect that. I proceeded to go back to my bed in my sorority, pop several Tylenol, borrow one of my sister’s heating pads, and watch Netflix. After that I expected my periods to go away immediately, they did not. Mine never actually went away completely. After the initial pain and blood from getting it put in it was smooth sailing for the next 18 months. My periods progressively got lighter and lighter and I forgot about it for the most part.
In February 2018 I had the worst cramps I have ever experienced. I was doubled over in pain rocking back and forth. My boyfriend had to go buy me a heating pad at 11 pm. I didn’t have one because I had never needed it before. In the next few months I would have the 5 most stressful periods of my life. They were painful and irregular. The periods that had become almost nonexistent were getting heavier and I was having insane mood swings. At first I tried not to worry about it. Some people have incredibly painful periods; it’s not that big of a deal. After much urging from my boyfriend, I finally made a gynecology appointment in April, to make sure everything was ok. The doctor I saw was very rushed and did not seem to have time for me. She said I was a “smart girl” for getting the Mirena, quickly probed my cervix, and assured me that everything was ok. I left that appointment feeling not comforted at all. She hadn’t given me any answers and I wasn’t sure I trusted her when she said everything was ok. I tried to put these fears to rest. The pain I was feeling was real but who knows? Maybe I’m exaggerating.
A few weeks later I started bleeding during sex. The first time it didn’t really seem like a big deal. Maybe it was just too vigorous, or my boyfriend’s nails were too long and scratched me. But it kept happening. Every time we would have sex I would start to bleed and I would often be in pain after. My boyfriend was thoroughly freaked out by this and urged me to see a different gynecologist. I went to that appointment and when the doctor asked if I was on birth control, and she too praised me for having the Mirena and said she felt like it was the “Cadillac of birth control.” I explained the issues I was having and she gave me a vaginal ultrasound to make sure the IUD was in a good place. She said that it was, told me not to worry about the bleeding, and said that if it continued I might have to consider having it removed. I left that appointment feeling slightly better. The IUD was in a good place so everything was ok, right? There was nothing to worry about, the bleeding would go away.
The bleeding did not go away. I bled continuously for a month, not very much, but just enough to be annoying and concerning. I was also getting random cramps in the middle of my cycle. I decided I would need to get the IUD taken out. I went back to the same gynecologist and said that even though the IUD was in a good place something still seemed off. She then informed me that it’s hard to tell in the ultrasound where the IUD actually is, and that it could still be the cause of my pain and bleeding. That was incredibly frustrating. What was the point of the ultrasound if it didn’t tell you whether or not the IUD was puncturing my uterine wall?
I go back for yet another appointment to finally get it taken out. I’m bleeding and in pain and I’m not having sex with anyone who could get me pregnant, so what’s the point of keeping it? Getting it put in was painful, so I did my research about getting it taken out. Everything that I read said that it was a breeze in comparison. According to these sources I wouldn’t even feel anything, the device would just come right out and I would be good as new. But I did feel something when the device came out. It hurt. My gyno made an off-hand comment about the device being “stuck to something,” which I didn’t even know was a possibility. You mean all of those months I spent worrying that the IUD was puncturing my uterus and trying to convince myself I was overreacting, I was right?
I was in a bit of pain after I left the gyno but I wasn’t sure if it was in my head. I was bleeding, which wasn’t supposed to be happening. I had sex later that night and started to bleed even more. I sobbed because I was hit with the realization that this was going to take a long time to heal, but I didn’t even know the half of it yet.
A few days later I started feeling very off. It was like the worst PMS that I have ever had. My boyfriend suggested that it might have something to do with getting the Mirena out. I kept saying that it couldn’t be because it isn’t supposed to affect you hormonally the way traditional birth control methods do. They looked it up and found that lots of other women had a similar experience coming off the Mirena and there was even a name for what I was feeling: The Mirena Crash. The Mirena Crash is characterized by fatigue, irritability, run away emotions especially anxiety, thoughts of suicide, mood swings, migraines, breast tenderness, decreased sex drive and painful sex, trouble concentrating, insomnia, nausea and bloating, and even flu-like symptoms such as sore throat and fever. As soon as I read that I knew that’s what was going on. None of the literature I had read before getting the IUD out had mentioned any of these side effects.
My Mirena Crash lasted about 6 weeks. I was irritable, depressed, fatigued, having extreme anxiety attacks, and awful migraines. During one of my crash induced anxiety attacks I broke up with my boyfriend because I was freaking out so much. (We got back together, don’t worry.) I felt like a different person. I didn’t want to do anything, I was constantly tired and in pain and I had this sense of impending doom that would not go away. I’ve struggled with mental illness for years and at the time I had recently found a combination of meds that I felt was perfect for me. The crash sent me spiraling. I hadn’t felt that unbalanced in years.
I am about two weeks post Mirena Crash and I still feel kinda off. My mood still seems to be a little unstable, I’m still getting migraines, and I’ve been breaking out pretty consistently. I wanted to share my experience so that if anyone else is going through this they can know that they are not alone. I had no idea what was happening to me and the only place I found answers was in blog posts like this. If you have the Mirena or are thinking about getting it, I don’t want you to go in blind. It’s just as risky as other forms of birth control and potentially more painful. If you’re experiencing the crash, I’m so sorry, it’s not going to last forever even though it feels like it will. Feel free to contact me or leave a comment on this post if you have any questions.