After many years using hormonal birth control methods (the pill) and three pregnancies and postpartum phases, I decided I wanted to use a non-hormonal form of birth control after our third and final son was born in 2016. My hormones were imbalanced and both my mental and physical health weren’t the best at that time. I was dealing with an autoimmune condition that I developed after my oldest son was born and continued hypothyroidism. I did not want to throw more hormones, or another pregnancy, into the mix. After a lot of research and talking to my OBGYN I decided to go with the ParaGard (copper) IUD. I choose it primarily because it was billed as “hormone-free.”
I read the literature my doctor gave me about the ParaGard and asked her lots of questions. My mom had a bad experience with an IUD back in the 80s and had always told me never to get one, so I was a little nervous. But my doctor assured me IUDs had vastly improved. The primary downsides of the ParaGard IUD, I was told, was heavier periods and more intense cramping that usually subsides after 6 months. When I went to Paraguard’s website the first thing I saw was this claim: “Say hello to prescription birth control that’s 100% hormone-free! That’s right, it’s completely, absolutely, 100% hormone-free. No hormones, no hassles, no hormone-related side effects.” That’s a pretty definitive statement regarding the hormonal effects of the Paraguard, and I trusted them. The point of this post is to share my experience, because I learned the hard way that the ParaGard IUD does, in fact, have hormone-related side effects. I went through them, and it was hell.
I only had the ParaGard for 2 1/2 years, but their website says ParaGard is effective for “up to 10 years.”
I chose this method of birth control because I was pretty sure we were done having babies and I knew I did not want a surprise pregnancy while I was getting through my youngest baby’s colic and reflux and my postpartum depression. Frankly, we were mostly practicing abstinence because three-kids-colicky-baby-PPD-fog, but still… I didn’t want to risk it and was hoping that no sex wouldn’t be a permanent birth control method for us. We weren’t quite ready for a vasectomy yet. I didn’t want anything with hormones because my body was already so affected by my thyroid and hormonal issues. After discussing my options with my doctor and confirming that the worst side effects reported are heavy periods for the first 6-12 months, I choose the ParaGard. I should have done more research on my own, but again: colicky newborn, three kids, PPD, survival mode.
I was nursing so I didn’t have a period until my baby was around 12 months old (and I got the ParaGard when he was around 2 1/2 months old), so I didn’t have those “heavy periods” for a while. So I attributed things I was feeling — joint pain, insomnia, anxiety, brain fog, depression, inability to lose any weight, fatigue, numbness in hands and feet, back pain and hip pain, restless leg syndrome, and lots more (I was having so many new random issues that I started keeping a list on my phone) — to my Hashimoto’s and thyroid, plus age and having a new baby. But instead of gradually getting better it just kept getting worse. And some of the symptoms like the panic attacks, noise sensitivity, restless leg, numbness in hands and feet, etc. were brand new and had never been problems with my Hashimoto’s before. After researching my symptoms I began to strongly suspect that my copper IUD was the culprit! I’ve yet to have a medical doctor confirm this but I knew it in my gut to be true. Once I came to this realization I started doing even more research and learned that women with autoimmune disease should never get an IUD (and really should avoid medical devices and implants whenever possible because it is a foreign body being introduced and will often trigger autoimmune flare ups since your body already attacks itself and introducing something like an IUD can only exacerbate that). Again, every doctor I’ve seen in the last 7 years has been well aware of my autoimmune and thyroid issues and I’ve never once been counseled on this. My OB, who I trusted and loved and delivered two of my three babies and is known as a midwife of OBGYN in her approach and mindset, didn’t mention anything, nor did my endocrinologist. The first person who raised any flags at all was my naturopath.
In addition to IUDs being a problem in general for people with autoimmune issues, copper IUDs specifically can lead to copper toxicity in some people. While most of my research has found that Western medicine does not believe that copper IUDs can cause copper toxicity because the amount of copper released into the body is too low, I have also found a large number of women out there who are all reporting the same type of symptoms as me. And many of those are the same symptoms that show up for copper toxicity.
I had all of those symptoms, plus many of the ones listed under zinc deficiency (and we did discover a zinc deficiency as well as a Vitamin D deficiency about 18 months ago. And yet, I couldn’t find one doctor (in person or online) who wasn’t totally skeptical and dismissive of the idea that IUDs are causing these issues for women and that copper toxicity could be a problem. I’m not that crunchy mom who doesn’t believe in any western medicine (not judging, just giving you an idea of where I come from and how I approach western medicine). I give my kids ibuprofen if needed, we vaccinate, I’ve gotten a flu shot every year since law school. But I also know that I have struggled with health issues since the birth of my first son that have gone unrecognized, been dismissed, and have not been well-explained to me by doctors. I know now that autoimmune illness is still very misunderstood and thyroid treatments are outdated and overgeneralized based on a “normal range” that may not work for everyone. I have been helped by alternative medicines and treatments and I refuse to dismiss those as hokey or with an eye roll. I have learned to be a health advocate for myself because clearly no one else will. And I’ve realized that women are often dismissed as irrational or depressed (if you’re a woman of color this is even more common). Heart attacks are dismissed as anxiety, for example. And IUD issues seem to be attributed to things like age (I’m 39) or being in your head. But the more I read other women’s stories about how they felt like they turned into a different person after getting the copper IUD, the more I realized that I wasn’t alone. I believe the ParaGard copper IUD is making many women sick. I believe that we can get better and much of this improvement will come from alternative medicine treatments. And I believe our doctors need to start listening to us and do better by us, and start warning us of these things before we get an IUD so that we can make a well-informed decision.
If a woman in a mom’s group or a friend says they are thinking about getting an IUD I immediately tell them my experience. I know many women have had one and loved their experience. They are convenient for sure. But I’ve lost the last 2 1/2 years of good health and struggled and suffered, and in turn so has my family. These issues are so misunderstood and they can impact your marriage, your kids, your job, and other relationships. I forget to pay bills, to renew my auto registration, to make appointments, miss deadlines, etc. because of my complete brain fog and fatigue. I used to be a highly functional and productive person. Now I can’t trust myself to do simple tasks some days. My short term memory is shit. I have to write everything down. I’m extremely disorganized. I’m a hot mess. I wish I had never gotten the ParaGard.
I was finally able to get my IUD removed by a doctor. My OB was unable to remove it, as it had apparently become embedded in my cervix. She needed to schedule a procedure in the hospital to remove it, and my insurance was giving me the runaround about whether they would cover it. So I found a new OB who was able to remove it in her office (which meant no drugs beyond ibuprofen for pain, and the pain was worse than giving birth). Once she was able to dislodge it, I asked if I could look at it. I cleaned it off (there was some blood) and couldn’t believe my eyes: the IUD was rusted and half of the coils were missing from the center of the IUD. Remember how I said the Paragard is supposed to be good for 10 years? Yeah. After 2 1/2 years mine was rusted and coils were falling off in my body. Add to that the fact that it had embedded in my cervix and I probably could have gotten pregnant because it wasn’t where it was supposed to be, and you can see why I was feeling so ill and that I’m lucky things weren’t worse. Long story short (I know, too late) the ParaGard IUD put me through hell and I want to make sure every other woman out there considering it hears my story so they can make an informed decision. You might still choose it and you might have a great experience, but at least you do so going in with more balanced information.
If you read this whole post, bravo to you. I hope you find it helpful. Please share it with women’s groups, friends, and your fellow moms if you think it will help them too.