My periods have always been bad, but post two kids, they became downright unbearable (long, ridiculously heavy, cramp-filled, and maddeningly close together). I recently shared my desire to stop my periods now that I'm done having kids, but I didn't realize it was a real possibility until I consulted my doctor. She gave me two options that could potentially lessen, if not completely stop, my flow, and I decided to try the Mirena, a flexible plastic intrauterine device (IUD) that releases small amounts of hormone directly into the uterus and lasts for up to five years.
While I didn't need it for birth control — I had my tubes tied after my second C-section — my doctor suggested I could potentially enjoy the period-free side effect that about 50 percent of Mirena users experience, herself included (she hadn't had a period in 10 years!). I trust my doctor and was hopeful that my body would react similarly to hers, but of course, I also asked friends who I knew had tried an IUD. Their reactions weren't quite as positive. Chronic headaches, constant spotting, crazy mood swings, and irritability . . . the warnings came pouring in. But I was a woman on a period-stopping mission, and I ignored them.
A few weeks later, when I got my next period, I had the Mirena inserted. My doctor told me that it could take up to six months for my periods to stop, but that I would most likely experience a lighter period by my next cycle. I was pumped. Right away, however, the Mirena failed to live up to my high expectations. That period that I was on when it was inserted? It really never stopped, lasting for more than three weeks. I knew spotting was a common side effect, but I wasn't expecting I'd start considering buying stock in Tampax.
My dedication was already wavering, but when I shared my concerns with another friend, she told me she'd gotten the Mirena six months before and was absolutely loving it. After a rough first month, she said, she was period free and feeling great. I decided I just needed to be patient.
But soon other, more worrisome side effects started popping up. My hands and calves started feeling swollen and achy. Regularly, I began getting headaches, a real oddity for me. Most maddeningly, I almost immediately gained five pounds that simply would not budge, no matter how much I amped up my workouts or how closely I watched my diet. Considering I had just lost the last of my baby weight, this one really ticked me off. I tried to blame my Summer social schedule (bring on the white-wine spritzers!), but a month later, when I got sick and survived on sparkling water, dry english muffins, and sugar-free popsicles for four days, I was shocked when I got on the scale and hadn't lost a single ounce. Wtf?!
My next period was lighter, for sure; in fact, I didn't even realize it was a period because I hadn't stopped bleeding from my last one, but at that point, I hardly cared. The cons of the Mirena, however, most definitely outweighed the pros. I scheduled an appointment with my doctor to have my IUD removed about three months after I had it inserted. The process was easy and mostly painless, and I was very happy to wave goodbye to that little piece of plastic.
It's been about three weeks since I booted the Mirena from my body, and most of my side effects have gone away. The weight still hasn't come off, but I'm hopeful that in time, I'll get back to normal. I'm sad that I wasn't one of the women (and there are many) who fall in love with their IUD, and I'm disappointed that it wasn't the period-free fix I was looking for. I still have the option of an endometrial ablation, an outpatient procedure that destroys the uterine lining using high heat (it's done in the doctor's office, requires local anesthesia, and according to my doc, about a day of recovery), but for now, I'm planning to give my body some time to return to normal. In the end, I learned there are worse things to deal with than a period.