What It’s Really Like to Get Pregnant When You Have An IUD

It’s something you see in movies and TV shows all the time. A young, confident woman has grand, practically cinematic plans for her life, and then, suddenly, she ends up pregnant and doesn’t know what the fuck to do. It happened to Rachel Green on Friends, and it was basically the entire plot of the movie Knocked Up, but I never thought it was something that’d happen to me. That is until three years ago when I got pregnant with an IUD.

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A match made in birth control heaven

When it comes to pregnancy prevention, IUDs are pretty much the shit. They’re low maintenance, have few side effects, and come with a stellar less than one percent chance of getting accidentally knocked up. Five years ago, that was exactly the kind of commitment and dedication I was looking for in a birth control method. I had just given birth to my first child and was mostly—though not totally—sure I didn’t want to have any more kids. I was also pretty much over the mood swings, weight gain, and bacne that accompanied my hormonal birth control. So, I went for the Paragard copper IUD, which my doctor inserted as soon as I was cleared to have sex again post-baby.

The IUD insertion was easy, breezy, beautiful CoverGirl, especially because I’d already had a baby. (It’s not as painful when your cervix has already stretched enough to shoot out a human.) And I loved the freedom of not having to worry about my birth control. Aunt Flo was definitely more boisterous when she came to town, but, outside of heavier periods and occasionally checking for the IUD strings to make sure it was still in place, contraception was something I almost never had to think about.

Houston, we have a problem

Like any responsible millennial chick, I enjoy being ~in the know~ about my own bod, so I always track my periods on my Clue app. About two and a half years after I got my IUD, the app alerted me that I was about to be on the rag. By the end of that week, I still hadn’t started. My periods are more predictable than a Kanye outburst at an award show, so I was starting to sort of freak out. I gave it a few more days, and then bought a pregnancy test. I remember opening the package with clammy hands as I yelled through the door to my husband, “I’m sure it’s just a weird cycle. There’s no way I’m actually pregnant.” When the test came back positive, I almost ran out of the bathroom and downed a bottle of vodka. Except I couldn’t, because I was definitely pregnant.

Getting pregnant with an IUD is exactly as complicated as it sounds. IUDs come with an elevated risk of ectopic pregnancy—where a fertilized egg starts growing in your fallopian tubes rather than implanting in your uterus—if you get pregnant while the IUD is still inserted. Plus, there’s the question of whether or not the device can be safely removed if you decide you’d like to continue the pregnancy. And, most importantly, you have to decide how you even feel about being pregnant. Chances are if you opted for the IUD, you weren’t looking to have any human-shaped buns baking away in your oven anytime soon.

For me, the decision to have the baby wasn’t difficult. I was married and financially stable, I already had one child whom I loved and adored, and my husband and I had flirted with the idea of more babies. We weren’t prepared for the pregnancy, but we knew we could make room for this new baby in our lives. The next step was hauling ass to the doctor to make sure everything was OK.

This is what anxiety looks like

My OB/GYN did an ultrasound and determined that my pregnancy was not ectopic and my IUD was still in place. Somehow, despite proper placement of the device, a fertilized egg had implanted just above my IUD. That meant the IUD could be removed, but that’s where things got even more scary.

It’s possible to continue a pregnancy with an IUD in place, but it can cause complications and even pregnancy loss. But, the fucked up thing is, removing it while you’re pregnant can be equally as risky, because it forces the cervix to open and that can trigger a miscarriage. According to the American Pregnancy Association, about 10 to 25 percent of all clinically-recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. For me, my doctor explained, the risk of miscarriage would be about 25 percent higher for the first six weeks after the IUD was removed, and then it would drop back down to the “normal” level.

Every little thing is gonna be alright

As soon as we confirmed the pregnancy was viable, my doctor wanted to remove the IUD, so I didn’t have much time to prepare. My husband came with me to the appointment, and he held my hand as the doctor located the IUD in my uterus using an ultrasound machine, and then gently pulled it out. It only took a few seconds, but my heart was pounding, and it felt like the entire procedure was happening in slow motion.

There was no pain when the IUD was removed, but I did start to bleed a little bit. The doctor assured me that was normal and told me that if the bleeding got heavier or I noticed any cramping, I could call her. After that, all I could do was wait for six agonizing weeks until the first trimester of my pregnancy ended and my risk of miscarriage finally decreased. I went back to the doctor at the beginning of my second trimester, and an ultrasound showed my baby was healthy and thriving. There’s always a risk of complications during pregnancy, but, at least as far as my IUD was concerned, I was in the clear.

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That summer, on July 17, I welcomed a healthy, 9-pound baby boy into the world. He had big, brown eyes and a full head of hair, and absolutely no idea how unexpected and chaotic his crash-landing into existence had been.

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After my son was born, I opted for another IUD. No, I’m not nuts. I just believe that what happened to me was truly rare. According to WebMD, IUDs have a 0.8% failure rate, while the average failure rate for birth control pills is a whopping 9%. My pregnancy was unexpected, but I don’t blame it on the device.

IUDs are still one of the safest, most reliable forms of contraception on the market, and I not only sing their praises and continue to use one myself, but I’d also recommend them to anyone who has trouble remembering to take birth control pills or who wants a reversible form of long-term birth control. That said, I still carefully track my periods and now use another form of contraception whenever I’m ovulating (a girl’s gotta have back-up!). Most importantly, I understand now that life is full of surprises, and I know that I have the capacity to handle anything it throws my way.

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