By English Taylor
With a headlamp strapped across her forehead, Aliya stared into my vagina, using forceps to search for a sign of my IUD.
“Okay — I can feel your strings,” she said. “On the count of three, I’m going to pull.” I was lying on my bed, holding my knees against my chest, staring up at my bedroom ceiling fan. No stirrups in sight, no crunchy paper against my butt.
I was getting my IUD taken out at home by a nurse midwife.
If you’re shocked — I feel you. I am, too, especially considering my first and last at-home adventure hadn’t turned out so well. I was eight and had acquired a pair of shiny, pink (and quite dull) Barbie scissors — the plastic gem of my back-to-school shopping haul, courtesy of Target. Before I whipped this prized possession out on the first day of third grade, I felt the urge to call a dress rehearsal, and my sister’s perfect, blonde ringlets would do just the trick. Go big or go back to Target, right
My sister’s bald spots eventually grew back, but my ~shear~ terror of trying anything at home — from ear piercing à la The Parent Trap to bikini waxing — never quite subsided.
Obviously, getting an IUD removed is a bit more intense than a haircut. So, why the heck would I let someone get all up in my lady parts at home?
Some background: I’ve been on hormonal BC since I was 20, and bounced back and forth between different pill brands for about eight years. Two and a half years ago, I decided to try an IUD. All my friends were touting these T-shaped devices. Not to mention, my ability to remember to pop a pill at the same time each day was about as good as my haircutting skills.
My Mirena and I got off to a rough start. At the gyno, I lied back and blinked into the bright lights. As she put the IUD inside me, I writhed in pain. Holy. Effing. Shit. I needed to puke and poop, all at the same time. (I did puke.) Though the insertion process was miserable, the cramping and nausea subsided after a week or two. My periods became lighter and I finally could delete that annoying, often-ignored daily phone alarm to take my pill.
But after two and a half (mostly blissful) years with my girl Mirena, I decided it was time for a break. A break from having a device chill out in my uterus. A break from synthetic hormones. And to be honest, I kinda missed my period, which had almost completely disappeared. I wondered what my natural cycle was like — I hadn’t experienced one since college. Back then, it was a bloody disaster — heavy, crampy, and accompanied by bumpy, red mountain ranges on my jaw. Would I still have these symptoms now that I wasn’t binge drinking, pulling all-nighters, waking up with Nutella all over my face and pillowcase, or eating leftover garlic breadsticks for breakfast?
To feel more in sync with my body and cycle, I wanted ‘er outta there. But as I navigated to the online portal to make an appointment, I remembered the horrible insertion process. I couldn’t help but wonder: Could there be a way to make this whole thing more physically and emotionally comfortable, while still getting safe, quality care?
I volunteer as a birth doula, and have worked with a number of midwives. Out of curiosity, I opened a new browser tab and messaged Aliya, a San Francisco-based certified nurse midwife and owner of Birthing Adventures, who specializes in home births. I had met her a few times and really liked her vibe.
Given that my in-office IUD insertion was more scarring than my at-home Barbie scissors incident, I scheduled an appointment with Aliya to remove my IUD.
When Aliya arrived at my apartment the following Wednesday, we sat on my living room couch and talked for 30 minutes — 30 minutes! She nodded her head as I talked about my reproductive health history and experience with the Mirena. After discussing what to expect during the removal process and giving me some tips for transitioning off hormones, we went to work.
Per her instructions, I grabbed a towel from the bathroom. Aliya laid the towel on my bed and propped up a bunch of pillows for me to lean back on. I stripped off my yoga pants and hopped up, wearing one of my boyfriend’s button-down shirts on top. It smelled like him, and didn’t itch like a hospital gown.
I looked to my right. My dresser. I looked to my left. My nightstand with a picture of my grandparents on their wedding day. I felt relaxed, even though someone was currently peering into my vagina.
I felt…at home.
With a tug of the strings and a twinge of pain, she was out. I sat up on my elbows. Aliya placed her on the towel for me to see. There she was, in all her white, plastic glory, and covered in my vaginal goo. I couldn’t believe she had been inside me for two and a half years. In a weird way, I felt lighter. I pulled my pants back on, sent Aliya $75 on Venmo (seriously), and thanked her.
Oh, and the coolest part? She let me freakin’ keep my Mirena! You know, to use as a Christmas tree ornament or turn into a refrigerator magnet. (After keeping it in a glass jar that sat on our kitchen counter for about two weeks, my partner gently asked if we could toss it. I obliged.)
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all about gynos. I genuinely like mine — she even held my hair back while I puked my guts out all over her pristine exam room. But more than anything, I’m all about choices. Especially when it comes to things as intimate and important as your health, vagina, and contraception. For me, that meant choosing to go off birth control for awhile, and choosing a much less common way of getting care. Both make me feel comfortable in my body.
Bottom line? You do you. One exception: Just promise me you won’t cut your hair (or anyone else’s) with Barbie scissors.
Have you ever considered going off of hormonal birth control? Would you ever get your IUD taken out at home? Why or why not? Tell us in a comment below!
English Taylor is a San Francisco-based women’s health and wellness writer and birth doula. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Healthline, Refinery29, NYLON, and Modern Fertility. Follow English and her work on Medium or Instagram.