She practically squealed as she grabbed my hand. “Rivka, are you…pregnant?” I abruptly pushed her lovingly grasped hand away.
“Pregnant?!” I protested. “No!”
Being asked if you’re pregnant (when not) in religious circles is difficult to swallow, because religious women usually don’t divulge their status until they are three months along, as the first three months are the most precarious times in which something could, God forbid, happen to the fetus. So if you’re asked, you probably look three months pregnant.
Being asked if you’re pregnant in Chabad circles is even more so difficult, because Chabad women traditionally keep it quiet into their fifth month.
So here I was, looking five months pregnant, at a friendly Chabadnik gathering, and I was not. Pregnant. At all.
Just really, really bloated. So unusually bloated. And cramping like crazy, like, all the time. I barely cramped in my life before. Yet every month, it seemed to be getting worse. Cramping, lasting for weeks. Heavy, heavy periods. I didn’t get my period for about 14 months after my second baby. And once I did, the PMS was out of control.
I’ve experienced PMS before–mood fluctuations usually the week before my period–but this PMS was something from a whole different planet. I found myself lying on the couch for a week, whenever I could find the time outside of taking care of my kids, desiring to do nothing else but watch movies. I’m not a sit-on-the-couch-watching-movies type of person. I’m into moving and doing. I get depressed and anxious of course, but for hours, not an entire day. Not an entire week.
For that PMS week, I had no desire to do anything. My mind swam in the gutter. Mood swings to the point that I had to go back on antidepressants. Intense cramping. So unusual.
It took me four months of this until I finally connected it back to the possibility that it was linked to the copper IUD I had implanted, and that it wasn’t just situational. I started doing research.
I found many women on various online forums discussing the exact same symptoms I was experiencing from a copper IUD: this type of “intense brain fog” where I could barely think at all, much less straight.
I felt comforted–yes! Brain fog! Exactly. Intense depression? Indeed!
But I knew that forums are not to be trusted. Just a bunch of people getting together and discounting scientific evidence, saying that correlation means causation. As I searched, I couldn’t find any concrete scientific evidence on the effect of mood imbalances from copper IUDs (which, unlike Mirena, don’t have hormones).
My friend, an acupuncturist, happened to call as I was experiencing my intense PMS. She confirmed that she had seen many, many female clients who have been very thrown off from having copper IUDs, and that once they got it out, things got better.
The cramping was so severe. I could barely get off the couch. I was resolute; scientific evidence or not, the copper IUD had to go.
I went to the doctor.
I went armed with the warnings from many women on the forums who said, “Of course, my doctor said my mood issues had nothing to do with the copper IUD,” so I was expecting resistance.
I received disbelief.
“Why are you taking it out?” the doctor asked.
“I am experiencing debilitating mood issues from it.”
“That has nothing to do with the IUD,” he answered. “You can’t believe all of those online forums. And in all my 20 years, I’ve never seen a woman with copper toxicity. I don’t believe in copper toxicity.”
“Ok,” I said, not wanting to argue.
I took it out.
And, with the advice of a friend who had seen many women with IUD removals, I went through the sea of even more intense mood shifts for about two weeks afterwards, as my body returned to normal. As I surfed that sea of anxiety and depression, I would repeat the doctor’s words in my mind, wondering if I had made it all up, wondering if I had made a mistake. Every time I cramped, my mood would shoot downwards and I would feel in the gutter again. But was it just me? Was I just crazy?
As the weeks wore on, the cramping died down. The next period I had was lighter. Then the cramping disappeared. And my lightness and sense of humor came back a hundred fold. I waited expectantly the week that was “The PMS Week” during my IUD days to see what would happen, and nothing did. I was me. I was bouncing around, laughing, doing things. I could barely find the time to sit on the couch. My stomach settled back into its normal, slightly paunchy style.
In those days in which I was pondering the copper IUD removal, I felt so very alone. Even though there were all of the women on these forums reiterating my concerns and symptoms, I didn’t feel I could rely on them. Who were these women, anyway? What was the truth?
When enough of the scientific studies haven’t been done yet, or the findings don’t reflect what all women experience, we find ourselves in a strange predicament. Feeling one way, yet being told that we’re not supposed to feel that way.
That’s when we have to band together. We have to talk. We have to share stories. Of course, we have to do it carefully, cautiously, to make sure we don’t take too great of leaps into the wrong conclusions. Sometimes, the data just doesn’t reflect the truth. The data doesn’t reflect all of our lives. Science hasn’t caught up with the complexity of each individual yet. Many people have no problem with the copper IUD. But many people do. We need to share our stories.
My emotional life has improved dramatically when I took out the copper IUD. And no matter what the studies say, I’m not making that up.