Total IUD Fail

Or rather, IUD insertion fail. The IUD is probably fine, as it never came anywhere close to my body.

A few months ago, I started thinking about getting an IUD as part of an overall shift away from medication. I have a family history of breast cancer, and getting off hormonal birth control is a high priority. I’m better about remembering pills than I used to be, but it’s still a hassle. And I’m pretty tolerant of pain, so though they recommend IUDs for women who have had birth because of the insertion process, I thought I could probably handle it, especially after the pelvic marathons that were my experience with gyne instruction.

1|365:January 6th, 2010: If you could talk..
Photo by +mara

Here are some things I learned about IUDs:

  1. They’re about the size of a toothpick, and shaped like a T (see above).
  2. They’re typically recommended for women who have had children, in part because the insertion process is easier if you’ve had a vaginal birth.
  3. They don’t provide any protection against disease or infection (duh).
  4. Getting pregnant while you have one is very dangerous.
  5. There are strings that dangle down into the vagina, but they’re only minimally noticeable during sex.
  6. During the insertion process, it’s possible for the IUD to perforate the wall of the uterus, in which case you’ll have to go to the hospital and get stitched up.


  1. Many women experience minimal-to-no periods, which works by delivering a localized low dose of progesterone.
  2. Break-through bleeding and spotting and PMS-like symptoms occur in the first 1-2 months, but typically drop off after that.
  3. It’s good for 5 years. The nurse helpfully reminded me of that, and suggested I put the Mirena info packet in my lingerie drawer so that I’d remember to have it removed in 2017.


  1. There are no hormones; instead, the copper does something to prevent pregnancy.
  2. Since there are no hormones, women who have been on hormonal birth control often experience heavier and more painful periods, as the hormones were previously controlling some of the normal period side effects.
  3. You can’t use it if you’re allergic to copper.
  4. It’s good for 10 years

So, prepared with my research, I went to the doctor for the initial consult. She told me all of the above, and did a swab test so that they could check for disease or infection (none, thank you very much). I was told to come back at the end of my next period. Done.

I went in today for the actual insertion which, as you might be suspecting, didn’t go as planned. First, they took my vitals, and I confirmed that I am 5’10” rather than 5’10.75″, as I was in high school. They had me pee in a cup, though I have no idea why. I was moved to a room with an ultrasound machine, and told to undress from the waist down. I filled out some paperwork, and talked to the doctor about the procedure.

My gyne instruction experience prepared me for the cold stirrups (cute kneesocks!) and for proper placement of my butt off the end of the table. The doctor performed a gentle pelvic exam in order to determine the size (a kiwi!) and orientation (slightly anteverted) of my uterus. She inserted the speculum, and then used something that looked like hot dog tongs to GRAB my cervix.

Here’s where it got awful. I’ll spare you too many of the details, but my cervix wasn’t open enough to allow the doctor to insert the device that would direct the IUD into place. She tried, and I tried to breathe through it, and we both stopped. She tried a series of frightening instruments, each of which were more painful than the last, as I bit my thumbs and took deep breaths and tried to continue talking. She stopped, explained what was happening, and asked if I wanted to try again. She tried one more time, and I yelled out in pain.

The cervix is like a valve or a cylinder, and mine apparently is too narrow or too constricted on the uterine end to allow the device to be inserted. So instead of getting an IUD, I got all the cramping and none of the pregnancy prevention! I’m frustrated and disappointed, but ultimately, I have to listen to what my body is telling me. My body can do many wonderful and amazing things. It just can’t currently permit a device the size of a drinking straw to pass into my uterus. And I don’t have much choice other than to be OK with that.


Things I Miss About Champaign

I’ve been meaning to make this list for a long time, but Gemma’s recent photos have pushed me to actually writing it up.  My feelings for Champaign are all wrapped up in my grad school experience, my first really fulfilling (and challenging) professional job, and a prolonged period of personal growth and experimentation between the end of my marriage and the beginning of my relationship with Shane – so lots of complicated, complicating things factor into my relationship with that little city in the corn.

  1. Riding my bike down University towards GSLIS early in the morning in the summer – empty roads and the sun coming up through the trees.  A 7 minute commute on a good day.  And then the long months when I couldn’t ride because my arm was in a cast.
  2. West Side Park.  Living across from West Side Park.  Walking home through West Side Park after a long shift at Aroma or a movie at the Art or a too-late night at Mike & Molly’s.
  3. Coffee and sandwiches at Paradiso.  Consistently good music on the stereo.  The smoking section at Paradiso, barely partitioned off by a row of ficus trees.  Books or homework on the “patio”.  Paradiso’s perfect imperfectness.
  4. Living near downtown Champaign, where I never paid more than $500 for a one bedroom apartment, and even that included utilities.  My first solo apartment directly across from the park.  My studio apartment that never really got above 50 degrees in the winter, but that in the summer offered the most fabulous porch for parties.  The apartment with the Wild Things on the wall and the yellow kitchen.  Our last place on Clark, where we rented the entire ground floor for around $750, planted our first garden, spent $300+ on heat in the winter, and enjoyed the mixed blessing of a screened-in entryway – great for cats in the sun, not great for cats escaping.
  5. Saturday mornings at the Urbana farmers’ market, bringing home things I didn’t recognize and that would eventually go bad in the fridge. Splurging on fancy cheese, meat, and a croissant from Art Mart.  Riding our bikes to the market and bringing a dedicated backpack for watermelon or canteloupe.
  6. Friday afternoon Revolution Lunch at Jerusalem Restaurant with my favorite nutters.  The food was fine, but the company was effing crazy.  I’m glad to hear that it hasn’t changed.
  7. French toast at Sam’s, where Shane and I went for breakfast one of the first times he spent the night.  We drew maps of our hometowns on the rectangular napkins.  In case you ever forget, the special is at the top.
  8. Late nights studying at Merry Ann’s with Sarah and Nicole, drinking TERRIBLE coffee and eating fries and goofing around with the servers.  Going to Merry Ann’s at bar time, ordering a grilled cheese sandwich, and being in and out in under 10 minutes.  Greg and I standing on the booth and singing happy birthday to Mark, who brought us screwdrivers mixed in the back.  Hanging out with Shane for the first time after Carl and I had gone to see 2046, all three of us wasted but on totally different things (exhaustion, alcohol, an emotionally weighty movie).  Many many plates of fries before Subversion.
  9. Boltini bingo.  We went almost every week the last summer we lived there, but I didn’t win ANYTHING until my very last card on my very last bingo.  Marv gave me his oversized clapper, which I kept until we moved to Michigan.
  10. AromaWorking at Aroma.  Drinking mojitos outside Aroma in the spring of 2003.  Working 20 hour days (Aroma + Carle) in the fall of 2004 when it was easier to not sleep than to deal with my heartbreak.  10 hour kitchen shifts with all New Order all the time, getting fake engaged to Sam, smoking out front with Carl and Erich and Leah in the summer.  Ryan’s shark mug and Dave catching flies out the air.  Flirting with customers who became friends.  Coffee grounds permanently under my fingernails.  A good place and a good time, though definitely not the best coffee in the world.
  11. Symposium at the Esquire, and the Esquire in general.  For at least the first year after we left Champaign, I would often sigh and say that I just wanted to go the Esquire for dinner – cheap beer, cheap bar food, endless bowls of peanuts.  Always the same, never disappointing – just a solid townie bar.
  12. The Blind Pig in the winter of 2004-2005.  Holding hands with Carl on my 25th birthday.  A snowball fight in the middle of the night in the middle of Walnut Street.  It’s still a great bar, and I know Shane misses it greatly, but (oh this is so hipster) I stopped truly loving it when the sign went up.
  13. Swimming laps in the outside pool at IMPE in the summer of 2005.  I had started exercising that spring, but realized after my first botched length that Curves had nothing on laps in the 50 meter pool.  Sunshine, chlorine, hard work, bliss.
  14. Sunday nights at Bentley’s – our Local Neighborhood Bar – with the GSLIS crew.  Beth’s Bloody Marys and Blue Moons adorned with loads of snacks.  So many games of Bohnanza that we bought a second copy – one for the bar, another for occasions when we were less likely to spill drinks.  Planning our first Bonnaroo, celebrating our first NYE, eating a whole lot of miniature pizzas.
  15. Gyne instruction totally changed my understanding of my own body, and of the range of what constitutes ‘normal’.  I am so thankful for having the opportunity to work with such a remarkable group of women and to become empowered to advocate for my own health.  In the years since, a number of friends have felt comfortable asking me about gyne health stuff because they knew I had this experience and was willing to talk about it openly.  What a remarkable gift.
  16. Porch parties at my place on Springfield.  There weren’t many of them, but oh, they were wonderful.
  17. So much enduring love for Cafe Kopi.  I can’t believe I lived in Champaign almost a year before I found it, and can’t believe I haven’t found a comparable spot since.  Actually, I can believe it.  Kopi has something really special going on.  The coffee and food aren’t remarkable, but they’re solidly good, as are the staff and the ambiance.  I spent way too many nights doing my grad school reading over their cafe miels and tuna salad salads – and swatting away the ever-present flies on the patio.  Those things will survive the apocalypse, I swear.
  18. Mike & Molly’s may be my most favorite bar ever.  Shane preferred the Blind Pig, but my heart belongs to M&M.  Lots of nights reading with a beer, hanging out with townie friends, dancing to music played in the loft by friends.  Someone – Tim? Steve? – trying to explain darts to me.  The chalkboard in the bathroom.  Knowing that I was a regular when I forgot my ID and the bartender vouched for me to the doorman.  The bar’s vignette in Tell Me Do You Miss Me.  Carl arranging for my induction into Pi Omega Omega on my next-to-last night in town.
  19. Nox/Subversion and the year that saw me on the dance floor almost every week.  I told Shane recently that I missed out on being a raver girl because I didn’t live in a big city in my early 20s.  Instead, I had Tuesday nights at the High Dive with Emily and Jim playing the music I always wanted to listen to but didn’t know how to discover on my own.  Saturday nights with Tim in the booth and reciprocal pants protection with Shane and Karin.  Meeting Brian and Ben and Kristina and so many others.  Dancing when I was sick, dancing when my heart was breaking, dancing when I’d had too much to drink, dancing on the patio in the pouring rain.
  20. And then there’s everything about GSLIS: getting my job, making my friends, meeting Shane, finding a career path, getting a real job, discovering and falling in love with and then hating and then loving research.  All the wonderful, remarkable, challenging, and exceptional people who over the years became friends, colleagues, trusted associates, and family.  I can’t even begin to articulate the ways that this school changed my life.

Ultimately, though, what I miss is being able to walk everywhere – and the fact that wherever I went, I would run into someone I knew.  Hell, it’s been four years and that is still often the case.  And it goes without saying that the people and relationships made Champaign my home, but there are far too many of them to list here.

Race for the Cure

On Saturday, my friend Tina and I will be running in the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure.  The fundraising for this race supports breast cancer research and women’s health advocacy around the world.  If you know me well at all, you know that both of these things matter a great deal to me – which is why I’m asking for your support in my fundraising efforts.

When I was 17 and a senior in high school, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 44.  My brother, then barely a year old, refused to nurse from one of her breasts, so she had my dad, an oncologist, check it out.  He found a lump, and a biopsy found that it was cancer.  I remember coming home between school and rehearsal and getting the news from my dad, then going back to school and being wrapped up in the arms of two family friends – one of whom had been my dad’s patient when she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma – as the three of us cried.  My senior year of high school was overshadowed by the fear and uncertainty that goes along with chemotherapy, with watching your mom’s hair fall out, with helping to care for your baby brother because your mom is sick from a treatment.

Me and Mom at Iowa v Illinois, fall 2006

Jen and Grandma

Jenn and Grandma, Thanksgiving 2006

We are very lucky and thankful that Mom has been cancer-free for a number of years, as has my grandma, who was diagnosed in her 60s and is still healthy at 91.  With two close family members diagnosed and treated, though, my sister and I are considered to have an elevated risk.  It’s fair to say that my interest in supporting breast cancer research is a selfish one – I want there to be money for research so that if/when my sister and I are diagnosed, there will be a better understanding of the disease, leading to better treatment for patients and better education for their loved ones.

In addition to these personal reasons, I also believe strongly in helping women become advocates for their health.  Several of the Komen programs emphasize education and strengthening doctor-patient communication – both things that we worked on when I was a gyne instructor at UIUC.  I grew up in a medical household – my father’s an oncologist, and my mother’s father was first a surgeon, then practiced occupational medicine until he retired at age 79 – so medical care is something I’ve taken for granted all my life.  Despite this, it wasn’t until I worked as a gyne instructor that I felt any sense of ownership of my own healthcare.  Going to the doctor was something that I did because it’s what you’re supposed to do – not because I wanted to make sure I was getting what my body needed.  Gyne instruction changed this, and I now feel responsibility to help empower my loved ones to ask questions and get the care they need.

If these things are important to you and you can spare the money, please consider donating on my behalf – or to our team, Team Helpful Paws.  If you’re in the DC area and feel like running on Saturday, consider joining our team!  For personal, selfish, and altrustic reasons, I greatly appreciate your support.

Do Breast Self-Exams Do Any Good?

I don’t really know what to think about this article from Time, which argues that conducting regular self breast exams may actually be worse for women than not. They argue that while self exams do lead to early detection – they frequently lead to the detection of benign cysts, resulting in unnecessary biopsies, scarring from these unnecessary treatments, and emotional scars from the imagined scare.

What this seems to indicate (to me at least) is that women need to be educated as to what they’re looking for – not just that they need to do an exam. In gyne instruction, we were trained to teach doctors to teach patients to look for anything that changes from month to month – and to not necessarily panic at every little lump and bump. Healthy breasts are full of all kinds of nodules and other weird-feeling bits of tissue, fiber, and ductwork. They change from day to day, month to month. Being aware of these normal changes will make it easier to notice when something abnormal pops up.

The results of this study also point to a trend towards overtreatment. I’m not sure what I can say about that, so I’ll just let it stand.

Regardless, I feel like it’s really irresponsible to discourage women from doing a simple, painless, easy thing that might lead to early detection. As the daughter and granddaughter of breast cancer survivors, and also as the daughter of an oncologist, and also as a former gyne instructor, I think I know what I’m talking about.

What We’ve Been Up To: A Short List

Item #1: Earlier in the week I helped my best friend load the moving truck that is going to convey MOST of her family’s worldly possessions to the East Coast, where she starts a job in about ten days. It was bittersweet – I love helping people move and dispatching friends for big adventures, but it will be sad to not have her around, and I will miss her greatly.

Item #2: In the next ten days, SB will hit both coasts as he interviews for Real Jobs. He is stressed out and anxious as he’s prepping for travel and presentations while at the same time working on a class and his CAS project. I really wish I could be more helpful but (1) I can’t and (2) I have my own pile of work and applications to worry about. The only significant bite on my hunt has come in the form of extensive reference-checking – no new interviews, and a rejection letter from the one interview I did have in May.

Item #3: Last week I worked with my gyne instructor friends for probably the last time, at least en masse. The next major teaching session isn’t until January, and by hook or by crook we should be out of here by then. Working with this program was such a blessing, and I am deeply grateful for this experience for a variety of reasons.

good things

good things from the last few days:

  • brunch at allerton with good friends and walking in the gardens on a sunny day
  • working with hot doctors and seeing my uterus bump up against my belly during an exam
  • coffee ice cream with a cute boy in the sunshine before class
  • giving a successful (if rambling) two hour talk without being overly nervous
  • realizing i really know this stuff inside and out
  • renting a locker at the gym that is 2.75 miles away from my apartment by bike, meaning that every workout will also include 5.5 miles on the bike to and from
  • girl talk with my best friend
  • winning (1) pink plaid hightop chucks ($10 on ebay) and (2) tickets to see ladytron (for freeeee!)
  • the weekend is almost here!

over the last week i have had a number of internal debates featuring a small version of myself writing “i’m 26. what am i doing with my life?” repeatedly on a chalkboard in my head. the answer i keep coming back to in response is “if nothing else, i know i’m helping people with my vagina.”

that said, i work with my second group of med students tonight. it’s good to know that even if my research never helps anyone, the work that i’m doing with this program will directly improve the experience of at least a handful of doctors and their subsequent patients. i feel pretty good about that.

Part of me wants to get rid of most of my stuff – or put it in storage, or something – and shack up communally for the rest of the time here, or until I get a “real job” and decide to stay in one place domestically for more than a year and change. It seems easier in some ways – and I’m sure is harder too.

Today I took my morning slow – waking up with sunshine and coffee and NPR, eating a bowl of Cheerios at my kitchen table, drying my hair. Between morning workouts, meetings, and the boy, I rarely get a morning to myself – which is OK, it just means that mornings like this seem like a luxury, which I think I prefer.

Tonight I worked with my first batch of med students. They were earnest, intelligent, good listeners, and observed with their hands as well as with their eyes. They talked through the whole exam, asking questions and giving information to me as the patient. Both students thanked me and the two other instructors when they were done. Part of me wanted to hug them. Instead I did a little dance while eating Cheezits, and then helped another student. After we were done, Karina and I talked about how empowering this whole thing is – and how while at first the disconnect between our bodies as sexual and our bodies as clinical was hard, it’s now really kind of cool, and we’re both very glad to be involved.

hands down

It is totally, exceptionally beautiful out today, and I’m sitting on the back patio at Aroma in a tank top, skirt, and kneesocks. The high today is 71 – 71 in MARCH. Ridiculous – but I’m not going to complain.

This morning, following a week of great trepidation, I performed my first pelvic exam. I was lucky to have a very particular and detail-obsessed instructor walk me through everything, which was really helpful, and I impressed her by not cross-contaminating at any point in the exam (this sounds horrifying to any woman, I’m sure, but believe me, we’re WAY more careful than most).

We use a technique called ‘wet hand dry hand’ to make sure that at no point in the exam do either the woman or the room become contaminated with things from the other. In practice this is frequently called ‘clean hand dirty hand’, which is interesting to me. In class the other day we talked about how everything is political, even things like birth control, which are nominally empowering to women, but which still require a male-dominated industry to dole them out. The terminology of ‘clean hand dirty hand’ is problematic in the same respect – which do you think is the clean hand? The one that is touching the woman’s body in the most intimate and private places? Or the hand that is touching the equipment, the sheets, or the lights?

The ‘dirty’ hand is the one that touches the body.

As a woman, I don’t want to be told that my body is ‘dirty’. As an instructor (or, thinking as a doctor), I don’t want to be introducing anything ‘dirty’ into a woman’s body. ‘Wet hand dry hand’ is much more straight forward and apolitical – the ‘wet hand’ touches the woman (and NOTHING else), and the ‘dry hand’ touches the equipment. There is no cross-contamination, and no politics or offense.

I expressed earlier that I was intimidated and unsure about this program, but the more I think about it, the more empowering and important I believe it is. This is an opportunity for women to advocate for themselves, for their physical health, and for the appropriate, polite, and caring treatment of other women. This is a way to be an advocate and to celebrate our bodies as women that isn’t just raising a fist to the sky and celebrating our gynecology. I am proud to be a part of it.

not ready for prime time

This week marked the beginning of a new and interesting experience for me.

Along with a friend, I’m in training for a job with a variety of names – gynecological instructor, gyne model, “spreading your legs for science”, etc. I’m learning how to perform breast, pelvic, and rectal exams and will in April (and possibly other times throughout the year), be helping train second year medical students on all of the above.

I first heard about this program last year, when I went to the health center for my annual exam – because of my lack of discomfort with the whole procedure, the doctor mentioned this opportunity – mainly that it pays very very well, and that I should consider it. I’ve had a variety of concerns, misgivings, and nervous moments since then – and I’m sure I’ll have more before actually working with the students – but so far it has been a really interesting experience.

The other women in the program have been instructing for anywhere between 2-25 years, and over that time they’ve determined best practices, ways of making the students (as well as new instructors) feel at ease using humor and compassion, total strictness about non-contamination (the standards are way higher that I’ve observed in any clinic experience) – and at the same time have become this funny, interesting, compassionate, welcoming community of women spanning at least two generations and a whole panoply of life experiences.

I still have lots of butterflies in my stomach and am MORE THAN A LITTLE intimidated by the whole thing – I deffo needed ice cream and curling up on the couch last night after my first exam – but I’m really pretty pleased to be a part of this – and not just because it pays $50 per hour.