By Meg Mulcahy
Ana Matronic, Scissor Sister, disco DJ and robotics enthusiast, says that anyone who’s had artificial help –be it a vaccine or an implant, is part robot. I tend to agree, and was a big fan of my superhuman life.
I had been on The Pill™ for years, but a medical issue meant that I had to stop and choose one of our other pleasant painless options. As terrified of needles as I am, I decided to go with the contraceptive implant or ‘the bar’ as the least invasive and most comfortable choice for me. I personally didn’t trust the mini-pill alone and I knew the IUD or ‘coil’ (while long-lasting) wasn’t for me. The bar lasts for three years and is full-time protection. I had the bar implanted one April, so I planned to get it changed or removed in March three years from then, which happens to be this month!
There’s currently one type of contraceptive implant available in Ireland; Implanon. This is a small flexible rod of about 4cm that’s lodged in your inner upper arm and releases progestogen slowly over the three years. You can have it removed at any time if it’s not for you.
How was it done?
To get the bar, I had to go to my GP to get her blessing and a prescription for it. It comes in a long box, much like other medications, containing the bar and insertion device. I then needed to wait for my next period, my first since coming off the pill, and make an appointment for during that week. During the week of your period, the bar can be inserted for it to take immediate effect, but I also felt the urgency from my doctor was to ensure thatI wasn’t pregnant. You can have it implanted after that time, but it’ll take time to become effective.
Before beginning, I was asked to give a urine sample to do a pregnancy test to be triply sure. I lay on my back on the doctor’s bed and had to hold the arm back behind my head, resting my wrist under my head as if lying in the grass of a summer’s day, reminiscing on the picnic I’d just had. Then the doctor gave me a local anaesthetic with a needle to the part of the arm she’d be inserted the bar into, and we waited for that to take effect. She ran a needle along my skin to see if I felt it; I did – so we had to wait a little longer for it to numb. Then, while my head was being stroked like a heifer in calf by my boyfriend, my doctor inserted the device into the small hole the anaesthetic needle had made. She had filled the device, which was like a small gun with the bar inside, and once it was inside the arm, she shot out the bar. While I definitely didn’t feel any pain, it did feel weird. It’s an odd sensation. It does
eel like a staple gun, but it doesn’t hurt. No stitches are needed as it’s still just a small hole. Then she bandaged me up and I could go home. All in all, it took about half an hour. The bar and device box cost €150, and €100 for the doctor to insert it. I was able to claim back some of this doctor visit through VHI who I had health insurance with through work at the time.
The arm was quite sore on the first day, and it took a couple of weeks for the insertion area to heal fully which was completely fine. It’s just a small hole, and nothing you wouldn’t expect. There’s a light mark from where it healed but it’s very minimal, like an old injection site. I will say though that the first night, I was a high-waisted mess. It could have been the sudden influx of hormones or my body reacting to a change in contraception, but I felt incredibly raw and upset until I slept it off. Other than initiation night, I can’t say I’ve had those feelings since nor have I felt any side effects that were different to the pill.
Periods & health
For the first year and a half, I’d go for five or six months without a period. It stopped altogether. Then, I’d have a period for a month or sometimes two in a row. The periods were very light and wouldn’t even need pads or tampons, but I’d still be having real period symptoms the whole time which can feel frustrating and relentless. Because periods were so irregular or may not arrive for months, when they did ‘officially’ hit they were some of the worst. My very core was shook.
It’s also worth noting that depending on the placement, the bar can migrate slightly. You should always be able to feel the bar in your arm by pressing your finger against it. If you can’t, just tell your GP so they can stay on top of it for when it needs to be removed. Mine stayed put the whole time and was a dream to work with. Every so often, I’d feel a phantom ache where the bar was, but this could all have been in my head because I knew it was there.
To have the bar removed, the same anaesthetic is done near the tip of the bar, but this time a tiny incision is made over it afterwards and the bar is pushed out manually. Again, no stitches are needed, and you can wrap up and go.
Thoughts on being barred
Personally, the bar served me well. I was always covered, it’s progestogen-only and isn’t as demanding and temperamental as the pill. It’s something you can always touch and know is there and working, and isn’t affected by sickness or most medications*. It works out at about €5 a month over the three years. I would definitely recommend it, but advise you to consider how you feel about the period situation. I dealt with it because the pros outweighed the cons for me. It’s definitely empowering and freeing not having to think about a lot of things that come with sex and periods, like travelling, sanitary products and flow. I’ll miss her, but I’m open to getting the implant again in future. Genuinely, if I with my immense needle terror can have it inserted and removed, anyone can.
*This post is purely some words about my own experience. I recommend these sites for factual information on the bar, how it works and possible side-effects: