When considering contraceptive options, most individuals are aware of methods such as the pill or even IUDs. However, as the New York Times notes, the birth control pill is not very effective when used typically. And, if you’re like me, missing a pill carries with it consequences such as nausea and vomiting. And although IUDs are a longer term option less susceptible to human error, the idea of having one inserted has always made me shudder (the less I have to take my pants off at the doctor, the happier I’ll be). But I, much like many college students, still wanted (/needed) a long term hormonal contraceptive that could a) soothe my awful menstrual cycle and b) provide adequate protection from unwanted pregnancies. And so, after a phone call to my insurance company and a Q&A with a gynecologist, I decided to get a hormonal implant and document the entire process to share with others struggling with a similar decision.
About the Implant
But first- what even is a hormonal implant? It’s a small plastic tube that’s inserted into the inside of an individual’s upper arm. The tube then releases a hormone called etonogestral, which keeps ovaries from releasing eggs by suppressing the pituitary gland. Not only does it keep the eggs from even being released, but it also thickens cervical mucus, alters the uterine lining, and just overall makes the uterus a hostile environment for potentially fertilized eggs. The hormonal implant available in the US is called Nexplanon and lasts for three years. After three years, individuals can choose to have it replaced or ditch it entirely. The best part? It reminds over 99% effective for up to nine years (after which it becomes about 99% effective- which are still great odds). Overall, it sounds almost too good to be true. There are a few caveats though: the implant has to be inserted by a specially trained gynecologist, and it involves a couple of needles. There’s also the chance that it may break (a very small chance, but one all the same). And just like any birth control, the implant may just not mesh with some people’s bodies.
Although individuals may find the idea of needles too off-putting to consider, it wasn’t that bad. I’m no stranger to them (being both tattooed and pierced), but I’ve never been a fan and I found myself quite nervous when I first settled in the chair for my insertion. However, the doctors (both a veteran and a resident doctor) had great bedside manner and kept the entire process transparent. First they injected my arm with Lidocaine in order to numb the area. They stuck me twice, in two different places, and both injections stung and burned pretty awfully. But it was over in a few seconds and that was easily the worst part of the process. When they prepared to actually insert the implant, I tensed and braced myself for the pain- which never came. The numbing is so effective that I couldn’t feel a thing as they inserted the Nexplanon. Afterwards, they put an adhesive bandage over the insertion site and wrapped my upper arm in gauze. The gauze wrap is tight, but that’s because the pressure is needed to stem bleeding and bruising. And then, just like that, I was done! Overall, it was a very quick process and I left feeling empowered. A few hours later, when the numbing wore off, I was a little less empowered and little more sore, but it’s been entirely worth it.
Per my doctor’s instructions, I took the bandage off that night. The insertion site was very bruised, and I had to change out the adhesive bandage at least once a day for four days because of light bleeding. Past that it’s been a matter of being gentle with my arm and keeping the implant from being bumped around. Although I’m a week in and still bruised, the arm is healing fast and I couldn’t be happier. The Nexplanon has kicked in by now, and I haven’t had any terrible side effects. Around Day Four I became a bit moody and sensitive, but it was nothing compared to what the pill did to me. Furthermore, I’m impressed by how quickly the bruising has receded. It won’t be completely healed for another week, but so far I highly recommend the hormonal implant as an option for long term birth control.