During my most recent appointment at Planned Parenthood, I mentioned to my doctor that I wanted to explore my birth control options. I had formerly been on the pill, but I had begun feeling like the side effects were outweighing the benefits (no pun intended): not only did my weight fluctuate dramatically but I was still experiencing unbearable cramps and my periods were unmanageably irregular. Perhaps most importantly, I was really bad about taking my pill at the same time every day, and sometimes I forgot entirely.
I had heard a lot of horror stories about intrauterine devices—or IUDs for short—and although I had considered that as an option, I had significant doubts about that method and whether it was right for me. My doctor then suggested the birth control implant Nexplanon, which is the newer rendition of the Implanon implant. She said that she could even insert it that day during my visit. I opted for the implant because I felt it would address all the issues that I had been having with other methods of birth control.
If you are having a similar experience, here is what you need to know about the birth control implant so that you can make an informed decision for yourself.
Getting the implant inserted didn’t hurt at all. Prior to inserting the implant, the doctor gave me a shot of numbing medicine so that I wouldn’t feel anything. The numbing shot was actually the most uncomfortable part of the whole process. After the numbing sensation set in, the doctor used an applicator to deposit a matchstick-sized piece of plastic into a tiny hole in my skin. She then covered the insertion site—no bigger than a pinprick—with steristrips and wrapped it tightly with a self-adhesive wrap. She instructed me to remove the outer wrap the next day and the steristrips a week later. My arm was a little bruised and tender for a few days, but not unmanageably so.
The implant prevents you from pregnancy for up to four years! It contains the hormone Progestin, which creates a thick mucus barrier at the entrance of the cervix to prevent sperm from entering—and can also prevent eggs from leaving your ovaries entirely. Some women who get the implant may experience shorter, lighter periods or even stop getting periods all together. It takes a full week for the implant to take effect after being inserted, but after that, you’re protected for 4 years or until the implant is removed. Upon removal, you can get pregnant immediately if you should choose to do so. The implant does not protect against STDs, so it’s important to practice safe sexual behavior (like using condoms) and get screened regularly.
Just like any other method of birth control, there can be side effects. If not properly cared for, the insertion site can become infected or swollen. Some people experience side effects similar to those of other birth control methods, like breast tenderness, weight gain, ovarian cysts, headaches and nausea. Of course, you can always call your physician or return to Planned Parenthood to address any concerns you might have. Most commonly, women will experience spotting or irregular bleeding for the first 6-12 months after receiving the implant. About a third of women will stop getting a period altogether (but not because they are pregnant!).
Removing the implant is just as easy as having it inserted. The area will be numbed, a small incision will be made, and the implant will be taken out. You can get another implant immediately after the first one is removed, if you so choose.
Bonus: Planned Parenthood can do it for free! Even if you don’t have insurance, Planned Parenthood can insert your implant the same day as your exam if you ask. The implant can cost up to $850 otherwise, but it may be partially covered by many insurance programs. Again, discussing your options with your doctor is the best course of action. They may even have advice on how to pay for the implant if you can’t get it for free.
Personally, I have yet to experience any of the negative side effects associated with my implant—and it’s actually sort of comforting to be able to press my fingers to the skin on the inside of my arm, feel my implant, and know that I am protected. I made the choice to take responsibility for protecting myself from unintentional pregnancy because I have a lot I want to accomplish in the next 4 years; school, work and a social life are already very difficult to manage without the added stress of worrying about an unwanted pregnancy. Since I am not ready to become a parent (and neither is my partner), I felt that the implant was the most suitable method of birth control for me. I didn’t want to worry about taking a pill every day or have to suffer the symptoms of PMS every month, but I still wanted to protect myself. I can take comfort in the fact that if I choose to have the implant removed, it won’t have any affect on my fertility and I can still become a parent if I decide to do so. To me, that is the most important part: I get to make that decision for myself, and I can take control of my body by protecting myself against unintended pregnancy.
Talking to your doctor is the best way to decide if the implant is the correct method for you. As always, it is important to be honest about your sexual behavior with your doctor. They aren’t there to judge you, and they are bound by doctor-patient confidentiality, so they won’t tell your parents about anything pertaining to your level of sexual activity. They are there to help you find the most suitable solution to your needs and address any further concerns you may have.
cover art via Wesley Johnson