The Implanon that would not die…

The Implanon is a progesterone based contraceptive. It’s a small, bendy plastic rod that is inserted into your arm. It’s one of the most effective forms of contraception and it lasts for 3 years, which was a huge draw for me. My options for contraception were pretty limited though as I had a history of migraines so I was told by my GP that I couldn’t use estrogen based contraceptives like the pill. That being said, I still would have picked the Implanon.

The first one I had in my mid 20s went in and came out really simply. It was just under the skin of my upper left arm, I could feel it when I touched where it was which grossed me out a little but unless I touched it on purpose, I would have had no idea it was there. When it expired all it took was a small incision in the GP’s office with a little numbing cream and it was out, no problem. I got the second one inserted in the same spot but I could never feel the second one. It wasn’t sitting just under the skin like the first one.

It was due to expire in September 2017 and we decided that we wouldn’t use any other type of contraception after that. I was tracking my cycle at the time which was very irregular but I had a rough idea when it was probably a good time to avoid sex if conception wasn’t in the plan. Obviously there was a chance I could get pregnant if not using protection but we were OK with that.

I went to my GP to have my Implanon removed. The doctor couldn’t feel the implant so she called another in to have a feel. He couldn’t feel it either. They told me that there is always a risk that implants can “travel” and my arm would need to scanned in order to locate it before anyone tried to remove it. So a letter was sent for me to be seen at the hospital for an ultrasound as a public patient (which for anyone not from Ireland means I had to wait for the next available appointment which could be months). Months later I went for the ultrasound. They really struggled to find it but thought they could see the tip of it and said it was very deeply inserted and encased by muscle tissue. I was told they would send the images to my GP for removal as they were the ones who inserted it.

I went back to my GP who told me she couldn’t remove it because of how deep it was and that she needed to refer to me to have a surgical procedure in the same hospital. 🙄 I waited another couple of months for that appointment. Finally I was in the theatre, in my gown, the surgeon and his colleague came in, did an ultrasound and immediately said “Sorry we can’t touch that, it’s too deep and we could hit a nerve, you need to see the plastics team in the main hospital. We’ll make the referral for you.” I was really frustrated because I had already taken a lot of time off work for this and knew I was going to have to take more. I thought it would be simple like the first time.

Several months later I have an appointment with the plastics team. They tell me the risks of having it removed in terms of potential nerve damage and having a scar. I had spoken to my GP and she said technically it wouldn’t harm me to leave it in but that she couldn’t guarantee that it wasn’t still effective. We wanted to try for a baby soon and my cycle was really irregular and long (50-60 days long on average). I was almost certain I wasn’t ovulating which is how the Implanon works, long cycles are a sign of this. My GP said if we had any difficulty conceiving, the first thing any fertility specialist would say is “remove the implant” just in case it was still working somehow and was causing the problems. So despite being warned I could end up with “a claw” I decided to go ahead with the surgery.

Finally, in September 2018 I had the implant removed. The procedure was quick and painless. My arm was really bruised and sore afterwards but I was so glad to have it removed finally after a year of trying. The scar is really small too and I don’t care about it as it’s on the inside of my arm.

My cycle regulated almost immediately after having it removed. Five days after the surgery I had some spotting for a couple of days. Once that stopped my cycle in September/October was 28 days exactly and it stayed that way until we conceived. I’ve read about studies since then that have found that implants stay effective for up to a year or more after their expiry date in some patients. I think mine did too.

Call my crazy but I think I’d still recommend the Implanon. It was inserted at an angle into my arm rather than under the skin which isn’t it’s fault and the delays in having it removed are down to our public healthcare system and processes. It’s obviously very effective and massively convenient for anyone who would forget to take the pill (like me) but talk to your doctor about what options will suit you and your needs best.

That’s the end of contraception for me anyway. Even after we’re done making babies I don’t plan to go back on anything, I’ll just continue to track my cycle and if another baby decides to join us, then that baby was meant to be for us.

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