By Phoebe Suh
If you live in the U.S., you know about Planned Parenthood. The name of the nonprofit is practically synonymous with “family-planning clinic,” and it’s often a person’s first stop when seeking birth control or abortion care. But have you heard of carafem? carafem — that’s right, spelled with a lowercase “C” — is like Planned Parenthood, only smaller. Founded in 2015, the young organization has only four health centers, located in Atlanta, Chicago, D.C., and Nashville. The D.C. location is over an hour from our Baltimore office. However, it’s close enough to where I live in Montgomery County that I visited last week to have a copper IUD inserted.
I, like most people, had initially intended to obtain my birth control at Planned Parenthood. On the day of my appointment, I had arrived on time at Planned Parenthood’s clinic in the NoMa neighborhood of D.C. and taken the standard pregnancy test. But, to my dismay, they had no IUD! To be more precise, their shipment of copper IUDs was delayed. There would be no insertion that day.
Disappointed, I sat outside Planned Parenthood, checking what other clinics my insurance would cover. I was anxious to have my IUD as soon as possible. This way, if the side effects turned out to be too much, I could have it removed before I went back to college. And that’s how I found carafem. carafem’s D.C. staff managed to squeeze me in at 10:30 the next day, and most of the intake procedure took place over the phone. All I had to do was show up.
carafem’s D.C. health center is located in a private medical building in Montgomery County, just on the Maryland border. On the outside, the office is unassuming, just another door in a white plaster hallway. But, after ringing to be let in, I entered a waiting room that resembled a spa more than a doctor’s office. The space is filled with modish, midcentury furniture, all various shades of fuschia. Soft lamplight glances off of framed photos of grinning women, and a small basket of snacks sits on a side table.
Check-in was minimal thanks to the previous day’s phone call, and, after the usual pregnancy test, a nurse ushered me into a cozy office. There, a friendly clinician named Melissa* went over my medical information with me. The process was quick, and, a few forms and an ibuprofen tablet later, I was sitting on a table with my feet in the stirrups.
Melissa talked me through each step of the insertion as she performed it. The procedure begins with a speculum inserted into the vagina and expanded. Once the vagina is open, the clinician uses a clamp to open the cervix, which separates the vaginal canal from the uterus and keeps it in place during the procedure. Patients start to feel cramping from this step onward because the cervix normally remains closed except for during menstruation. The clinician then takes a thin metal rod and inserts it through the opened cervix into the uterus to measure the depth — if it’s too small or shallow, there won’t be room for the IUD. Finally, the clinician removes the rod and, using a tiny tube, pushes the IUD through the cervix and into place. They then remove the clamp and the speculum.
Though painful — taking deep breaths, as Melissa suggested, only helped in that it distracted me from what was going on below — the entire procedure took only five minutes. Afterward, I could immediately put my pants back on (with a carafem-provided pad to deal with any spotting), pick up a pamphlet on the copper IUD from the front desk, and ring the bell to be let out of the office. In total, I spent only 40 minutes at the health center.
Finding out that I couldn’t have the copper IUD inserted at Planned Parenthood was a minor crisis, but overall, I’m glad that it happened. carafem is an excellent provider with a terrific staff and a great location — right on the D.C. metro. Melissa made the entire procedure easy to understand, and, as painful as it was, probably not as unpleasant as it could have been. While I won’t be going back soon — the copper IUD is an effective form of birth control for 10 to 12 years after insertion — I know who I’ll visit when I need my IUD replaced.
*All names have been changed to preserve anonymity.