UPDATE: Since this article was published, research has shown the implant to be effective for up to four years.
By Connor Davies.
Choosing to get my first birth control implant was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I was entering my second year of college and came to find that the pill didn’t really fit my lifestyle anymore. I had a less regular schedule and was staying up late, sleeping in later, and staying at friends dorms—and away from my pill pack—more and more often. The implant would allow me to finish college without having to think about my birth control at all—just insert it and forget it. And that’s just how it went. I had three blissful, worry-free, baby-free, mostly-period-free years of birth control with the Implanon implant.
Almost too worry-free...
When you get a birth control implant, the nice people who insert it will give you a card that tells you the date you had it inserted, when it will need to be removed, and which arm it’s located in. As they hand you the card they’ll tell you to put it in your wallet and encourage you to make an appointment right then and there to have it removed three years later. I did neither of those things.
So there I was, suddenly realizing three-ish years later that I had no friggin’ clue when I’d had my implant inserted. I was convinced that the implant was like a Cinderella story, and if I didn’t get a new one put in at the stroke of midnight (three years) I would instantly become pregnant. After a frantic call to my gyno I was assured that, even if I went a month or two over the three year mark, I would still be protected against pregnancy. She also recommended that I make an appointment to have the old implant removed and a new one inserted ASAP.
My gyno’s office was able to schedule an appointment for me two weeks after my call. Even though I knew I was still technically protected, I used condoms for those two weeks. It was a major adjustment after three years of latex-free lovin’ with my partner, but we agreed it was a small sacrifice to make for the extra peace of mind.
The not-so-good part
The process of getting my Implanon implant removed was a bit more, ahem, involved than I had anticipated. The first step was changing into a horrible paper hospital gown and getting a routine well-woman checkup. After that my gyno pushed around my arm a bit to find my original implant. She then injected me with a local anesthetic at the original insertion site and made a small incision with a scalpel about 1/2 a centimeter long.
Things got a bit weird after that. My implant had become attached to some scar tissue inside my arm and did. not. want. to. come. out. I was in implant limbo.
At this point I was freaked out, and having the gyno whisper to her assistant “get the bigger pliers” didn’t help my state of mind. But through a few hot tears, eight—mentally—agonizing minutes, and a fair bit of pain that went beyond the pressure they tell you you’ll feel, the old implant made its appearance. A little bit mangled at one end, but definitely out of my body.
My experience is not the norm. In most cases they’re able to grab the end of the old implant and slide it out of the incision they’ve made in a matter of seconds. But what can I say, I was so in love with the implant my body didn’t want to see it go.
All’s well that ends well
I was officially halfway to the finish line. All that remained was to insert the new birth control implant. During my time with the Implanon implant, the company that makes it released a new version called Nexplanon. Nexplanon is pretty similar to Implanon—the only difference is that it’s “radiopaque,” which means it shows up in X-rays, MRIs, and CT and ultrasound scans. Nexplanon also has a new inserter designed to make insertion and removal easier. Minor changes, but it came away with a cool new name. (I don’t know what they're going to call the next version though. NextNexplanon?)
Anyway, having Nexplanon inserted was a breeze. My gyno went in through the incision she had made to extract my old implant and inserted the new one in the opposite direction. (I.e. the old implant was inserted pointed down toward my elbow and the new implant was inserted upward toward my armpit.) All that was left was to slap a band-aid on the insertion site and I was done!
Okay, almost done. This time I made sure I put the implant card in my wallet, and scheduled an appointment for three years in the future to do it all over again.
P.S. I was also awkwardly handed the old implant in a plastic bag on my way out. Was I supposed to keep it as souvenir? Or throw it out? I’m still not sure. It’s currently sitting in my bedside drawer, where it will probably remain forever.
Connor Davies is the Assistant Coordinator of the Bedsider U program and a happy implant user. She previously worked as a Sexual Health and Reproductive Education Peer Educator at the University of Maryland Health Center and led the Bedsider UMD representatives. She is a proud Maryland girl and once shucked and ate 50 oysters in 35 minutes. She loves to cook and crochet and hopes that her passion for sexual health can balance out her old lady tendencies.