Recently I had the Mirena IUD that I’d been meaning to get finally put it. I delayed and put it off because I was, I’ll admit, more than a little afraid: of the three women I know who have gotten an IUD, one describes it as the most painful experience she’s ever endured while another was in so much physical pain after the procedure that she was vomiting and unable to come to class that day (she texted me and asked that I make sure the teacher knew she wasn’t just being a bum about it). Only one friend of mine described it as uncomfortable and unpleasant but perfectly bearable and hardly the worst pain she’d endured.
Turns out that, according to the doctors I visited, those severe pain reactions aren’t super common, and after further discussion with one of these friends I found that her painful experience may well have been related to the fact that her doctor didn’t use a topical lidocaine or recommend for her to take painkillers in advance of the procedure (booooo). Most women (who haven’t had children) will experience pain and discomfort but it’s not vomit-inducing pain and most doctors will use lidocaine to help the process along in addition to recommending to take some painkillers in advance to further reduce discomfort.
This didn’t make me any less afraid, of course, considering that I’ve had some bad experiences with just plain ol’ pap smears and now I was going in to have my cervix opened and a little thingie inserted into my uterus? I was terribly nervous about the pain, even knowing that I would have the aid of painkillers, but I’d recently enough had a pregnancy scare (only because I’m bad at time, I’m pretty sure) which had me seriously considering my budget for an abortion (a budget which is non-existent) so I decided to just tough-up and get it over with. A few minutes of pain is a pretty minor price to pay to remain child-free, after all.
A friend of mine recommended that, to help with the pain on a psychological and spiritual level, I undergo the procedure in the mindset of an Ordeal or a ritual in honor of Lilith.
For those of you who may not know, Lilith in modern paganism is considered a “dark goddess” or a female deity whose nature and/or realm is considered dark, frightening, taboo, or otherwise unapproachable by most (Kali and Hela are more examples, some people would count Persephone as a dark goddess for her rule over the underworld, and I would count Angrboda as a dark goddess in part for her nature and in part due to the way she is looked on/scorned by the general Norse pagan community). Lilith’s origins are as a set of storm demons in Mesopotamia, which were called Lilitu. These figures were eventually adopted into Jewish folklore as Lilith, where she has occupied a few different incarnations. She has been what amounts to a succubus, she was blamed for sudden infant death syndrome, and, more famously, she was Adam’s first wife who chose exile from the garden of Eden over sexual subjugation (read: not being allowed to be on top).
Even with all of the darkness of Lilith’s history, her story as the first wife of Adam has been adopted in more recent years both by the feminist movement and by paganism. The very story of Lilith has been inundated with the power of hundreds if not thousands of years of women’s struggle for equality across the globe and as such, Lilith has become a potent (if still somewhat taboo) figure in myth, folklore, and modern paganism.
Lilith, among many other things, is a goddess of women’s right to choose: to choose to leave, to choose to birth children as she sees fit or to choose otherwise (notably Lilith is said to have mated with demons and produced thousands of demon children in the desert after leaving Adam, while clearly having not birthed any child of Adam’s). The freedom to choose and thus form your own path can be terribly lonely and harsh as we see as Lilith walks alone and naked into the desert (imagine how the sun-heated sand must burn bare feet and how the sun must blister unprotected skin; how frightening it is to walk into the unknown). But the freedom to determine your own identity and your own path are certainly worth the hardship for, in gaining that freedom, you also become empowered.
This is why it made sense both to my friend and to me to treat the IUD insertion as an Ordeal or ritual dedicated to Lilith. It is an act which embodies not only my right to choose what I do and how I deal with my body, but it represents the act of my choosing. My choice here, obviously, being to remain child-free for, at minimum, five more years. (Spoiler alert: if I am in the financial position to get my tubes tied at the end of my five years with Mirena, and if I can find a doctor reasonable enough to do it, I will get my tubes tied and remain reproduction-free for the rest of my days–and I’ll do a Lilith-honoring ritual for that, too).
Before going in for the procedure I meditated in the dark of my room with a small black candle lit for Lilith. I meditated to visit Lilith, to speak to Her, to praise Her name, to tell Her that I wanted this to not be just a procedure, but an Ordeal in Her name. “Let the pain be in offering to you.”
With eyeliner I wrote Her name in Hebrew over my uterus and, thinking of Her and breathing deeply to soothe my nerves, I went to the clinic.
They prepped me, they did the procedure. They inserted a tool through my cervix to open it up, then another to measure the depth of my uterus so the IUD wouldn’t be pushed too far in, then the IUD was inserted. Having things inserted into my uterus felt like fire blooming in my belly and I developed a new appreciation for the cramps other women occasionally complain about but which I am mostly exempt from. I grit my teeth and I groaned out “Ouch” with my eyes clenched shut and my face all twisted up. I clenched and un-clenched my muscles to help the flow of blood to my extremities and hold off a faint. I almost forgot about Lilith (which is why I’d written Her name on my belly just above the location of the pain, just in case) but I managed to bring my mind back to Her, silently saying “For you” after each new spike of pain.
“All done,” the doctor said as she pulled out the instruments and the pressure inside of my uterus decreased but didn’t fully vanish. “That went very smoothly. It glided right in.” She seemed surprised at just how smooth and quick the procedure had been. Maybe my anxiety had made her worried it wouldn’t be so simple.
I sat for a bit to let the brunt of the cramping subside before I got dressed and went home (thanks to this Obamacare thing I didn’t even have to pay. Fancy that! “Free” birth control helping girls everywhere to avoid the necessity of an abortion)
The procedure was over and so, in a way, was the ritual. But in a way it also wasn’t over, as the cramps continued persistently for several days and then intermittently for a few more weeks. While the cramps were persistent I was spotting, once they backed off I bled (as in period bleeding) for two weeks. Both of these symptoms seem to be backing off as of last weekend and I mostly seem to be back on my feet (knock on wood) but I thought of Lilith often while those symptoms were still following me around, and I even made a few extra offerings to her in the meantime.
There’s any number of ways to honor the gods (as Rumi says about there being “a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground”). Lilith may be considered by many to be a dark goddess, associated with the harsher elements of the desert and aspects of nature which make us squeamish and uncomfortable, and thus taboo. I find her to be a powerful and resonant deity who I honor with my reproductive choice, who I have called upon for help in healing from sexual assault, who has helped to empower me while I was at my lowest (a moment at which I wondered at my faith’s ability to be impervious to being shaken in the face trauma and horror). All of this despite being a deity on a periphery of my practice. And so I honor Her in all Her darkness, and I remain in control of my own flesh and my own path.