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5 Things No One Tells You About IVF

Natalie Howard is a writer and editor with over a decade of editorial experience. She is a graduate of the University of Roehampton in London and holds an MA in Creative and Professional Writing. She currently lives in Charlotte, North C...

What IVF is really like from a woman who knows

When it comes to the ins and outs of IVF, the internet is home to countless articles and blogs on the subject. These range from doctors offering professional advice to first-time bloggers sharing their own personal experiences. Despite the wealth of knowledge available, details often manage to slip through the cracks. Here are five IVF surprises that your doctor (and favorite blogger) may have missed.

More: 12 things not to say to your friend going through IVF

1. Running on empty

Surprise: No strenuous exercise

IVF involves a boatload of medications that are used to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs. By developing multiple mature follicles and eggs, it increases the chances of creating an embryo when joined with sperm in a controlled environment. Translation? Your ovaries feel like they're the size of footballs (American and European. Both. Being kicked. With a watermelon or two in there). Maybe this is sly practice for the future resident.

When my doctor said no running, it was easy to brush aside this medical advice as a precaution. Sure, sure. No lifting heavy objects, no driving heavy machinery, no running, the usual. But it’s not that you shouldn’t. It’s that you can't. Expect anything more than a brisk trot to leave you grabbing for the heating pad and Tylenol (not Advil, another no-no no one mentions).

A few days before my egg retrieval (the process of removing those stimulated eggs), I could barely make it around the grocery store without clutching my stomach. The grocery store was actually the most exercise I could handle thanks to the socially acceptable slow pace and cart to lean on. Walking fast on the sidewalk? Forget it. Slow and steady or bending over to clutch my uterus were the only two options. It’s OK. We know who wins that race.

More: Knowing when to draw the line on fertility treatment

2. Well swell-o there

Surprise: No fitting in those jeans

I didn’t tell anyone when I started IVF. I considered posting something about it on Facebook, but did the guy who sat next to me in high school algebra really need to know the state of my ovaries? Nah. In my “real” life, it was a little harder to hide when nightly hormone injections and the egg retrieval caused my torso to swell up like Violet Beauregarde Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-style.

It’s an asterisk of a side effect, and one that seems to get brushed aside when your doctor and your favorite blogs are stressing mood swings. (Not that anyone should walk into IVF unprepared for the mood swings. Hello, hormones! Let’s see which inanimate object gets yelled at today.)

Chances are someone’s going to think you’re already pregnant. Multiple doctor's appointments, a new stack of prenatal vitamins and midsection puffiness are telltale signs something’s happening. Your jeans won’t fit. You won’t want them to fit anyway since your midsection is swollen and tender to the touch and anything more than an elastic waistband is like trying to squeeze into your favorite jeans from middle school. (No way.)

The days following egg retrieval were my most swollen and blimpy. Luckily, I had a nurse friend who was able to provide practical advice to help the swelling go down before I stepped back out into the world: pillows, pillows, pillows. Sleeping nearly straight up or on my left side at an angle helped reduce the swelling. Family Beginnings IVF provides a scientific explanation for this. “In the 24-hour time period following the retrieval, it will be important for you to rest in a semi-upright position. When the ovaries are punctured to remove eggs, they ooze bloody fluid for a while until the puncture sites heal over. If this bloody fluid reaches the area of your diaphragm (as would happen if you laid flat), you may experience some chest and shoulder pain.” Another surprise!

Next Up: More truths about IVF

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