Our story is like thousands of other couples around the world who are trying unsuccessfully to conceive. After establishing our careers and traveling much of the world in our younger days, we finally set about trying to conceive when I was in my early forties. This may sound very familiar as it is a growing trend. Generally speaking, people are definitely waiting longer to try to have babies.
Unfortunately, as a young girl, I had an ovarian cyst that erupted and had to be removed. At the time, the doctors said I would never be able to have children, and that thought stuck with me through much of my life, and I didn’t think much more of it. As I got older though, my maternal instincts took hold and the desire to have children intensified. As the years passed, science had certainly come a long way as well, so the option to have children seemed open again. Unfortunately, after a year of trying naturally, and undergoing the battery of tests that many of us do, we were unsuccessful.
Finally, we opted for an in-vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle at home, in North America. After induction, we received the call that our cycle might have to be cancelled as I was responding poorly, and I was told to come into the clinic for an ultrasound and a blood test. This news hit us very hard because this was seen as our last chance to have a baby. It is definitely one thing to still have a choice whether or not to try to conceive and another thing entirely to think that that choice had been taken away. It was a moment of reckoning.
To add a little more context to the situation, we were also not very pleased with the clinic at that time. As the premier clinic in a large metropolitan city, we expected more. The video certainly alluded to the nurturing, supportive environment that we could expect. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
That’s not to say the clinic is a bad clinic, because it isn’t, it’s just that we never saw the same doctor in all our many visits, and when we had questions, the phone invariably went to an answering machine. A nameless nurse would call back several hours later after checking our chart. This was a huge issue, as when one cycles for the first time, there are a million questions that need to be answered.
Both of these factors were ultimately catalysts for a figurative and literal journey over the next two years. The thought that we were going to have a cancelled cycle led us, as I’m sure it does to most of you, to the internet, for answers. We subsequently uncovered several articles on people who had traveled for fertility treatments abroad. The idea instantly intrigued us as we had always said that for the amount of money we were spending on trying to have a baby, we could travel the world, especially since we knew multiple women who had gone through the IVF process 4-5 times before succeeding and were under tremendous financial stress as a result. This journey had the potential to be a very expensive one. As a couple who has been to over 50 countries, the thought of accessing IVF abroad for substantially cheaper than at home, and the thought of having a vacation at the same time, was a winning formula in our minds. Especially since, as we all know, IVF is still far from an exact science. Again, in our minds, at least if we failed in our cycle, we would have a fantastic vacation experience to remember.
Further to this, after reading an article, we phoned a clinic in Cape Town, South Africa, 10 time zones away on a whim. We had always wanted to travel to Africa, and we knew that there were thousands of South African doctors, as they are readily recruited, practicing in The United States, Canada, The UK, and Australia. What you have to remember is that, what we were used to thus far during our cycle was an answering machine and being treated like a number. To our surprise, an IVF coordinator picked up and proceeded to spend 30 minutes with me answering my questions. This was unheard of! I actually kept apologizing for taking her time. It was a whole new world! She then proceeded to spend additional time corresponding by email. What was even more intriguing is that we could have flown to South Africa, vacationed, and done our cycle all for about half of what it cost at home. It was at this moment that we conceptualized the idea of creating a company to help others access this kind of thing.
In the time that we had been researching alternative, overseas options, we found out that our cycle was going to continue after all and that I was responding to the medication. I almost fell off the chair when I arrived for my Day 3 transfer, and the doctor said he wanted to implant 5 embryos due to my age and the higher chance of arrested development for the embryos. After all we had been through thus far, we found out we were pregnant. Unfortunately, 5 1/2 months later, we lost our baby. What a roller coaster!
In that time, which is a whole other story, we started a medical tourism company which has since grown to encompass a large number of medical specialties and become one of the largest, anywhere. My husband, the president of the company, has been invited by governments to speak at conferences on medical tourism, including the recent Health Tourism International Business Summit in Costa Rica and the largest in the world, the 4th annual World Medical Tourism Conference, and Passport Medical has sent almost 800 patients abroad for various medical procedures in 2011. In addition, we have been recognized with the Leadership Excellence in Medical Facilitation award as the top global medical travel company. The problem is that those wanting information on fertility do not want to feel like everyone else, so we have finally returned to what started this journey and created a separate space focused strictly on fertility procedures, our true passion.
In under two years, we have lived our idea. We have done IVF in three other countries since, always knowing that due to my age, our chances of success with my own eggs was low. That is why traveling abroad intrigued us even more. In all cases, our embryo quality was superior to our first cycle at home, and we experienced much more personal connection with our doctors.
It is strange how life sometimes comes full circle, as we finally traveled to Cape Town, South Africa. At almost 44, we decided that this would be our last cycle with our own eggs. After the most amazing couple weeks of our lives, we found out we were pregnant. Our son Kieran, our beautiful little South African IVF baby, has now arrived, and we are fortunate that we have 3 additional frozen embryos remaining for another try as well, just icing on the cake.