Need IVF, will travel! Should you consider getting fertility treatment overseas? While on Vacation?

By Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo

I remember vividly my first IVF cycle. Well, I remember vividly ALL my IVF cycles!

But one of the things that I recall the most about my first cycle was my doctor suggesting I take time off from work for the cycle.

At the time, I worked at an investment banking firm with mostly men who, as far as I knew, had no real understanding of fertility issues nor any compassion for egg quality concerns. This would later be confirmed by my boss who, when I finally confided in him that I was having infertility issues around my third IVF cycle, literally rolled away from me on his chair as if IVF was contagious. Trying to explain why you had to occasionally step out of work for monitoring appointments to a man who had three kids without even trying (his words, not mine) was like being a nun at a sex toy party. “Oh… it has batteries? And rotates? That’s interesting.”

Getting back to my first IVF cycle though

I ended up taking off two whole weeks and no one at my job knew why. I called it a “staycation” but in reality, it was a “staycation that entailed injectable hormones”, which was a bummer. When you take PTO, even if it’s for fertility treatment, you want to have fun anecdotes, or relax a bit or even have pictures to show off to your friends at the end of it. The only thing I had was a few bruises and an abnormal amount of insight into reruns of The Golden Girls.

In my case, that cycle didn’t work, which meant losing precious vacation time. Not only did I not have two pink lines, but I didn’t have tan lines either. I went back to work and when people asked me how my time off was, I had to feign enthusiasm. “Yaaaay! I just spent $15,000 to get my period! Woo hoo!”

It’s many years later and this past November, I saw in article in the MetroUK exploring this topic of trying to balance the stress of work and fertility treatment. I so related. Especially the quote, “Women going through IVF treatment generally need around six to eight flexible days, including days off for egg collection and transfer and time to go for numerous scans and consultations. Not that easy if no one at work knows you are having treatment.” Although my family building journey has come to a resolution (with two boys now), I remain a steadfast advocate for those still in the trenches. Trying to manage a job, a career, hormones, vaginal sonograms, affording treatment, staying sane and dipping into vacation time for IVF — I remember it all and it’s not easy. This is why I became particularly fascinated with what my friend, who also happens to be a Reproductive Endocrinologist, Dr. Joseph Davis, was preparing to pursue: becoming a medical director of a clinic in the Cayman Islands to attempt to do the impossible – make fertility less a state of hell and more a state of mind. He’s calling it Destination Fertility… and there would be palm trees. I repeat… PALM TREES.

First, a few words about Dr. Davis

Dr Davis is a special type of medical doctor, a “DO” (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine)”. The education and certifications between the two are very similar, however, the most notable difference is the approach to patient care. The DO, from Dr. Davis’s perspective, incorporates diet, meditation, mental and physical along with traditional medical care and has a more holistic approach. In addition, he is a member the American Society for Reproductive Medicine where he serves on the National Ethics Committee, he’s a Resolve: National Infertility Association Physician council member, and a trustee for Women With Endometriosis, a charity increasing education for young women in the U.K. I also must add that he posts the absolute best pictures of food on his Instagram account, which kills me as I’m always dieting.

It was a few months before I read this Metro UK article that Dr. Davis and I met up for lunch (of course), and he told me about his plans to leave a successful practice in New York City to work with Barbados Fertility Centre to open a new IVF center in the beautiful Cayman Islands. It was a cold day in New York when we discussed this, so hearing the words “Barbados” and “Cayman Islands” alone were heavenly but honestly, I was very shocked. To me, it was a big change. The clinic he worked at in New York is extremely respected and to make the choice to leave it all for a clinic not even built yet concerned me. The more he explained why and given my experience at the investment banking firm though, I could see where he was coming from.

Dr. Davis agreed that he had been working with one of the best practices in the world

Because of that, he saw a high volume of patients that all had a lot in common. Mainly, that they all seemed stressed and anxious both from trying to manage their lives and deal with their ever-challenging reproductive matters. And I relate to this. You’re battling the crowds, dealing with the subway, you’ve got one thing going on or another, you have obligations and you’re dealing with infertility, which can be incredibly overwhelming.

Dr. Davis believes that all this stress can affect your success rates. “My approach in New York was to be ‘the holistic guy’ within a clinic known for high quality medical care. I believe in holistic care: acupuncture, mindfulness, wellness, nutrition but how can we incorporate all of this when you are worrying about ducking out of work to get an ultrasound and deal with that stress and have it not impact your cycle?” He said the idea of creating a clinic you go to where you can reduce all external stress factors, increase your clinical care in an optimal environment can be beneficial for patients during fertility treatment.

The clinic that Dr. Davis is building will be based on the current model Barbados Fertility Centre (BFC) has already built

BFC has been around for sixteen years and as I learned, they are the ONLY Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited IVF unit in the Caribbean region. This JCI gold seal assures patients of the stringent safety measures. I mention this because in my mind, when I hear about a clinic that’s NOT in New York (because I’m an obnoxious New Yorker), I initially wondered about the quality but as it turns out, the JCI assures high quality operating procedure and safety standards.

Basically, the philosophy that Dr. Davis, BFC and the new Cayman Fertility Centre in Grand Cayman suggests is you, “Use your vacation time for BOTH a vacation and treatment so your IVF could actually have moments of relaxation!” Imagine that?

Now as a snarky and skeptical New Yorker, I still wonder if this is possible

Can you afford both to travel and treatment? In my own research, I found that BFC offers “Travel Packages” where you can contact Patient Liaison Coordinator who will help plan your trip and treatment there within your budget, they have their success rates listed on their site and there are quite a few patient testimonials of couples that did exactly this, traveled from outside of the country to them, that range from adorable to motivational.

So, should you consider this?

It depends what your budget is (although apparently, costs for fertility treatment are lower outside of the US/UK) but when I look back on that first IVF, even though that cycle wasn’t successful, it would have been easier to digest to go back to work having ACTUALLY had a vacation, or having tried a new restaurant or at least looking like I’d been somewhere other than my bedroom watching The Hallmark channel.

And on the flip side, what if you did travel to a sunny location such as Barbados or the Cayman Islands, had a vacation, fertility treatment AND got pregnant? File that under “T” for “That wouldn’t suck”.

Ultimately, I don’t know if traveling for fertility is the answer

When it comes to infertility and IVF, everyone has their different comfort zones. When anyone has ever asked me my opinion on getting through it all, my go to pieces of advice is, “Anything that keeps you sane, even if it buys you five minutes of sanity, is a good thing.” And I stand by that. If you think this is something that can make you and/your partner get through the hell that is in vitro fertilization process that much easier, than put your investigative hat on and check it out.

As for me, if anyone reading this does decide to pursue treatment in Barbados and you want a cheerleader who can relate, please let me know and I’ll book my ticket to join you

I will drink a margarita while on a floatation device in the pool and shout things like, “Implant embryo! Implant!” while hitting a volleyball over the net!

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