Our International IVF Journey: From Anguilla to Estonia

The Real Reason We’re Going Back to Estonia

…as much as we love the Baltics, there’s more to the story

I feel like the social media slant on reality has become anything but real. We post the best snapshots from our lives and serve it up as a bite of our reality. The last time I was soberingly real was when we returned to Anguilla after Hurricane Irma to find our house destroyed and the island devastated. Since then, I’ve highlighted our travels and adventures, leaving out the day-to-day and the less-than-glamorous times in between. Who wants to see those anyway? Who wants to know what our lives are really like and – God forbid – think they’re not just us jet-setting from St. Barths to Antigua to Mexico? The truth is that despite the fact that we love following Instagrammers and bloggers who showcase their glam lifestyles, I think we all appreciate real talk. It makes us feel more human, and makes our obstacles and realities feel more digestible. That’s part of the reason we’ve decided to share the reality that we’re facing now and the journey that we’re about to embark on, with the hope that this resonates with others out there who are quietly going through the same thing. I use the term ‘we’  because it was a joint decision between Scott and I, and after many conversations we’ve decided to share the upcoming weeks and months with everyone.

Tallinn in a Day with the Tallinn Card

Sometime in 2016, we decided that the time was right to start a family. We had three years of marriage under our belt, many adventures, and felt like we were in a stable enough position with our work life to bring in a new member to our life. Timing and plans are a funny thing, though, because they don’t always follow the rules. In some ways, I feel like it was the grandest of reminders that there are things in life that you just don’t have control over. So, after a long while without success, we knew we wanted to take the steps to learn more. I had been dealing with a very frustrating year; not only not having success, but having NO ONE to go to for help. We live in Anguilla, so it’s no surprise that we don’t have doctors nearby to assist, and certainly no specialists to consult. Month after month, I felt absolutely helpless and felt like I had no tools to move forward confidently. We had a planned trip to Estonia for the holidays, and found a renowned clinic there that was able to get us in for testing. That step alone had me feeling as though I was moving mountains, taking a step that is so incredibly difficult when living in a place with limited options. Two of our days in Tallinn involved visits to the clinic where the team helped us out with requisite testing, explaining each step in a way that made it easy to digest. I vividly remember that day in December receiving the email from our IVF clinic in Tallinn sharing the news that we likely wouldn’t be able to conceive naturally. It was heartfelt but matter-of-fact: we’d need to look at IVF for an option that would be realistic for us. To be honest, what I felt wasn’t sadness – maybe a tinge, but nothing that I gave much mind to – what I felt overwhelmingly was relief. It was as if by magic we finally knew, and at the end of the day knowing is so much better than not knowing.

Our International IVF Journey

I’m a very action-oriented person by nature. Give me a problem, and I’ll find a solution; that’s how my brain inherently works, and this was no different. We were faced with an issue, and we wasted no time in making decisions on how to move forward. Mind you, we live on a tiny island in the Caribbean so for us making decisions is very different from our friends making these same decisions in the United States or Europe. Straight up: we don’t have facilities and resources here. We couldn’t even get the majority of our preliminary diagnostic testing done here (basic blood work and tests required to move forward with IVF were unavailable at the best facility on the island when we inquired). For us, any way we sliced it, our IVF journey would be an international IVF process. Mentally we debated between a well-respected clinic in Barbados and going back to Estonia where we’d had our preliminary testing done. Our initial meetings with the doctors there wowed us from the get-go and made us feel very human in this process. They worked with us to find times that worked for our schedule and dialogued with us via email and over Skype without hesitation. Our hearts were drawn to Estonia, and we knew that that’s where we wanted to go, despite the fact that their clinic was halfway across the world. To be sure, we’re lucky to have the ability to take the time and make this happen. Many people don’t have that level of flexibility in their schedule to allow for 2+ weeks away to undergo this process so we feel exceptionally fortunate in that respect. We struggled with it: can we really take this time away from the resort during such a busy part of our season? In the end, we were persuaded that this personal journey was that important for us, and there’s no time like the present to start.

25 Things to Do in Anguilla

Question of the century: why is it that sharing our struggles, especially when it comes to fertility, is such a challenging prospect? I’ve never felt shame in this, perhaps because I know that silently many are in the same boat. It’s not just those who have waited until later in life to conceive. There are people all around us – healthy twenty-somethings and couples in their early thirties – who face unexpected challenges when choosing to start a family. Some are in the same boat as us dealing with their own IUI or IVF processes for whatever reason. Some have dealt with the pain of miscarriages; sometimes multiple without really understanding why. Some have struggled with conceiving Baby #2 after the first child was a breeze. The paths we have to take may not be what we had planned for ourselves but they’re part of our individual journeys, part of our relationships, and part of our lives. They make up our unique stories, and that’s totally okay. We quietly told a few people very close to us about this and gradually found ourselves getting more confident and comfortable with all of it: the process, the realities, and the conversation itself.

When it comes to fertility struggles, it feels like we hear from people after the fact – after they’ve had success – sharing that they struggled, too, and came out the other side with a happy family to show for it. It’s a boost hearing that, of course, and knowing that there are many successes all around us, but what about the process and the journey to that grand finale? In some ways it’s less intimidating than it seems from the outset, and in some ways it’s much more intimidating. When it  comes to IVF, how many of us really, truly understand what this entails emotionally and physically before we start digging deeper to learn how this all works? The physical act of injecting myself with hormones every evening for ten-plus days straight? That’s not really that intimidating. I think I can figure that one out with the guidance of a doctor and a YouTube video. Relinquishing control over my body in this unfamiliar process and allowing it to do what it will? Yeah, that’s down right scary. I assume the scariest part for most when it comes to sharing is that there is a chance that it won’t be successful… and that chance is fairly high. In general, success is around 35 – 40% (Scott and I are on the higher end due to our age and other factors), but that means there’s a lot of room for it to not work. That’s reality, though. We’re going in with optimism, hope and excitement about this, but also tempering that with pragmatism. Of course, we hope it will work and I feel in my heart that we will have success with this, but there’s a chance that we’ll come out the other side and not have the success we hope for. We wouldn’t be alone if that was our truth. Many couples face the same reality, and why should we go through that alone? I think in part we struggle in silence not out of shame or embarrassment, but sometimes out of the fear that we’re burdening our friends and families with the knowledge of everything. When I think hard about that though, I know that when people I care about are going through this, I want to be there to help lift them up and give them the positive energy and support that they deserve and need. That’s what friends, family, and our communities are here for; to help lift us and support us, and maybe we should let them do that. If anything, as we’ve talked with people about this, it’s filled our hearts with so much love knowing that we have a huge cheerleading squad rooting us on from afar.

Christmas in Tallinn, Estonia

And so, here we are, about to hop on a flight to Estonia by way of Finland, and there’s a whole host of emotions to contend with but excitement and optimism are the most prominent. I’m so, so grateful that we’re doing this, and even more grateful that we stumbled into our Estonian clinic serendipitously. In some ways, I feel an even deeper sense of gratitude that we get to go through this journey away from home; away from our day-to-day stressors, where I can allow myself to go through this foreign process on my own terms. I’m hopeful that being somewhere new, seeing new cities and enjoying new experiences will help me keep my mind from focusing solely on the purpose that we’re there. I’m trying to remain as level-headed as possible and have come to terms with the idea of letting go of control and allowing the world to work around me. We’re staying positive and taking this all in, one moment at a time.

I’ll be chronicling some of our international IVF journey here and I’ll also be documenting some of our experience on Instagram for those that want to follow along with our personal experience. I’m no expert, but I’m one person going through this and sharing our story as we go on this journey. For anyone out there who’s gone through it, your positive thoughts are welcomed! For those going through something similar, know that you’re not alone despite the fact that it sometimes feels that way. For those that are more interested in our travels during this international IVF process, don’t worry – I’ll be sharing lots on that, too, naturally. Stay tuned for stories and highlights from Helsinki to Riga and new places in Estonia that we’ll be exploring.

Forget climbing volcanoes in the Congo and rafting down the Amazon… we’re embarking on our biggest adventure yet.

Shannon Kircher, The Wanderlust Effect

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect, formerly The Traveling Scholar. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. She is a former resident of London and San Francisco and now calls the island of Anguilla home. In addition to The Wanderlust Effect, Shannon is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort and is on the Board of Directors of the Omololu International School in Anguilla.