By Abbe Feder, Fertility Coach
As if there’s not enough to consider when undergoing fertility treatment, there is so much more to navigate under the umbrella of travel. It can be head-spinning. Family can trigger us when we least expect it, and while we make the best laid plans to anticipate our medical, physical, and emotional needs, there’s no way to know it all, nor should we have to. We’re managing enough!
The waiting game and lack of control we have over the timing of fertility treatments can be one of the biggest struggles in the process. We usually go into this doe-eyed, with a sense of when our cycles may start and then hopefully sync with our treatment plans. We are rarely expecting the unexpected, and yet, the unexpected dictates so much of the treatment.
To this end, it is often safest (and maybe easiest) to avoid out-of-town travel during fertility treatment, primarily if mid-stimulation round for an in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle. But you may already feel like you’re putting so much of your life on hold to receive medical attention you’d rather not need, that if you want to take the trip—take it. Just know a few things before you go to feel as prepared and stress-free as possible every step of the way.
You may need an entire separate bag just for your meds. I wish I was kidding. Depending on where you are in the process, there can be a lot to bring along, and you want to make sure you have more than enough refills of what you may need. Always talk to your fertility specialist and care team and make sure they know you’re traveling. This can help in terms of planning out your medication needs as well.
Things to keep in mind:
- You can take your medications and medical supplies (vials, syringes, and all) directly onto the plane in a carry-on bag. This is ideal so that nothing gets lost, and you have more temperature control than bags that go into the checked compartment.
- Speaking of temperature control, you may also take ice packs onto a plane! Anything that needs to stay refrigerated can stay in an insulated bag with ice packs, no problem.
- For safety, you want to travel with a sharps container. A sharp is generally considered any of the syringes used for your medications, and you use (and dispose of) a sharps container for the safety of yourself and others. All of your fertility medications should arrive with a sharps container, but know that you can always purchase your own medical grade sharps containers easily at pharmacies over the counter, and through general online retailers. They even make a travel-sized one!
Once you have all of your materials in place for travel, you do want to alert the TSA as you go through security. TSA recommends separating any medically necessary liquids and/or medications from your other luggage before you start your screening, and informing the TSA officer that you have those, along with any “accessories” for your medications like alcohol wipes, freezer packs, IV bags, pumps, and/or syringes.
It’s always worth asking your physician team for a note to carry as well, just in case. If there’s any issue, a letter from your doctor stating that you’re under their care, using medications, and need to travel with them is smart. Take a photo of the letter as well as giving a photocopy to whomever you’re traveling with if possible. It’s a great way to cover all the bases.
These days, most fertility pharmacies will overnight ship with proper temperature control anywhere in the United States. A quick Google search of “fertility meds shipped overnight” brings up a long list of the top-rated fertility pharmacies and their abilities to get you what you need when you need it. Just be sure to check with your health insurance company if there’s a specific pharmacy you need to order from for coverage. In addition, know that different pharmacies often offer varied pricing for each medication.
Our bodies go through major shifts when fertility treatment starts. But it’s extra important to consider these physical changes during travel, especially air travel.
In addition to obvious natural hormone fluctuation in treatment, estrogen is especially high when taking fertility medications. That’s sort of the point, to increase follicle growth and therefore increase estrogen. When estrogen rises, this can lead to bloating, which can make sitting for a long period of time uncomfortable.
Pregnancy and flying both increase the risk of blood clots, so it’s crucial to take care of yourself if you plan to travel by plane. A few ways to ensure you’re keeping your circulation going are:
- Stay hydrated (to keep that blood moving with water)
- Walk around on the plane every 30 minutes (to promote overall circulation)
- Do ankle rotations when in the seat (to keep the blood moving back up from down)
- Wear compression socks (to contain your veins and muscles in a way that keeps them moving blood up and down)
If you’re going on a road trip instead, you do want to best navigate medical assistance along the way. If you’re going for a long drive to see family, make sure that you won’t be isolated from some sort of medical care for a long stretch of time. You can easily search hospitals along the way and choose a route that more closely supports medical attention, if needed. Also, of course, bring plenty of snacks to keep your blood sugar levels steady.
It is extra prudent to ensure there are places near where you’re traveling to have any blood work or monitoring done. Facilities like LabCorp can be found all over the United States, and it’s smart to preemptively ensure there will be a haven near where you’ll be staying, should the need arise.
So much of the toll of infertility is the lack of control. If seeing family and friends will help bring some joy along the way, then having these few tips to take what you can into your physical control is crucial.
And the doozy! The emotional way to cope when visiting family and friends, especially during the holidays, may be the hardest part of the ride. Anticipation is key. While I don’t recommend assuming that the time spent with family and friends is going to be awful, I do recommend accepting that there may be hard components. It helps to prepare for them, knowing that triggers may come out of nowhere, and we will need to process them later, in private, when we feel ready. Remember that most people probably have good intentions but are often going to say the wrong thing.
Sometimes the sucker punch of it all is that we were not expecting anyone to say something awkward or out-of-line. It can be helpful to have a response ready to go for the awkward comments that may be made. For example, here are some real-life classics from my own experience:
- “It’s been three years; I’ll give you five max, but then I want to see a pregnant belly.”
- Prepared comeback: “As soon as I have something to share, I will” (hopefully implying please don’t ask again)
- “Don’t you two want kids?”
- Prepared comeback: “Don’t you know that it isn’t ok to ask people that question these days?” (aka mind your beeswax)
- “What’s the matter, your husband’s sperm doesn’t swim?”
- Prepared comeback: I don’t have a comeback for this one. It is so out of line, but it did really happen to me, so I want you to be prepared
As infertility and pregnancy loss emerge more into the light from the stigma, shame, and darkness, family and loved ones are learning to keep these bad comments and questions at bay. However, we never know what will trigger us.
I strongly recommend arming yourself with the best support system you can for your fertility care team. Each serves a specific need, from the emotional to the physical and relational. If you can’t do them all, choose the ones that best suit your specific needs:
- A fertility coach
- A mental health therapist
- A support group
- An acupuncturist
- A nutritionist
- A fertility-specialized massage therapist
Finally, while recognizing that relaxing and just having fun while traveling and pursuing fertility treatment is a near impossibility, I do want you to remember that maybe you will come home with some love, fun memories, full bellies, and lots of good feelings to carry you through the next stretch of trying times. Yes, the logistics can be complicated, the pain (inside and out) can be unbearable, but remember that we are working to create small people who want to spend holidays with us, too.