Medical Tourism – IVF Abroad

Darla, traveled to the Czech Republic for donor egg IVF and is today’s guest blogger. This post does contain an image of a pregnancy announcement as well as talks about loss. Thanks, Darla, for sharing your story!

An Unexpected Journey

“Journey” has always been the word I’ve used to describe our battle with infertility. (I’m also very deliberate in the use of the term “our battle” because, while it’s most likely that my eggs were the culprit, I can never forget that my husband was by my side through it all, and he is just as battle-worn as I am.)

Our journey to growing our family was an emotional one that tried to takes its toll on our relationship; a physical one that definitely took a toll on my body; a spiritual one that found me begging on my knees for a reason that a loving God would put us through this.

And for us, it was a literal journey. Practically to the other side of the world. But more on that shortly.

When we were told our best chance for success was using donor eggs, we considered it for a brief moment, but realized to do that here at our home clinic would require years of saving, and of waiting. We thought about living childless, but my heart could only take that for about, oh, a day. We looked into embryo adoption, and even had a wonderful and selfless woman reach out to us and offer us her embryos, but it quickly became apparent that it was very important for my husband to feel connected to our children in some way.

Our research into donor egg IVF led us to something we first brushed off as crazy: traveling abroad for an IVF cycle. The number one place to go for donor egg IVF cycles abroad is the Czech Republic. So we laughed and said, “Thanks but no thanks” to that idea, and kept researching. And our research kept bringing us back to a trip to the Czech Republic.

A dear friend of mine, who I met through an online infertility community, was dealing with a similar situation to ours at the time. She texted me one day and asked if I’d heard about this Czech Republic thing. I said I had, but before I could say we just weren’t on board, she said, “I think we’re gonna do that!” Her excitement about it was infectious, so I asked her to share her research.

Before I knew it, I was emailing clinics in Prague and other Czech cities to ask for more information about their program. My husband was intrigued, too, and he started making spreadsheets to compare stats. And one night, I sat in a bubble bath and he sat on the floor next to me. We ranked all the stats of the clinics abroad, and our own clinic in Texas. We averaged the rankings. And we found our clinic. I’m pretty sure I cried the next day as I emailed the coordinator at Zlin IVF and asked for an available transfer date in February. I KNOW I cried when she responded with the date that our babies would be put into my womb: February 9, 2016.

The time leading up to the trip was a crazy mess of coordinating with clinics here for meds and monitoring, planning a two-and-a-half-week jaunt through Europe, and talking friends and family down as they mildly freaked out about what we were doing.


The trip itself was a whirlwind. We went to places we’d only ever dreamed of going: Florence, Vienna, Prague. We were standing outside one of the most famous classical music venues in Europe, the Musikverein in Vienna, when we got the call that our donor had 12 mature eggs retrieved and 9 had fertilized. I’ll never forget standing in the rain with my husband outside this gorgeous building and crying over these embryos. We’d never gotten this far before. And though that number was down to only two by the day of transfer, we were so grateful for this chance, and we had faith in our two “little embryos that could.”

Family-photoTwo days after returning from the trip of a lifetime, I told my husband over dinner at one of our favorite restaurants that I’d caved, had tested, and he was going to be a daddy. A week and a half later, we found out that both our little ones had decided to snuggle in!

And now, we take each day as it comes and remind ourselves that we’re farther each day than we’ve been before. Being pregnant after an infertility battle is a battle in and of itself, but like I tell myself daily, “Today I am pregnant, and I love my babies.”


I wrote this blog originally back at the end of March when I was 10 weeks pregnant. We found out not long after I wrote this that we were expecting two little girls who we named Olivia Adele (baby A) and Catherine Sophia (baby B). We spent 14 glorious weeks as the parents of twins, 11 weeks as the parents of our twin girls. We had dreams for them, we had a picture of our life as a family of four.Announcement

And then, sadly, the unthinkable happened. At our 20-week scan, we found out our precious Catie-bug was very, very sick. She hadn’t developed normally – she had an encephalocele on the back of her skull (which turned out to be an open neural tube defect), a very large cleft lip/palate, small brain structures, and one doctor classified her head size as being in line with microcephaly. We were devastated to say goodbye to little Cate on June 22, 2016, a day shy of 22 weeks’ gestation. I am now carrying my sweet little angel and our survivor, Liv, and hoping and praying we make it to October with no further issues. While our hearts are broken for our loss, the excitement we felt at finally finding a way to become parents and our joy in our daughters is not dampened. This is all just a part of our very unexpected journey.

Coping with Infertility: Celeste’s Journey through Song and Art

My name is Lauren Gaynor and I am a senior at Michigan State University studying English and Professional Writing. I am the new undergraduate research assistant for The ART of Infertility project and I am overwhelmed and excited by the fact that I have the opportunity to share some of these stories with you.

The first story that I am about to share is reflective of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Although Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month is in October, we still felt it important to share this story of Celeste who is all too familiar with this kind of loss. Celeste shows us how she copes with these experiences of loss through art and singing.

The ART of Infertility first met Celeste at the Tri-State Walk of Hope this past September. As we packed up our tent, Celeste shared with us her recent experience of infertility and loss – the passing away of Robin and Rosa.

Celeste Image

Celeste has coped with her infertility through her love of song and expressive art.

After trying to conceive unofficially since September 2011, Celeste officially began trying in June 2012 and has been working with a reproductive endocrinologist since 2013. Six intrauterine inseminations, four in vitro fertilizations and 3 transfers all resulted in negative pregnancy tests, with the exception of her pregnancy with Robin and Rosa.

She conceived a set of twins on November 11, 2014. Unfortunately, she suffered an early pregnancy loss with son, Robin, on December 22, 2014. After being diagnosed with congenital heart disease, her daughter Rosa joined Robin on May 29, 2015.

Celeste channeled her loss and grief through art and music and we asked if she would like to share some of her pieces for a special blog post. Inspired by the work at the Carly Marie project, Celeste captures her loss, grief and journey through her reflections and artwork. The artistic pieces featured are meant to foster Celeste’s connection with Robin and Rosa, express her grief and emotion and continue on the hope of her journey with infertility.

Piece #1

Celeste Piece 1

Celeste shares, “I made this piece as a part of the Carly Marie “Capture Your Grief” photo healing project. The project is meant to help bereaved parents move through their grief during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. The top for Day Three was ‘In Honour.’”

“I started with pencil and paper, and thought about my twins. How would l like to honor them this day? The pencil sort of took over, and out poured my heart on paper. I then finalized the piece in ink.”

According to Celeste, the heart surrounding their names represents infinite love while the Gemini zodiac is for Rosa’s name and the Capricorn zodiac is for Robin’s name. The heart below their names represents their conception date. The infinite love that Celeste has for her babies is shown through the border of hearts surrounding the piece.

“When I look at it again, it makes me think of the Petri dish in which fertilization occurred. There is so much love and beauty in that moment, even if the environment was clinical and scientific.”

Not only is Celeste an artist but she is also an avid singer. Therefore, she inserted text inside of the heart that displayed the lyrics to songs that she sang to her babies while they were in the womb. Celeste would sit in their nursery and sing “You Are My Sunshine” (Traditional), “I Will Wait” (Mumford & Sons), “Human” (Christina Perri) and a plethora of others. Their memory is engrained in the song, art and spirit of Celeste’s intentions through this piece.

Piece #2
Day 11: Glow In The Woods
Celeste Piece 3


Glow in the Woods captures the grief and pain of losing her children. Although their memory lives on in some of her pieces, grief will still sometimes overtake the joy of their memory. It seems that this grief is related to being lost in the woods. “At first, I feel terrified and abandoned. But then, I look around and catch glimpses of light to find my way back home. My family is my life. John especially. With each passing day, he helps me see the light. He is my glow in the woods.”

Celeste compares IVF and ART to the thorny brush of the forest encapsulating and trapping her. These seem to be suffocating rather than setting her free. Celeste states that this is the infertility forest but, “the glow in the infertility forest is the thought that I have the power to decide when enough is enough.”

No matter what Celeste has her husband by her side. If all of the work and intrauterine inseminations and in-vitro fertilization doesn’t result in a child, it will be okay in the end because as Celeste says, “My husband is by my side and love is all I need.”

Piece #3
Broken Dreams
Celeste Piece 2

Despite all of the love and support throughout the process of conceiving, Celeste shares that it was difficult to remain hopeful throughout all of the broken hopes and dreams.

“Infertility and loss have changed my whole world. I used to be a reckless daydreamer and thought that the sky was the limit. Now after experiencing 6 failed intrauterine insemination cycles, 5 failed in-vitro fertilization cycles and the loss of twins, I am afraid to dream.”

This piece truly captures the dark cloud that seems to overwhelm all of the love, support and persistence that Celeste dealt with during her infertility. Despite the hopes and dreams of Celeste, reality seemed to take over and create fear and depression in place of her dreams.

Piece #4
Dark + Light

Celeste Piece 4

Despite broken hopes and dreams, Celeste reminds herself, that there is always sunshine on the horizon. Celeste proves that hope doesn’t always fade and love is all that she needs to persevere through the pain.

This intention captures giving birth and the pain, grief and joy that accompanied Rosa’s life. “Giving birth to Rosa made me realize that without pain, there would be no joy. The physical pains of labor and delivery were intense. But the moment the nurse placed her in my arms, the pain lifted from my memory and all I could see what sunshine.”

The contrast of the dark clouds and bright sunshine bring to life the beauty and struggle of Celeste’s infertility. “The dark storm cloud represents the pain and negativity that infertility brings to my life. The fear and doubt of my childhood dream which is in question.”

The unknown darkness of not being able to fulfill a dream is frightening and beautifully captured by Celeste’s artistry. Celeste’s art shows that for her despite the darkness, there is always hope behind the clouds. “The sunburst behind it, again, is the joyous and beautiful things to come from my infertility struggle. The hope that, at times is mostly concealed, continually tries to break free. The sunshine, while we cannot see it every day, is always there.”

Pregnancy Loss Cards bring Healing

Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month is technically over but I hope that its effects are long lasting. During October, I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Jessica Zucker and calligrapher, Anne Robin, creators of a new line of pregnancy loss cards. The story of how art and writing has brought them healing, and how they hope their cards will bring healing to others, is below. Please be aware that the story does contain descriptions and themes of pregnancy loss.


On a Thursday in October three years ago, Jessica Zucker was 16 weeks into her pregnancy when she began miscarrying at home. She was there alone and describes the experience as incredibly painful, intense, emotional, and horrifying. “I have these memories burned into my mind and my heart. Having her fall out, having to cut the cord, looking at her, putting her on a towel, and putting her in a bag.”

While her husband rushed home, Jessica was hemorrhaging. Fortunately, he made it in time to get her to the doctor but the amount of blood loss she was having made an un-medicated D&C necessary. That night, she drank wine and ate chocolate in bed. Jessica explains that grieving the loss of her daughter was made even more complicated by the fact that she herself also could have died. She wonders how she mustered the strength to make it through. “My grief would just come out. I would be driving somewhere and I would just start bawling or even screaming at the horror of how things happened,” Jessica said.


As a way to process her grief, Jessica, a clinical psychologist who specializes in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health in Los Angeles, began writing about loss. At first, she wrote about the politics of pregnancy loss and explored why we live in a culture where we can’t talk about the experience of miscarriage, where women somehow feel ashamed about their experiences. Then, last October, during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, Jessica initiated #ihadamiscarriage and went public with her own story in a piece she wrote for the New York Times. She explains that it’s helped so much because she’s connected with such wonderful women in the loss community around the world. “I feel my greatest way to honor my daughter, to honor our brief life together, our brief connection, has really been through my writing and I think that’s been the way that I’ve actually healed.”

“I feel my greatest way to honor my daughter, to honor our brief life together, our brief connection, has really been through my writing and I think that’s been the way that I’ve actually healed.”

Wanting to fill a void in the cultural conversation and in the marketplace surrounding pregnancy loss, Jessica decided to create a line of cards; to create something concrete and meaningful as a way to connect after a loss. Research shows that, after miscarriage, women are blaming themselves, feeling guilty, and feeling incredibly isolated. “My hope is that the cards convey messages that help women feel seen, feel validated in their experience, feel understood, and inevitably feel less alone because the card sender is thinking of them.” Jessica explains.

She also thought the cards could provide a sort of go-to guide for people who wonder what to say after someone they love experiences loss. They want to say the “right” thing, but many times don’t know what to say so they stumble.


Jessica knew which messages she wanted to convey through the cards but needed help designing them. She reached out to calligrapher, Anne Robin, who also has experience with pregnancy loss. “There were three (miscarriages) at different stages, all within the first trimester. One of them was at 12 weeks, one was at 11 weeks, and then two babies that we found out at 20 weeks had severe inter-cranial hemorrhage.” recalls Anne. “They realized there must have been some kind of genetic problem but they couldn’t find it.”

Anne was told by her geneticist to “just try again.” “That’s easier said than done, obviously, but I was pretty determined and felt like I needed to, like I couldn’t NOT try again, and again, and again, until it finally worked.” Anne recalls.

Eventually, it did work, and Anne now has a 4-month old son. As a way to memorialize her babies, she has a little box she keeps ultrasounds in, along with letters she’s written to them, and other mementos. “I still wanted something very physical so the one thing I did and I do really kind of cherish is had a new necklace made with a ‘C’ for my older son, that’s cut out of a circle, and then for the two babies that we lost much later, kind of the two that felt more real to me, I have these kind of empty rings. It’s something that I always have on me and it feels special and now my baby holds onto it a lot. He’ll have one of his fingers through the rings so that always feels really symbolic to me.” Anne explains.


Anne also used Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month last year to share her story publicly, creating a series of prints around the topic of pregnancy loss that were available for purchase, download, and use, on her website. She wanted to do something else this year and was looking for a project when Jessica approached her about doing the artwork for her pregnancy loss cards. “I finally had this baby in June and was interested in kind of coming full circle. Last year I was doing this all at seven weeks pregnant and totally terrified.” Anne explained, adding that, this year, she had a little bit more peace about her experiences and felt like she could really invest time and heart into the process.

I was pretty determined and felt like I needed to, like I couldn’t NOT try again, and again, and again, until it finally worked.”

To get started, Anne had Jessica look at her Instagram account to send her a list of fonts she liked and they brainstormed ideas. Realizing they both have an affinity for Mid-Century Modern design, Anne moved forward with shades of turquoise, mustardy yellow, and brick red, following a color scheme falling within that design aesthetic. “I didn’t want to make them super bright because I felt like they should be more muted because of the subject matter,” Anne explains.

Once a general design plan was in place, Jessica let Anne run with it.  “I love everything she does so it’s kind of ridiculous. I told her, you go for it, this part is all you,” she said.

What resulted was a series of pregnancy loss cards featuring honest messages, and gorgeous calligraphy. While some of the stronger language may not resonate with everyone, Jessica hopes that there’s a card in the series for everybody and wanted to convey a sense of consistency.


With messages including, I’m here for you always and I love you like crazy, Jessica explains, “I’m trying to underscore the point that I’m here for you right now because this happened and then next week we can hang out in this uncomfortable space together because this is part of life and where a lot of growth, unfortunately, happens.”

She adds that rushing grief doesn’t help anybody and ignoring it most definitely doesn’t either. “I think it’s incredibly important to try to resist judging one’s grief and that we should really shy away from comparing and contrasting grief or loss experiences.” The card stating grief has no timeline expands on this theme. “Women shouldn’t have to worry that they’re going to make somebody uncomfortable or that it’s inappropriate somehow to talk about their loss. That they should feel well within x amount of time,” Jessica says.

It was important to Jessica to have a card for pregnancy after loss, and she describes the baby loss/still birth announcement in the collection as stunning and so meaningful and important.

Both Jessica and Anne have been completely overwhelmed and excited by how well the cards have been received. “At first we were literally talking about printing 25 copies of each card. We had no idea the press we were going to get and the reaction that people would love them so much.” says Anne, adding how nice it’s been that people have been expressing gratitude that the cards are now available.


Working on this line of cards has been an important part of Jessica and Anne working through emotions surrounding their own experiences with loss and it seems that the cards are definitely fulfilling Jessica’s goal of delivering honest and truthful messages, filling a gap in the marketplace, and sparking a discussion about pregnancy loss. She explains, “We have to embrace that this is part of trying to create life and women shouldn’t feel that they have to be quiet about it.”

Jessica’s hope is that future generations grow up in a landscape that is incredibly different when it comes to these important and normative issues, saying, “It can be like a rollercoaster ride. you can be laughing one day or one hour and, the next hour, screaming about your pain and that’s okay.”