Fertility Vacation // Practical Tips

Hi friends,

As many of you had requested, here are some practical tips from our fertility vacation in Prague. Hope it helps for your journey!

Flight

I booked my trip on WOW Airlines from Los Angeles to Berlin with a stopover in Iceland. I loved seeing the magic of the Northern Lights to fill up my spirit before the unknown of IVF.  I choose WOW for their stopover options.  Be careful on luggage charges and pack strategically.  Mike flew on Copa, a Russian airline that had some great last minute options into Prague since we didn't know exactly what days he should be there.

Home Away from Home

We booked a few Airbnb apartments throughout our stay. We prefer to get to know a neighborhood, and then book last minute while we are on site. Other people like to book in advance to feel a bit more settled before their trip. We loved the photogenic Vinohrady district, which is an art deco neighborhood off the beaten path, but still close enough to everything.

Time Commitment

I would recommend about a month-long trip for a Fertility Vacation; give or take a few extra days for travel and to account for what day your period will start. Technically, the guy only needs to be there a day or two for sperm retrieval, but having Mike as my emotional support during implantation, and also my adventure partner was necessary for a few days longer. Here is a sample schedule from our IVF clinic:

Day 1 – arrival

Day 2 – Initial consultation, gynaecological examination. The man will follow with blood sampling and sperm freezing. Paperwork, payment, signatures, man can leave if necessary.

Day 3 - 7 eggs retrieved from the donor, their fertilization

2 - 5 days after fertilization (i.e. between Day 5 – 12) cultivation of embryos takes place. It is finished by embryo transfer

After the transfer we recommend to relax at least for 24 hours before you fly back home.

In total 7 - 12 nights

Fertility Clinic - Praga Medica

Overall, we had a really positive experience at Praga Medica. The staff made us feel comfortable and understood, despite the language barrier. They provided a translator as part of the fees. They were helpful and competent, even if their approach to kindness was different than smiling (they’re definitely not going to smile at you!).

Money Money Money Money….Money

There are a lot of factors to consider with a Fertility Vacation. Vacation days from work, life commitments, how many times you want to try IVF, etc. Cost was a huge factor for us and with our flexible lifestyle and love for travel, a fertility vacation made the most sense.

In total - the cost of IVF, travel, room and board - our trip was about $10,000. Keep in mind, we also lived for that price - meals, shows, etc. IVF in the U.S. runs about $15-$20k. Most people I have spoken with said the cost is $20k, if you’re lucky, as it’s not uncommon to cost astronomically more than that. One of my friends was close to $65k and was successful on the first IVF attempt although they tried multiple options along the way.

Research

Prior to choosing Praga Medica we Googled a few IVF clinics in Prague. We compared each clinic and then also asked our friend who is an IVF consultant here in the U.S. to see her recommendation. After interviewing Praga Medica, we felt like they stood out to us and were the best choice. Here is our list of questions from the interview

Prague

Being in Prague was the best part of our experience; away from everything and focused on us. Prague is a big sprawling city that is affordable and has a ton of activities including unique cafes, foodie hot spots and art classes. There were historic city tours, food tours, music performances, day trips to charming towns like Cesky Krumlov, Karlovy Vary, Vienna and Budapest. So many choices!

Is a Fertility Vacation right for you? You should:

  • Love to be in a new city
  • Want to be parents
  • Feel comfortable being away from home
  • Have a support system in place; smart phones, Hello TMobile, friends to visit, etc.
  • Find a way to communicate with your people so you don’t feel alone and so that everyone at home still feels included

While on your fertility Vacation - Suzanne says:

  • Pick a place and neighborhood to stay; let yourself feel the routine of it
  • Pick what time of day to take for your shots that fits best into your desired routine - mine had to be between 6 and 8pm. I choose 6 but as a photographer I wished I had chosen 7:30 so I didn't have to miss the golden hour
  • Discover your favorite coffee shop and become a regular
  • The shot has to be refrigerated so bring a cooler/ice pack with you so you don't have to go all the way back to your hotel if you don't want to

While on your Fertility Vacation - Mike says:

  • Find a way to relax and enjoy your time, instead of constantly thinking about the procedure
  • Spend enough time in your city: two full weeks for me was enough time for fun and exploration
  • Treat yourself while you’re there
  • It's a journey and it’s hard, but it also builds character and a sense of adventure
  • Be willing to allow yourself to have fun
  • It's not a dreadful event, but rather a life adventure

Things that made us feel at home - Suzanne’s lens:

  • Went for Mexican food (Las Adelitas - Malé Naměstí 13) so many times, nothing says home more than tacos
  • Drawing classes make me feel comfortable to me when traveling
  • Mike’s walking tours. I pick places I’m interested in and then Mike holds my hand and and navigates me around the city, adding in his own special stops. I love following him around and he loves logistically organizing everything.
  • Lunch and going to the museum
  • English book store called “Shakespeare's” where expats congregate
  • I feel really at home amongst tourists and listening to all of the languages being spoken.  You find tourists in the most incredible places; they are my tribe.

Things that made us feel at home - Mike’s lens:

  • Going to the movies (three times!)
  • Museums
  • Visiting historical sights and art exhibits
  • Farmers markets and swap meets
  • Finding every cool coffee shop
  • Drinking a beer before noon
  • Walking  5-8 miles a day
  • Endless picture taking and mini photo shoots of each other
  • We had friends meet us there from England, Dubai, Switzerland and Sweden

Emotional Preparation

IVF Is hard. There are no two ways around it. PMS has nothing on IVF.  It is identity shaking, emotional, disruptive. The weeks during the actual IVF process were fine, even great, but the aftermath of the hormone depletion was completely overwhelming. I feel much better equipped for the second time around. I have less fear and will relax more, now that I understand the upcoming challenges.

Lots of love to you!!

Suzanne & Mike

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Fertility Vacation // The First Injection

There we sat, the carefree girls from 8 hours earlier, now on the apartment couch, overcome with fear. In a brave moment of, "let’s just get it over with", I grabbed everything out of the fridge. Jenny and I set it up as fast as we could, just as the nurse had explained.

I pinched the skin on my stomach and pointed the needle at my skin. I didn’t want the medicine. I didn’t want to willingly hurt my own body. Logically, it made sense, but a part of me felt like I was betraying the universe and the gratitude I work to cultivate. I recognized this as the fear talking and remembered the greater purpose.

I pictured the nurse looking at me and I heard Jenny's helpful voice that felt steady and determined. "Is this the right number? Then push."

I pushed the needle in. The pain was small and only at the beginning. I awkwardly pushed until everything was in my body; exhale.

The three of us congratulated ourselves and drew on some shrinky dinks to distract our minds. 10 minutes later I was coloring the mane of my shrinky dink horse and my eyelids were suddenly heavy. I laid down.

The translator mentioned I might get hungry, tired, and feel a deep swell in my lower abdomen. I closed my eyes wondering if I would be out for the night.

I noticed an odd feeling in my belly and drifted in and out of consciousness. After about 20 minutes, I slowly sat up on the couch and felt myself waking up; as if I had been asleep all night and had to transition to being awake.

The rest of the night I surprisingly felt a general ease. I enjoyed chatting, eating tacos, and sipping the smallest amounts of tequila.

I can’t really tell how I feel in the end. Do I feel balanced and relaxed because nothing other than an unrequested nap happened? Or do I feel good because my body somehow needed those hormones?

Either way I’ll take the win. I feel good, normal, and balanced. Really good actually. I have exactly 7.5 hours until my next injection so I will see how it goes.

I’m actively choosing activities and thoughts that feel beautiful and in alignment with positivity.

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Fertility Vacation // 8 Hours

We walked around Prague laughing and taking pictures. Three seemingly carefree tourists with tiny bottles of alcohol in our winter jackets. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

8 hours of freedom. 8 hours before my first injection.

My happy place is walking around and falling in love with a new place. It makes me feel positive and at peace. I feel a deep sense of contentment knowing that I’m not taking my life for granted. One of the easiest ways I can show gratitude for my life is to travel to the world’s meccas and pay tribute to how beautiful the world is.

Hi Universe, I see you. I'm profoundly grateful for your accomplishments and these pockets of peace that you have created all over the globe. I see your light and I'm doing my best to reflect it in my images, my open heart, and the soft, happy smile I pass to others enjoying your beauty.

We wandered into Shakespeare's old book store and took photos of the picturesque buildings. We asked tourists to take our picture in front of the river with the Charles Bridge behind us. We saw the Lennon Wall which felt peaceful and open. Alongside us were families, school groups, travelers, Instagrammers, Facebookers and lovers from all over the world, all walking by and talking pictures.

We stayed a while, sipping whiskey and indulging in Vanessa’s deep love for St. Patty’s Day (she’s from Chicago). We had a pub lunch. We passed the river again and saw a boat pulling a life-size inflatable pastel tank with a giant sign that read #MakeLoveNotWalls. I'm glad that someone felt like making floating art with that message. I didn’t let it cast any shadows of reality.

I still had two more hours until I would willingly give myself a shot. Two more hours before I would find out how the hormones would affect me. Two more hours to not be afraid of the possible disruption in my mental stability.

Medicine and I don’t typically get along. When I was in Africa, the malaria medicine made me hallucinate spiders. I took antibiotics 10 years ago and my GI tract has still not recovered. In fact, one of the effects of the antibiotics was temporary infertility, which is why I'm waltzing around Prague in the first place.  Why would I willingly shoot hormones two inches to the right and one inch down from my belly button?

Eventually we made our way back to our Airbnb apartment. About a block away, time ran out.  As always, I’m able to completely ignore something until a few minutes before it happens, and then panic sets in. All of a sudden my mind was shouting, “No, no, no, don’t do it!”. My head was shaking back and forth as I told Vanessa and Jenny that I didn’t want to do it. I really didn’t want to do it.

As we approached the door, my heart was running a full blown hundred-meter dash.  I knew it was unreasonable, but I had no idea how my body or mind would respond. Neither were interested in finding out.

Vanessa was sweet and tried to think of calming techniques. She told me to focus on my belly because one day, it might grow a baby.

My mind desperately tried to find something to hold onto. “The sooner you do it, the sooner it’s over”.

That I could get behind.

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Cuba // 18 Years Later

I traveled to the magical country of Cuba in 1999 and then again in January of this year. Here is my letter to this country, that my heart now calls a friend. 

Dear Cuba,

Hello my old friend. How thrilling and sweet it is to sit with you. Seeing your face again makes my heart swell with all of our past memories. You are just as intriguing, exotic, captivating and confusing as ever before.

As I walk around your colorful buildings and crumbling heroic walls, I can’t help but reminisce to our first meeting.

Back in '99, visiting you was daring, almost provocative. When I saw “Havana” on my syllabus at art school in San Francisco, I grew nervous and excited that we would meet. Our professor, Tony Labat, who grew up in your neighborhoods, took 20 of us to see you for a week.

We flew out of Tijuana, Mexico. We stopped in Monterrey and had to de-board the plane to get our passports stamped, since it was illegal for Americans to visit your country and spend money there. We landed in Havana and I remember feeling nervous. The agent looked over my treasured passport, chockfull of stamps, and waived me through.  Havana was mine and I was in awe.

Hotel Inglaterra was our home for the week. From there we went to museums by day and then stayed up late drinking Cuba Libres, listening to music, and smoking cigars on the rooftop. We were an eclectic group of artists; some painted, filmed or created performance pieces. We felt saturated in the Cuban art experience, if only for a week.

Upon seeing you, the movie Buena Vista Social Club had come out. I sat in the theater, fascinated by what was to come. Everything was as surreal as the movie suggested; the cars, the architecture.  I watched men play checkers. I photographed little kids in their school uniforms.

I felt honored and changed to have this rare experience. You are resourceful, yet without resources. The resilience of your people was inspiring. I was left questioning our place in the world, and with new real estate in my heart, just for cheering you on.

And now flash forward to January 2017.

My heart had missed a beat when I learned a few years ago that President Obama would open up relations with you. Could we make peace and end the embargo? Could this country that stole my heart, finally know equality and the same advantages and disadvantages of their neighbors?

My photographer friend, Maryanne, and I jumped on a plane and made sure we had the chance to see you before the new presidency.

This time, we flew from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale to Havana. In Fort Lauderdale, I heard over the loudspeaker, “Jet Blue Flight XX to Havana”. That’s when it hit me. A profound moment that actualized in my gut. I was flying from America to see you; a dream of mine and so many others realized. I felt a surge of joy and solidarity with this small victory.

I thought of 18 years ago and the boy I gave a pencil to on the street. Of the artist Los Carpinteros. And of the college girl I once was, walking your streets with a different lens and perspective than today.

We arrived early in the morning and immediately began exploring. I soon realized so much was the same, but we both had grown up too. I have grown from a student into a professional photographer.  But, we both still have our quirks.

This time, we stayed at Casa Particular. Casas weren’t legal on my last trip and very hard to find. This change marked an acceptance of a new socialism and I’m curious to see how it evolves.

We listened to music and had coffee around the city in Plaza Viejo, at the Inglaterra and at the Nacional. The menus were larger and more varied. I remember feeling frustrated with ordering a meal on my last trip. I would ask for a cappuccino and a salad. The waiter would leave and come back 5-10 minutes later and inform me that they were out of those items. This would repeat itself several times. Eventually, I learned to ask what was available and simply order that.

This type of exchange rarely happened this time. Although napkins and toilet paper were still in short supply.

We hired a tour guide for the Art and Color Tour. Our guide Dayana was knowledgeable and indulged all of our many questions. She took us to multiple galleries and the Museum of Bellas Artes. I saw a piece of art that mentioned Los Carpinteros and felt joy at their success. I was thrilled to be in my element, hearing about the history and present culture of art in Havana. I love the familiar joy in museums, people from around the world sharing their own passion for art in many languages.

Ironically, the actual band, the Buena Vista Social Club, was playing while we were in town. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see them in person. There were a couple of musicians from the original documentary there. Snippets of the movie were projected in the background. So we have changed a little, I thought. We were all a little older, wiser, and with a few more lines on our faces.

Yet here we both were, practicing our craft with energy and joy all these years later. Them on stage in a room full of approving fans, and me still walking around with my camera and artist friends, sharing all of the color and contradicting ideas in still images.

What will the next 18 years hold for us? I’m hoping my country and yours will build a beautiful friendship full of respect and admiration.

Just as we have.  

Besitos my friend, until next time.

Suzanne

4 Things // Gratitude in the Struggle

Watching : Picasso at the Lapin Agile at The Old Globe. Find out what Picasso, Einstein and Elvis have in common. - Suzanne

Loving : 9 to 5 The Musical. #yearofthewoman - Suzanne

Inspired by : John Wick : Chapter 2. I'm inspired by the character; his determination and will. I love the idea of doing anything you can to help a loved one. Also, it inspires me to be in shape, to dress well, and be prepared for whatever life brings. - Mike

Excited for : An adventure with Suzanne in Prague.  I'm excited for taking on new projects, and not being afraid, but rather embracing the struggles that come with any new chapter of life. Trying to have a family, a child, a future - this I am very excited about it. Life has kicked us around a little, and I have let it take some of my happiness through anxiety, but now I'm turning the tables. I am finding gratitude in the struggle. - Mike

xoxo

Suzanne, Mike and the Wanderers

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15 Years Because of YOU

All of us at Shewanders Photography are dancing in confetti of love and gratitude for celebrating 15 years behind the lens.

15 years of gratitude. 15 years of love. 15 years because of YOU.

We’d love to take you on a little vacation down memory lane to where it all began.

In 2002, a friend asked me to shoot her big day. I very reluctantly said yes. I had never shot a wedding before and it wasn’t something I wanted to do. By the end of the day, sparks were flying, adrenaline was pumping; I was in love. A couple months later, I got laid off of my job in advertising and started Shewanders Photography.

Mike started with Shewanders in 2008 and has blown my mind with his raw talent.  He took some photo classes when he was younger, but really claimed his voice at Shewanders.  He started as a third shooter and within a couple of years was shooting his own weddings.  I admire his voice and the sense of immediacy that he captures.  I often look at his work and wonder how he puts people at enough ease for them to be so natural in front of him.

There are a few things over the last 15 years that we couldn’t have lived without.

Suzanne says....

I write in my morning pages every day. It’s how I let go of all the chatter so that I can stay focused and understand what I want. The gems are hidden amidst the words of my everyday writing. It takes putting in the work day after day; that’s where the magic happens.

I ask what if it’s magical? Instead of, what if it’s too hard or expensive? Shewanders by nature has allowed me to live an untraditional lifestyle where I get to travel and work. Work to travel, work while traveling, the whole shebang. When I travel, I know who I am. It allows me to learn, grow, challenge myself, and respond to my environment. While exploring a new place, I want to fill each day to the brim with adventures.

I listen to music to make sense of my thoughts. Sometimes an idea or a problem will be floating around in my mind. It takes the emotional quality of a song or the lyrics to help me understand what I’ve been feeling or thinking.

I always allow myself time to daydream and listen to my inner voice (even when she sounds like a drill sergeant). This gives me the freedom to dream up new concepts and ideas from within, rather than what I see on Pinterest or Instagram.

Mike says...

I believe that love and a celebration solves any problem. Regardless of the stress of a wedding day or the never-ending tasks, when I live in the moment of a beautiful celebration, everything else disappears.

I always stand true to who I am. I never try to stand out, I just try to be myself. I do what inspires me and my clients so that we have a journey together.

I find peace and recharge in fitness and nature. Outside of photography, I do martial arts, running, and bodyweight training. I love the outdoors. Hiking and survival type training is a passion and hobby of mine.

I couldn’t survive without listening to my inner voice. This is driven by reading, film, and new experiences.

Both of us say...

We have constantly been inspiring ourselves so that we can create inspired work. We go to workshops, take classes, have art adventures with friends, and always experiment with new techniques.

We attribute our success to the most amazing friends in the industry and rising together. CAKE Bakery was my first industry friend. We love those ladies like no one else. Our companies grew up together.  We had our growing pains together and all of our successes.  Did you see them win Cake Wars?

We also couldn't have done it without finding our ideal clients.  Oh my gosh we love our clients. Seriously! So many people complain about their brides and grooms and we are head over heels for ours.  Our clients tend to be warm people who are grateful to have wonderful people in their lives.

A thousand thank you’s to all of our friends, at home in San Diego, and everywhere around the globe. Because of you, we have been able to create a life we love.

Cheers to 15 more years of art making and dream chasing!