Coronavirus in Sweden: ‘My pregnancy plans have been shattered’

Coronavirus in Sweden: 'My pregnancy plans have been shattered'
A pregnant women undergoing an ultrasound scan. File photo: Lise Åserud / NTB scanpix / TT
The coronavirus epidemic and resulting travel bans are keeping people around the world, including many of The Local’s readers, from spending time with family. One woman who moved to Gothenburg explained how the restrictions had hit their chance to build a family.

Anna, who moved to Gothenburg with her partner last year, was hoping to travel to the Czech Republic in March, where she has a frozen embryo from IVF waiting for her. 

But as the coronavirus pandemic spread across Europe and lockdowns and travel bans were imposed, that soon became impossible.

There is no time limit on the procedure itself, but having spent a decade going through IVF in various countries and turning 40 this year, having the transfer put on hold is taking a toll on Anna.

“I’m not convinced if my travel is considered essential because it’s not medically necessary. It’s certainly essential to me,” she told The Local.

“I’m 40 so I’m concerned I don’t have too much time to get pregnant, I feel like every month my chances of having another child get lower and lower.

“The older you get, the less likely you are to carry a healthy pregnancy. When I was carrying my first child I was 36 and in London, they were already administering all kinds of tests due to my age, and I had a healthy pregnancy with no complications.”

Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

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She has been going through IVF with the clinic in Brno for four years, first chosen partly due to the much lower cost compared to New York where the couple lived at the time. Anna says the clinic staff have been helpful, appointing a travel coordinator to help couples in her situation and offering to provide a letter to help her cross the border.

Following the situation as closely as she can, Anna pushed back her planned journey first to June, and now hopes it will be possible in September.

But there are complications on both the Czech and Swedish side. 

Currently, foreign visitors to the Czech Republic are required to submit proof of a PCR (diagnostic) test, which must have been taken within the past four days and stamped by a doctor. These tests show that the person does not have an active coronavirus infection.

But although Sweden has recently massively ramped up its testing, this mostly applies to antibody tests (which show whether the person has previously been infected), and only people currently experiencing symptoms linked to the coronavirus are eligible for a diagnostic test. The availability may vary between regions, and a referral from a medical professional is essential. 

Scheduling this kind of test for four days before travel is therefore not possible. On top of that, there are further timing issues for the IVF procedure itself; the embryo transfer can only be done on specific days of the menstrual cycle, and patients also need to have an ultrasound around a week before.

And if Anna is able to travel in September as she hopes, one final piece of bureaucracy will be sorting out her residence permits. These are only issued for one year at a time for students and their families, so Anna and her partner recently applied to renew their permits. If they get the go-ahead to travel before the new permits are issued, they will need to contact the Migration Agency to confirm they'll be allowed to reenter Sweden afterwards.

“There are so many bits and pieces that have to align for me to be able to go for an embryo transfer,” says Anna.  “It’s very sad. After all these years of tests and bloodwork and so on, it’s exhausting.”

She also knows she is not alone in this experience.

“I’m part of online communities for people going through IVF, and I know I’m not the only one. It’s been devastating for some people. I’m 40, but there are people who are older, who might be 45 and feel like they could miss their chance.”

It’s not the first time the couple’s plans for a family have been disrupted by circumstances outside their control. Two years ago, Anna’s partner had cancer and they had to postpone the IVF for eight months while she underwent cancer treatment.

“I had tickets to go to the Czech Republic at the time, and it was devastating that we couldn’t proceed, but it was for the best. Then I kept transferring embryos and didn’t get pregnant… sometimes I feel like I should have got them transferred two years ago. You can never know,” she says.

“My partner is now in remission and is fine, receiving excellent care here in Sweden, but it’s not been an easy journey. There is so much uncertainty, I’m just trying to live one day at a time.”

After a decade spent going through IVF, Anna says she has developed coping mechanisms, but over the years a lot of this has revolved around the ability to plan; knowing what her options are and the next steps she will take if the current attempt doesn’t work out.

That's no longer possible, and with only limited Swedish language skills, it has also been a challenge finding the relevant information for her situation.

Hopes of seeing family living abroad over summer have also been dashed, but Anna is filling her time with an intensive Swedish course and the summer is usually the busiest time for her consultancy work.

She also says that she's managed to find a bright side of the restrictions that have put a stop to her usually frequent travel; extra time with her partner and three-year-old, “getting to know each other better and establishing a routine”. 

They plan to use the summer to explore Sweden, ahead of the toddler's first term at preschool in mid-August. By this point, they hope they will have a better idea of their future as a family.


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