My partner and I are from different countries which even under normal circumstances, would be difficult to have a child in one place if you are not yet married; but now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has made it even more “impossible” to be together for the birth let alone the entire pregnancy.
As I explain my experience I had while being pregnant abroad, I will give a few things you can expect to happen and tips for packing if you happen to be in a similar situation, and need or want to be pregnant abroad.
He is from Bath, England and I am from California, USA. We’ve managed to stay together during the start of the pandemic, lockdown, and a few months after, but a time came when we had to separate and we weren’t sure when exactly we would be seeing each other again. We are thanking our lucky stars he had his ESTA from a prior visit to the US (It is valid for two years) because they are no longer giving out ESTA’s at this time. I’ve mentioned before in a prior post that we’ve been extremely lucky with timing during this pandemic and this is yet another example.
Our first baby is due Jan 2, 2021. His ESTA expires Feb 23, 2021, which basically means he just needs to enter the USA prior to that date and he should be allowed to stay up to 90 days, but of course, all at the discretion of the customs officer that day. Most likely this will be fine, however, since he spent 89 days already in the US with me in March 2020 he has to choose wisely when he comes back. He technically could have come to visit in September but that would expire his 90 days before the baby arrived. The customs officers can’t think that you are in any way living in the US otherwise there is a chance of a 10-year ban, which we don’t want to mess with.
I had recently spent six weeks with him in England. And while I was there a travel ban against US citizens was enforced where Americans couldn’t travel to Europe. Although I did manage to sneak into Italy which you can read about how I did that here. This ban against Americans left us with a few choices, one was to wait to see each other until mid-December, when I needed him most, which would leave me on my own for more than 2/3 of this pregnancy.
I didn’t want to waste his 90 days of being in the US while I was pregnant. I didn’t need him most while I’m pregnant – I need him while I’m giving birth and trying to keep a new tiny human alive. So, the only other option was to meet him in a place that allowed Americans to travel to. There was a list of about 15 countries at the time, including a lot of islands, which we had to ixnay because we were also trying to avoid the Zika virus that was extremely dangerous for an unborn baby. This list included Bahamas, Jamaica, Maldives, Turkey, Dominican Republic (hell no), Seychelles, basically a list of expensive places to be once you are finally there.
Croatia was also on the list so we chose to meet there. I arrived around week 24 of pregnancy and we got to spend an amazing time together for two months road tripping, and island hopping and eating good food and seeing all sorts of things. When the time comes again when we can travel freely and safely, Croatia is definitely on the up and coming areas of places to visit for people with its beautiful islands, national parks, great roads, old history, good food, clean air, safe streets and all-around a good place to be.
I will go through a few things of what you can expect to need or to do or to bring while traveling abroad while pregnant.
ONE. Research what you need to bring to effortlessly enter the county.
To get to Croatia I needed loads of paperwork, negative covid tests, confirmation of accommodation, confirmation of enough money in my account, and a return ticket. I knew flying past a certain date for my pregnancy I needed a doctor’s note of approval. I asked for this before leaving and my doctor wouldn’t write one. You could say she wasn’t really on board with the whole trip and me leaving in this time of the world issues going on but everything had been going so well during the pregnancy so far that I decided that I wanted to be with Guy and that we could handle the doctor’s appointments and anything that needed handling while abroad.
TWO. Be extra cautious. Sanitize, wash your hands more, mask up – even when you feel like you don’t need to.
With covid on the rise in Europe, we noticed that in Croatia, it didn’t seem to be taking the precautions that the US or the UK we’re taking. So we had to take it upon ourselves to sanitize extra, wipe down surfaces with the alcohol wipes that’s I brought, wear our masks when needed etc. Although we were traveling and having fun, this isn’t exactly a choice we would have made if we could both be with each other in one country. We were making do with what we had, making good out of frankly, a not so good situation. Although it wasn’t our first choice, it may be yours – and that’s perfectly acceptable. I would just take that extra precaution while you are out in public places.
THREE. Research doctors prior to entering the country.
There were a few tests that I knew I needed to get done prior to coming to Croatia. I debated staying in the US until I had these tests done but that would shorten my time with Guy by 3-4 weeks.
Do your research prior to leaving.
We researched English speaking doctors in Croatia. I got up early to call them while they were still open, and in broken English asking if they had certain tests, and if I could get them done and how much it would cost. I called a few places because each call was hard to understand and get a full answer, but mostly I heard, “yes”. We also sent a few emails asking the same question. We got “yes” answers back and decided that we would “take the risk” and get the testing done there. Once I realized women get pregnant all over the world and need the same testing, I felt a lot better about it.
I recommend locating yourself in a bigger city when it comes time to getting testing done. You don’t want to be in a super remote place.
It was a few weeks before I needed my first round of tests. I needed blood and urine and a few other things. We were in Zagreb, the biggest city in Croatia, and I went into a lab that morning where I didn’t need an appointment – which I emailed prior to arriving to know that. All I knew was I needed to fast. I wasn’t sure if that included water but I didn’t drink any just in case. I spoke to a few different assistants to get a final decision of what testing I needed. I also came with a list that my at-home doctor provided for me so I could show them exactly what I needed which helped a lot – I would recommend bringing this with you.
At the doctor’s office, I gave my urine sample and took my first blood test which went well. I drank a glucose drink to test for gestational diabetes, which wasn’t that bad. Then had to wait an hour for my second blood test, which also went super fast, then waited again for my third. It was a lot of waiting. The total appointment took about 2.5 hours. I was instructed to not walk that much between tests to just chill which I did. I thought the doctors there were very clean and professional and the facilities were honestly really good. The office I went to in Croatia was called Agram. I found out later it was a private doctor’s office, as it was also a chain across the bigger cities in Croatia (this came in handy later on). The total cost for everything was 400 kuna about $60 USD.
FOUR – Since the results will be in their language, you may need follow-up doctor visits to get the results read to you.
After all the blood work and testing, all I had to do was wait for my results and to send them to my doctor back in America. Perfect. I did it! I felt quite achieved for figuring all that out.
My results were ready in a few hours, but they didn’t show up in my email like they said they would. I had to call in to have them resend them. Once I finally got them, they were in Croatian and of basically no help to me or my doctor. I couldn’t send her results in Croatian! I asked for an English version and of course, that was not an option. The front desk lady I was emailing said I needed a doctor to interpret the results for me but did give a few bits of helpful info saying my leukocytes were high in urine and could mean some sort of infection. Great.
I found a doctor in Rijeka, where we were now staying, that had one appointment that day but since the doctor was a good hour away, I was tempted to just go to a pharmacy to get what I thought I needed. We decided to drive to the doctor’s appointment anyway, which we were glad we did because it wasn’t what I thought it was, note to self – don’t try to self prescribe medicine. It was a bacteria common in many women and nothing to be concerned with if not pregnant but needs to be treated if you are. A UTI.
The doctor spoke decent English and the office felt safe and clean to be in. They only allowed one person in at a time, equipped with sanitizer and staff in masks. He went over my previous test results and explained what I should be concerned with, but lack of English left me quite confused about how to take a medication that night. In the office he said to take this thing he prescribed called, urifos at night, for the UTI and then again the next night. And then to get a urine culture the next week to see if it had been cured. He also said to get a pregnancy exam to make sure everything was okay with cervix and baby etc., which I wasn’t planning to do until I got back but took his advice to make an appointment for that also – I figured it wouldn’t hurt. I was already on a roll with more doctor visits than I had planned, and since they were going okay, why not add in a few more.
I went to the pharmacy that evening and gave them the prescription. This is where the confusion began. He told me in the office to take the medicine for two days in a row. While he only wrote me a prescription for one day of meds. I explained this and the pharmacist gave me two anyway. When I got home I started researching the medication and the internet being the scary place that it is, it was telling me all kinds of crazy things about this medicine. But then with a side of, “it’s okay to take this.”
FIVE – Expect to call your doctor back home at least once.
I tried calling my doctor back home, it was 8 pm in Croatia and of course, she was too busy to take my call. I just wanted the okay on this “scary” medicine I was about to take. I didn’t want it to harm my little one even though when he told me about it he said it was specifically for pregnancy. The receptionist back in California told me she would have the doctor call me back, but I can’t actually be called back. I use an app that I pay for minutes to make calls back home. So I emailed her my question and put URGENT in the subject line which did get her attention, just a little too late.
Without getting a response yet, we decided together that it was okay to take the medicine. I could barely sleep that night thinking all sorts of bad things. But when I woke up I was surprised to have a response from my doctor, saying she googled it and that pregnant woman can take this and didn’t really advise to take it or not but that was kind of enough for me, and made me feel a bit better. But I did decide against taking the second packet of it the next day.
We were in the middle of our two-week road trip and we’re changing locations every few days which added a bit of toughness to the situation of needing to find doctors. I kept having to find new doctors to help me with something a previous doctor prescribed. Luckily I didn’t have any serious complications or this would have been impossible to manage from a traveling perspective.
I now had taken the medication for the UTI and needed to find a place that did a urine culture as well as get a pregnancy exam. This Agram was an office that was all over Croatia in the bigger cities. I saw one on our way into Zadar and contacted them by email again asking if I could make an appointment for these two things I needed. They were surprisingly good at returning emails over there. They didn’t do the urine culture but could get me in that day for an exam.
SIX – Expect a bit of frustration from the doctor who needs to examine you since they have no prior records of who you are at all.
I was expecting a nice comfortable visit like the rest had been. This doctor did not like that I didn’t come with my paperwork from America showing what my previous situation was with this pregnancy. I told her I didn’t expect to have an appointment while I was here but another doctor recommended a check-up.
I had to email her the test results that I got in Zagreb, but I don’t have WiFi on my phone so I had to ask Guy to do it who was sitting in the lobby. The doctor was incredibly rude until she realized my results were from another Agram office she was happy she could find them online herself through their portal, and so was I. She started to loosen up after that. And I was able to get a cervix exam and an ultrasound which Guy was able to see also. She measured a lot of things on the baby. She lastly told me something about the placenta being premature, that it was okay but that I needed to stop eating condiments and salt. Wait, what? Quite tough for me as one of the odd things I actually travel with is garlic salt :b But being able to see a healthy little baby in there was very fun for us both and a little lighter on the salt and sugar is fine with me for a few months.
She told me where I could also get the urine culture done and gave me a prescription to turn it in. She explained to me to pick up a vile from the pharmacy and to pee in it in the morning and to bring it to a hospital, and then to send her the results.
SEVEN – Public hospitals, not as nice but obviously still a good place to go if you need to.
The next morning we get to the hospital and can’t really find where we need to go to drop off this cup o’ pee. We walk up four flights of stairs looking for someone, finally find someone and they say we need to go to floor 0. We get down there and there’s a room full of people also trying to drop off their cups o’ pee. We got a ticket, with some help, waited for about 40 minutes and dropped off the pee. In more broken English, I asked for the results to be emailed, they agreed, I gave them my email address, and then we left. So now, we wait for the results of that which should be a few days and from there I will email the results to the OBGYN that gave me the prescription so she can read me the results. Sounds easy enough 🙂
It ended up being a little bit of a chase to get the results, which again when I finally got, came in Croatian. I realize there is google translate which we used every time but sometimes, you just need to know exactly what is being said, and google translate just doesn’t cut it.
I also had a hard time getting the OBGYN’s email address to send her the results. I must have sent 6-8 emails to Agram and never found it. They sent me several emails, but it was never the right one. I ended up on my flight home before I could get the results read to me.
I went to a doctor’s appointment with my doctor when I got home and was told everything was okay, thankfully. So I guess that weird medicine worked. It’s always weird taking medicine you haven’t heard of but even weirder when you are in a different country, and even scarier when you are pregnant.
Being pregnant away from your home, family, and doctor especially if another language is involved is definitely not easy. But if you are not having a complicated pregnancy, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible. It wasn’t the worst experience I’ve ever had. It was quite interesting to see how another country handles everything doctor related which I’ve never really experienced before. Did I need that experience, no, not really – But part of me loves that going through all of that is a part of my pregnancy story.
EIGHT – Don’t expect to always be comfortable.
If you are going to travel while pregnant, I hope you are flexible and don’t mind going with the flow. High maintenance pregnant people, I advise you to stay at home. One of the downfalls of traveling pregnant is that you might not have a comfortable bed in every place that you stay. Some might only have one pillow for you while other places may have two. I always read reviews for a comfortable bed anyway, but you don’t always get lucky with one. Luckily you can always switch accommodations but packing up all the time isn’t fun either.
Also having to go pee all the time, isn’t exactly convenient. It’s hard to find places to use the restroom that didn’t charge you to use it. I can’t tell you how many times Guy got a coffee so that I (or we) could use the restroom.
NINE – Extra things to bring with you.
While I was home I found myself using three pillows every night. From traveling in the past, I know that some Airbnb’s only give you one pillow, so I made it a priority to travel with a pillow that I brought from home so I at least always had two.
Foreign countries may not have all the things accessible for you of what you may be used to, so it’s best to bring your own – whatever it may be.
- I traveled with was stretch mark cream, that I put on every night.
- My prenatal vitamins enough for my entire trip away.
- Extra pillow.
- One tube of yeast infection medication just in case.
- A few extra power bars that I kept in my bag as “emergency food” which really came in handy.
- My insurance card.
- Proof of pregnancy (if you aren’t showing yet).
- I also brought a ton of these individual alcohol wipes that I used all of the time. I used them for public transport, busses or airplanes – everything got wiped down. I used them for wiping down olive oil and salt and pepper at the table if we ate at a restaurant. They were used in Airbnb’s when we first got in on the door nobs and light switches, just in case. Felt a little crazy doing all that but better safe than sorry.
- I would have brought a note from my doctor approving me to fly if she would have written me one but she wasn’t fully on board with the whole thing which I understand but she didn’t tell me not to go either.
- Another thing I brought that helped me was a list of the exact testing that I needed to get done while I was abroad given to me by my doctor.
- You might want to bring some paperwork from your at-home doctor explaining your pregnant situation, a file maybe? This is useful for any future doctor’s so they know what to do with you and a little of who you are.
TEN – Roll your suitcase, don’t carry it.
Especially if you are a “backpacker” normally, opt for a roller suitcase while you are pregnant and about to travel. Obviously, it’s no good for you to be carrying a load on your back and walking for extended periods of time. A suitcase with four wheels is much better for the safety of yourself and your little one.
I hope these tips and things to expect will help you better prepare for a trip abroad while pregnant if you need to do so. Obviously, the best place to be is comfortable in your own home but sometimes life happens and we need to do what we need to do. My experience being pregnant abroad was definitely different than my other trips abroad, especially it being a time of a pandemic but I wouldn’t change it. It was worth it to me to be with Guy for those two months to strengthen our relationship and be together rather than apart before we become parents.
If you have any questions please leave them in the comments, and if you know anyone who may need to travel while pregnant in the future, please share this with them.