Flying During Pregnancy

Every once in a while, the subject comes up.  Would you, or would you not, fly during pregnancy?

When I was pregnant with Shlomo, my mother (who lives in Canada) wanted me to visit for Chanuka (just me – she didn’t have the money for both of us).  The flight would have been when I was 32 weeks pregnant, I think.  I flat-out refused, and my mother didn’t understand; they let you fly until 36 weeks.  I insisted that I was not going to fly while pregnant, and certainly without Yitzchak.  Why?  I don’t know.  I just didn’t feel comfortable doing it.  So, when Shlomo was a month old, we went to visit Yitzchak’s family, and when he was five months old, we went to visit my family.  (And we haven’t flown since.)

This past summer, Ari had a bar mitzva and Esther got married.  This past summer, I was pregnant with Tova.  At first, when Esther got engaged, she was planning a June wedding.  True, that would also have been flying while pregnant, but I felt like the risk at 15-18 weeks was one I was semi-willing, although very, very, very uneasy, to take.  It’s not the first trimester, when the risk of miscarriage is high; if G-d forbid something happened, I could easily hide it, because my stomach would not yet be too visibile; it’s not late enough in the second trimester to be a viability issue.  And still, I didn’t feel comfortable, precisely because the baby was yet viable and there was nothing I would be able to do.  I debated the subject and decided to ask three doctors first . . . and then G-d (or Esther) solved the dilemma for me, and the wedding got pushed to August.  The moment it got pushed to August, I knew there was no way I was going.  At all.  No matter what.  Unless they got married here in Israel, and I could take a bus and not a plane.  By that time, though, it was already obvious that there wasn’t enough money to pay the extraordinary sum needed to bring us in anyways, obvious that I would not travel alone, and the point was moot – so I didn’t explain to the entire family that I was not willing to travel while pregnant.

But why did I not want to travel?

First of all, when I still thought the wedding would be in June, I did extensive research on insurance policies for pregnant women and what they cover.  Specifically, what they don’t cover.  Also, I am technically a Canadian citizen, but since it is acquired citizenship and not by birth, I no longer am covered by the governmental insurance, unless I chose to live there for three consecutive months.

Second of all, the date was very borderline.  I would have been between 22 and 25 weeks pregnant, and those weeks are critical, when you are talking about preemies.  It’s not just a question of the birth, it’s a question of whether or not the baby survives; which hospital you go to can make a big difference, and besides for that, even if the baby is fine, it’s not something you want to be going through when you are thousands of kilometers away from home – especially since you don’t really know how long you’ll be spending in the hospital.  And, it’s not something that I would want to go through without Yitzchak, which, because of budget issues, was a question that was put to me muiltiple times.  I knew people would be mad and would be hurt; I also knew that if I risked my baby’s life, I would never, ever, ever. forgive myself – and I knew that no one would be dealing with the consequences of a premature baby, and the risks that severe prematurity entail, except for Yitzchak, Shlomo, and myself.  So I stayed.  Because my baby’s life – if you like, Tova’s life – is worth more than my sister’s wedding celebration (she’ll be married with or without me, and the proof is in the pudding), and worth more than my entire family’s wedding celebrations put together.  And I just wasn’t willing to risk it, even if the risk was teeny, teeny, tiny.  If the risk is too big for the insurance companies, it’s waaaaay too big for me. (Sorry guys!  When you have kids, you’ll know what I mean.)

Let’s get back to the insurance policy.  I looked at several policies; all of them have a few things in common:

1. They cover more before the end of the first trimester than they do after;

2. they state a set amount that they will pay if you have your baby abroad;

3. they do not cover you if you have any preexisting medical conditions, or

4. if there is any reason your pregnancy might be high risk (and for the record, this often includes ANY unexplained bleeding during the pregnancy, as well as multiple gestation and IVF);

5. most of what they cover is about the mother – the birth, the hospital stay, a miscarriage; and

6. very, very little, if any, is for the baby.

7. Many policies do not cover you past 32 weeks, some cover until 36 (partial coverage, obviously), and some put the limit at 26 or 28 weeks (i.e., if the baby has a good chance of surviving and not suffering from its prematurity too much, they don’t want any part of it);

8. weeks vary, but often, you need a letter from your doctor saying that s/he is taking responsibility for the fact that you are allowed to fly;

9. many doctors are willing to give you permission, but they are not willing to write a letter to that effect (because they don’t want the insurance companies suing them; doctors are not prophets).

True, the exact conditions, as well as the sum and specific weeks, vary from company to company.  True, the amount that they are willing to pay for the baby is five digits, and possibly you might (but it’s rare) find a six-digit amount.  But even though that amount looks large, when you are talking about a hospital stay, with oxygen, with the lights needed for a jaundiced baby, and quite a few weeks in the NICU (even if the baby is doing pretty well), along with any other interventions needed to ensure that the preemie survives – you are talking about so much money that the sum from the insurance company is only a small fraction of the total eventual costs, and does not save you from possibly lifelong debts.  Plus, as most people know, getting an insurance company to pay up is an incredibly difficult task.

A third problem with flying during pregnancy is that sometimes the flight will cause a premature birth.  It’s not definite, and it doesn’t always happen.  But when it happens, it’s not good.  And frankly, after not eating lox, not eating sunny-side up eggs, not drinking alcohol, not doing root canals or x-rays, taking huge vitamins, throwing up, and whatever else – why would anyone want to take the chance?

And therefore, friends, think twice, even three or four times, before deciding to travel while you are pregnant.

My family might have been upset, but they will get over it, and having Tova with us and healthy is more than worth it.  (Okay, I admit; I was bummed, very, very bummed, but [after a long while] I got over it and told myself that my first responsibility is to my kids, and I am doing the right thing, even if it’s not the easiest thing.)  And after reading Wendy Morrow’s story (she traveled at 32 weeks for her brother’s wedding), I know I did the right thing.

For those who read Hebrew, I have more comprehensive links, with policy specifications and explanations.  I did not see a point in looking them up and linking them, because my audience is almost completely English speaking,  (What can I do – policies here are generally worded in Hebrew, as is everything else.)

If any of you want real-life stories on the subject, Google, “travel insurance doesn’t cover premature birth.”

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