Infertility in Japan

Two tiny, square sticking plasters and a network of red dots decorate the chub part of my belly below the belly button. Every night for the past week, I’ve have to inject a hormone using a needle similar to ones used for insulin. Mum reckons she couldn’t do it, and it was definitely a test of courage at first, to draw a sharp point inside. But, the wonders of medical technology! The needles are so thin now that they slip between the nerve receptors and, in a weird reverse way, it’s scary how little you feel it.

The needles are the latest treatment from my gyno. She is one of the top 5 infertility specialists in Kyoto, and the only woman in that elite group. Her clinic is like a French themed cafe, with baroque, floral print chairs and benches in the waiting rooms; her staff wear a uniform of deep pink apron and white shoes; her calendar has love hearts on the days; the tiny slippers I wear (they only fit on my toes) into the observation room are covered in lace. It’s night and day different compared with my previous gynocologist – an overworked man, whose practice was closer to my house. Despite how clean and clinical looking his place was – all white, vinyl and chrome – the man himself was a bit of a mess. His staff would great everyone with, “we are fully booked… but if you’d like to wait…?” which meant that 20 to 30 people would crowd into his waiting room. He would never remember me. As a foreigner in Japan I tend to stick out, so this was a bit of a novel experience for me. His office once lost a sample that I had brought in days earlier.

I am maybe unfair in how I remember him. He wasn’t a specialist in fertility, more of the general doctor you see for pap smears or the HPV vaccine injection. His proximity to the station and open door policy meant he was always swamped.

But one other incident clearly seperates my experience with him and my experience with my current gyno.

Ovary flushing is not fun. It is like getting a very strong period cramp while you’re getting a pap smear done. The test checks if there is anything blocking the tubes or otherwise impeding the eggs from releasing, and is an early check in the process. Unfortunately for me, I got to experience it twice.

My male doctor was very professional. Had the curtain across (typical in Japan), and the monitor adjusted so I could see what was going on. As the orange spread across the screen my pain increase. He told me to “try my best”, a phrase repeated with each grunt of pain. It lasted minutes. Long, agonising minutes. A good Japanese friend was waiting in the waiting room for me to help me later as I caught a taxi and hobbled home.

The female gynocologist in comparision, asked me to take some pain medication in the hour before undergoing the test. The curtain was open (both she and her nurses seem to disdain the curtain, and to be honest, I prefer not having it too) and she stationed a nurse at my shoulder who patted me comfortingly and told me I was doing a good job. It was much shorter somehow, and much less painful. I even rode my bike back.

My current gynocologist is very good. She has gone through the bank of possible causes of infertility in a methodical way, explaining each as we go. Did you know that there are anti-sperm antibodies? Why would the human body even produce such a thing? Anyway, I don’t have them. My tubes are most definitely not blocked, and my husband’s sperm is healthy, abundant and “genki” (energetic) – a pronoucement which boosted his confidence no end. For me, the issue seems to be with one of the host of hormones that connect with the timing of egg release, and them being too low at the critical moment.

I always thought it would be easy. Since my first boyfriend came on the scene, I have been terrified of accidentally getting pregnant. Waited with baited breath for each cycle to come through. Was convinced that the first time my husband and I set out for the mission of making a family that we had done it, first time, job well done.

I have been meaning to start this blog about the experience since I started seeing the male gyno early in 2019, and now that I have, I am hoping that, like Murphy’s Law, this will be the catalyst that means I no longer have to write about infertility in Japan.

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