Infertility in Okinawa
Infertility can be a lonely and emotional experience anywhere. Add in Okinawa’s geographic location, and these feelings, as well as the unease about treatment possibilities, can be magnified. But, if you are having trouble starting a family, there are resources within reach.
Infertility is defined as the inability to get pregnant after one year of unprotected intercourse (six months if you are over age 35), or multiple miscarriages, according to resolve.org, America’s national infertility association. Couples who already have children can also experience infertility, called secondary infertility.
While experience can feel lonesome, it is actually somewhat common. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of eight couples has trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy.
Liz Bryant and her husband arrived on island in 2013, searching for answers and hoping for options for their path to parenthood. After nearly two years of trying to get pregnant, a miscarriage and two failed intrauterine inseminations* (IUIs), via a civilian hospital at their last duty station, they were apprehensive about the care that would be available to them here.
“Prior to coming to Okinawa, I researched infertility treatment in Japan and found lots of choices in Tokyo,” said Bryant, a teacher with the Department of Defense. “Honestly, that’s where I thought we would be receiving care.”
After hitting a dead end with her on-base care (where fertility treatment can differ by location and situation), she sought more answers online. It was there, in an online posting, that she found a reference to Uemara Clinic, not far from Camp Foster. She soon stopped by the clinic during walk-in hours, and never looked back.
According to Bryant, many people are unaware that there is great, state-of-the-art, efficient and affordable infertility care available here. “I had expected to have to travel to Tokyo, so I was tremendously relieved to find local options.”
Bryant initially had three rounds of in vitro fertilization* (IVF), getting pregnant on the third try with her now 17-month-old daughter Emily. Just after Emily’s first birthday, she returned to the clinic. After undergoing two more rounds of IVF, the family got some more good news. Bryant is expecting baby number two, a boy, in July.
“I’m so thankful that there are clinics here that are willing to take American patients. Without Uemara, I wouldn’t have my family.”
If you are ready to take another step toward starting a family, or simply want some answers to your reproductive concerns, many off-base clinics offer treatment to American patients. The language barrier can be intimidating, but most offer English-speaking staff members. Payment is expected up front, and out of pocket, but costs are often cheaper than in comparable U.S. clinics (depending on procedure and clinic).
As of the time of print, the following clinics currently offer some level of infertility care, from basic testing to assisted reproduction, to American patients:
- Uemara Clinic offers a range of infertility testing and treatments, including IVF
- Adventist Medical Center offers some infertility testing and treatment, including IUI.
- Ryuku University offers a range of infertility testing and treatments, including IVF.
- The Women’s Clinic Itokazu Hospital offers a range of infertility testing and treatments, including IVF.
- Yabiku Clinic offers some infertility testing and treatment options, including IUI.
Please keep in mind that the list of providers and their services is ever-changing, as treating international patients is a courtesy provided by these clinics. This information has been provided by current patients of the clinics.
An uncertain path to parenthood can be extremely stressful. In addition to clinical resources, having a source of emotional support on island is also vital.
Bryant is an active member on the Infertility forum in Okinawa Facebook page. “I understand how lonely and isolating infertility can feel. Having a place to talk with other women who are going through a similar and varied range of emotions is so very valuable.”
The private page was created several years ago to address the infertility population on Okinawa. It has grown over the years. With its more than 400 members, it serves as a sounding board for women, and men, dealing with on-island infertility. Members include those pursuing on-island treatment options, as well as alternative medicine. It is also a safe place for those seeking to share their personal experiences, and to learn from those who have had treatment success.
“It’s been a wonderful source of support. It’s a nice place to share triumphs and failures. Heartbreaks and joy,” she said.
If you’d rather talk in-person, The Birth Education Center of Okinawa is launching a new support group for women at any stage of their infertility journey. The Finding Fertility Support Group is set to kick off March 21, at 6:30 p.m., in their Okinawa City location (directions www.birthedcenterokinawa.com). For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
No matter where you are in your journey, the infertility path is personal. Treatments and group support are not for everyone, but your current location does not have to be a reason to go without.
If you are searching for specific, up-to-date details about any of the information contained in this article, please join the Facebook group listed above.
*IUI is a procedure in which sperm is placed directly into the fallopian tube to increase the chance of fertilization.
*IVF is the manual combining of sperm and egg in a lab, and transferring the embryo into the uterus. www.americanpregnancy.org
Connect with local Okinawa moms on Facebook in “Pregnancy & Birth Talk Okinawa”
Japan Birth Resource Network provides evidence based information and mother friendly support throughout Okinawa and Japan. To learn more visit: www.japanbirthresourcenetwork.com
Birth Education Center of Okinawa’s Schedule:
- Saturday, March 19 - Birth & Baby Fair and Meet & Greet with JBRN Birth Doulas
- Monday, March 21 - Infertility Support Group
- Monday, March 28 - Breastfeeding 101
- Wednesday, March 30 - Labor of Love (Lamaze based series) begins
- Sunday, April 3 - Hypnobirthing Childbirth series begins
Ongoing: Lactation consultations, prenatal yoga, complimentary therapy for labor, infant massage, and childbirth classes.