Following training in Arizona, I arrived in Korea and was stationed at one of the Northern most bases in Korea, Camp Red Cloud. My husband, a Kiowa pilot, also found himself in Korea, to complete a nine month temporary duty to divest the last of the Kiowa’s. He was stationed about an hour and a half drive south at Camp Humphrey’s. The set up was a fairly good deal for a dual military couple and even though we still saw each other little, we were at least in the same country.
I began to settle into my home, a 150sq ft barracks room on a very small military post. You could walk from one end of the post to the other in about five minutes is you didn’t mind the extreme heat or equally extreme cold. The rooms were simple. They consisted of a full size bed small couch that didn’t exactly fit well in the room but served as a place to sit, a desk with chair and small dresser. I also had a small bathroom and two closets large enough to fit some of my military gear and some personal clothing. I purchased a few electric cooking appliances, considered a no, no for barracks life but one kitchen for an entire barracks wasn’t going to work most of the time. In addition to the griddle and electric frying pan, I purchased a small printer and 13” television. It was standard military life for an unaccompanied duty location.
Korea was a one year tour for most of us there meaning we did not bring our families and new faces came often. Because there was no real family life or friends bonds with co-workers formed quickly. By the end of my first week I become part of a rather close group of company grade officers. We quickly bonded over Korean baseball and drinking outings, Saturday morning ultimate Frisbee games and yes, more drinking. On the weekends we frequented a few hidden away local bars that most soldiers didn’t know about or we travelled by train to hangout in the “western” area of Yongsan, a location outside of Seoul that had stores, bars and restaurants featuring food more aligned with the western palate. Most of the time non work hours were spent together having an incredible time. As with all new groups it did not take long before the topic of marriage, children and infertility became part of the conversation.
I was once again surprised at how interested or concerned the people new to my life were with both the process and my well-being. Just as those from my previous work assignments and previous classmate, my new merry of degenerates actually asked questions. Some asked out of interest, others curiosity and some out of concern. A few even out of experience. They wanted to know what various medication did, what each procedure was, what would or could happen next with each procedure. All the things that I’d wanted my husband to care about. It became clearer and clearer that maybe I wasn’t crazy to want him interested in what was happening or to at least fain interest in the process. What stood out even more was something that had caused issues for a while. People, little more than strangers, seemed more concerned and engaged in the process than my own husband had ever been.
It soon became clear just how much I was missing out on a partner. It became more and more apparent that my marriage had reached the point of no return. The distance physically and emotionally had become too much. Korea and the responses and interest of those around me in the fertility process only served to highlight the lack of interest my husband seemed to have. We had 11 three day embryos frozen in North Carolina and we both still desired to be parents. With all work, love, and shots it had taken. All the, probes, procedures and strangers that had peered or stood between my legs to create these embryos I knew I did not want to give up the embryos but the marriage had to end.
We decided the best chance to become pregnant would involve testing the embryos prior to the Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET). In my mind there was no point in moving forward with a FET if the embryos weren’t viable. The decision was made to thaw and test the embryos before transferring them. At least the test could tell us if we were producing embryos with chromosomal issues. I also had to break the news to my husband that after the FET I wanted to end the marriage.
I will stop here to make one thing clear. My ex-husband was or is by no means a bad guy. The reality is we just had very different expectations of marriage and the roles within marriage. I wanted a partner and a child, two separate people. I had a man that loved me very much but was too content with letting me handle any and all issues that could not be resolved with a check, no matter how stressful, alone. I will always love and care for him very much, but when all is said and done, I do not regret my decision and think we are both better for it. I simply could not continue giving more than I had to give. I could not continue to be emotionally and physically alone. I could not keep looking in the mirror day after day and seeing some that was no longer me, at least no longer a whole version of me or one that I liked. I must also make clear that infertility issues were not the only reasons for ending the marriage.
In August I began to make preparations for the FET. Our RE and embryos were in North Carolina but I was in Korea so additional coordination was required. In September our 11 remaining three day embryos were thawed and grown to five days so they could be tested. This would allow us to determine how many, if any could be used before I traveled across the world. We were informed at day five that three embryos remained but they had grown slowly so the plan was to grown them another day before testing. On day six two had grown to a testable stage. Each was tested before being refrozen and we anxiously awaited the results of the test.
The general rule of thumb seems to be that 50% of all embryos tested come back normal. This was the case for us. We found that our female embryo had a trisomy and our male embryo was healthy. I will note here for those that are unfamiliar with treatments that this is why so many embryos are usually created. Laws differ from country to country on the number of embryos that can be created at a time. The United States has no such law and it is fairly common to attempt to produce several mature eggs and in turn create as many embryos as possible. This is to prevent having to undergo several expensive egg retrievals that require the use of several drugs and a minor procedure to remove the eggs . It’s really a numbers game. Yes, there are couples that may create 10 viable embryos from 10 -13 eggs but there are also couples that will win lotteries or naturally have identical triplets, this doesn’t make it the norm.
Armed with the knowledge that we had a viable embryo to transfer our FET was scheduled for October. I requested 31 days of leave and flew to North Carolina for monitoring, medications and the procedure. We signed separation papers but planned to wait on the outcome of the procedure before filing divorce papers. This allowed for things like custody agreements to be worked out and included. I coordinated my medication sent to a friend’s house, a place to stay for the month and transportation to and from the embryo transfer.
The month flew by and though it was good to catch up with old friends my focus remained on the outcome of the FET. The procedure was far less stressful both physically and emotionally than the fresh IVF cycle. The procedure required fewer medications and trips to the doctor. Thing went smoothly and after 31 days I returned to Korea, pregnant until proven otherwise (PUPO). I’d complete my two week wait in Korea. Normal time stops or seems to move backwards during the TWW however between travel and catching up on work it flew by. I didn’t even have the normal desire work myself into a crazed frenzy by testing out the trigger and anxiously awaiting a time for the line to appear darker. The day of my beta test finally arrived. For the first time in a long time I was pregnant. I was ecstatic.
A positive pregnancy test does not mark the end of anxiety or the medications. Three times a day every day, I took the ever wonderful progesterone suppositories many of us just love. Every third day I would inject myself in the hip with a progesterone shot. The reason for all the progesterone shots is because using assisted reproduction means the body will not always produce the appropriate amount of progesterone to support the pregnancy.
Progesterone suppositories are white tablets that are inserted with a plastic applicator and by far least favorite medications. After a few hours the tablets begin to dissolve and you end up with a pantie liner full chunky white clumps. You look more like a person with an STD than one trying to have a child. The progesterone would continue for eight weeks until my body began to produce the hormone on its own, around 8 weeks. My HCG numbers continued to rise. I was officially pregnant with boy.
I was used to the process in North Carolina where my doctor and nurses were located. Lab work was done quickly and there were no cultural or language issues to work through. That was not the case in Korea. Aside from the language barrier with of the staff an unanticipated issue quickly arose. The access to medical staff and speed of lab work I was used to was limited or worst did not exist at all. In the states progesterone levels were monitored as closely as the HCG levels. Blood samples taken in the morning were rushed and analyzed the same day.
It was not until the RE nurse in North Carolina emailed me that my progesterone results had not been updated that I realized there was an issue. Every three days I was going to the lab to monitor HCG growth and progesterone levels. Decreasing or slowly increasing HCG levels or decreasing progesterone levels could indicate a potential issue. Even if the embryo is growing well if progesterone decreases and is not adjusted it would result in the miscarriage of an otherwise healthy and viable pregnancy. I soon learned that the military facility in Korea had no means of doing same day progesterone testing. The test were instead sent to Hawaii and analyzed taking days to weeks. Obviously this was not ideal and by not ideal I mean this s!@# wasn’t going to work and put me at risk of miscarriage if the numbers were not dropping.
In fact is pissed me off. Low progesterone, if not identified quickly can cause loss of a viable pregnancy. Here there was no way to identify the issue at a military medical facility quickly. How many pregnancies of military personnel and military spouses were lost as a result of this I thought? Little did I realize that finding a solution would frustrate me even more.
I worked with the doctor on post to find a location in Korea the test result could be obtained the same day as the blood work. Saint Mary’s was the closest hospital and was the location all military personnel on base were sent for medical emergencies. Because my pregnancy was the result of fertility treatments and the hospital was Catholic St. Mary’s refused to see me for anything related to my pregnancy.
I’m all for religious freedom but it’s a damn blood test that could prevent miscarriage not an abortion. After several calls to local hospitals we found the University in Seoul was able to do the test and produce a same day result. My new routine would mean that every three days I would drive an hour to Seoul to have my progesterone levels checked, translated and sent to the military doctors. This was still not the fastest process but better than the alternative. Now that my levels would be properly monitored I was able to finally breathe a sigh of relief. I looked forward to week eight when the placenta would produce the hormone on its own and I could take my last progesterone shot.
Years had passed and the 14 embryos that resulted from our egg retrieval had come down to one male embryo. My holiday miracle. My last shot as becoming a mother.