Finding My Inner Warrior

Today’s guest post is from Taylin Beechey. Taylin says, “I found your website and found the idea of sharing pieces of our stories from our infertility experiences to be a beautiful idea. Along my journey I have kept a lot of writing about my experience as a young woman having been born with a rare birth defect leaving me unable to conceive with out IVF treatment. Four years later, I am pregant and I would love nothing more then the opportunity to share my story in hopes that someone, somewhere will find comfort in knowing they are understood, That they are not alone. I have attached my story in hopes you could read it. Thank you so very much in advance.”

So, we’re sharing Taylin’s story with you today.

Finding My Inner Warrior Through Infertility

Taylin Beechey

It took me a long time to decide if this was a story I ever wanted to share or not. For me, sharing wonderful beautiful things in my life has always been easy and I am sure it makes many assume I am a completely open book. Sharing the hard stuff though…that’s my real struggle.

The stuff that leads you to that dark place that we don’t like to talk about. For me, it’s mostly because of how uncomfortable it might make someone else feel. What if they don’t know what to say? What if they feel awkward around me after? No… I better keep it locked up to myself.

Taylin and her husband, Josh, in 2015. Photo by Devon C. Photography

That was then, this is now!!! I have come to realize that although there WILL always be people who it makes uncomfortable, maybe there will be one woman, one man, one couple that feels understood in a way that I didn’t. For me, that’s worth it.

There are some moments in life that we will always remember as vividly as the second they happened. For me this will always be the moment I was told I wouldn’t have children. Well the exact words were… “You have a rare birth defect and if you where my daughter and had XXXXX amount thousands of dollars I would do IVF today! Otherwise it would be advisable that you explore other means of starting a family.” Divine intervention must have taken over as I will never really understand how I even made it home that day. That 45 minute drive from my clinic is one I have no recollection of.

I can say for my 28 years I’ve lived and learned through my fair share of pain. I lost a parent, I’ve loved people who struggle with addiction, dealt with my fair share of mean girls, had more than enough heartbreak to last a lifetime.  Nothing on this planet has rocked me like those words coming out of the doctor’s mouth. The loss of a dream of a child you haven’t even met yet is a pain I cannot express to you on paper. It’s your whole life’s dreams wrapped up and tossed in a waste basket. A million thoughts go through your mind as a woman.

Wasn’t I born to do this? Am I not good enough to be a mother?
Is this punishment for something wrong I have done?
Maybe I could be that childless lady, the one with the really nice white furniture instead!
Why me? Why us? Will my husband still love me?

It is a spiral of thoughts, questions, and blame.  Trust me when I tell you that the level of CRAZY, we women are capable of, would scare most men ha ha. Nowhere else in life would a person be expected to experience this amount of pain and hide it. We mourn death, we rally around victims of disasters, we start interventions and support groups for addiction.  Infertility though, it’s in its own category. One that makes us feel we should be quiet. God forbid we make someone else uncomfortable due to our sadness.

Perhaps we keep it so quiet because the response to our pain can be so hurtful. I have lost count of the number of times I was told to stay calm. “STAY CALM IT WILL HAPPEN.”  CALM YOU SAY? How about I fire you from your job, rob your home, kick your car. “Now just stay calm.” How does it feel for you? Light or heavy? Those are all replaceable things. This child that I will never have and am mourning is NOT REPLACEABLE!!!!  So NO I will not be calm!

In fact, if your reading this do yourself a favor and be the complete opposite of calm. YELL! THROW A PILLOW AT THE WALL. USE A COUPLE OF WORDS YOUR MOTHER WILL DISAPPROVE OF! HA, HA, but really it’s true because I’ll tell you this pain, it’s deep and the only way to survive it is to let it all OUT! When you say this to us it’s actually insulting, and trust me when I say I know you meant it with so much love. I really do, and I’m thankful that you care enough to say anything at all. It’s not helpful though and it truly isn’t kind.

Taylin with her friend, Melissa Holman, at the cottage. Taylin says of Melissa, “My rock. A friend who spent weekly teas with me and was there for the years of finding out I was unable to have children and through all of my infertility treatments & later success.”

We don’t share our pain because we would hate to have it dampen your joy. We worry that maybe next week you won’t invite us to that baby shower, or Johnny’s first birthday. This also is not helpful. I do understand the logic and there were days when being near a child’s birthday would have done me in, but let me make that call. As there were also hundreds of days that my friends’ and family’s children were all that kept me going. I would look into their big glassy eyes and think, “I’m not giving up because this face is so worth everything I will have to do to get there.” So if you’re looking to do me a favor, do this. Let me hug your child a little longer, let me hold their hands when we all cross the street. Let me feel the magic that is a child who looks at you like you’re the coolest person they have ever met. I was blessed in this category by my friends and family who allowed me to love the hell out of their babies. I know you know who you are and am I soooo thankful. Your children saved me in ways I can never thank them for.

1 in 8 couples will experience infertility issues. This means someone you know right now is struggling. So please be kind don’t ask the newly married couple when they’re having babies. Don’t ask the partner who already has children if their spouse is the issue. Do not tell your friends how amazing it is that you just decided to try for the first time ever on Friday and BOOM had a positive test the following Monday. But do tell us your pregnant. Trust me, behind the pain we are so joyfully happy for you.

Do show us how much you love your children. it gives us something to keep fighting for. And, do as my friends did… hug me on bad days and celebrate with me when my day finally comes.

Infertility is a long and mostly dark road full of financial stress, needles upon needles upon needles, ultrasounds, and more doctors’ appointments than I can count. Sleepless nights of worry and prayer, tears, and breaks to catch your breath.

There is no right way to grieve a child that will never be. To mourn. To struggle and to face getting through each day. All I can say is feel every wave, the ones that have you unable to breath and the ones that allow you to float for a little while.

I don’t have the answer for why this is happening to you. I only know that the person who comes out on the other side will be the most bad-ass version of yourself you have ever seen. I know this because my biggest struggle as a mother came before my child had even been born.

You have a warrior inside of you that will blow your mind. I have done things in the past three years I would have never believed possible.  My husband and step-daughter look at me some days like I may be Wonder Woman and then I stop and think, “Hell, I kind of am!!”

Taylin, center, with husband Josh and step-daughter, Claudia.

I am 1 in 8. A soon-to-be mother, an IVF Warrior, a woman who will never be willing to take no for an answer. I’m surrounded by some bad-ass women and a wise step-daughter, a loving husband and some strong men, supportive family and one talented fertility doctor. And let’s not forget those above me, clearly sending down some love from the heavens!

I pray that if the moment ever comes and you’re in that doctor’s chair, that you know it’s ok to be weak. It’s ok to be scared. But, mostly importantly, it’s ok to let people in. This is where we find out what our relationships are really made of. At the end of your journey you’re going to want the people standing next to you to be the ones who weathered the storm with you. I have found my people through this pain and I have found some real beauty in this world along the way.

xox
Taylin

What IF?

Today, we’re sharing another piece from SEA-ART-HEAL: The ART of Infertility in Seattle. A huge thanks to Barrie Arliss and Dan Lane for submitting this piece and allowing us to keep it for our permanent collection! #artheals

What IF?
Barrie Arliss (with Dan Lane as illustrator)
graphic novel

A page from “What IF” – A graphic novel by Barrie Arliss, illustrated by Dan Lane.

1.5 years of every hippie method possible, I successfully got pregnant with one IUI. He’s perfect, and now almost 4 years old. We thought trying for a sibling would be as easy as doing that IUI…and we were wrong. I’ve heard so many stories from friends or on TV or through doctors how eventually—either with time or the right amount of persistence with treatments, I’d get this magical baby we wanted. But we never did.

2 years, 3 failed IUIs, countless cancelled cycles, 1 retrieval, 1 really horrible allergic reaction, and 3 failed IVFs later all I had at the end was 1 miscarriage. I never thought I would come out of this with nothing. After all the money and hoping and acupuncture and cutting back on running and eating more liver and so on and so forth, I thought that science would win. I hadn’t heard of the stories where people aren’t successful. Where no surprise baby suddenly happens after a year of ending treatments. No one seemed to talk about those. So the next year I did some major self care, and this graphic novel has been my outlet for healing. I may never get over the fact that we don’t have the family we dreamed of, but we’re moving on and creating this book for others who might be going through what we went through is helping.

These two pages of What IF, the graphic novel, depict the first time I had to give myself a shot of hormones for my 1st upcoming transfer. My husband wasn’t around that evening, and I thought I could do it–because I’m strong and independent and all the typical feminist stuff…but there I was, in the kitchen completely frozen with fear. If you can relate, I’m sorry and also, hugs!

Loss

Sadly, many of us have had friendships strained, or lost, as a result of our infertility. These secondary losses can be incredibly tough.

We received an art submission for our exhibit, SEA-ART-HEAL: The ART of Infertility in Seattle, that directly deals with this kind of loss. We’re sharing it in today’s post.

Have you lost a friendship as the result of your infertility? What was that experience like for you? Perhaps you would find it helpful to express those emotions through creating a piece of art, like this artist (who wishes to remain anonymous) did. If you do, we’d love for you to share it with us!

Loss
Anonymous
dress, paint

It is March. I have been bleeding more days this year than not.
My best friend, who gave me this dress, had unprotected sex
one time and got pregnant. When I also was pregnant, I could roll
my eyes at that. When I was not pregnant anymore I was
NOT OK.
I miscarried a baby that cost me thousands of dollars to get pregnant with.
“Two days ago I cried to (husband) and told him I hope I fucking miscarried so that you’d take me back.”
STOP (insert more abusive bullshit).
JUST STOP.

I lost my baby but I also lost my best friend.

Loss by Anonymous. dress, paint

 

 

7 Things Infertility Has Taught Me

This summer marks a milestone for my husband and me. We will be celebrating our seventh wedding anniversary. For those reading this, you may say “seven years is a milestone, since when?” I get that. But for some reason, in the back of head, I have marked 7 years of marriage with the 1950s Marilyn Monroe film “The Seven Year Itch.” I’m not completely sure why, but for me, approaching seven years of marriage is significant because of this film. As I reflect on this some more, especially as July 24th – our wedding anniversary – approaches, it dawned on me that most of year seven’s significance can be attributed to infertility.

A photo of the two of us on our wedding day back in 2010.

I know that itch. That itch to walk out. Give up. Say ‘”forget this”, maybe I could have a different life — a different family with a different partner. Luckily, that didn’t happen. But I remember vivid nights where Kevin and I sat in bed asking ourselves “where do we go from here?” That lurk of infertility has certainly forced us to define and, even, fight for our relationship to go forward. Seven years and still no kid. Seven years and still that lurking question – is this our family? Or should we keep fighting for a child of our own.

To be frank, we haven’t been able to honestly answer that question yet. More time, more soul searching is needed. Will we live childfree? Can we live childfree and be happy? Perhaps. But still the question – “what would it be like to be a parent with you?” – lurks in our marriage.

Despite the uncertainty, I have come to the realization that I have actually learned a lot. Here are seven things infertility has taught me:

#7 Patience. I grew up with a timeline and goals in mind. For example, right before I turned 13, my parents asked me if I wanted a bike for my birthday. My immediate answer, without hesitation, was: “No, save the money. I’ll be 16 in 3 years and I want a car.” As entitled as that now sounds, that was me. I knew what I wanted and when. So, when Kevin and I got married – we both knew that we wanted a family. But when we started having trouble conceiving, and eventually learned we were infertile, it was complete and utter shock to the system. I didn’t know how to process it. I didn’t know how life couldn’t work on my schedule. Patience, I eventually had to learn. To this day, I am still learning that skill. Seven years – I’ve learned that life simply cannot be planned. Better to embrace its craziness than try to control what can’t be controlled.

#6 Pain. I don’t show pain well or much. Growing up as the oldest of a large family, I always felt some unknown pressure to be strong, to be tough, to not show sadness or grief. But when my aunt suddenly died when I was 20, I began to realize the need to grieve. Kevin and I were together at this point. After the funeral and all of the ceremonies, I vividly remember breaking down in his arms. We were alone, and I was finally safe to grieve. During that moment, I learned how safe I felt to have a partner to confide in. I learned how relieved I could feel to just cry. This lesson has carried with me as I have had to confront infertility. The feeling of safety, of being able to be vulnerable with Kevin, would come into play again and again. Pain shouldn’t be ignored. Sometimes it needs to be felt. With tears comes healing.

#5 Laughter. Despite all of the pain and sadness that comes with infertility, I have had to learn to not just laugh at some of the moments I encounter but also embrace laughter as a cheap form of therapy. There have been moments when I have shared in laughter with a support group friend’s experience at the fertility clinic. Laughing at moments only we – the IF community can understand. There have also been moments of laughter lately when I get my period. While in the past, I used to cry. I now have recently started laughing at the slightest appearance of blood. Of course, I think to myself, I’m not pregnant. My god- why would I be?! These moments of laughter aren’t well recognized by those who don’t experience the daily – yearly- grind of not being able to “just get knocked up” but finding friends who “get it” have become an invaluable part of this journey. Laughter has helped keep my sanity.

#4 Humility. While I live with infertility, I also study it. Infertility is not just my life, it is my job. Studying infertility rhetorically, reviewing the studies and articles that circulate in the academic and scholarly world, I’ve become appalled at how infertility as an experience is described as a “woman’s deep primal desire to get pregnant by any means” to fertility treatment and adoption practices described as “a lottery in which women will nearly cut each other’s throats just to become a mother”. These types of descriptions do not describe me nor the hundreds of other infertile women that I have met along my journey. This work, both as a profession and as a part of my life, has taught me that infertility is a real human experience. It is not well understood nor well represented. These past six years, getting my PhD on infertility rhetorics, has only reinforced the need to bring the humility back to infertility.

#3 Appreciation. While my infertility journey has undoubtedly left me in a limbo-esque state, I have learned to appreciate the little things. I have learned to appreciate when a friend of mine tries to tell me that she is pregnant or trying to get pregnant. While it may not come across in the best or most appropriate manner, I appreciate the effort they went through in at least trying to be sensitive to my needs. I appreciate the texts I get from my sister on Mother’s Day. While she is not a mother, she tells me that she is thinking of me on this day and knows it is hard. I appreciate the endless wagging tails and licks that my dogs give me every time that I open my front door. “Mom is home,” those manners demonstrate. Most of all, I appreciate the childlike sense of imagination I get to embrace on a daily basis. More of that in #2…

#2 Imagination. Okay, let’s be real. When you are first diagnosed with infertility, you do not think “oh this is the perfect time to reimagine my life.” NO. Most of us are crying, sobbing with our partners, cursing out the world, wondering what the hell we did to deserve this. But then time comes. And with time, comes lessons and learning. And with me, a sense to embrace imagination. I admit, my case is not the most typical. When I diagnosed at 24, I wasn’t like “Oh, let’s beat this. Let’s do anything it takes to get pregnant.” I needed time. Time to process what infertility meant, what infertility meant to me, what infertility meant to my partner, what infertility meant to us as a couple. And so, we took time. And are still taking time. But with time, we have allowed ourselves to play and reimagine what we want from life. We have considered if we want to adopt, if we want to use a donor embryo, or if we want to be a couple that lives childfree. And while we are still in the process of imaging different versions of our life, I have learned to embrace imagination. It has allowed me to connect to a childlike state that I may not get to know with my own child, but am reminded that I can still be personally connected to.

#1 Love your partner. Finally, and perhaps above all else, infertility these past seven years has taught me how to love my partner. And I mean love. Infertility has required me to ask “Is this relationship all worth it?” infertility has asked me to question what I am worth fighting for. Infertility has asked me to learn patience – not just for my own needs but how to be patient with what my partner may need. Infertility has taught me how to rekindle a sex life that, let’s be frank, gets screwed over (no pun intended) after being diagnosed with IF. Infertility has taught me that despite it all – kids or no kids – we walk this path together, we find laughter where we can, we cry when we want to cry, we appreciate that we have each other, we recognize that we are sometimes just human – not perfect, we imagine what type of life we now want to have and most of all – we love each other through it all

A photo of ourselves from a 2016 we both participated in. Weddings always make us think back to how far we have come because infertility. How about yourself?

That’s what 7 years of IF have taught me, what are some things you have learned in your journey?

 

Beautiful Pain

We love getting mail! A few months ago we received a letter from Kristen Fields, who wrote, “I was so inspired by your project that I ended up writing a poem this afternoon about my struggle with infertility this year. It was so therapeutic and I think will be a lot easier to share with friends and family because it’s a more wholistic way of expressing all of the complicated emotions this journey holds. So thank you for existing and showing up in my Google search, because it has seriously restored something inside me and made me feel less alone, and like I could contribute somehow! Please let me know if I can/ how to submit my poem. Thank you! Kristen”

We invited Kristen to submit her poem via one of our artwork submission forms, and she did. So, today we are happy to share Kristen’s poem with you. We hope that it will make you feel less alone, and that you will be inspired to contact us and share your own poetry and artwork with us.

Thank you, Kristen, for sharing your poetry!

Four Seasons in Japan by Masakazu Matsumoto

BEAUTIFUL PAIN

“Behind every beautiful thing there is some kind of pain.”
– Bob Dylan

There was some kind of pain
In Fall, our favorite season,
Unashamedly reveling in all that was still unshattered.
Making plans with closed eyes and open hearts
Naïve to the coming winter with long nights and a cold sun
Who bites at the things which we expose.
Attending appointments, sitting naked on a table,
Left waiting. Cold. Shivering. Bitten.

There was some kind of pain in Spring
With hope sown in new creation.
Earth poured out her showers
And let out roars from Heaven
Which fell echoed against the walls of this hollow room.
The rainbows dawdled behind rainclouds
But the colored beams always seemed to fade.
Surrounded by new and flourishing blooms,
Our tilled and nourished soil remained
Caked underneath our fingernails,
And in empty tear-soaked patches behind white picket fences.

There’s pain, I fear, in the
Summer’s sun with its warm and inviting glow
That shines of hope, a brighter outcome.
But I find myself after these three seasons lost
Burrowing,
To hold myself safe from getting pulled out into the tide.
Afraid to be crashed back onto the shore again,
Rejected by the Sea.
And then to face yet again our Brutus, Fall,
Whose cooler months might be the severest of them all.

__________________________________________________________

But it’s beautiful, you see,
To be surrounded by seasons,
To fall deeply in love with little souls you’ve never seen,
To think up their names and habits and traits and dreams
To peek inside the room that will hold their things
And pray that God would just give them to me…

——-

A note from Kristen,

“I wrote this in the wake of yet another negative pregnancy test. After being diagnosed with PCOS in the midst of us TTC our first baby, every month and every season has been harder than the last as the fear of the unknown, frustration with the wait, and multiplying insecurities grow with each negative test. I chose to write this poem the day I found out about this organization, as I wanted to be able to be a part of something bigger and hopefully resonate with other women going through these same beautifully painful seasons since this whole process can seem so lonely and isolating– that they might know they are not alone and find hope in the beauty that surrounds the pain.”

Waiting for Babies

Today’s guest post is from Steven Mavros, L.OM, the Founder of the Healing Arts Center of Philadelphia, and the producer of a new podcast called “Waiting for Babies.”

Maria and I met Steven when he came to check out our exhibit, SEA-ART-HEAL, in Seattle a couple of months ago. The three of us immediately connected over our shared desire to make infertility more visible by collecting and sharing oral histories. So, Maria and I were thrilled when he invited us to Philadelphia to partner on an art exhibit this fall. The exhibit will run November 3 – 28 at the Old City Jewish Arts Center.

We’re working hard to outline all the programming and the event dates and times, including a film screening and art and writing workshops. However, we’d love to start by introducing you to Steven. We’d also like to extend an invitation to you, to share your story of infertility through visual artwork and writing you have created. You can learn more by checking out our Philly event landing page.

Read Steven’s story of creating “Waiting for Babies” below. Then, give his podcast a listen. We’re particularly fond of his recent episode about Jessica (A).

Waiting for Babies
by Steven Mavros

15 years ago, when I first started practicing acupuncture, I never set out an intention to work with couples or individuals struggling to bring a child into their lives.  In my first month, a new patient brought me a study done in Germany detailing how using acupuncture before and after the embryo transfer of an IVF procedure raised its success rates.  She asked me to come to her fertility clinic and replicate what was in the study which I was happy to do.  When you’re first starting a practice you say yes to everything of course.  Thankfully, her physician was amenable and open minded enough to let us take up space in their office for something that was brand new in their world.

That study spread both among patients and the fertility doctors and suddenly I found patient after patient asking for this type of help as they’d heard I’d done it before.  Interestingly, there was also some evidence that acupuncture would be helpful for those who were just trying on their own or doing things that were less complicated than IVF like IUI or artificial insemination, so a lot of patients started coming in before they made it to IVF. Still, almost every week I would get a phone call (always the day before because they never got more than that amount of notice) and I would wake up earlier in the morning then I normally would and go to one of the fertility clinics and do some acupuncture.

Steven Mavros is an acupuncturist, founder of the Healing Arts Center of Philadelphia, and the creator of the new infertility podcast, “Waiting for Babies.”

Here’s how it would go: at the clinic I’d meet my patient and often their husband or partner.  The three of us would sit together in the waiting room until one of the nurses would come and tell us that they had space for us to do acupuncture and the woman and I would go back to do the treatment.  Afterward, I would sit in the waiting room for what could’ve been twenty minutes or could have been three hours for the procedure to be finished.  Then I would go back into the room to do a slightly different acupuncture again.  Needless to say I spent a lot of time waiting in clinics.  I often read both a book I brought and every magazine possible.  There was no handy internet in the pocket then.

This was such an intimate moment I was privy to. It was also extremely intense as the procedure they were about to have was in some ways the culmination of a lot of effort, time, money and emotion that they have been putting into trying to conceive.  At these treatments I would get a first-hand view as to what the couple’s relationship was like.  Some were what I’d consider healthier than others.  Sometimes they fought on the morning of and sometimes it was the most loving and caring thing I’ve ever seen. Sometimes there was no relationship because it was a single woman trying on her own or her partner didn’t show up or didn’t want to show up for reasons I didn’t always get to know.

To add pressure to everything the woman had to have a full bladder for this procedure. This always lead to a classic scenario.  I’d be sitting with my acupuncture case, the woman sitting next to me with her legs crossed three times around like eagle pose in yoga and the partner sitting next to her just twiddling their thumbs waiting for everything to be over. The nurse would come out and tell us that they were running a little bit behind and the woman would squeeze her legs together even tighter because she already had to pee and was both nervous and getting even more uncomfortable. Then, almost without fail, the partner would stand up and say “Ok, I’ll be back, I have to go to the bathroom.” To which the woman would always just roll her eyes and laugh and I would look incredulously at someone who clearly didn’t understand the concept of solidarity.

There are so many moments and so many little things that are both hilarious and heart wrenching sitting there with all of these patients and I realized that their stories are so intense and emotional and yet no one outside of that room knew what they were going through. So I thought the best idea would be to write a book and to try and tell their stories the best way I could.  I’d add along some anecdotes and things that had happened to me along the way.  But after hitting so many walls writing, I realized that I was trying to tell a story that wasn’t mine. I was trying to tell their story and that would never work because I didn’t have all the information. I don’t know what came before and what was to come afterwards. I didn’t always know how things turned out as sometimes I only got to see them in that one intimate moment and never even found out if the procedure worked.

So I decided the best place to hear that story was from the patients themselves. Waiting for Babies was born.

Pregnancy and miscarriage, IVF and artificial insemination are not actually new concepts to our American society, but given how little is talked about it you would think that it was. When it comes to medicine, we are so intensely private.  Did you know that in America there’s really no ritual or common healing practice for someone who’s had a miscarriage? Many other cultures have them to give you at least a playbook as to what to do when this happens but we miss that in America. And most of the time people bottle it up and keep it within the partnership which often doesn’t help either of them.  And it’s so much more common than you think as is this whole field. One in eight couples or individuals trying to get pregnant are having difficulties like this.  Most likely someone you know has either been through it or is going through it right now. I want to open that conversation and get all of this information out there to show just how human this whole process is and what some people are going through. I was to shed some light on how hard it is when something that for everyone else takes a very quick momentary interlude in life, but can take those struggling years and years.

It’s time someone shared their stories as there are so many more who are still waiting for their babies.

The One About the Sperm

by Robin Silbergleid

In the car, climbing across the car seats to look for his favorite Jim Gill CD, my son tells me he’s going to give his Father’s Day gift to Uncle Jesse, since he doesn’t have a dad. He says it casually, as if it’s something he’s explained before. Okay, I say—before I even ask what this particular school project is— or you can give it to me, or your sister, or Grandma, or anyone else, but sure, I think Uncle Jesse would like that.

As I have explained to him in various ways from the time he was old enough to listen, he doesn’t have a dad but a donor, who generously provided the sperm (or “magical seeds”) necessary for me to have him as a single mother. I’m glad it’s not a big deal for him today; other days the situation is more complicated and emotionally fraught, like when he was about three and concocted an involved fantasy about how his father was a construction worker who lived at a blue house that you could see from my bedroom window and let him drive his excavator at work sites; after that scenario, he claimed his dad was, interchangeably, Santa Claus and Batman. He told this tale to his preschool teacher who, I think, was more upset that my Jewish son had ruined other kids’ perceptions of Santa Claus than anything about his parentage. The construction worker fantasy worried me, as it seemed so real. I kept reminding him, you know you can’t get into a car with anyone other than mom or grandma or our friend A., right?

From what I can tell, now at five and a half, my son does not have deep longing for a father–nor does his sister, who had a similar imaginary dad fantasy around that age, hers involving a plane trip to Africa (a detail borrowed, no doubt, from her readings of Curious George). For a while, as an elementary-schooler, she liked the fact that the donor was Irish (like, first generation from Ireland) but mostly she hasn’t asked any questions or even to look at the profile, though I’d be happy to give it to her. It’s been years since I’ve read it myself.

Mostly, the fact of using a sperm donor to build our family is just not a big deal in our day-to-day lives, although it’s a huge deal in terms of my gratitude. My kids wouldn’t exist without his generosity even if, I know, he was compensated financially for his donation, and I’m reminded regularly that my children aren’t my clones but have features that could only have come from the donor—my daughter’s musical ability, my son’s interest in machines, the shape of their toes. Although neither one of my children has expressed a keen interest, I think at some point it would be nice to celebrate the donor on Father’s Day, although I understand that ‘holiday’ has more to do with social role than it does biological connection.

Before I had my children, I thought in a vague way of how I would talk to them about the donor. With my son, books have been helpful in opening conversations. We particularly like the picture book What Makes a Baby; I’d recommend it for anyone who has used donor gametes, surrogacy, adoption, or, really, anyone who wants to explain family building without needing to talk about sex or gender. Because babies, as fertility patients know all too well, don’t always come from sex. They come from desire, labor, egg, sperm, and uterus.

My son knows now that he came from a special sperm and a special egg and my uterus. He also knows he was born in the hospital operating room, where, I’ve assured him, the doctor gave me a lot of medicine and sewed me back up, and I was so in love with him I didn’t really feel a thing. Because he’s five, he also asked how I got the sperm, if the donor held it in his hands and gave it to me, like a present I might open on my birthday. No, I explained, trying very hard not to laugh, it came in a small jar called a vial. (I didn’t tell him my favorite detail, that the fluid the andrologist used was pink.) I know as he grows he will continue to ask, and I’ll continue to reframe the narrative of his conception, giving him more detail each time.

I don’t know if our sperm donor is also a dad, whose family will acknowledge him on Father’s Day. I do wonder about him sometimes, and wonder if and when he thinks about the families made possible by his generosity. Because of him, a child exists who has made a hand printed card in preschool and asked about how he came to be.

Still in the Trenches on Father’s Day

Today, during Father’s Day and Men’s Health Month, we offer you the perspectives of three men whose path to fatherhood has been blocked by infertility. For resources on male factor infertility and men’s health, we encourage you to visit The Turek Clinics and Men’s Health Network.

Matt Quarterman

We lost a child almost before we knew we had one.

My partner had an ectopic pregnancy that ruptured. We had been trying to conceive for about six months, but the hospital was the first that we knew of it. She was bleeding internally. She lost parts of her body in surgery.

So our experience with infertility – tests and procedures, questions from friends and family, their baby showers and birth announcements – was colored by losing a child we didn’t know we had.

I’ve learned that every infertility journey is unique. The details might seem inconsequential to the outside observer, yet each of the specifics makes the story your own. I hope that by examining my own experience through these poems, some of my fuzzy logic or murky feeling might ring true for others.

Even when we’re alone, we are not alone.

Excerpt from Babyland
Matt Quarterman
poetry

It’s expensive enough that not everyone
can go. We know the time saved up
we know the long journey
We know returning empty-handed
is hardest. Trade a plastic cup
of tokens for tickets to earn the prize.
There’s the ultrasound screen,
there’s the wheel of pills,
there’s the calendar app, reminders and
still not enough. Not enough can be offered,
report card clean, but no-one here judges,
the problem is ours together to create,
to solve. Some get there unexpectedly,
an osprey dives through empty oxygen,
the force of the flower the green fuse drives,
fool’s gold, cruise boat, news reel,
the heat death of everything, passengers waving.
They’ve run out of options. They hope
for the best at the turnstiles,
the monorail speeding away,
always away. Forget it – it’s Baby Land.

Nathan Chan

“Sometimes on the way to your dream, you get lost and find a better one.”– Lisa Hammond

Nathan’s passion for the surrogacy and egg donation field started in 2009 as a young male when he pursued single parenthood. It was a complicated process which he found difficult. He had always been a source of assistance to his friends and he felt a calling to join. This calling led him to spend 2014-2016 working at another leading Canadian Surrogacy and Egg Donation consultancy, where he played a large role in many of the success stories.

Nathan has spent more than five years pursuing single parenthood in India and Canada. At one point in this journey, he was even lucky enough to use a known Egg Donor. His journey to parenthood is still in progress. He is empathetic to the Intended Parents’ journey to surrogacy because he personally understands the challenges.

Nathan takes great pride in supporting Intended Parent(s), including many single men who are now proud fathers using his surrogacy and egg donation services. Participating in this art exhibit has been very important for him as this process of sharing his infertility journey through art has been very empowering. Nathan lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada where he is the Managing Director of Proud Fertility, an inclusive surrogacy and egg donation consultancy. He is also an accomplished musician and visual artist, best known for his Aurora Borealis series.

Angst of an Infertile Caterpillar, 2010
Nathan Chan
painting on canvas

Angst of an Infertile Caterpillar, 2010 by Nathan Chan

This piece was created when I was feeling lost after my first early miscarriage. I questioned the steps that I have taken, the money I spent on IVF and surrogacy, and it was during a time in my life where I was resentful and hateful of myself and the choices I made for my desire to have a child.

Is there more to life? Have I moved too fast in life to spread my wings quicker than anyone else? Many days, I feel like a very beautiful monarch butterfly, but many other days I feel as though I’ve lost one of my wings.

I have a lot of re-energized moments where I feel I can start over again, but like the caterpillar, I see my past where I’ve flown as a butterfly with broken or missing wings. Or, I see that there are too many difficulties and challenges to overcome and it doesn’t help when I’m a caterpillar exposed to so many issues in the past and the many problems that I have seen so closely in my life.

They say there is little communication between the caterpillar and butterfly, but I wish that in my life, there could be a better relationship between the two. It would be tremendously amazing if I could see a symbiotic relationship between the two because I want my caterpillar and butterfly to see and learn from each other’s experiences and perspectives.

Memorializing My Losses, 2013
Nathan Chan
mixed media

Memorializing My Losses, 2013 by Nathan Chan

This piece was created when I came to a point where I wanted to memorialize my losses through surrogacy. I needed a way to honor those losses. Each figure represented an embryo transfer attempt in India and Canada. It was very important for me to contextualize everything and capture it onto a canvas. These losses make up who I am and what I have become. These losses were not small, and not to be minimized.

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side, 2013
Nathan Chan
mixed media

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side, 2013 by Nathan Chan

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” is a common phrase that everyone knows. It refers to the way we tend to look at other people’s lives and other things that we don’t have. All throughout my life, I compared myself to others. Whether so and so has a bigger house, so and so had a higher grade on their assignment, so and so visited XYZ country in the world, so and so has a higher paying job, and finally, so and so has a partner and children.

This painting is of two simple houses in the shape of an “N,” my first name initial and there is an inverted sunset. The inverted sunset represents the state of turmoil I am in. These two buildings are deliberately sitting on plots of grass that are of different shades of green. As I pondered over this common phrase, I have never really understood what “greener” means. What shade of green actually denotes “greener grass” As I thought more about this, I realized this shade is darker green.

Through my reflections, I have learned to be grateful for all my experiences, including my experiences of infertility – my experiences of pregnancy loss as a single male Intended Parent. As I rebuild my life I call “home,” I can only make two choices. I can either be resentful and miserable and loathe everyone else around me, or I can be grateful for the life I have led and will continue to live. I must acknowledge the growth I have experienced. I have a diverse set of skills and talents and I have family support in my endeavors.

“The grass is greener where you water,” is perhaps another idiom that has been overused. But I need to water my own lawn by simply focusing on the things I do have, and count my blessings. It’s either that, or I am going to drive myself miserable and upset with the things that what others “appear” to have that I don’t. I hate these clichés, so I want to come up with my own – “The Grass is Always Greener on My Side.”

Jeffrey Tucker

I believe that writing – especially poetry – is an act of confession. Whether the thoughts expressed in art are joyous, sorrowful, or somewhere in-between (or both, in some instances), the act of committing pen to paper builds a bridge between the reader and the writer’s psyche, often with an intimacy eschewed in normal conversation.

Which is the say that I tell secrets in my poetry. This poem, in particular, allowed me to express something I would never say out loud. It was both liberating and terrifying to write – an experience (in sentiment, if not in practice) that I have heard many people describe passing through in the journey of infertility: on one hand, you want to scream; on the other hand, you want to hide. Thus, this poem – whose writing process inspired the same feelings in me – in an apt form to convey my emotions.

On Geography and Biology and the Meeting Thereof
(Excerpted from Kill February, from Sage Hill Press)
Jeffrey Tucker
poetry

My brother-in-law and his wife: gone,
off to cruise Mexico: siesta
or Fiesta, la Riviera Maya, salted latitudes
south. I picture the two white-footed Utahans
quick-stepping down a burning brown beach,
silver hawkers at hand. They have not heard the stories
I have, of endless squatting in jails
for a wrong U-turn, an unpaid bribe.
Yet I am unconcerned. It’s a cruise,
after all, staffed with smiling deckhands
so eager to pass out Turkish towels
or spray palms with alcohol. If they
died, my wife thinks aloud, they would not
leave our nieces – the four girls – to us.
Since we don’t live in Utah, I say,
and she nods. No family nearby,
not for two thousand miles. And I knew
that my body does not allow us pregnancy, morning sickness, any of that
lovely fecund wreck. But I did not know that geography
conspired against us at the same time
(not that I ever wish for a death).

 

Music Heals: Finding Happiness When a Marriage Struggles to Conceive

In this post, Maria and her husband, Kevin, reflect on the role music has had in their relationship, particularly in regards to their infertility. Discussing their recent following of country rock star, Eric Church, the two reveal how listening and connecting to music has allowed them to find happiness in their marriage after infertility. While The ART of Infertility encourages creative making, this post reminds us that surrounding oneself around creative processes – like attending concerts – can also help us heal after coping with infertility.

This Memorial Day Kevin and I didn’t go to the local parade. We didn’t attend any barbecue parties at a friend’s home. We saw music. Live, southern rock-inspired, Nashville music. And it was epic.

Maria and Kevin take a selfie while in Nashville over Memorial Day.

To understand the impact of this experience, to understand how this relates to our infertility, to our marriage, I need to go back some years.

When my husband and I first met, we were in high school. We were young, really young — like 15 and in love. Too young for our relationship to be taken seriously by our parents and friends, we frequently sought to escape the world and the limits that our youth put on our relationship. Often we did so by jumping in Kevin’s old Volvo, turning on the radio or popping in a mixed CD and just driving. We drove all over, for hours. Sometimes we would stop at a state park or forest to hike. Sometimes we stopped for ice cream. Sometimes we would stop, just to stop, and talk about us — what we wanted and who we wanted to become together.

At Maria’s high school graduation, 18-years-old and in love – eager to go to college, get married and start a family.

Memorial Day weekend was often a weekend when we would hop in the car and drive away for an escape. To this day, we both recall Memorial Day of 2004. We were both 18 and had just finished our junior year of high school. That weekend, Kevin picked me up for another drive. With the Wisconsin weather finally in the 60s, we decided to stop at a Kettle Moraine State Park to hike a bit. On that hour drive, we can both recall listening to a local radio’s classic rock countdown. We remember driving rolling glacier carved roads listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Bob Seger and our personal favorite – Led Zeppelin.

Kevin and I could listen for hours to Led Zeppelin. Their music threaded us together. We both felt passionately connected to the melodies and to the lyrics. Zeppelin was not only a band that we enjoyed, it was a band that connected us on a deeper, intimate level.

As we got older and our relationship evolved, time and the pressures of college and “the real world” got to us. We started dabbling in other music. But every time that Zeppelin came on the radio, Kev and I were sure to turn it up. Singing along and reminiscing about the memories we had listening to them in high school. Even at our wedding, it was joked that Zeppelin’s heavy, metal-esque “Immigrant Song” should have been our wedding song. And, if we could have figured out a way to dance to that, it probably would have.

But it was not until early this year that Kevin and I began to realize how the music, once so integrate and vital to our relationship, had suddenly stopped. Listening to music. Going to live shows. Connecting to melodies and lyrics suddenly disappeared as we struggled to conceive. Our world, our relationship, went silent.

For about the first five years, when we were trying to grasp, cope and then figure out our infertility – neither Kevin nor myself can remember what (if anything) we listened to. During this time, our marriage also struggled. We didn’t know if we wanted to do fertility treatments. We didn’t know if we should start to adopt. We didn’t know – if we were happy – even if we should still stay together. Our world as a couple was dark and silent.

Despite these feelings and concerns about our happiness, we determined one late night in bed that we should stick it out. We determined that we still loved each other. That even without the prospective of having a kid, we could still be happy in our marriage. We could still find happiness – even if we couldn’t find it at this moment.

Life pressed on, and our relationship slowly began to get better with the understanding that we were both committed to figuring it out and making it work. We moved states, Kevin changed careers, I finally finished grad school and we started to feel happier again. Through all of these changes, we also found new music that resonated with us just like Zeppelin did back when we were teens.

Neither Kevin nor myself would classify ourselves as country song lovers. But one day as we were driving we heard a song by Eric Church on the radio. The two of us looked at each other and you could feel that same spark we had back when we were listening to “Going to California” by Zeppelin. It just hit us at our souls.

Last August, after listening to every song and learning nearly every lyric, we decided to finally see Eric perform in person. We flew out to Colorado and saw his now legendary performance at Red Rocks. Not having seen a concert together in nearly 10 years, Kev and I were admittedly a bit suspicious. We didn’t know if the $300 tickets we bought were really worth it nor the plane tickets and Airbnb rental. But when the sun went down over the rocks and the single spotlight hit Eric – a new musical melody fused Kevin and me together once more. We were hooked, like a drug.

At Red Rocks Amphitheater to see Eric Church perform, August 2016.

The morning after the concert, we looked at each other and talked about how the happiness we were feeling in our marriage. How we actually did this. How we went through hell and back – still with no kid – but had our marriage, had our vibe, had our connection once more. Suddenly, it hit us – music heals. It heals for those who write and compose lyrics and melodies. It also heals those who listen and who are engaged in the performance of its spectacle.

As we returned back to the Midwest that august, Kevin and I determined to make 2017 our year for music. We vowed that we wouldn’t worry or talk about the next steps with our IF. Instead, we would take steps to renew our marriage. So, in January of 2017 as Eric went on tour, we did our own mini tour. Seeing him perform in Green Bay, Portland, Milwaukee, and two Nashville encore sets.

Eric’s tour is now over. And, in many ways, so is the one Kevin and I have been on. Throughout his tour, which has broken attendance records and has allowed him to play 40+ songs at every venue, Eric has repeatedly made it clear that this tour is because of the fans. It is because of the fans that he is able to go on stage without an opening act and perform to sell out crowds for 4+ hours. Kevin and I want to make it clear though, that while Eric may be thankful to the fans that have given him this opportunity of a lifetime, Eric’s influence on his fans should not be forgotten.

A photo Maria took of Eric performing in Nashville at the closing of his tour.

With the tour now concluded, Kevin and I wanted to take a moment to thank thank him for reminding us of the importance of music in marriage, relationships and life. Music heals.

 

Launch Point

Ben Holladay-McCann shares some of the challenges he and his husband face as gay men building their family. Read how they decided which option was best for them and how creating art is playing a role in their quest to become parents. Thanks, Ben, for sharing your story!

Launch Point
by Ben Holladay-McCann

From a young age, I knew that fatherhood was something I aspired to. The fact that I’m gay never phased me or stood out as an obstacle to achieving that dream. Sure, I knew it would be a challenge — the scales are tipped in favor of heterosexual people – though I’ve always been of the mind that any journey worth dreaming about is a journey worth taking, no matter the odds.

Ben (right) with husband Erik. Photo by Kendra Stanley-Mills.

Erik, my husband, shares my dream of raising children together. At first, we had explored the idea of adoption, which, though an awesome and noble avenue to take, can prove hugely challenging for LGBT folks. Most countries outside the U.S. will not adopt to gay parents. In a strange twist of happenstance, the governor of Michigan signed legislation permitting faith-based adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBT parents not long before we relocated to Colorado. Our home state is not unique in that regard, as several other states allow the application of the petitioning couple to be denied based upon nothing more their sexual orientation.

Though adoption was quickly removed from the table, we uncovered a new and more fundamental truth that lived deep within us; holding a genetic relation to our child was of greater importance to us than we had first known. With that in mind, having a child through IVF via gestational carrier as the path to parenthood was the only logical option for us.

Making the decision to pursue that route was the easy part, though it is not without its own unique set of challenges. Like so many others, our biggest roadblock was attached to the price tag. I remember staring slack-jawed at the full sum once everything had been tallied up. The total cost of IVF treatments is positively eye-watering. Resources to lighten the load do exist, though the majority are geared towards heterosexual couples. Most applications for grants or financial assistance list “husband” and “wife” on the form, rather than “partner’s name”. Even “Parent 1” and “Parent 2” would work in a Suessical pinch.

To complicate matters further, information about LGBT-inclusive adoption agencies can be tricky to find. Surely you can understand our sheer joy when we found an aptly named organization that exclusively helps gay men who want to have a child through IVF – “Men Having Babies”. Using the tools on their website, we poured over all available information and researched many different organizations nationwide before selecting InVia Fertility, out of Chicago. With that important line crossed off, we could turn attention back to the elephant in the room: how make this happen financially. As money savvy as we fancy ourselves to be, our piggy banks wouldn’t provide enough of a springboard on their own. We had to broaden our sights to help make this dream real.

Ben and Erik, surrounded by loved ones. Photo by Kendra Stanley-Mills.

Education is an important component of any fundraising effort, and we are not unique in that regard. As a part of this process, we have sought to bring awareness and information to our friends and family. Try as we have, however, some have made the assumption that adoption, rather than IVF, is the end goal. On more than one occasion, well-intentioned people have asked “what country will you adopt your child from?” or “have you met the birthmother yet”? We are surrounded by people brimming with excitement for us to become fathers, though some may be unaware of the complicated nature this road holds for us. Launching a crowdfunding site hosted by YouCaring.com has provided an effective platform to keep our loved ones up-to-date on our journey while serving to dispel any mysteries surrounding IVF and what that looks like for us.

Ben’s passion for knitting is helping build his family. Photo by Erik Holladay-McCann.

More creative means of capital generation are also supplementing our crowdfunding efforts. I have been a knitting hobbyist for years, though this new adventure of ours provided me the push to begin selling finished works and patterns of my own design, under the brand “NoahNoa Crafts”. Though a seemingly unusual brand title, it was born from the love that my husband and I have held for the name, Noah, for years. When translated from its original Hebrew roots, it embodies “comfort”, while its feminine variant, Noa, signifies movement. It only seemed a natural fit, as those are two qualities I love most about knitting, and hope to model to the children we bring into the world. While getting a small start-up such as this off the ground can be time-consuming and occasionally stressful, it is ultimately rewarding, which is not entirely different from parenthood.

Follow Ben and Erik’s family building progress on You Caring and shop NoahNoa Crafts.