#startasking How creating art can bring healing on your infertility journey.

For the last day of #NIAW, we wanted to reflect on why we find creating art helpful in our journeys.

Elizabeth

I’ve had a complicated relationship with my house over the past couple of years. My husband, Scott, and I bought it shortly after we married nearly 12 years ago and made the move across town from the house I purchased as a single woman, to this one where we imagined we might raise a child one day. We chose it because of the school district and because the walk out basement was reminiscent of Scott’s childhood home, and the archways and poured plaster walls reminiscent of mine. We walked in and immediately felt we belonged there.

Several years later, when it became apparent that having a child wasn’t going to come easily, I had a dream of recurrent house flooding. Water seeped in through the roughly textured walls and pooled on the hardwood floors. I was in the upstairs hall and trying to keep the water at bay when I heard a chorus of whispers. A chorus I soon realized was the voices of my house itself, resentful of us and acting out because we weren’t filling the house with children.

Even though I still love my home for many reasons, I started resenting it and the fact that it wasn’t fulfilling the purpose we thought it would when we first moved in 11 years ago.

Maria and I recently had a conversation about how our homes have taken on a different purpose and meaning due to our infertility and living in them as families of two. It got us thinking about nesting, which inspired me to create some artwork around that theme. I made this piece, my “Inhospitable Nest” around the memory of that dream years ago. Choosing the materials for this piece and setting aside time to create it was very calming. Weaving the wire in and out was a meditative process and, while I don’t always end up with a product that looks like it did in my head, this one did. Better even. It made me want to create more nests. I’ve since created two more that I will share with you in the coming weeks.

Inhospitable

Inhospitable Nest. Elizabeth Walker. Mixed media – copper wire, crystals.

Creating artwork around my infertility experience has allowed me to have tangible proof of my diagnosis. My disease is so invisible to those around me and making artwork that represents it has made it real to me and to those who see it. That’s been invaluable to me in coming to terms with my diagnosis and to explaining it to others, and why I’m so grateful we get to help others create pieces around their own infertility experiences during our ART of IF workshops. So, I encourage you to #startasking how making art might help you in your journey and would love to see what you create.

Maria

This September my husband and I will both turn 30. We actually were born exactly 2 weeks apart – Kevin on the 15th and me on the 1st. Since I was little, I remember the story of my birth. I was the first granddaughter to be born on both sides of my family, so my birth was rather exciting. My uncle always told me how it was a hot day in September and how ironic it was that I was actually born on Labor Day. For years, I grew up assuming Labor Day was about women giving birth — never considering how it was actually about the US labor force. I just assumed that I was special because of being born on this day.

As I have come to accept my infertility, though, I have come to think less and less that it was special that I was born on Labor Day. I actually think it is some kind of bad joke. This year, my actual birth day won’t happen on Labor Day. But as I turn 30, I have been thinking about how I now longer fit in with so many of my friends and family members who are now entering their 30s and having their own families. Kevin and I both talk about this, trying to develop strategies to cope with the increasing feeling we are loosing our closest friends.

I wanted to use the last day of #NIAW to share some pieces of art that reflect these feelings of loss. Many of our friends and family members post pictures of their family outings and announcements. In the height of my infertility, this would have enraged me. Now, with some years past, I am no longer angry but instead just deeply sad — knowing this will most likely not be our story, knowing that we are growing more and more distant with these friends and family members, knowing that there are days that its hard for me to recognize that deep desire I had to have a child. Below are some images I am using to create shadow boxes. I am trying to “play” on the other types of family photos that often fill my Facebook and Instagram feeds. The captions articulate the sentiment I feel in each of these images.

image1

This photo was taken right when Kevin and I started realizing we were having trouble conceiving. We had been living in Cleveland and decided to make a trip back to Wisconsin to visit family. Here, I am pictured actually with my little brother. We are 18 years apart and when I would babysit him and take him to restaurants or run errands — people often assumed he was my child not my mothers. I think back to the times when I would carry him in his baby seat and think that is quite often the closest I will come to feeling like a mom.

 

image3

I love this picture. While it looks like Kevin is holding a baby who just finished a bath, it is actually a cut out of him holding our new puppy — Mason. We had just picked up Mason from a farm in Southwest Michigan. He was smelly , dirty and had proceeded to throw up all over the car on the drive back to our house. We was so timid and tiny. Today, he is our 65 pound black lab. But he remains so gentle and eager to please. His presence in our life has made our whole navigation of infertility so much more bearable.

image4

This picture was taken in September 2013. I had just started my PhD program. Meanwhile, a friend of mine from my MA program had just had a baby. Kevin and I went over to their house to meet the newborn. I remember holding that baby and posing for that picture feeling so incredibly sad that we would never take our own family picture.

#startasking How can we better support those living childfree after infertility?

When traveling for the ART of Infertility, we are often asked how we manage to have full time jobs plus develop this project. We have spent a lot of time thinking and talking about this. Both of us have found healing through our involvement with this project, which has served as motivation for our commitment to the ART of Infertility. Yet, for both of us, we have also had to acknowledge that our commitment to this project has also impacted our family-building plans. Whether consciously or not (at this point it’s hard to determine), the ART of Infertility has become our metaphorical child in which we have dedicated our own resources, time and emotional energy into sharing the stories, art and voices of so many who have been able to complete their family. Yet, as we continue to work on this project, we continue to feel more or less poled to our own childfree resolution. Honestly, though, we both have felt some hesitation with disclosing to others that we are childfree. Truth is, it changes on a daily basis. Below we share with you some of our personal reflections on coming to think of ourselves as infertile and childfree. We also include perspectives from some of our peers who have been supportive throughout this process — allowing us to talk openly and honestly about the day-to-day struggles of figuring out if childfree is right for us. 

-Elizabeth and Maria

Elizabeth’s Reflection

My husband and I discontinued treatment a little over two years ago. After five years, five surgeries, ten treatment cycles, and one miscarriage, we were emotionally and physically exhausted. We needed time to grieve the biological child we would never have and regroup. After spending so many years focusing on infertility, we needed to relearn how to focus on ourselves and each other. We’re still relearning.

In the meantime, we decided we’d prevent pregnancy and give living childfree a go. It’s the resolution and infertility subset that I currently most identify, but, since we haven’t made a definite decision yet, I often feel like an imposter. I want to be 100% respectful of those who have truly reached that stage in their journey and are learning to navigate and living their lives childfree.

We’ve started looking into possibly pursuing using donor embryo and I’m conflicted. The part of me that still longs to parent one day says to give it a try. The part of me that has come so far in healing over the past two years is reluctant to open myself up to the roll of a dice it would be. What if it doesn’t work? What if I get pregnant and miscarry again? What if I become a parent and can’t devote the time to ART of IF that I want to be able to? What if?

I’ve spent a lot of my infertility journey coming to learn and accept that I can’t let society pressure me into thinking I haven’t done enough, that I haven’t tried enough, that I didn’t want parenthood enough. Instead, I need to make the best decision for my family of two. I’m comfortable now knowing that, in the end, I will do what’s best for us. That if I don’t choose to further pursue parenting, it isn’t about giving up, but choosing another path.

Those living without children after infertility have far too few resources for support and, perhaps, face some of the biggest stigma. I’m constantly trying to find an answer to how we can improve life for this group of those with infertility. So, I’m hoping you will all #startasking what you can do to help those living child free after infertility. Let’s get the discussion started with some insight from just a few who have reached this resolution.

Maria’s Reflection

“Am I infertile enough?”

This question lingers in my mind quite often. Five years ago, my husband and I began to come to terms that we were going to have difficulty conceiving. At the age of 24 and the oldest of two large Catholic families, coming to understand that we weren’t going to magically get knocked up was disorienting and isolating. For years, I had been told by numerous people that we should be very careful because we come from two very fertile families. I think back on these statements now and can only laugh at irony of it all.

In fact, I often think that all of these cautionary tales – to protect our fertility – actually has prevented our fertility. Now, I am not really superstitious, but sometimes that’s really what I think happened. You see, when Kevin and I were told that our next options were for me to undergo an HSG, our steps towards building a family were put on hold.

For years prior to my infertility, I have had difficulty undergoing OBGYN exams and treatments. And so the proposal that I do an HSG — with no anesthesia  — seemed (and still does) impossible. Kevin knew that an HSG would be extremely challenging for me and so we put IUI and IVF off the table. We focused on our marriage, we started a RESOLVE support group for couples, and we both went to graduate school. For the past four years, we have really put off next steps in our family-building journey. And often, when asked where we reside in the infertility family scale, we say “we are leaning towards childfree.”

Yet, this past year, Kevin and I have privately been revisiting our inclination towards childfree. This past June, he got a new job with stellar infertility coverage. On top of that, in September 2016 both of us will be turning 30. And finally, this year will be the last year that I am in graduate school before I transition to a job. This forced us to rethink our options. And it forced to talk about guilt.

Both of us have attended Advocacy Day and have heard the stories of so many couples that would do anything to have the health insurance that we have. We struggled with this deeply. How do you say no to something so many would say yes to in an instant? But as we talked, we shared how far we have come to accepting ourselves as being infertile and childfree. This I do not think was intentionally done but simply kind of happened through a variety of choices we made in our journey. And so while we have agreed to not pursue any treatment or even adoption at this point, we also feel a bit hesitant to claim “childfree” as our resolution.

Truth is, saying that you are childfree and not quite 30 is a hard thing to swallow. I feel like I was never “an infertility warrior.” I feel like I wasn’t able to give it my all. I do — at times — feel like an imposter. But I hope that during #NIAW we will #startasking about how we can work towards more acceptable notions that being childfree (and even the need to do ALL of the treatments) isn’t a last resort — but a valid choice.

fork-in-the-road

Thoughts on Inclusion

“Refer to us as a family. We ARE a family.” Brooke Kingston

“I would say invite us to things (like birthday parties, showers, etc), even if you think/know I won’t come. It can be so hard – sometimes we want to be included, and sometimes it’s too painful.  My big fear is being left out. I want it to be my choice if I don’t participate, not to be excluded and forgotten.” Brooke Kingston

Discussions on Choice

“I would like to see you include think some discussion about choice. It is not a usual choice you wake up to – often you reach the limits of your treatment options or finances – so the decision or stopping point is chosen for you. I think choice makes it sound like we have more agency than we feel we do. I feel that when people say I made the choice to stop treatment, they minimize the extent of my grief.” Anonymous

“On the flip side, it’s been very important to me to phrase this as our choice. Our situation is different though and I acknowledge that. But we feel that we took power back when made our choice. “So we – even as a community – see this very differently, but it’s important that people know that we do not come to this resolution lightly or easily.” Brooke Kingston

“What is choice and what is making the best of a shitty situation? Ultimately we all want to feel whole and ok with our lot in life.” Anonymous

 Ways to Help and Comments that Hurt

“People can help by understanding that I’m going to be grieving my whole life, as friends experience milestones with their children.” Brooke Kingston

“One of the most hurtful and misunderstood things I have heard about being childless after infertility, is that we didn’t want to be parents bad enough. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We endured more treatments than most precisely because we were so committed to conceiving our children.” Anonymous

“It is heartbreaking to have to let go your potential children. It is a pain that goes far beyond integrating an infertility diagnosis.” Anonymous

“And for me, you know my biggest trigger is the whole “never give up” type sentiments that are in tons of IF posts so those of us that chose to move on (or the choice was made for us) – those statements add to the feeling of failure. Like, if I *really* wanted a child I should have gone further in debt, risk more heartache and physical pain than I already had and what? Just kept going until bankruptcy or menopause, which ever came first just so I could say I never gave up?” Kati K.

“I also hate when people continue to tell us not to give up now that we have chosen. What I needed to move on and live my life included closing that door (with birth control). I was NOT in a good place when that door was still open and I was on the roller coaster. Don’t tell me that you’ll keep hoping for me. Hope for what I want: a loving, full, and fun life with my husband, amazing relationships with our nieces and nephews, and continued peace with our decision. The best way to support us is to hope for what we’re hoping for and help us achieve it.” Brooke Kingston

If you’re living childfree after infertility, what would you want people to know? What would help you feel supported? We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

#startasking About Parenting After Pregnancy Loss and Infertility – Lauren’s Perspective

Lauren of Rainbows & Unicorns, a site about parenting after pregnancy loss and infertility, reflects on mothering her daughter who was born after donor egg IVF. This story does include an image of parenting. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Lauren!

I scoop up my toddler and carry her upstairs to begin our bedtime routine. Diaper, pajamas, teeth, goodnight Daddy, books, and then — my favorite part — songs and cuddling.

She lies on my belly, her head against my chest. “Saaah!” When one song ends, she looks up and asks for another. And another. And another. Eventually my little ball of energy goes limp in my arms. I hold her for a few minutes, treasuring her chubby cheeks and the smell of her sweet, malty little head before kissing her goodnight until she wakes up to nurse at four in the morning.

Lauren with her daughter at bedtime.

Lauren with her daughter at bedtime.

Although singing the same limited repertoire until my throat hurts and not having more than a five-hour stretch of sleep for almost two years grate in different ways, I remember how it wasn’t always like this. In the tough moments — like trying to console a teething child having an hour-long exhaustion tantrum at 3 am — I somehow find inner strength. I get to do this.

I am a mother thanks to many people, including a younger mom who donated her eggs so that I could experience the same joy she felt when she held her son for the first time.

It wasn’t joy that I felt when I met my daughter. By then, I’d been through too much to let myself feel anything so big. After miscarriage, infertility, being told I would never have a healthy genetic child, and a high-risk pregnancy requiring me to deliver via planned cesarean, I couldn’t allow myself to believe that I was finally a mom. Not until I heard my daughter’s first cries. Not until I held her. Not until she was furiously suckling did it dawn on me that I was out of the trenches.

But am I really a regular parent now? Parenting after infertility is a strange place to be. As I like to describe it, “I’m no longer in the trenches, but I’m covered in mud.”

The grief of infertility is hard to remember. Like the face of someone you loved a long time ago, it’s hard to recollect its features in detail. That is, until a whiff of their perfume, or a pregnancy announcement, or an innocent remark from someone who has no idea why the question “When are you having another baby?” causes your heart to quietly crack a little.

“I’m no longer in the trenches, but I’m covered in mud.”

For many parents like me, we’ve left Infertility Island but we’re moored offshore somewhere else. Play dates with other parents — so many blissfully unaware of everything that can go wrong before, during, and after conception — can have moments that are hard to navigate. How do you relate to another parent who casually announces she plans to get pregnant in March so the baby is born before Christmas? What do you say when someone asks when you’re having another baby? How do you casually explain egg donation when asked where your daughter’s red hair comes from? In time, the answers come.

Don’t misunderstand; none of this is as hard as trying to have a baby. But when you’re a graduating member of a club you never wanted to join, you’re caught between two worlds: the one you had to leave once your child arrived; and the other everyone else assumes you’re in.

I have my “rainbow unicorn” (if a “rainbow” is a baby born after loss, I surmised one born after infertility would be a “unicorn”) and she fills my days with more joy than I thought possible. But joy and pain aren’t mutually exclusive. What a lot of people don’t realize is that having a baby resolves childlessness — not infertility.

You’re caught between two worlds: the one you had to leave once your child arrived; and the other everyone else assumes you’re in.

Even though we’re parents, we’re still infertile. Unless we fall into a small lucky statistic of spontaneously conceiving after infertility, if we want a second or third child we will have to submit to the invasive, sometimes painful, and always expensive tests and protocols we endured a few years before — this is equally true whether you do infertility treatment or adopt.

If we want a second child, we’re lucky to have eight chromosomally normal frozen embryos to choose from. All we have to do is pick a date for transfer. Most of my infertile comrades don’t have leftover embryos, either because they didn’t do IVF or, if they did, they didn’t have any embryos left over. It struck me the other week that some of my friends are going to have to go through the whole TTC thing all over again. They have my full support and admiration.

For me, parenting after infertility has given me some unexpected blessings. First and foremost, I have this amazing little girl in my life. She’s affectionate, smart, talkative, mischievous, and healthy. We might not share DNA, but we share a sense of humor, a love of Marmite, a dislike of tomatoes, and we’re both pretty tall with big feet. Most importantly, she’s here, and she couldn’t have been created any other way. My journey to motherhood was filled with more pain than I thought I could bear, but I’d do it all over again to have this sweet child that I get to call my daughter.

Eighteen months into this parenting gig, I am more or less at peace with a whole lot of stuff that I never thought I’d be able to accept.

I have a chromosome disorder which means genetic children aren’t possible, so I chose egg donation to build my family. I can say that openly and joyfully now that I’m a parent. I can be open about the way my daughter was conceived because the irrational shame of not being able to reproduce has dissipated.

Breastfeeding has been tremendously healing in this respect. I wasn’t expecting much, so I was surprised that it came to me so easily. Being able to feed my daughter they way I hoped has restored faith in my otherwise broken body. My body can’t make a baby that will live, but it’s pretty damn good at growing and feeding them!

Over the last year and a half, I’ve spent days looking into my nursing daughter’s beautiful eyes fixed on my face — the same eyes I admired in our donor. Not recognizing any of my family of origin’s features in my daughter was, at first, strange. Sometimes she looks like her dad, sometimes she looks like our donor. To my surprise, I like seeing our donor’s influence. It’s reassuring to see something of the special woman I chose to replace my DNA reflected in my daughter.

Eighteen months into this parenting gig, I am more or less at peace with a whole lot of stuff that I never thought I’d be able to accept.

You might say I had a crash course in comfort levels, though. My daughter’s hair is a deep red, and every time we’re out three people, on average, stop us to admiringly ask if red hair runs in my family. At first the question made me wince. I didn’t know how to answer the question without also sharing the circumstances of my kid’s conception. I’ve got good at saying, “Nope! But isn’t it beautiful?” When pressed, I explain, “Red hair is a recessive gene, which means both genetic parties have to carry it.” In this way, I’m able to acknowledge my daughter’s genetic origins while not divulging too much to a stranger if I don’t feel like it.

I guess that’s what parenthood is about: constantly being surprised and having to readjust expectations, all the while practicing patience, kindness, and even finding the funny side when something’s gone wrong.

And in that sense, my infertility journey prepared me well.

Lauren is a mother via egg donation, after miscarriage, infertility, and a massive postpartum hemorrhage. She is a writer, editor, and designer at Rainbows-Unicorns.com, a community blog for parenting after pregnancy loss and infertility. Originally from London, Lauren lives in San Diego with her husband and their toddler. Follow her on Twitter at @DEIVFmama.

 

#startasking: How Infertility Prepared Me to Be a Mom – Camille’s Perspective

Camille Hawkins, MSW, LCSW is the Executive Director of Utah Infertility Resource Center. She reflects on her experience with infertility and shares 5 ways her infertility struggle taught her to be a great mom to her daughters. This post does contain images of babies and parenting. Thank you for sharing your insights, Camille!

I was recently part of a discussion in a “Pregnancy & Parenting after Infertility” Support group. The question was posed: Would you change the fact that you struggled with infertility?

How would life be different if I didn’t struggle with infertility? Even though this was the most difficult experience of my entire life, would I change it? It brought more heart ache, more tears, took more energy, and also more money than any other trial I’ve faced.

The consensus as each group member deeply reflected on this question was a resounding no. If you would have asked each of them in the heat of the struggle, the answer would have been different. But the common theme was that they had gained so much from their infertility journey, and there were still some very difficult parts about it, but they wouldn’t trade it.

IMG_2695

Camille pictured with her infant daughter.

My husband and I met at Utah State University in 2007. Once married, we waited a year to start trying to have a baby. We quickly learned it wouldn’t come easy. After 5 years of tracking monthly cycles, timed intercourse, surgery, fertility medications, injections, intra-uterine inseminations, in vitro fertilizations, a miscarriage, and being completely broken down emotionally, we became parents to two beautiful girls through the miracle of adoption. Becoming a mom was the best day of my entire life. I will never forget that feeling.

Even though my life is now consumed of changing diapers, making bottles, and rocking crying babies during the night, my infertility will always be a part of me. My diagnosis makes it so I will always be infertile. The wound of infertility may be healed in my heart, but the scar will always be there as a reminder of all I went through to get my girls. This journey has shaped my life more than anything else has. It helped me be the best mom I could be.

Here are 5 ways my infertility struggles taught me to be a great mom to my daughters.

  1. Peace – coming to accept my situation was difficult and took a lot of time and energy. I had to grieve every time I had a failed cycle, a failed treatment, grieve the death of my embryos, and the loss of my only pregnancy. I had to grieve having a biological child –the one I always dreamed of looking just like my darling husband. As a woman, I had to grieve not being able to experience pregnancy, child birth, breast feeding, and the things I was raised to most closely associate with womanhood. Through this process, frustration and resentment for my imperfect body eventually turned to peace and acceptance. I learned that things aren’t going to be perfect in life, but I can still be okay. I will teach my daughters their bodies are unique and special, and don’t have to be perfect in order to be beautiful. I will help them find peace and acceptance with the situations they find themselves in so they can look for the happiness and joy that surrounds them.
  1. Balance – I grew up in a culture that taught my most important and divine role would be that of a mother. Everything should revolve around that role, even my education, my career choices, everything. When I realized I was unable to conform to that norm, I was forced to either sit around and do nothing while the time passed, or do something productive with my time. I decided to get a master’s degree in social work and begin a career in counseling. I worked at a nonprofit community mental health center helping children heal from trauma. I volunteered with an organization running kids grief groups. I fell in love with my husband over and over again, traveled the world, and I became a dog mom, enjoying the beautiful outdoors hiking with my two retrievers. Infertility tends to consume you completely, like a black hole. The lows were the lowest I could ever imagine. Learning to keep balance in my life was crucial to surviving the black hole of infertility, and I’m learning that balance as a mom is crucial to being the best mom I can be to my daughters. I would like my daughters to have balance in their lives too, and to know it’s okay to be lots of things, do to lots of things, and most importantly to take care of themselves.
  1. Patience – Infertility makes you wait…….and wait……..and wait some more. It makes you cry night after night, feeling hopeless and that all is lost. False hope is sometimes the only thing you have left. I learned that things don’t work out necessarily in the way I expect, but it’s possible for them to work out in some way. My mom told me I was a very impatient child. I wanted things NOW! Patience is something I was forced into learning through my infertility journey. Now as a mother, patience is my saving grace. Motherhood is not easy; I never said it was going to be. Having patience shoved down my throat during infertility has allowed me to see things in motherhood through a different lens. I can make it through my baby’s crying spell. I can make it through my daughter refusing to sleep throughout the night. I can make it through two babies crying at once……Infertility helped me learn the patience for these moments.
  1. Appreciation – When you yearn for a child, you yearn for the good and the bad. Being a mother isn’t easy, but I realize I appreciate all the moments so much more than I would have because I worked so hard to get there. My girls will grow up knowing how much they were wanted, how much they were sought for, and how special they are. I know I am so lucky, so blessed, and so fortunate to be “Mamma” to my sweet baby girls. I have so much gratitude for their birth families for entrusting us to raise these little girls.

    IMG_6310

    Camille with her two girls and husband.

  1. Determination –I have met many women who struggle with infertility and I have found that these are some of the strongest women in the world. My husband and I experienced failure month after month, year after year, and still we pressed on. We did this because family is so important to us and we would not stop until we became parents. I learned I can do hard things, and my daughters will learn they can do hard things too. When I face failure and frustrations in motherhood, I remind myself of the obstacles I have overcome and rely on that strength to get me through hard times.

The journey of infertility is treacherous. No one deserves the pain that comes from an inability to get or remain pregnant when that is their deepest desire. The wound of infertility often runs deep. But there is hope. There is a lot we can learn. And we can have tremendous growth which can prepare us to be great parents when that glorious day finally comes.

 

 

 

#startasking What did my infertility teach me about parenting? – Marissa’s perspective

We love infertility lists, and this is an incredible one! It comes to us by way of Marissa, an ART of Infertility participant and collaborator. Thank you, Marissa, for sharing your story with us.

Elizabeth

5 Things Infertility Taught Me About Parenting

This is a post I never imagined I might write . . . After fifteen assisted cycles (7 IUI & 8 IVF), two surgeries, three failed attempts to adopt, and a cautious pregnancy, my husband and I welcomed our first son earlier this year. Only then did I begin to allow myself to consider not only what it would feel like to have a child but also to become a parent.

I am absolutely certain that I am different as a parent because of my infertility experience and changed as a member of the infertility community because I am parenting. I am as certain that I could have never imagined the growing gratitude that I would now feel for our infertility journey! These are (the top!) five things infertility taught me about parenting:

1. You Are Not In Control (And That’s Totally OK!)

Being out of control was one of the most frightening aspects of infertility for me—being carefully in-control was my go-to response for everything new and scary. Getting a PhD, no problem! Moving cross-country four times in my twenties, I can do that! IVF, bring it on! My mom came with us to my first RE appointment and took a picture of me standing outside of the office to save for our baby book. A year later my husband hid the empty little book with the single photo after I’d thrown it across the room in a mixed-up burst of mad sadness. I hated how happy I looked before I knew the storm that was brewing. I hated that there was nothing I could do guarantee that I would become a parent. I hated that I couldn’t change my body and how it worked (or didn’t). I’d changed so many aspects of my life (my home, my job, my diet, my lifestyle) in attempts that felt naïve and futile. I felt cursed, and I wondered if I had done something to cause this awful burden.

Infertility crushed not only my dreams of what my life would be like but also my usual ways of making sense of the world. Before infertility, I expected that hard work produced results. After years, failures, losses, and mounting costs, I began to seriously doubt my life beliefs. I became clinically depressed. I developed anxiety. I fought accepting that effort did not equate outcome. I had to be forced to let go. I grieved the sense of order that had previously shaped how I saw not only my life, but also how I saw others’ lives. As a teacher, this was especially devastating. It was a double blow: I lost my vision of my future family and my purpose in my career. I struggled to differentiate between what I could control and what I could not. With the help of a thoughtful therapist (who was also an infertility survivor), I found I could not control outcomes but could control my responses. Each week, in a sketchbook, I would draw my plan of action—my mantras for the week, the cycle, the loss, heck— even the hour on very bad days. And I had a lot of very bad days. Days when I cried in my classroom in front of my students. Days when I felt like it took effort for me to breathe. But, a few days (or hours) were not so bad. I began to find strength and purpose through connecting with others. Instead of focusing inward on my own pain and fears, I began to focus outward into the infertility community, in my support group, and on events like RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day. I began, once again, to see positive outcomes from my actions.

Participating in the infertility community restored my faith in myself and in what I might accomplish. I might not be able to will myself to become a parent but I could use my voice to speak about my experiences, create art that responded to my emotions, and advocate for others to have the right to pursue their own dreams of a family.

Giving up some control opened me to experiences I could not envision. It re-energized my teaching, and helped me to see my students with greater empathy. It forced me to focus my attention on the present, and to act proactively without immediate gratification. Of course, now it is easy for me to see how absolutely essential these lessons are for the experience of being a new parent. Trying to control is a natural response for many people to new and scary experiences, like parenting! While my impulse is still to control, I have learned to be content with doing the best I possibly can at any given moment. While I still hope for certain outcomes, I don’t punish myself if things don’t go the way that I expect. Even more so, I have encountered the most wonderful surprises that I might have missed had I continued to live in such a rigid way! There seem to be thousands of books focused on parenting and baby care—particularly sleep—that promise ‘results’ within strict structures. There are so many mixed messages, and so much pressure. It is a familiar feeling for me, but my perspective has seismically shifted. Instead of trying to control and living constantly with the image of a perfect future, I am working to focus upon enjoying the current ride.

2. Your Child Is Not You

Early on in our infertility experience, when we began to pursue domestic infant adoption (which was not successful for us), I had to face the idea that my becoming a parent might not involve my own or my husband’s DNA. Even after a career that involved working with vulnerable populations of young children in which I contemplated adoption frequently before experiencing infertility, I had taken for granted that when I chose to have children, my genetics would be part of the equation. I had to admit to myself that part of my vision of my future family included children who might resemble us in appearance and in interests. Beyond these worries and fears, we faced the loss of control (see #1) over our potential future child’s earliest start in life. When we were cycling, I spent so much effort trying to control every aspect of my own body in preparation for pregnancy—I changed my diet, gave up caffeine and alcohol, did yoga and acupuncture (even though I still HATE needles even after the hundreds of shots I’ve given myself). I even ate the pineapple (you must know what I mean!) When we faced our first adoption situation, all of that changed. The expectant mother was seven months along, and had no prenatal care. She was denying her pregnancy and was using drugs and alcohol. Within the 24 hours we had to make our decision, we embraced the possibility that our child might be nothing like us. We had no idea who they would or could be. We took the plunge. And we were crushed when the expectant mom texted us that she had chosen to parent her child.

We knew then that we would love the child who joined our family, no matter who they might be (or become). I had always said I would feel that way when I was asked. And when you are pursuing adoption you are asked a lot if you could love ‘someone else’s child.’ Even though I always answered yes without hesitation, I was still afraid there might be a difference for me. A difference of expectations. A difference of fear.

Once I had grieved that difference and confronted those fears, I began to see a new possibility: That I could never know who my child would be.

That I would learn who they would be as they became themselves. Worries have turned to delight for me as I watch my son discover his own capabilities and interests. He has challenged me to accept him as himself and not as my vision of who my child should be. Because of this, I can choose to respond to my son with love and with support, a practice that I strive to maintain each day.

 3. All Seasons Of Life Both Grow And Strain Relationships

Infertility affected every single one of my relationships: My family, friends, my husband, and my work. Infertility is generational: I felt as devastated that my parents would not become grandparents as I did that I would never parent. Like many infertility patients, I started trying for a family when my friends did. My Facebook and Instagram feeds became minefields. I quietly unfollowed almost everyone I knew (or at least it felt that way) when the daily deluge of pregnancy announcements and baby pictures suffocated me. I even temporarily left my infertility support group when it became clear that I would be the last member without a child. It had transitioned to a new mom’s group and I felt left behind. I was too jaded to join a new group to be the living reminder of the worst-case scenario. Who does 8 IVF? Who ‘fails’ at adoption? Even our therapist cautioned it might be time to ‘move forward.’ As friends’ babies grew into toddlers and preschoolers, I bought birthday gifts through full body sobs at children’s stores. I wanted so much more from those around me. I wanted support, I wanted acknowledgment. I wanted care. But I was in an ugly place. I couldn’t even remember what my life had been like before when I still felt possibility.

But, there were a few high points: When we went public with our online adoption profile, we received an outpouring of support. We felt some of the silent stigma of treatment temporarily lifted. A few friends even came forward with their own struggles to offer solidarity. Yet, one, two, three adoptions failed, and we could not continue. It was the darkest time of my life. We could no longer afford the monthly fee to continue to host our profile. I’d known this for a while, but I kept hoping. A few days later, I went to the mall to buy a gift before a family birthday party. I was walking around the food court when I felt a gush. I was having breakthrough bleeding cause by a medication I took after treatment. Blood soaked through my dress, poured down inside of the tights I was wearing, and pooled around in my shoes. I lied on the couch in the Macy’s bathroom and called my mom to bring me new clothes. I felt so ashamed that she would see me in that state. My rock bottom. The very next day we chose to cycle ONE last time. Actually, my husband decided. I was livid with him. How could he put me through this? How could he possibly understand the physical toll? How could he still have any hope? I went through the motions of the cycle, plagued by anxiety. The night before the transfer, I had a glass of wine. That morning, a cappuccino. When I began to feel sick a few days later, I worried that I’d gotten an infection from the transfer.

It never occurred to me that I felt sick because the cycle was successful. I hadn’t had any morning sickness with the last pregnancy. I spent the next few days wearing Sea Bands and in a state of suspended animation. When I began to bleed a few weeks later, I thought I knew what to expect. It would be a loss and we would be grateful we’d only told our parents. But, it wasn’t a loss. It was a subchorionic hematoma. One that healed. An earlier than usual ultrasound revealed a single small blob with a rhythmic heartbeat. And, just like that, it seemed like our journey might end.

Except I wasn’t ready at all. I had spent so much time feeling isolated from family and friends that I was not sure how to repair the relationships. My husband and I had battled infertility for the entirety of our marriage (we chose IVF in lieu of a honeymoon). We had to learn how to relate to one another when we weren’t in crisis mode. And, how would I tell my closest infertility friends?

Would my identity as an infertility advocate continue to be valid if I was a parent, too?

The process of becoming an infertile parent has not been easy. There are no roadmaps for the seasons of life, and I have found that each season affects relationships. Some are strained, some grow in unexpected ways. A few friends who were close when I was struggling (and who are still journeying) have now distanced themselves from me. I don’t take it personally, and I try to be open should they need me. I better understand the pain my parents felt because of my struggle as I experience the impulse to protect my son. I no longer expect my life to be one smooth, predictable journey, and I try to weather all of its seasons as thoughtfully as I can. I try to be the friend that my friends need, not the friend that I want them to be to me.

4. Life is Both Precious And Fragile

Before my first pregnancy, I had never lost anyone close to me. I hadn’t confronted my own mortality. I had never truly grieved. And I had no idea what a process it was. My grief was messy, raw, and just when I thought I was feeling better, it was totally unresolved. How could my baby die? How could I love and yearn and long for someone who was as big as a sesame seed? Well-meaning friends said things like “at least it was early,” and “at least you know you can get pregnant.” But this was a real child to me. And it was gone. And we would never learn why. And there was no model to mourn for them or to remember them. And everything reminded me that my baby was lost.

During our fourth IVF cycle, I felt sick after my retrieval. I’d had mild ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) before but I felt worse this time. By early afternoon I was struggling to breathe. We went to the ER. I was in so much pain I was fading in and out of consciousness. Doctors told me my left ovary had burst, filling with blood and fluid, and pushing on my diaphragm. They explained that I’d likely have emergency surgery to remove one or both of my ovaries, and that they needed to transfer me to the University Women’s Hospital. They hadn’t decided yet if I’d go via helicopter or ambulance. I turned to my husband and vowed we would NEVER do IVF again! I’d risked my life, and for what. ONE stupid egg! I was transferred to the hospital, and made it through the night with the support of fluids and without surgery. As l recovered, I questioned whether I wanted to become a parent enough to risk my own health.

When that egg, now a blastocyst, was transferred after my recovery, I committed myself to treating the experience differently. If this was to be my only time with that single embryo, I would enjoy each and every moment. I didn’t want to spend the whole time we had together obsessively peeing on sticks. I wanted to take them to experience life, and to enjoy our time together. It was a definite change of intent for me. I began to see both how precious and how fragile that small, new life could be. And instead of only grieving the brevity of our time together, I began to cherish it. They were coming with me everywhere anyway, so I went to my favorite restaurant, I went out with friends, I went shopping, I went to visit family members. I wanted their life, no matter how short, to have meaning. And I wanted to remember them. We did ultimately lose that one little embryo (and several more) but with each subsequent transfer, I became better at relishing that short time rather than lamenting it. I was grateful for it. I tried to embrace the same attitude with my family and friends. I began to reach out, and to transform in this connection. Instead of waiting for family and friends to support me, I began to give without expectation. I made time to spend time with those I loved. And, we began to celebrate the lives of our babies during the time we had with them, and after they left us. We have memorials throughout our home that commemorate each loss. We dug out that baby book, and we filled it. We took photographs and we made art pieces. We acknowledged that we create the meaning that their short lives have for us. And we take this day-to-day sense of gratitude with us into parenting. We were already parents.

Now, as I am parenting a living child, I remind myself daily to consider the challenges and the joys within a larger frame. Things still get hard—not as hard as in the darkest moments—but hard nonetheless.

I take a moment every day to visit our small memorials, like the photo below, to remind myself why I am doing this and what it means for me, and for our son. And I am able to move forward from there.

 

A photo taken during the memorial of one of the babies Marissa miscarried.

A photo taken on Coronado Island during the memorial of one of the babies Marissa miscarried.

 

5. You Have A Voice (And A Responsibility To Use It)

And, finally, the last and one of the most important lessons that I learned was that I have a voice. And I have a responsibility to use it. Before infertility, I was the definition of soft-spoken, even though I am an artist. People even questioned if I would succeed as a teacher because my voice was so soft! I scoffed at them because I saw myself as strong and as plucky! I have struggled to conjure up that image of myself when I feel anything but. But, I could not stand by during our journey. I could not be silenced. I needed to speak out, and to share, and to connect. I began in a small way, by making art about my feelings about our experiences.

One of the first pieces of art that Marissa made around the experience of infertility.

One of the first pieces of art that Marissa made around the experience of infertility.

It was a safe way for me to open up the conversation, and to begin to share. The infertility community nourished this voice, and pushed me to use it. Being a part of Advocacy Day, being a part of the ART of Infertility, being a part of my support group—they all provide me with a sense of purpose greater than myself. Knowing my voice has helped me to overcome some of the worries and fears every new parent experiences, too. I know that I can and will speak out, and seek help, and know that I am not alone. And that has made all the difference. We can only end the stigma and the silence if we are willing to speak out for ourselves and to share our stories.

#startasking about Parenting after Infertility – Candace’s Story

Today, we’re taking a bit of a risk and giving you a news feed full of stories reflecting on the joys and struggles of parenting after infertility. We wouldn’t normally post so many stories in one day (that’s the risky part). However, when we interview people who have “resolved” their infertility, even if decades before, a theme that comes up time and time again is the long lasting effects of infertility. Having a child, whether through treatment or adoption, means becoming a parent. It’s not a cure for infertility. 

So, we’ve invited several parents after infertility to share their experiences with us today. First up, Candace Wohl of Our Misconception. Candace is an amazing infertility advocate and it was through her sharing her own story on MTV’s True Life, that I was able to really start grieving my own traumatic IVF procedure and subsequent miscarriage. I’ll forever be grateful to her for sharing and am honored to bring you more of her story through our first post of the day. This post does contain an image of a child.

Elizabeth

Parenting After Infertility 

by Candace Wohl

For National Infertility Awareness Week I thought I would expose a raw topic that some of us really do not talk about. We are even more ashamed to mention it. Somewhere tangled and twisted in the kudzu vines of our infertility, we hold it in. Funny how I am so open to talk about everything from my broken lady bits to reproductive injustice but this, THIS topic is hard.

For the first time, I had been asked to share my thoughts on something I am terrified to talk about. The ART of IF wanted to #StartAsking about parenting AFTER infertility. Not the beautiful bouncing baby part, but what people may not know.

It took 7 years before I became a mother through the gift of surrogacy.  I remember waking up at 12:22 am on my first Mother’s Day to the cry of my baby in tears, asking for “momma.” It was the first time I heard it and I felt like I had waited my whole life to hear that one single word. I sat in the rocker for hours that night sobbing tears of joy as I held her while she slept thanking the powers that be that brought us together.

The next day I felt guilty.

There is so much more to peel back and reveal about the aftershock of infertility that tends to happen to the 1 in 8 that finally become moms.  Many think once you get to the other side of the ever evasive Promised Land of Motherhood, that everything, the heartache, the desperation, the loneliness will vanish. When your miracle baby is placed in your arms all is washed clean and the curse is lifted like a passing dark cloud.  For me, I can say that some of this faded but it was still there.

Wohl-Family-0039We openly fundraised and shared our story. My infertility was no secret and our financial infertility was what stood in the way of us having a family.  Strangers, friends and family did everything imaginable to help us. The birth of our daughter was one of hope and beating odds and she was a headline baby. Shortly after our daughter was born, I started feeling an overwhelming sence of pressure. It was all internal, not once provoked by anyone. There was this irrational and totally self-imposed expectation to be the flawless Donna Reed example of motherhood. This is what I have wanted for so long right? I felt like everyone was watching every move I made from how I interact with her to what type of diapers she wore, things like choosing homemade baby food versus jarred, I even stressed over the type of cleaner I would use in the house.

There were so many people who wanted this for us and there are millions, (7.4) who want to be in our shoes.  Infertile guilt sets in. These thoughts play in my head daily:

How can I be frustrated at 3 am when I’m covered in vomit? Someone right now is praying for this.

My kid just pinched the living crap out of another kid at the park, the other mom probably thinks I do not discipline because she is an only child and I am a parent after infertility.  

I feel like a horrible mom for handing over our daughter on a bad day, as soon as my husband comes home from work so I can leave the house for an hour to decompress.

I wanted this so badly and I am failing everyone around me.

These thoughts, this great feeling of social pressure, although I know is self-induced is part of my infertility. I don’t quite fit in with the fertile moms at the playground because my perspective is different. I don’t always fit in with the women who are still working on their first set of double lines, because I do have a child now and I am afraid to share my joy because I was once there and understand the painful uncertainty. It’s a lonely feeling.

For those who know me, I am really positive person.  I’ll take a steamy pile of poo and figure out how to make it into a less-steamy, more gold-like poo-casso. That has not left me. But I am scarred both physically and mentally. The infertility PTSD is there, just repressed now that my whole world was changing. I am able to finally hit the play button on my future which I had felt had been on pause for so long. Still though, that song that was on repeat for so many years titled, “You can’t have a baby because something is wrong with you” still plays in my mind.  With that playing and a new song, “Don’t be anything less than 100% grateful and a perfect mom … this is what you prayed for” it can sometimes be tough to remember that, being human means not being perfect.  It means messing up every once in a while, listening to that voice that says, “Damn, I just washed those sheets.”  Being human means, I/we are capable of feeling all of these emotions, no matter how contradictory, at one time. I am glad ART of IF decided to #StartAsking about Parenting After Infertility, they exposed this other side of me that I thought it best to just hide under my bed of feels.   Although this isn’t the fairytale painting of a picture for this very broad topic of parenting after infertility, I know it is the painting I am supposed to be a part of and I wouldn’t change a single brush-stroke in it.

Candace-Wohl-Family-0051

 

 

#startasking How can I find support in my infertility journey?

Infertility can be one of the most isolating, lonely experiences out there. It’s essential to connect with others who “get it” but it’s not always that easy to do so. In today’s post, Sarah Powell shares the story of reaching her breaking point and reaching out for support. Several months ago, Sarah approached me about starting the ART of Infertility Pen Pal Project as a way to connect people with similar stories for friendship and support. So, we are happy to launch it today during National Infertility Awareness Week. Read on to hear Sarah’s story and learn how you can be matched with an Infertility Pen Pal who shares a similar path. 

Elizabeth

It isn’t all that often that people who are diagnosed with infertility are brave enough to share their story.  That is exactly how I felt when my husband and I received our diagnosis seven years ago.  At that time, my way of dealing with infertility was going to different doctors, four different clinics in fact, hoping that one would give me a different answer than the last. Then, taking a lot of time to research and process what they told me.  For the first few years, I barely talked to anyone about it, sometimes not even my husband, and dodged questions from everyone left and right.  I tried to put on a happy face at baby showers, birthday parties, family events, and with the pregnancy announcements of what seemed like EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. MY. DEAREST. FRIENDS.  I emailed my closest friends and family and told them NOT to ask questions.  I didn’t know the right path forward and my husband didn’t know what to say and when to say it no matter how hard he tried.  Everyone who has ever dealt with infertility knows that you feel very, very alone and most times responsible with every failed test you get but need to keep forging forward with the rest of your life.  It is an AWFUL, ISOLATING feeling.

A lot of times in our lives, people near what we call our breaking point.  One thing happens and it just pushes you over the edge.  As it relates to infertility, I remember moments of mine, though not all the finite details.  It was a Saturday morning and my monthly visitor had shown up yet again when I would have given anything for it not to.  I woke up that day and was in an awful mood, likely yelling at my husband about everything insignificant, poor guy didn’t stand a chance that day.  Because I was in a bad mood, everything was overwhelming me, laundry, dishes, errands, the list went on – but they were really just daily tasks that suddenly became impossible.  I decided to do some dishes and was at the sink furiously scrubbing glasses, crashing down plates, and almost throwing the pans.  At that point, my husband who was trying to be helpful said something related to infertility or my period coming or something like that and then I BROKE.  I remember almost falling to the floor, sobbing and having him pick me up and carry me to the couch where I just sobbed and sobbed for what seemed like hours.  I tend to not share my feelings, and while my husband was doing his best, he wasn’t the one responsible for my infertility and he wasn’t infertile himself.  I realized I needed to find someone like me, someone who could understand my diagnosis, someone who could relate.
Sarah, top left, on the "Contribution Tree" in the first ART of Infertility exhibit at Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, MI 2014.

Sarah, top left, on the “Contribution Tree” in the first ART of Infertility exhibit at Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, MI 2014.

 I searched and searched the Internet.  In a world that has become so electronic and saavy with social media, I was shocked to find there wasn’t an easy way for me to reach out to others with my disease. I wanted a phone number, an email address, something. I tend to be an introvert so it’s not easy for me to connect to people, it was very daunting.  Add the taboo subject of infertility and it made it that much more difficult.   I did find information on support groups in my area – but just kept the information in my mind for several months because I was TERRIFIED.  Eventually, after much coaxing by my husband, I did attend a meeting but lets be honest, meetings and support groups aren’t for everyone.  I realized that there has to be an easier way for those to connect privately from their own homes to people who are like them.
I realized I needed to find someone like me, someone who could understand my diagnosis, someone who could relate.
Sarah and Elizabeth at Advocacy Day in 2014.

Sarah and Elizabeth at Advocacy Day in 2014.

As a result we are happy to introduce the Infertility Pen Pal Project.  This project will allow us to connect individuals on a one-on-one basis who have similar backgrounds and diagnosis. Friendships in the infertility arena can become difficult because while the goal is for people to find success, if you are one of the ones who hasn’t yet, you struggle between being happy for your friend but sad for what you want so badly.  We want to be able to connect you to people who are where you are, and reconnect you with someone else if you just don’t click or your penpal finds success and it’s hard for you to handle.  We are hoping this project will help some overcome the feeling of being alone when talking to a group about your story is too much.  Since this is National Infertility Awareness Week, we encourage you to #startasking for what you need so you can get that support. We hope that the pen pal project will make it a little easier for some of you.

If you are interested in participating, fill out the web form at this link and we will be in touch.

#startasking How does infertility impact loved ones?

Infertility doesn’t just impact the patient but their entire family and social circle as well. Family relationships can be particularly difficult to navigate after an infertility diagnosis. I asked my mother, Judy Horn, to write a blog post reflecting on how it feels to have a loved one with infertility. She shares her thoughts below. Thanks, Mom, for sharing your story.

– Elizabeth

In the late 1980s, when my daughters were small, I watched a movie on television. The story line was of a family with four daughters. As the story unfolded three of the daughters were either pregnant or had children and it was apparent that the other daughter was struggling with infertility. It was a Lifetime movie, full of drama and at the conclusion had a typical happy ending. I can remember thinking of my girls and hoping that I never had to deal with that situation. For some reason, perhaps a vague premonition of events to come, I never forgot that movie. And so today, nearly thirty years later, I am sitting at my computer trying to find the adequate words to describe what it is like to have a loved one with infertility.

kinder

A Polaroid of Judy with Elizabeth at her kindergarten registration in the early 1980s.

When my daughter Elizabeth finally told me about her struggle with infertility she was a couple of years into it. I can remember immediately thinking that this would be an easy fix. She was working with a doctor and I was pretty confident that they would find a solution and before I knew it she would be pregnant. At the time I had no idea how complicated it would become and how low the success rate is. I can remember waiting for months for information. Because of the nature of this disease and because Elizabeth was like most women dealing with infertility, we didn’t talk much about the process, so, I began searching the internet for any information I could on the subject of infertility.  When I would see or talk to her I would look for any indication that she was or was not pregnant and as the months passed the assurance I had felt before about the “easy fix” began to evaporate. I became frustrated and just wanted to do something, anything that would help, but there was nothing I could really do. At one point I began to feel guilty and wonder if in some way this was my fault, that I had done something during my pregnancy that resulted in Elizabeth’s infertility.

I often worry about saying the wrong thing, about saying something unintentionally that will be hurtful or inappropriate. There is a list of words and phrases not to say to someone dealing with infertility, but sometimes it’s difficult to remember and I know I’ve said things without thinking. When that happens, I feel so bad and I get angry with myself for not getting it right. Once the words are out, there is nothing that can take them back and never the right words to express my regret for speaking them.

I began to feel guilty and wonder if in some way this was my fault.

Eventually, three years ago Elizabeth did become pregnant. We were going away together on a weekend trip and when I stopped by to pick her up, for some reason I had a good feeling she was pregnant. She said nothing about it, but when I had to give her an injection that evening, I was even surer that I was right. The next day we went shopping and I sat while she tried on clothing and enjoyed the fashion show. The good feeling grew as I noted the number of shorts and skirts that had elastic or drawstring waists. Sadly, the good feeling would not last more than a few more hours. Elizabeth had gone for blood work that morning and received a call as we were shopping that her numbers were down and the two little ones that had implanted after IVF were no longer living. We drove back to the hotel in silence, Liz crying quietly and me struggling to concentrate on my driving as the tears blurred my vision. I spent that afternoon watching her sleep, feeling helpless and useless, knowing there was nothing to do but just be there and that seemed incredibly insignificant.

Elizabeth and Judy at Antiques Roadshow in Detroit, the day after learning of Elizabeth's miscarriage.

Elizabeth and Judy at Antiques Roadshow in Detroit, the day after learning of Elizabeth’s miscarriage.

Several months later Elizabeth had her last embryo transfer. It was unsuccessful. I have five living grandchildren that give so much happiness. I am thankful for them every day. However, I will forever be reminded of Elizabeth’s children and mourn their loss. There is a list that will never end of things that I will miss with them. I will never give them a bath or have the joy of watching them grow, run my fingers through their soft hair, tell them how much I love them or hear their sweet voices. I will always long to know what they would have looked like and I will never forget them.

There are many words I could use to describe the past five years. Just of few of them are disappointment, guilt, worry, regret, loss, love and balance. Balance because I have to balance my feelings about all of this and remember to appreciate the good things and not dwell too much on the sadness. I have much to be thankful for.

Last and most importantly, I love her so much and I am proud. I am so proud of Elizabeth and how she has taken a personal tragedy and made it into something that will help others cope with their own heartaches. In just two years ART of Infertility, an exhibit she created, has helped others tell their stories and deal with their own infertility journeys. It has grown into an organization that educates, raises awareness and provides a creative outlet and a community of support for those experiencing the effects of their own infertility disease. I will never know how many people she has touched with her work or the effect that it will have on them and the lives of others, but I am confident that this legacy she is creating will be long-lasting and a catalyst for positive change for many years to come.

#startasking What about men and infertility?

Infertility is often looked at as a disease that only affects women. In reality, infertility is caused by female factor and male factor equally at 30% each. In the balance of cases, the infertility is the result of both partners or unexplained. Even when the disease is not a direct result of issues with a male partner, infertility has a huge impact on men. Unfortunately, men’s stories are not heard as frequently.

ART of Infertility is interested in telling diverse stories of infertility, and is always honored to share the stories of men. We’re very excited to have been invited by Dr. Paul Turek of The Turek Clinic in Beverly Hills and San Francisco, to hold a pop-up art exhibit in his clinic in San Francisco on Thursday June 16th from 7 – 9 pm, in honor of Men’s Health Week. We’ll be sharing the artwork and stories of men and their families along with food and art making stations. If you’re in the area, we hope you’ll attend. In the meantime, you can learn more about male fertility and infertility from Dr. Turek here and read and listen to the personal story of Bret, an ART of IF participant in Southern California, and his family below. Bret reflects on the experience of miscarriage and trying to decide whether to continue or end treatment.  This post does contain images of children and parenting.

– Elizabeth

Bret with his son Cole, who was conceived via Inter-uterine insemination, or IUI.

Bret with his son Cole, who was conceived via Inter-uterine insemination, or IUI.

“I knew the moment the doctor came in to do the ultrasound. I saw his actions and he didn’t even have to say anything. I’ve done enough ultrasounds with him before and I kind of knew how they went and he was triple checking everything and I knew, this was not good. She didn’t want to accept it the first time and it was difficult. I kind of knew the writing was on the wall. Maybe we also approached her second pregnancy in a different way. I didn’t want to tell anybody until the end of the process. She was just so happy being pregnant and I tried to advise her, this is nobody’s business but ours. It was tough because I had that in my mind that it wasn’t going well and she was so ecstatic being pregnant. We were in two very different places at the same time. I just tried to do what I could. There was also a lot of work stuff going on at the same time so I wasn’t here for the 3 weeks when this all happened. I was at work almost he whole time so it was not a good time, at all, for anyone.”

“The only thing I can do is support her. Be there for her, a shoulder to cry on. She needs to get these emotions out so that’s what I try to do. I’m not very good at it but I try.”

Bret_004_men-and-infertility“I guess I don’t have a support, I guess I don’t. I don’t really talk to anybody about it. I have my ways that I guess I try to let things out and deal with it but I don’t talk to anybody. I like to go out in the wilderness and I usually go with a group of friends and we go backpacking or go walk up a mountain or something cool and well, last July we had our family vacation. We did a little anniversary thing and got away and we came home and I just said, I’m leaving. I’m going. I just went and walked out in the mountains by myself for about 4 days. This was about 6 weeks after the miscarriage. It helped. It wasn’t the cure I was looking for but it was helpful and that’s it and then it was back to work and back to the grind and I really haven’t dealt with it, I just try to put it behind me.”

Bret, Erica, and Cole at their home in Southern California.

Bret, Erica, and Cole at their home in Southern California.

Click on the clip below to hear audio of Bret and his wife, Erica, discussing whether to continue or end treatment.

 

 

#startasking When to start thinking about your fertility.

If you’re trying to conceive, it’s important to know when you should seek testing for infertility. If you have any previously know conditions that might contribute to infertility, it doesn’t hurt to consult a physician for advice right away. Otherwise, the guideline is after a year of trying to conceive for those under 35, and after six months of trying to conceive for those over 35. In today’s post, Danielle reflects on pros and cons for thinking about your fertility before you’re ready to start trying to have a baby. 

When to Start Thinking About Your Fertility

by Danielle Bucco

It can never be too early to think about any potential health concerns. For many health issues, early detection can sometimes be key to a quicker and easier treatment. However, thinking about things too far ahead of time can often lead to more stress and take away from living in the moment. When it comes to infertility, there is never going to be a right or wrong time to start thinking about it, it all depends on each individual and what they are comfortable with. For many, you don’t think about it until you are trying to conceive and are running into complications. For others such as myself, it is a constant thought even if there is no plan on conceiving any time in the near future. So what are some of the pros and cons of thinking about infertility early on?

Pros:

  • If there is a problem, you can detect it early and have more time to try and heal. As many people know the earlier an illness or issue is detected, the better the treatment will be and the more likely for a full recovery. There can be many different issues that can affect someone’s fertility. Getting regular checkups and making sure everything is functioning properly is going to be the best way to prepare for any future complications. Of course problems can develop, but getting regular checks should help put the mind at ease until it comes time to start conceiving.
  • Live a healthier lifestyle. If someone is worried about any potential health concerns, one of the best ways to try and avoid the concerns is to live a healthier lifestyle. This can mean many different things for different people. For some it could be changing their diet or to exercise more, while for others it could be to quit smoking or cut back on drinking. Whatever it is, if it is going to lead to a healthier body it will also lead to a healthier mind and hopefully help to relieve some of the stress of thinking about infertility.
  • Gives time to accept and/or consider other alternatives. For those who have gone through infertility, healing is a constant process that takes time and support. If it is discovered earlier on that there are going to be some complications when trying to conceive, it gives the individual more time to come to understand this fact and begin the healing process. It is never going to get easier but hopefully the time will help the idea of potential treatments that are right for them or alternative forms of becoming a parent.

vectorstock_1068869

Cons:

  • Worrying about something that might not be true. Someone who has not gone through the more extensive check ups might still be worried about whether or not they will be able to conceive. One of the problems with this is that there could be no issue and someone can spend a lot of time and energy worrying about something that they don’t have to worry about. If anyone worries the way I do, it can sometimes be an all-consuming event that affects sleep, diet, or even social situations. Worrying like this for no reason can really affect a person’s state of living and would be hard to accept if it was all for no reason.
  • Creates stress that could stop you from noticing all the happy things in life. Thinking about infertility so far in advance could lead to missing out on all of the positive aspects of your life that should be celebrated. When energy and focus is spent on something stressful and negative, it can sometimes take over the mind and cast a shadow on so many of the great things that life has to offer. Many people tend to miss opportunities because their minds are constantly occupied with stressful thoughts that bring their mood and emotions down. By trying to lessen the stress, you could be opening yourself up to countless experiences and opening the mind to new ideas and thoughts that could help make life even better.

Overall, there are pros and cons to thinking about infertility earlier on in life and that is something that each individual needs to decide for themselves. I am one of the people who worries about infertility way before I plan on having children and I have run into these pros and cons personally but that does not mean that others will experience the same things. With this week being National Infertility Awareness Week, now is the time to consider whether or not it is something you want to start thinking about or think about later when you want to actually have children but being aware that infertility issues exist is half the battle.

If you know you want to have children one day, you may want to consider having a “baby deadline test”. Click here for more info.