The ART of Infertility as a Research Project

by Maria Novotny

As Elizabeth mentioned in last week’s blog post, we have been a bit quiet this summer. And as you may have learned from reading her post, while we were quiet, we certainly were busy both personally and professionally.

This summer I spent the majority of my time working on my dissertation titled, The ART of Infertility: Conceiving a Participatory Health Intervention Community. As some of you may know, I am fourth year PhD student in Rhetoric & Writing at Michigan State University. My research then looks at how women navigate an infertility diagnosis and use art as method of personal reflection and activism (read more at my website).

This coming May I will graduate and hopefully take a job as an assistant professor of writing and rhetoric at a university somewhere in the United States. My responsibilities in this role would include teaching writing courses ranging from health and medical writing to rhetorical research methods and multimodal composition. But – to first receive a job offer – I need to have a completed dissertation. Hence, a summer of writing all about infertility.

Waking each morning knowing that I would once again be thinking and theorizing about infertility allowed me to really take time to process my own journey. I actually went back to graduate school when my husband and I were first having trouble getting pregnant. As an English major in college, I had always wanted to go and receive my master’s degree so that I could teach at the collegiate level. With no pregnancy on the horizon, and having just moved to a new state for Kevin’s job, I applied and was accepted into Michigan State’s Critical Studies in Literacy and Pedagogy Master’s program.

In this program, I spent two years taking graduate level composition and education courses as well as teaching sections first-year writing. All the while, I quietly continued to try and get pregnant naturally. Graduate school was simply another distraction, until I enrolled in a course titled “Queer Rhetorics.”

Reading Hennessy’s article made me think how much infertility is tied to the production of materiality – literally being capable of producing a child. What happens though when our bodies can’t make a baby?

This course shifted my entire professional identity. As I read books and articles for this class, I started to see my own struggle with feeling often – abnormal. Especially in the case of sex. Few, if anyone I knew, could understand how messed up my sex life was because of infertility. But in reading queer theory, I could begin to find traces of myself in the other stories shared with me.

I began to eventually write reflections on the connections I was making to infertility and began to feel energized in sharing my own struggles and finding a space for infertility in my studies. In fact, part of my final project of this course resulted in several pieces of creative writing. For example, “The House” is a short vignette that is part of The ART of Infertility’s exhibit. My engagement in this course led me to apply for a PhD in Rhetoric & Writing – and long story short — ended up once again at MSU.

For the past fours years now, I have been writing, researching and presenting on what I call “rhetorics of infertility” which examines the meaning-making process of navigating an infertility diagnosis. Partnering with The ART of Infertility allowed me to explore this topic further by looking at how multimodal composition, such as creating art, opens spaces for personal validation as well surfaces a desire to use art as a method of activism.

Facilitating a micro workshop in Houston with the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition

Facilitating a micro workshop in Houston with the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition

As I begin my last year in graduate school, I still am not pregnant nor am I in treatment. But I am part of a wonderful organization – The ART of Infertility. And look forward to continuing this research as a co-director with Elizabeth. Through this partnership, we look forward to building a digital archive to provide greater access to narratives and artwork we have collected for the infertility community as a resource for support groups.

As a project that uses art exhibitions as a method to translate embodied, and often invisible or unrecognized challenges of an infertility diagnosis, we hope to continue bringing the exhibit to a variety of audiences. This summer, we were fortunate enough to travel to The Turek Clinic and share this work with physicians, fertility specialists and therapists. And this fall, we are thrilled to announce that we will be traveling internationally to present the exhibition for Merck’s Patient Day in Switzerland on November 9th. The purpose of Patient Day is to help educate staff members about the experience of infertility, and the other diseases and conditions, treated by the pharmaceuticals made by Merck.


We’ll be flying into Geneva and look forward to collecting infertility stories in the surrounding areas while in Europe.

We haven’t finalized our exact travel dates yet, but for those who follow us in Europe, we will be on your continent for the second week in November, give or take.  Please contact us at if you would like to be interviewed for the project.

And thank you to all who have supported this project throughout its journey. Elizabeth and I are truly amazed at your continued enthusiasm for this organization.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

How I Spent My Summer Vacation
A post by Elizabeth

You haven’t heard much from us this summer. We’ve taken a bit of a break from our regular social media posts to work behind the scenes. It’s been very busy.

After working as a photographer for the University of Michigan’s Department of Pathology for just over 16 years, I accepted the new position of Communications Specialist early this summer. I’ll be spending less time on imaging and more time managing the content for the department’s website as well as Inside Pathology magazine, and our annual report.


Dressed for the morgue.

Within minutes of accepting my new roll, my partner unexpectedly announced his retirement. They don’t plan to back fill my old position and haven’t yet filled his, so I’ve been trying to manage it all since June 24th. This has meant that I’m on call for autopsy service every morning and get little else done!

A job to cover autopsy photography has finally been posted and closes on Friday. I’m hopeful that we can get someone in to relieve me soon and I can spend more time on the new job that I’m excited to dive into.

I worked with a delightful high school student this summer to get our artwork and supplies organized at our storage unit. It took us some time but everything is so much easier to find now. It looks like it might not be much longer before we need a bigger space. We’re all paid up through March but this will be one of our upcoming needs for sponsorship.


Artwork and supplies in an orderly fashion.

We’re hard at work on our 501(c)(3) paperwork. Our articles of incorporation have been filed and it won’t be long until we’re a full-fledged non-profit. We’ve started assembling our board and are excited about what our non-profit status will mean for the sustainability of the project.

My sisters, my mom, and I went to see Dolly Parton in concert in August. Seeing Dolly was on my mom’s bucket list and attending the show induced tears of happiness. Dolly is an amazing performer and I view her as a great child free role model. It was great to spend an evening with Dolly and some of the nearest and dearest ladies in my life.


Waiting for Dolly to take the stage.

My nieces came to Michigan for their annual summer visit. This year they stayed with us for 3 weeks. It’s never long enough. There were play dates, night time glow parties at my parents’ pool, and we tried our hand at our first batches of French macarons.

Our first attempt at macarons. Not too bad!

Our first attempt at macarons. Not too bad!

I have to admit that the macarons totally intimidated me. I only agreed because my middle niece really wanted to try making them. It ended up being a great project that we all enjoyed doing together and I learned that I shouldn’t be afraid to try things that scare me. Well, at least recipes that scare me ;).

I took a trip to the REACH Art Studio in Lansing where we’ll be showing some work from the permanent collection during the Cultural Rhetorics Conference at Michigan State University at the end of this month. Maria, Robin Silbergleid, and I will also be presenting at the conference. I hope you’ll come see the exhibit on Friday September 30th from 6 – 8 pm. 

We’re teaming up with the University of Michigan Center for Reproductive Medicine for a cigar box art workshop on October 10. We’ve also been prepping for a wind chime art workshop with the Utah Infertility Resource Center and the talk we’ll be presenting at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Scientific Congress in Salt Lake City on October 18. We have another exciting trip and exhibit coming up in November and we’ll be announcing the location once we have our travel finalized.

We'll have a variety of materials available to create wind chimes for pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day.

We’ll have a variety of materials available to create wind chimes for pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day.

This summer has brought some challenges for me in navigating my infertility. Mainly, how it’s affecting socializing with my fertile friends. I’m finding it hard to spend time with the families who have kids around the same age my twins would be had they survived. It’s made for some cancelled plans and afternoons in tears. Fortunately, my friends are willing to stick by while I try to figure out how to handle these situations.

Between this and the crazy work schedule, I’ve been utilizing all of my tools for self-care. Many days, on the way home from work in my vanpool, I color. I love the images in the Coloring Conception adult coloring book. Don’t forget that we’re going to be doing an online exhibit of images from the book this fall and you’re invited to participate. You can download the pages from a link in creator, Buffy Trupps’, blog post. Just scroll down past the video and enter your name and email address and the files will be mailed to you. Those who participate have the chance to win a Mindful Fertility Journal.

I recently finished coloring this page of Coloring Conceptions.

I recently finished coloring this page of Coloring Conceptions.

Finally, over the weekend, I took the first non-work vacation in, well, I can’t actually remember the last non-work trip I took. I met up with my friend Jo in Chicago. Our friendship is one of the many I have infertility to thank for. We spent time exploring the city, eating great food and getting inspired by exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago.


With Jo in the Windy City.

Maria and I are in the process of hiring social media interns so we can get back to bringing you some great content every day of the week.

We’re always looking for those interested in sharing their stories through our blog as guest posters, those who would like to do an oral history interview, and those who would like to share their artwork through our exhibits. We invite you to learn more at our website. Feel free to contact me via email at or tweet us @artofif.





The Transforming Power of Visual Art

We’re kicking off fall with a guest post from The Mindful Fertility Project’s Buffy Trupp, MA, LMFT, RCC. In this post, Buffy not only speaks to the transforming power of visual art, but invites you to participate in a virtual exhibit we are hosting this fall, using images from her new fertility coloring book, Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success. Read on to learn more.

The Transforming Power of Visual Art
Buffy Trupp

Infertility certainly presents like macabre art:  a genetic, physiological, hormonal condition that instantly obliterates our participation in the nature of things, the stream of time.

The attitudes and choices in how we each deal with infertility vary enormously, depending on age, gender, severity of diagnosis and many other personal factors.  But regardless of the medical treatments we decide on, we also choose to adopt a story of infertility: how we got it, how we live with it or through it, and what it means to us in the greater context of our lives.

Stories are essential for human beings.  The human psyche is hard-wired to make meaning.   Unbeknownst to us, and throughout our lives, the psyche connects the seemingly random events that mark and shape our reality and weaves them into a series of images or stories.

These images have great power.   They can make us or break us.  They can make the difference between intolerable suffering or amazing grace.  They can be medicine or poison.

We are born into some images, absorb them as children and live them out without ever knowing it.  They live deep within our cells, in our ovaries, our uterus, in our heart and inform our every move.  These stories can indeed be the most insidious.

But there are also healing images, healing stories; images that inspire and transform us, empower and renew us, restore and liberate us.

Apart from stirring our deepest, darkest fears of obliteration, is it possible that infertility also offers us a healing story?  A story that frees us to heal our lives and shed old, unhealthy beliefs?

Many infertile women believe the death of the embryo, sperm, egg or new born child indicates they are unhealthy.

Did you know it is the ability to surrender, to yield, and the willingness to die for the

greater good that differentiates a healthy cell from an unhealthy cell?

When we allow something to die within us, the formations of our old life, fierce guardians of habit and pattern, fall away, giving birth to a new way of inhabiting our body and mind and we heal.

Death is essential to life.

When did we forget this?

When loss is understood as an essential aspect of health,  women struggling to have children begin a healing story.

Healing stories transform even the most difficult of realities into affirmations of life.

Visual art captures this transformation.

The Mindful Fertility Project and The ART of Infertility believe that the art we create and the stories we tell while trying to conceive are central to our well-being.

We acknowledge both the necessity and benefit of art within the reproductive health field.

We are a move toward acknowledging creativity itself as healing.

And the result, while perhaps not quantifiable, can be measured by the quality of life and transformation experienced by all those who participate.

The images below are from a new fertility coloring book, Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success.

The colored images and the brief narratives that accompany them are inspirational, evoking both a sense of beauty and an immersion in the most elemental aspects of nature.  The words and visual images reveal that life can imitate art; that we can become the things that we see and imagine; that creation is established through our ongoing relationship with our body, with ourself.

“When I color, my body feels alive.”



“When I color, my body feels beautiful.”


“When I color, my body transforms.”


Be the artist of a new narrative – a new series of images.  Let your canvas be the entirety of your embodied vulnerability, the tenderness of your heart, and the brilliance of your creativity. You can re-write your story, re-color your image, re-wire your nervous system, and find new meaning. No, this is not easy, and will take everything you have… and more.

But new life is already inside you.

While it may seem hopeless at times, you have capacities that you did not have as a child when the original stories, the original images were passed onto you: images of what it means to be a woman, how to metabolize unmet longing, what loss symbolizes, images of your place in the world.

Immerse yourself now in creativity. Choose a color and begin a new image, a new story. Feel a new pathway emerging. And allow it to come into consciousness  – through your art, lighting up your body, your nervous system, and fertilizing your heart with love.

You have not lost your chance.


The Mindful Fertility Project & The ART of Infertility are publishing a virtual exhibit this fall.

Go to and immediately download 4 FREE images from our new adult coloring book, Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success.

Submit 1 colored image on or before December 15th to be featured in our virtual art exhibit AND for a chance to win 1 of 3 Mindful Fertility Journals valued at ($397) each.

The Mindful Fertility Journal is a virtual, mind-body fertility program that teaches you exactly how to optimize your fertile health naturally. It includes 28 unique mindfulness meditations, 14 easy-to-use self-acupressure videos, 12 easy-to-use yoga videos along with nutritional guidelines and meal plans. PLUS 6 incredible bonuses.

We will publish the virtual exhibit at the beginning of 2017; a compilation of all the colored images submitted.

Once the exhibit is published, we announce the winners of our Mindful Fertility Journal GIVEAWAY.

AGAIN, go to to immediately download 4 FREE images from Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success, to learn more about our virtual art exhibit AND to be eligible to win 1 of 3 FREE virtual mind-body programs to optimize your fertile health naturally.

I hope you’ll join us.

All my very best, always,

Buffy Trupp