Masculinity & My Infertility Journey

 

A few years ago, Kevin wrote a blog post for RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association reflecting on the challenges of being a guy and dealing with infertility. Today, we are running an audio recording of his piece. In it, Kevin confronts a tough question for men dealing with infertility.

Men are expected to “grow up” and “take care of the family” but what happens when these traditional expectations cannot be reached?

Kevin with his wife.

Listen to him talk about coming to the realization that he may never see his wife pregnant, may never feel their baby kick inside of her.

You can read his full story here.

The Visual Minimal – Elisa’s Story

by Elisa Fox

Miscarriage – a word that was hardly part of my vocabulary. A word I never thought would apply to ME. That’s an “other” word. You know, those things that only happen to miscellaneous “other” people, like cancer, horrific car accidents, and house fires. An improbability, but now, part of my story.

I was 24, married for three years, and happily naïve. I found myself pregnant after a couple months of trying and we were thrilled! Though it seemed unreal, I continued onward with a secret and a grin and anxiously awaited my first ultrasound. I took a couple more pregnancy tests just to be sure, and those pretty pink lines reassured me every time.

Then, I started spotting. My heart sank. I frantically searched online for answers, something that would tell me this was normal. But somehow, I knew. I knew it was ending.

A few days later, I was no longer pregnant.

There was now no due date to anticipate.

An ultrasound appointment to cancel.

Announcement gifts to return… or hide… or throw away..

My grief was crippling and confusing. How could I feel this much grief over something so short?

I tried convincing myself that it was no big deal, we’ll try again in a couple weeks, and it was my own fault for getting excited so soon. I even tried to go to work the next morning.

The next few months (who am I kidding, the next year) were a blur of depression, isolation, and heartache. Was my pregnancy even real? Was it all just a dream? I had no morning sickness, no bump, no sonogram. I was in a fog and did not know how to comprehend what was happening. All I knew is that if I became pregnant again as quickly as possible, maybe I could forget this ever happened. I was obsessed with figuring out what was wrong with me, as if answers would heal my wounded heart. I started taking every vitamin I could find and demanded my doctor test me for multiple issues. It all came back fine, to my dismay. I just wanted an answer.

Everyone around me had no trouble getting and staying pregnant, why is this happening to me?

The isolation was suffocating. Not many people knew that I was pregnant, and if they did, it didn’t seem like they knew how to respond. “At least you were only six weeks”, or, my personal favorite, “at least you know you can get pregnant.” These statements were only obvious reminders that they have no idea what I’m going through. I stayed at home as much as possible because I was terrified of losing control of my emotions. I was so fragile. A pregnancy announcement or bump picture on Facebook would send me into a malfunction for the next several weeks. Well-meaning people could easily set me off into a tailspin of sadness without even realizing it.

The days passed and I did what I needed to do to function. I set niceties aside and focused on myself. Medication, unfollowing certain people on social media, seeing a counselor, and diving into art were all part of working through my grief. It took me a long time to accept that it was OK to grieve. I had nothing to show for my pregnancy, only memories. I felt like a fraud.

Over a year had passed since my miscarriage and I found the courage to attend a local support group for pregnancy & infant loss.

I shared my story when it was my turn and saying the story out loud from beginning to end was so therapeutic. I had replayed those dark days in my head over and over, but saying it out loud provided a type of release that I can’t explain. Seeing the other families there and knowing just by their presence that we had something in common was so comforting. Seeing mothers and fathers nodding their heads and shedding tears of empathy while I told my story was incredible and so validating. I’m not a fraud, I’m not alone, and I’m not the only one who has felt this way.

Mis-Conception

Around this time I opened an online shop for my art called The Visual Minimal. I am a full time graphic designer and began making artistic prints for my own home and memorial prints for the women I met in the support group. I made the Mis-Conception print to memorialize the loss of my pregnancy, a series of pink lines representing a pregnancy test that fades in and out. It served as a validating reminder that what I went through was real and profound. That print blossomed into an Infertility&Loss series that represents all spectrums of this journey. My hope is that these prints can serve as a beacon of hope that reminds you not only of your sweet baby, but that you’re not alone.

I created the Infertility&Loss series at The Visual Minimal as a reminder that the grief this journey can bring is overwhelming, but so is God’s promise that these dark days will pass. I believe art can speak to our souls in ways words simply cannot. I would love nothing more than to use the gifts God has given me to encourage other families going through the same trials that I have experienced.

Learn more about Elisa’s artwork at https://www.thevisualminimal.com and find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheVisualMinimal/

Love’s Conception – Third Party Reproduction

Tomiko Fraser Hines – Photo by Guy Viau

Learning you will need to turn to third party reproduction in order to have a chance at experiencing a pregnancy is a hard thing to wrap your head around. Tomiko Fraser Hines used the art of poetry to find healing.

We first learned of her poem, “Love’s Conception…For My Boys,”  during our National Infertility Awareness Week event in Los Angeles in 2015. Then, the next month, she recited it for us during an Advocacy Day mini interview in D.C. You can #listenup by playing the audio, or reading the poem below. Thank you, Tomiko, for sharing your story! We look forward to seeing you in Los Angeles when we are there for our Men’s Health Month event in June!

“I wrote this poem in November of 2012 when I was about seven months pregnant with the boys. I was in the midst of all of the concerns that come with the way they were conceived, which was via an anonymous egg donor. And, basically, that they would not have (to my knowledge, I’m not a scientist) but to my knowledge they wouldn’t have any of my genetics. So, I had a lot of concerns about that and I needed to find a way to come to peace with it. I write, and words just kind of come through me. I sat down and I wrote this poem for them, but also for me, and it’s called, Love’s conception… For My Boys and it goes a somethin’ like this…”

You won’t have my eyes, but you will benefit from my vision.
You won’t have my mouth, but I will teach you how to use your voice.
You won’t have my ears, but your listening will be finely tuned.
You won’t have my DNA, but my blood will forever nourish you.
You were not my conception, but I will birth greatness in you.
We won’t reflect each other on a physical level, yet we will mirror each other in wondrous ways.
I will guide you.
I will shape you.
I will encourage you.
I will free you.
I will love you.
Hello! My name is Tomiko, and I am your mother.

Undeniable Proof of Infertility – Memorializing a Journey

Traveling with this project, Elizabeth and I have had the privilege to listen and learn about all of you and your infertility stories. More recently, a few of you have been kind enough to share your stories and art with me for my dissertation “The ART of Infertility: A Community Project Rhetorically Conceiving Failed Fertility.” This dissertation emerged out of my collaborative partnership with Elizabeth and The ART of Infertility.

Being moved by meeting all of you, I sought to write a dissertation that did not scandalize infertility. Rather, I wanted to write a dissertation that honored the difficult journey we all need to endure because of infertility.  Simply, I wanted to share your stories and remind others that infertility matters. It may not be well-understood, but art can be a method to make visible the stories our infertile bodies carry.

As I finished writing my dissertation a few weeks ago, my body began to feel drained. Writing your stories, reflecting on my own infertility, the dissertation itself felt as if I had just given birth. Even my husband was exhausted! It has been an act of mental, emotional and financial labor — something many of us in the infertility world can understand. To memorialize this sense of fatigue, I created “72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof.” It sums up the 72 periods that have come and gone in the process of writing this dissertation. I share the piece below as an homage to my infertility journey, as well as a thank you to all of you who have influenced not only this piece of scholarship but who have shaped who I am today: A Strong, Infertile, Woman — now with a PhD — because of all of you.

72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof
Maria Novotny
acrylic on canvas

72 Tears: Undeniable Proof

I was young, 24 years-old, when I first encountered difficulties conceiving. Not ready to face the facts that I may need to undergo fertility treatments if I ever wanted to carry a child on my own, I decided to go to graduate school. It was my escape where I quietly hoped and prayed that by some magic power I would naturally become pregnant. Yet, as time passed on, I had to slowly face the fact that magic nor graduate school would make me become pregnant.

“72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof” is a data-visualization of the six years, twelve months and 72 periods that serve as undeniable proof of my infertility. During the first few years, when I began my period tears would trickle down my face. I mourned the sadness that yet another month had passed without conception. However, as time passed and to hear the stories of others who have had to live with infertility, my own strength increased. No longer did every period begin with tears running down my face.

I made this piece shortly after I turned in my dissertation to my committee. It serves as an homage to the journey I have taken both professionally and personally as I work to make experiences of infertility better understood.

The Poetry of Two Women in their Own Voices

It’s National Infertility Awareness Week (#niaw) and this year’s theme is #listenup. We’re kicking off the week with two poems from our archive. You can listen to the poetry below to hear perspectives from Tamsin and Michelle. Do you have a poem you’ve written about your experience? We’d love for you to record it and send it to us! #artspeaks #artheals

Tamsin Prasad
My Nightmare

Tamsin with her pup at their home in Northern California

“We don’t have insurance coverage for infertility. It’s added stress and guilt that my body is costing us so much money. We moved here with my husband’s work and I’m trying to get licensure as a marriage and family therapist so I’m doing unpaid hours at the moment. It just seems like my fault because my husband is working and his body is working as it should be. I feel like I take a lot of it on myself really.”

“I got my website up and running and did some photography and some poetry and just kind of surprised myself with all of the creativity that was coming out. My therapist kind of likened it to birthing my artistic self. It’s been quite a big thing. It’s been really helpful, I think. Even more so with the poetry. I’ve been writing not just about the infertility but stuff that’s happened in my life and my childhood and friends and I think it’s just brought up so much emotion that’s been cleared out that I didn’t even realize was there to be cleansed so that was really good.”

Michelle Baranowski
The Middle Place

Michelle, right, with her wife Mandy on their wedding day.

While other kids were saying they wanted to be an astronaut or a princess, Michelle always wanted to be a mom. She could have never guessed at that age that she would not be able to accomplish her lifelong dream of conceiving a child. As she grew up, her childhood innocence was shattered and she realized that it was never going to be as easy as she thought it would be.

When Michelle was a young adult she came out as a lesbian so she knew that there was going to be a less “organic” way for her to conceive. She just knew she was going to have to go about becoming a mother in a different way. Still, she believed that it would happen and couldn’t foresee the struggles that she was going to face in the future to accomplish her lifelong dream.

She is now 30 years old and, after years of trying, she has still not had the ability to get pregnant. It has been a long journey of pain and sorrow, as well as constantly getting her hopes up only to have them smashed by each negative result. She feels as if she is just coexisting in the middle place between pure joy and devastating pain, which is something that many people dealing with infertility can relate too. She decided to share her poem with others so that they can catch a glimpse of what she is feeling as she continues on this journey to having a child.

Gearing Up for Advocacy Day – Andrena’s Story

Thanks so much to all of you who applied for our The ART of Infertility Advocacy Day grant! We wish we had the funds to help everyone who applied. The staff at RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, was kind to choose the recipient and chose Andrena King who will be representing the state of South Carolina! In today’s post, we hear a bit about Andrena’s infertility journey and what she’s been doing to advocate for change. Thanks, Andrena, for sharing your story!
-Elizabeth

My husband Chris and I were married October 2013 and we decided to try to conceive two years ago. After actively trying for a year we started the process of getting basic tests done to make sure everything was working fine. One of the initial tests showed that I had a blocked fallopian tube so I was immediately referred to a fertility doctor by my gynecologist. Everything was happening so fast that initially I felt numb. I held my tears in until I went back to work and had a major breakdown in my supervisor’s office. I was heartbroken and afraid. 

We had a terrible experience at our first consultation. It was like we were on an assembly line. We were rushed in and tossed to people we were meeting for the first time who seemed more concerned about signing us up for the next group of couples getting IVF. My husband and I were devastated and no one cared. So, we took matters into our own hands and started doing research. We started our search for other fertility specialists in the area and reached out to friends who had overcome infertility for guidance. I found the RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association website and was blown away by resources available there.

While reviewing our health plans, we realized that our benefits included the opportunity to receive a virtual second opinion online. We had our tests and charts reviewed by a fertility specialist. While he couldn’t confirm that my fallopian tube was actually blocked, he did rule out male factor infertility. We found another fertility doctor that was a great fit for us. Our new doctor was recommended by mutual friends. As we talked during our first appointment, we knew we were in the right hands by his compassion and his ability to explain options. He advised that the next step was to have a laparoscopy done to see what was actually going on.

During the surgery, it was discovered that one of my fallopian tubes was severely damaged and had to be removed. The damage was due to a previous surgery I had to have a cyst removed while I was in college. My left fallopian tube was blocked by a cyst so that was also removed.  We felt optimistic after gaining answers from the laparoscopy and decided to move forward by taking fertility medication and trying on our own for two months. The third month, we had our first IUI which wasn’t successful. Month four brought another unsuccessful IUI.

Based on what the doctors said, it was the perfect opportunity for us to conceive because everything was in place. We were very disappointed and decided that mentally, emotionally and physically we needed a break. We are currently taking a break from treatments and have become very involved in raising infertility awareness in our community.

While busy with treatments and doctor appointments, I recognize the limited access to resources and support in my city related to infertility. After seeing the guidelines needed to start a support group, my cousin and I decided to start a RESOLVE Peer Led Support Group in Columbia, SC. Our first meeting was held in August of 2016. The group is one of two in the entire state of South Carolina. When our journey started, Chris and I quickly realized that our insurance plans would not pay for any of our doctor bills or treatments. This set back and financial burden prompted us to advocate to change this injustice, not only for ourselves but for others in our state. After months of meeting with legislators, the S.10 Legislation was pre-filed in December of 2016. The bill requests that insurance companies cover the diagnosis and treatment of infertility procedures. The legislation has some exclusions but this is a big step in the right direction. The legislation is currently in subcommittee waiting to be discussed by the Senate and House. We have great support from our family, friends, co-workers and non-profit organization WREN (Women’s Rights Empowerment Network) advocating with us to get this legislation passed.

I applied for the Advocacy Day grant to bring awareness to the lack of insurance coverage, legislation and support in my state for families trying to conceive. This has to change. I’m looking forward to learning how to properly interact with legislators to advocate for others on their journey to parenthood as well as collaborating with others who as passionate as I am about making a difference in our states. I hope to gain new friendships, guidance and be empowered to continue to advocate for others.

Chris and I remain positive that we will one day become parents as we rely heavily on our faith in God, prayers and support from loved ones.

Infertility Reminders in the Mailbox

Elizabeth Walker

The mailbox can be a dangerous place for those dealing with infertility. Receiving a baby shower invitation or a baby announcement can feel like a knife in the heart, or a punch in the gut. At least you usually have some idea they are headed your way. It’s the other random pieces of baby, child, and mom mail that give me the most trouble. One in particular.

mailbox_webI don’t have a problem with catalogs from Justice and American Girl or coupons from Babies R Us. I have 6 nieces an 2 nephews so those are places I shop. Every now and then I get an offer for life insurance from Gerber or an invitation to enroll my daughter in National American Miss pageants. I’m guessing that I just fit the demographic for Gerber and I imagine some of the stores I frequent with my nieces are responsible for the pageant requests. However, my blood pressure rises each time I open the mailbox to find an issue of Working Mother magazine.

If it weren’t for infertility, I would be a working mother now. When I pictured parenthood, I always saw myself balancing my children and my career. Sure, it would be a challenge but I was up for it. I get great pleasure from my work and envisioned my dedication to my career aspirations as a great model for my children and their future success, just as I feel my parents’ dedication to and love for their work influenced me. Working Mother magazine would be right up my alley. I’d likely read it cover to cover and check out any bonus content online.

I’m not sure how I got on their list. Again, maybe I’m just the right demographic, or maybe they are affiliated with one of the retail outlets I spend my money at. Maybe I even inadvertently signed up for it at some point when I neglected to read the fine print when I signed up to receive email notices. I tried for awhile to get off their list. An email to the publishing company, a comment on their Facebook Page. When that didn’t work I just started giving them to my working mother friends.

working-mother

Last year, I decided to reframe my relationship with the magazine by using it to make blackout poetry. If you’re not familiar with the technique, you take a page of text and do a quick scan of it, circling any words or phrases that jump out at you. Then, you go back through and can narrow those down, and use them to create a poem, blacking out the rest of the text around those words. It felt great to cut a page out of the magazine and circle words with my pencil, later using black paint to isolate the words that would form my poetry. I decided to cut the page out in the form of a woman holding a baby and then decoupaged it onto canvas. Here’s the final result.

Working-Non-Mother_web

Committed, worthy, successful, non-mother.

Shouldn’t have to win acceptance.

My own positive impact.

In the year since I made this piece, I’ve started receiving form letters from insurance companies about purchasing coverage for my “teen driver,” which makes me feel even further behind.

Maria and I will be leading a workshop on black out poetry at the Art/Not Terminal Gallery, located in the International Pavilion of the Seattle Center, next to Key Arena, on April 29 from 2 – 5 pm. We invite you to join us to create some black out poetry of your own. We’ll bring all of the supplies you need, including a variety of magazines and medical consent forms to choose from. However, we encourage you to bring your own forms, pieces of mail, etc. to use if you wish. You can purchase a ticket (it’s just $15) to reserve your spot at our blackout poetry Eventbrite page.

We hope to see you there!

Infertile Enough?

Today I am dedicating the blog to National Infertility Awareness Week and to the launch of Justine Brooks Froelker’s latest book The Mother of Second Chances, based on her blog Ever Upward releasing on April 17th. For five weeks 25 amazing women will share their stories of infertility and loss as part of this incredible blog tour, because together we can shatter the stigma. 

Yesterday Jody shared her story and tomorrow we will hear from Heather at Beat Infertility. We would love for you to participate by sharing these posts far and wide. We’d especially love to see your own broken silence by sharing your own infertility story using the hastags: #NIAW, #infertility and #EverUpward. 

When I first started trying to conceive, I was convinced I would get pregnant immediately. When I didn’t, I wasn’t too concerned. I’d been on hormonal birth control for over a decade and it can take some time for cycles to return to normal. However, as time passed, I was feeling more and more anxious and isolated.

Having turned to a support group after my sister-in-law died, I felt like I needed one for infertility. However, I didn’t feel like I had suffered enough. I hadn’t even started taking Clomid yet. Surely the support group would include members who had been through far more than I had. Would they feel like I was making a big deal out of nothing? Did I belong there?

After a year or so, I took the plunge and attended my first group. What I learned was, that, even though there were individuals in my group who had been dealing with infertility for much longer than I had, came from different backgrounds, and were at various stages of treatment, the emotions that we had were the same. They understood me in a way that others could not.

Still, in our pain, it was easy for us to judge each other and for us to compare stories. I was in the two-week-wait of my first intrauterine insemination (IUI) when I went to that first meeting. I had insurance coverage for IUI, so my husband and I decided that we would do 3 or 4 before considering moving on to IVF.  It didn’t take long and it was time to make that decision.

I didn’t want to do IVF. I mean, no one WANTS to but I was really struggling with it. It was a tough decision. One that took me seven months in therapy to make. I was resentful of all the decisions infertility was forcing me to make. The average person decides they want to have a baby, throws birth control out the window, and before they have a chance to second guess things, is pregnant. Infertility requires us to make decisions at every turn and gives us time to doubt each decision we make.

My husband and I decided that doing one cycle of IVF was the right choice for us. Here are the meds from the retrieval and two resulting frozen embryo transfers. On display at the A/NT Gallery in Seattle, April 1 – 30, 2017.

One of the things I was struggling with the most was how others might perceive my desire to be a parent if I wasn’t willing to go to any length to become one. If I never tried IVF, and moved on to adoption or living child free after my four unsuccessful IUIs, would that make me a less infertile infertile? It was something that I joked about with my fellow support group attendees to try to ease the tension but it really wasn’t that funny.

Through therapy, I was able to come to a point where I was comfortable making the decision that I felt was best for me and for my family, even if others may judge it. Dealing with infertility taught me that no one can truly know what they will do in a situation until they are faced with it. And, the right decision for one person, will be completely the opposite for the next, and that’s okay. Just because a person wasn’t willing to exhaust every financial, physical, and emotional resource, doesn’t mean that they didn’t want to be a parent badly enough. There’s no giving up. Just choosing a new goal, based on the hand that we’ve been dealt.

Eight years after I first started trying to conceive, I haven’t completely resolved my infertility. I’m not sure if my story will end as a parent, or as someone living child free. However, I’ve found peace, and my own infertility success story, through my work with The ART of Infertility.

I no longer judge myself based on what others would think of me and that’s part of why it’s so important to me to collect and distribute diverse stories of infertility through the ART of IF oral history project. I had a choice to pursue IVF or not. However, so many people deal with financial infertility and IVF is not even an option. We don’t hear those stories and they are important.

We often hear the stories that end with a baby. However, not every infertility story ends that way and the stories that don’t are important.

Infertility doesn’t discriminate. It affects people from all races. However, as one African American woman we interviewed said, “Infertility doesn’t look like me, and that can be lonely.” The infertility stories of men and women of color are important.

Your story, no matter where you are in your journey, is important. So, please, if you are debating whether you are “infertile enough” to attend an infertility support group, you are. If you are wondering whether you’re a less infertile infertile because you are choosing adoption over IVF or drawing the line at third party reproduction, you’re not. Don’t let what others may think keep you from finding support. We all have to make our own decisions and do better to respect the decisions that others make. We are all in this together.