Reflections on Reproductive Writes

Last week, we held our Reproductive Writes workshop at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Our marketing and communications intern, Kristen Mahan, attended the event and shares a reflection on that experience with us today. On Wednesday, starting at 7 pm, we’ll hold our Reproductive Writes workshop at Michigan State University. We have some spots left and would love to see you there. You can find out more and reserve your seat at http://bit.ly/reprowritesmsu2018tickets

Reflections on Reproductive Writes
by Kristen Mahan

As a new ART of Infertility marketing intern, attending the Reproductive Writes workshop at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh was extremely eye-opening. I have been working with The ART of Infertility for over two months, but I was never able to see the nonprofit in action. Viewing and reading the captions of the artwork from infertility patients was saddening and it gave me a different perspective of eventually having kids. I brought my two roommates to the event and we all agreed this is something that has barely crossed our minds. We realized as young women, that we are so worried about taking the pill or getting an IUD and trying not to get pregnant, that in all reality there’s a high chance that when we finally do want kids, it may not happen.

Maria speaks to a group at Reproductive Writes, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh on February 21, 2018.

I consider myself to be someone who is fairly up-to-date on political issues going on in our country. However, I had barely considered the impact of the regulations regarding infertility. Listening to a male speak out at the event on his infertility journey of paying out of pocket for five failed IVF treatments was astonishing. For people suffering from infertility and then not being able to afford treatments with no help from the government is heartbreaking.

Attending The ART of Infertility’s Reproductive Writes event pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone and confirmed that my energy being put into this organization is for an amazing cause for an agonizing disability that can affect anyone.

Waiting

A Guest Post by Natascha Dea

I met the love of my life at 37—well past the age most doctors want you to be when trying to have your first baby. When our own attempts at having a baby culminated in multiple miscarriages, and countless failed pregnancy tests, we spoke with my ob-gyn and moved into the seemingly frightening world of fertility treatments.

My work, my passion, has always been in exploring female sexuality and strength through photography. With the infertility treatments, I found myself in such a weird new place… a domestic limbo that felt wildly out of place with my art… two years of infertility treatments increasing and decreasing hormones, timed medications, and life on standby as doctors appointments and procedures changed moment to moment because of hormone levels; four years of unsuccessful pregnancies. I felt stalled in my creative work and I worried that by sharing what I was going through I’d lose clients and supporters of my work.

I started seeing a therapist to help with the ups and downs of the treatment cycles, hormones, and miscarriages, and she and I talked about this a lot. At this point, my love & I’d shared our struggle with only a handful of people. My therapist convinced me to start talking about what we are going through, and to start writing about it. If I wasn’t making work that felt like “my work” then at least I’d be doing something creative.

And so I started sharing with family and friends and writing a little bit every day. Slowly, by sharing with people we love and trust and by writing, I found my voice. I began sharing aspects of our journey publicly on my social media. Our Reproductive Endocrinologist, Dr. Eve Feinberg who wrote the Foreword for Waiting, saw some of my photographs from our journey on Instagram and started telling me that she loved my photographs and that she thought they’d make a great book. Her confidence in this made me look at these seemingly disparate photographs as a possible series.  When I viewed them side by side, I started to see our story.

If you’ve gone through infertility treatments, you are familiar with Waiting. You wait for ultrasounds and lab work. You wait for visits with your doctor. You wait for refrigerated boxes filled with medications to arrive at your door. You wait for baseline test results, and for the phone call that tells you to begin your new cycle’s protocol. If your cycle is interrupted for any reason, you wait to begin it again. At the end of an infertility treatment, you wait for a pregnancy test.

An image from “Waiting” by Natascha Dea

Each month, in between treatment rounds, you wait and hope that you might get pregnant naturally after tracking every little bit of your monthly cycle.

It’s overwhelming, consuming, and can be an incredibly isolating experience. I do not think Waiting would have been born without the initial encouragement of my therapist and doctor. I was exhausted and blocked creatively and emotionally. There are studies that show that the diagnosis of infertility is as stressful as the diagnosis of cancer. And yet, when an individual or couple is diagnosed with infertility, they largely process and handle it alone. The subjects of infertility and reproductive care are still considered taboo by a huge swath of society; so many people battle infertility and go through infertility treatments quietly and without the support of their families, friends, and colleagues. And while I know that the relationship between a patient and doctor should be collaborative—and I am so very grateful to have that relationship now with all of my doctors—I know from previous experience that is rarely the case. So how do we better support each other?

I believe the first step is sharing our stories. The more we step outside our comfort zones—and maybe even the dictates of society—and talk about our experiences with infertility, infertility treatments, pregnancy, miscarriage, reproductive care, and family building we normalize these subjects. We know that infertility is experienced by 1 in 8 couples in the US. When 1 in 8 people you know is experiencing infertility, when every person on earth was born as a result of an egg and sperm creating an embryo, why is it still so taboo a discussion?

It’s only recently that I have really understood that my art, my work, my passion, is in women’s stories and specifically in examining those aspects of being a woman that are considered taboo. I’ve been hugely inspired by the women and artists who are sharing their stories around infertility. But there is still so much that goes unsaid due to lack of support. One of those unsaid things is that while we know it is stressful, it is also expensive to battle infertility. Not everyone can afford to undergo infertility treatments, or to “just adopt” as is so often the response when the subject of infertility arises. Family building, when you cannot get pregnant or sustain a pregnancy naturally, is incredibly expensive. How do you battle infertility when every part of you is emotionally, physically, or financially stressed? And that’s why I decided to have a portion of the proceeds from the sales of Waiting support the work of the Kevin J. Lederer Life Foundation, an organization that helps to increase access to infertility education and family building, through grants for infertility treatments and adoption.

Sharing our stories changes the world. Art knocks down walls.

Waiting is very much a visual study of one woman’s experience, my own; but my story is not unique. I know that as I talk with more people about our struggle and as I witness our family, friends, and colleagues begin to share theirs. I hope Waiting helps those who haven’t gone through this struggle to better understand and support those battling infertility. And I hope it inspires those, women and men, individuals and couples, who are battling infertility to share their own stories.

 

 

Bio:

Natascha Dea is an American photographer whose photographs intersect fashion and art in a captivating exploration of sensuality and erotic femininity.

Natascha was born in Germany, calls New York City home, and splits her time between Venice Beach and Chicago, where she currently lives with her family. She is available for editorial, commercial, and personal portrait commissions and travels. Her work can be found hanging in private collections in four countries, has been published internationally on LENSCRATCH and L’Oeil de la Photographie, and is featured on The Quiet Front. Duncan Miller Gallery recently featured Natascha’s black and white work for sale on their special project Your Daily Photograph as Emerging and Classic photography. She is the author of Waiting, a monograph of photographs she made during two rounds of IVF, published by FortyTwo Women Press and in bookstores on March 6, 2018. Her second monograph, Natascha Dea’s Women, will be published by FortyTwo Women Press on May 1st, 2018.

Natascha is a vocal advocate for equality, reproductive rights and justice, and better access to reproductive and infertility healthcare for all. She is the founder of the Neshama Collective, a year-long creative workshop and gathering for women artists battling infertility.

She is currently preparing for her ninth round of fertility treatments. She can be reached at www.nataschadea.com or www.waitingbynataschadea.com or on Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter @nataschadea or @waitingbook.

 

 

Love, Hope, and Acceptance: A Family’s Transition

We are thankful for all of the wonderful people that The ART of Infertility has allowed us to cross paths with. Today, we have a guest post from CJ Carman, who we first met in July of 2015 at her home in Northern California. A memoir about CJ’s infertility, parenting after adoption, and how she and her family were transformed along the way was just released. She shares some of that story with us today. Thanks, CJ!

CJ with baby Nicole

Before my husband and I got engaged, we had discussions about having children.  At first, we thought we did not want children but after several years of marriage, decided we did, in fact, want children very much.  So we set out to get pregnant and soon discovered that we were infertile.  After many tests and discussions with our physician, we decided to try infertility procedures that proved both physically and emotionally painful and that would, alas, fail to get me pregnant.  So much goes on when you are in this place.  So many comments and unsolicited advice from people who mean well, but inadvertently added to the pain.  Guilt was also a huge part of this package.  But my husband and I pretended to make peace with the fact that we would never have children. And then, we were inspired to look into adoption.

Both of us are Caucasian, but being very open to any child who needed love, we adopted an African American baby.  Adopting our daughter, Nicole, was literally the best thing that ever happened to us.  It was also the start of a journey that inspired me to write Love, Hope, and Acceptance: A Family’s Transition.  Besides the “normal” parenting challenges and the realities that come with raising a child of color, there were other opportunities to expand my way of thinking of this world in a positive way.  Living in a very diverse area, through Nicole’s activities and relationships, I was exposed to many different cultures and family lifestyles.  Nicole’s life opened many doors for me and I feel has made me a better person.

Part of Nicole’s journey was realizing that she was lesbian.  At a very young age, Nicole was more attracted to females than males and also tended to identify more with stereotypical male behaviors and dress and was labeled a “stud” in her lesbian relationships.  And while my husband and I were concerned for Nicole’s welfare, we were accepting of how she identified and expressed herself.  Little did we know that her inner angst continued into high school. You see, Nicole felt deeply that she was not a female interested in other females, but actually a male interested in females.  In other words, Nicole knew she identified as male while everyone still saw her as female.  Nicole knew she was transgender and really wanted to make physical changes so his brain’s image of who he was matched his outer appearance.  Thus began the transition from Nicole to Cole. But it was a transition for the whole family.  One that has been mind blowing in that we experienced the power of Cole’s human spirit crying out for, and gaining control over, who he truly is.

Part of this journey included an extraordinary wish by Cole to retrieve and freeze his eggs before starting hormone therapy (at that time, he was one of the first female-to-male transgender persons in the country to undergo this procedure). Cole knew he wanted biological children someday.  Once Testosterone therapy begins, it is extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to produce viable eggs. This was not a decision we all took lightly but one that ultimately led to the success of preserving a part of Cole that will become a living, conscious part of him.  The process was both costly and physically painful but one well worth it.

Cole’s senior portrait

Two-and-a-half years later, Cole is a thriving college student who is secure and happy.  It is not lost on me the almost full circle gift that my husband and I lost, found through adoption, and now can give to Cole – a chance to be a parent.    Now days, those in the LGBT+ community can entertain options once closed to them. I have no residual pain or regret about not being able to have a biological child.  Though Cole did not come into this world from my body, he is, most definitely a part of me. My labor was different but just as mind blowing and wonderful.  It gives me great joy that my husband and I were not only able to help Cole become and openly express his true self, but to help instill hope for his future as a parent.  What greater gift could a parent possibly receive?

Love, Hope, and Acceptance: A Family’s Transition, is available at Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.