Waiting for Babies

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

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

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

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

Waiting for Babies
by Steven Mavros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The One About the Sperm

by Robin Silbergleid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still in the Trenches on Father’s Day

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

Matt Quarterman

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt from Babyland
Matt Quarterman
poetry

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

Nathan Chan

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

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

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

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

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

Angst of an Infertile Caterpillar, 2010 by Nathan Chan

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

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

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

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

Memorializing My Losses, 2013
Nathan Chan
mixed media

Memorializing My Losses, 2013 by Nathan Chan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeffrey Tucker

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

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

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

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

 

Music Heals: Finding Happiness When a Marriage Struggles to Conceive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Launch Point

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

Launch Point
by Ben Holladay-McCann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persistence in the Age of Resistance

Today, May 18, is Infertility Advocacy Day. This year, RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, is teaming up with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Nearly 250 constituents have gathered from around the country to fight for improvements for those living with infertility. Long-time advocate, Risa Levine, is among them and shares this message with us as today’s guest blogger.

To my fellow advocates,

We are at a strange place in our history for women of our generation.  After the dormancy of the post Viet Nam war era, we are finally seeing a reawakening of political consciousness, a resurgence of social activism in an era when most public engagement has been reserved for Super Bowl ticker tape parades. We are seeing people take to the streets outside government offices, we are seeing hundreds of thousands of women marching all over the country. And we are seeing crumbs of response. Bill O’Reilly is history. That’s something.

Most of us don’t remember the sixties, a time of anti war protests, suspicion of government, overthrowing of a well established social order. A time when “burn your bra” was not just a symbol or catchphrase, but a revolutionary, engaged act of actual resistance to social norms that far eclipsed the message attempted to be sent by wearing knitted pink pussy caps.

But for the most part, the resistance agenda has been reactionary, one of anger, fiery Roman candles in the night. An affirmative legislative agenda has not quite yet been identified and the methodology has been murky. This era of #resistance was triggered by one man, and the mistreatment of one woman. But there are myriad inequities that have been brewing for a long time. Occupy Wall Street reflected those divisions but failed to achieve meaningful change beyond sloganeering. Similarly, the signs at all of the recent marches range from reproductive rights to immigration to LGBT rights to guns – while all require respect for people, the only proposed solution, dump trump, doesn’t address the underlying problems.   “Resistance” alone, is not solutions-based.

Risa wth Gloria Steinem, her first role model, getting out the vote in PA

Anger – when properly directed – is good. Anger can be motivating. Anger can spur people to turn off the TV and take to the streets. But that “fight or flight” adrenaline response to anger without proper outlets, a cogent agenda and a clear end goal, can become unhealthy. And unrequited. The problem with resistance, like the mantra of the 60s, “never trust anyone over the age of 30,” is that it will, by definition, fail, as the aging process is scientific fact.

While our efforts to address the fundamental unfairness that is experienced by infertility patients should be – and because of some of our advocates’ efforts sometimes is – an issue for #resistance, it is more an exercise in Persistence. A diagnosis of infertility IS a pre-existing condition that could bar one from obtaining health insurance if the House legislation were to pass the Senate, but even the most liberal outlets neglect to include infertility on their comprehensive list of diseases that would bar infertility patients from coverage: we have much work to do to educate even our natural allies. Let’s not forget that.

However, when we hit Capitol Hill, we aren’t coming only from a place of adrenaline-producing anger. Anger at the unfairness, sure. But we aren’t acting merely in opposition to the current zeitgeist. We aren’t seeking confrontation. And we aren’t simply fighting a misogynist agenda. We are promoting education, family values, long term protection and science.  We are seeking to right a wrong practiced by both parties for decades. We are in it for the long game.  We are fighting for families. For traditional values reinforced by modern scientific advances. Love and Science, hand in hand. We must be above partisanship. We are above the divisions in this country. We personify Persistence.

Risa with Hillary Clinton in New York City: Discussing Matters of State.

Whatever your personal feelings about where we are at this very, very historical juncture, on May 18, stay focused on the positive. We are advocating FOR something. For more rights for ourselves and for our families. For future families.  For our military. For the safety and integrity of our bodies. We come in peace – we simply need to know that our health concerns are being addressed. We do and we will exercise our voting rights if we aren’t heard, but we come as constituents with problems that Congress can address. Ask them for their support. But don’t leave without their understanding.

 

 

The Art of Balance: Loss and Love

Today’s post is from Maria’s Mother, Therese. Thank you, Therese, for sharing with us.

The Art of Balance: Loss and Love
by Therese Novotny

When Maria asked me to write a blog post for Mother’s Day, I gladly agreed, but the task was thornier than I thought. As her mother, it is difficult to talk about infertility because I never know what to say. My words get mixed with love, longing, and loss.

The day after Maria was born, her Aunt Joanne brought a small bouquet of Brown-eyed Susans to my room. Those yellow petals always remind me of Maria. Nearly 25 years later, she planted some in her back yard in Grand Rapids. When I helped her move from that house for Kevin’s new job, she left the flowers behind, but more seriously, she left behind a dream of raising children there. That dream had not been fulfilled, despite all their painful, heartfelt efforts. It was a loss.

Therese with Maria on her first birthday.

The art of balancing Maria’s trauma, supporting her needs against five other children, is difficult.

First, my background is full of big families. I embrace the interests of all of my children, their friends and spouses. Even though my life on the outside looks traditional in the extreme (suburban, white, Catholic, middle aged, mother, wife), I am very curious about how other people choose to live out their lives. I’m very open to other life choices and respect them – and it often gets me into trouble.

Maybe this is the wrong thing to say, but I don’t understand Maria and Kevin’s need to have a child of their own. I enjoyed feeling a baby kick inside my body and giving birth to a new tiny person, but there are other ways to give birth. You can give birth to an organization, or nurture a latent talent within yourself, or adopt a child who deserves loving parents. Many women who have birthed children have severely neglected themselves, their talents, or even others around them… and that is also a loss.

Finally, I feel helpless because I can’t help them change their infertility. I need to find new avenues of support. I can support them in their new home, their upcoming projects, their dogs, and their careers. I have been in situations where I can change some things, where I need to advocate and change and struggle. But some things I can’t change. I need to know the difference. I’ve learned to grow where I am planted, even if I can’t do very much.

After Easter, my father sent me a card of a famous Monet painting. I have always thought of Maria in that painting. She is the child standing in a lush field of flowers, so tiny, she blends among them. She is perfect. Why does she not see it?  She is part of a bouquet prepared for the world to enjoy.

Infertile couples are made to feel they are broken or incomplete. They feel cheated and scammed and misjudged. They are miserably misunderstood. They have a right to feel that way, but sometimes the broken, slashed parts of us are unavoidable.

At the risk of saying the wrong thing, I offer the well-known parable of the broken bucket.

In a small village in China, a man collected his water from the river, which was about a mile from his hut. Each morning, he attached two buckets over each side of a long pole, which balanced over his shoulder like a yolk. The bucket hanging from the left side retained all the water, but the one on the right was cracked and full of small holes.  When he returned home, the bucket on the left had not lost a single drop, but the bucket on the right had leaked half its contents, with half dripping through the cracks.

One day, the sturdy bucket taunted the cracked bucket jeering, “I am the real bucket here. I do what needs to be done, while you are a broken piece of junk. You just cause the man sorrow because you can barely bring back half the water, and still, you make the man carry you. You are mostly a burden to him. You are just a sorry excuse for a bucket. ”

The man overheard this one day, when he was eating his meal.

So the next day, he carried the broken bucket outside to clean it, and the bucket said, “Why do you keep me? You know I don’t carry all the water home. Am I worth all the effort?”

Touching the holes in the bucket’s side, the man said, “Every day when I carry you to the river, I take the same path. Sometimes the heat is unbearable. But, do you ever notice the flowers growing on the side of the path? They bring me such joy. I’ve always known you had leaks and holes. I always carried you on my the right side. That way, I knew you watered the flowers. In spring, the shoots to grow. Eventually, I see the leaves, and then the petals unfold; I smell the perfume of their scent, and I see beetles climb into the leaves for shade. The other pot – he only brings me water, but you – you bring me joy.”

Maria and Therese today.

My hope for my daughter, as she struggles with the raw sadness of infertility, and as she hears the voices of those who make her feel broken, is that she is perfect… she is my joy. She is a flourishing part of our vast family garden. Love has surrounded her for years, and will only continue to enfold her.

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.