Oh the Places We Go (Like Houston, TX): Reflections on the Relatability of Art, Poetry & Medicine

Lots of our followers and contributors to this project have a personal connection to the ART of IF. Many of you have either faced your own infertility journey, suffered from infant loss and/or even perhaps miscarriage. We love sharing pieces of art with the vibrant infertility community that exists in the world. Yet, our mission at ART of Infertility is also very much about expanding audiences – beyond the infertility community – to raise awareness and understanding about infertility, infant loss and miscarriage to a more general public.

Art workshops, we find, are an accessible, low-stakes activity that can help facilitate conversations about these topics of loss with others who may have little or no experience with the topic. Our event in Houston, TX last week is one such example of how we use the project to raise general awareness about the reflective power of making art with medical objects.

We made connections between art, poetry and medicine more apparent by participating in a Feminist Action Hour hosted at the annual College Composition & Communication Conference. This conference attracts a wide array of professors and graduate students teaching and researching writing at the collegiate level. For many of these attendees, their research and teaching interests pertain to social justice and interdisciplinary issues – such as communication practices between physicians and patients, gendered communicative experiences of medicine, and even tensions of being a mother/father while working in the academy.


Participants and materials at the Feminist Action Hour workshop in Houston, TX.

Given these diverse interests, the Feminist Action Hour hosts pedagogical workshops to create space for engaging and teaching about these important topics with our students and our colleagues. Examples from last year can be found here: http://cwshrc.org/newwork2015/ 

As a Writing and Rhetoric graduate student, Maria Novotny’s (project partner with the ART of Infertility) research examines the ways in which infertile men and women make meaning and share this meaning making through art and writing. Given this, Maria invited the ART of Infertility to participate in the workshop by making pieces of blackout poetry with medical consent forms.


Maria instructing participants and answering questions at the blackout poetry workshop in Houston, TX.

Why medical consent forms and why blackout poetry?

This workshop was inspired by the artwork of Jo C., one of our ART of Infertility participants. Jo created this beautiful piece of black out poetry, titled My Consent which she gave to us to share through our permanent collection. To learn more about the piece, you can read about it on Jo’s blog.

My Consent by Jo C.

My Consent by Jo C.

Medical consent forms and treatment procedures serve as central technical documents, frequently studied as genres in professional and technical writing. Rhetorically these forms reinforce depersonalized medical practices and the greater public’s perceived objectivism of medicine/science.

Medical and feminist rhetoricians have increasingly called for shifting the object of study – beyond “how health and medical texts get produced” to inquiries examining “what embodied users bring to these encounters” as health artifacts (Scott, 2014; Bellwoar, 2012). This workshop serves as pedagogical moment attending to the embodied interactions between medical documents and the user/consumer of these documents.

What happened?

During the workshop participants were invited to select a consent form and a stencil. Consent form options included: a sperm donation form, a fertility treatment form, and a mental health form. Stencils included: a penis, a uterus, and a brain.

The ART of Infertility’s objective was to present the “trifecta” of infertility: mental health, men’s health and female health.

We then spent 15 minutes with groups making pieces of poetry. Many who participated described the activity as “meditative.” Some wanted to play with the idea of one consent form for one stencil – so they incorporated both a penis and uterus within a mental health consent form.


“signs, process, normal, mass. abnormal, expected, normal, normal, normal, not perfect, normal, abnormal, selection, best, abnormally, accident, prevent”


“attempt, understand, risk, arise, could be born, might also produce, agree, support, maintain, understand, Birth”


Special protections, conversation, medical record. Diagnosis, prognosis, release, release. Disclosure, all information. Health Care.


“special protections, documenting or analyzing, start, the, subject, allows, the patient, disclosure, invalidate, authorization, Address”




The workshop was well-received and allowed the ART of Infertility to talk about issues of infertility and loss to those who may not necessarily recognize the physical and mental weight such a diagnosis has on the body.

If you would like the ART of Infertility to host a blackout poetry workshop (or another art/writing workshop), you can contact us at: info@artofinfertility.org