Perspectives on Reproductive Writes from Juliette Givhan

An intro to our Michigan State University (MSU) Undergraduate Research Intern, Juliette Givhan, and her take on our recent Reproductive Writes workshop at MSU. 


My name is Juliette Givhan and I’m a new addition to The ART of Infertility team. I joined Elizabeth, Maria, and Robin with the goal of helping them organize, analyze, procure, and ultimately anthologize the creative materials surrounding infertility and reproductive rights generated for this project.

I study at Michigan State University where I’m near the end of the pursuit of an English degree with a concentration in creative writing and a minor in African American and African Studies. I’m a poet and I write from my individual experience as a Black American. My writing has been shaped by this focus and I’ve come to realize that this has often involved an erasure of my experiences as a woman. I find that where I am proud to be Black and have always felt a strong need to express my Blackness, I rarely uplift and take pride in my identity as a woman.

When I think of what it means to be a woman I think of the stereotypes of femininity sculpted by patriarchal influences: the mother of many children figure, the stay at home domestic goddess figure, etc. Since I have never fit into any of these roles I have rarely thought about or processed the reality of my own identity as a female, one defined by my own experiences. My goal with this project, then, is to embrace the fact that my actions- the daily experiences that collect as my identity- need to also have a stage on which to be addressed. I think working on The ART of Infertility Project is going to offer the space for my writing and thinking to take this first step.

Infertility as a topic of research is something that I am interested in learning more about because of how much I don’t know. I have had connections with IF before in the women on one side of my family, who have repeatedly experienced complications with pregnancies and conceiving, but I don’t know the facts or figures. I don’t know the emotional toll IF has on people, or how to accept that a reality might exist in my own life that means one day I might not be able to have the children that I don’t even know if I want.

I find how this project uses art to express these difficult, diverse, and complex issues to be extremely comforting. Art is the medium I have personally used to express myself, so I believe in its power of expression and healing. I’m looking forward to helping create an anthology of this projects work because a tangible and accessible collection could potentially connect so many people who could benefit from this community of support.

Participants at Reproductive Writes, February 28 at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI

The Reproductive Writes workshop that took place in the LookOut! Gallery on Michigan State University’s campus was the first time I’ve been to a workshop that addressed the issue of reproductive rights. When I started working on The ART of Infertility Project I knew very little about reproductive rights because it was not something that I ever heard talked about. Our society censors information about the human body, especially the female body, and this gap of information has largely left me ignorant to the issues that exist and affect the people of this country. I came to the event excited to deconstruct my own ignorance in these topics and nervous at admit to how much I didn’t know.

We started the evening with a question: what does reproductive rights mean to you? After having time to reflect those who chose were able to share their definitions. This moment was particularly interesting for me because no two definitions were the same, though parallels certainly existed. One woman defined reproductive rights as wanting to end the stigmatism she felt from outsiders who expected her to be pregnant because of her position as someone’s wife. Another’s definition was having the right to choose whether to have a child and letting that option belong to the individual it affected. My own definition of reproductive rights was having access to affordable healthcare to support a fetus and later a child. I realized that as a broke college student, my definition of reproductive rights was bound to be different than someone who was married or someone who was diagnosed as infertile.

Realizing that the definition of reproductive rights was fluid was as empowering as it was obvious… after I’d given it some thought. Though the room only held about fifteen people, several diverse backgrounds were represented. There were undergraduate students new to the conversation like myself, a graduate student, a nurse familiar with the medical side of working with IF, women from the MSU and Lansing community, even a man who used a penis shaped poem to portray his interpretation of reproductive rights. Each voice had its own story to tell and interpretation to make and I appreciated hearing all of them.

Having had some time to reflect on the workshop I think my main take away was that more spaces like these need to exist, where people from diverse backgrounds can come together and talk about the realities that exist for them. Being in a space to talk about these things and make poetry and have discussion was a relief after so many years of silence. I think more people need to have the chance of experiencing something like Reproductive Writes because spreading awareness of issues is the best way, in my opinion, to end ignorance.

Giving Tuesday as a Not Quite Non-Profit

We are working with our attorney to finish up the last of our final paperwork for filing as a non-profit. We are excited about what this will mean for the sustainability of The ART of Infertility (ART of IF) and the work we do to educate about the experience of infertility and provide a creative outlet and community of support for those living with it. For those of you new to ART of IF, or who need a refresher, here’s a link where you can learn more about our mission and our team.

A participant works on a memory box at an art workshop in Ann Arbor, MI.

A participant works on a memory box at an art workshop in Ann Arbor, MI.

Our articles of incorporation were filed in June. This means that, considering that our final paperwork is accepted and non-profit status is granted (and we have no reason to believe it won’t be), any donations will be tax-deductible retroactively to the date they were filed. Long story short, you give, it will be a future tax deduction.

However, we have really been struggling with asking a population who has already sacrificed so much, to give more. Many of you have to pay out-of-pocket to even get testing to receive an infertility diagnosis, let alone have an attempt to build your family through treatment or through adoption.

You scrimp and save, give up the large and small luxuries in life, max out credit cards, take out home equity loans, just to have a chance to have what comes so easily and virtually free to most, a child.

So, if you’ve passed the point in your fertility journey where every penny counts, or have access to insurance that keeps your out-of-pocket costs low, then yes, by all means, we could definitely use some cash!


Our current storage space shortly after we moved in. It’s now filled to the brim and we need an upgrade!

Thanks to those of you who have generously shared your artwork and stories with us, we have an urgent need for a bigger storage space for our artwork and art workshop supplies for 2017. Ideally, we’d like a space that also allows us prep area for exhibits and workshops. You can help us by giving to our general fund at this link. Any amount, large or small, is greatly appreciated. Seriously!

If not, we totally understand. Here are some free and low cost ways to contribute to ART of IF to and the work we do to benefit the infertility community.

  1. Ask friends and family you think would be interested in ART of IF to follow us on social media. We’re on Twitter and Instagram @artofif and on Facebook. You can learn how to ask your friends to like our page on Facebook by following these instructions.
  2. Share a favorite blog post from ART of IF on social media.
  3. Send us your infertility artwork, permanently or on loan, so that we can share it through our exhibits, blog, and website. You do not have to be a professional artist. We welcome any form of expression by those of any skill level.
  4. An image from the series, "Infertility is the Worst" by Kelly Zechmeister-Smith

    An image from the series, “Infertility is the Worst” by Kelly Zechmeister-Smith

    Schedule a time to share your story with us via an oral history interview. Interviews can be conducted in person or via phone or Skype.

    Maria conducts an oral history interview during Advocacy Day events in Washington, D.C.

    Maria conducts an oral history interview with project participant, Angela,  during Advocacy Day events in Washington, D.C.

We consider it an honor and a privilege to collect and share your infertility stories through our art exhibits and oral history project. None of what we do would be possible without your participation and we are grateful every day for what the gift of your stories allows us to do. Please help us continue our work by contributing to ART of IF now.

All the best,

Maria Novotny and Elizabeth Walker, Co-Directors of The ART of Infertility

We Are Strong Women

No matter who you voted for, waking up last Wednesday morning morning it was clear: the world has been changed. For Elizabeth and me, this took on particular meaning as we finalized our presentation for Merck KGaA’s As One For employee education day, an event devoted to Merck staff understanding the perspectives of patients using their products.

We made the trip to Switzerland with six suitcases and two backpacks full of art and supplies.

We made the trip to Switzerland with six suitcases and two backpacks full of art and supplies.

Sitting in our Coinsins, Switzerland L’Auberge Salon (aka – our small but quaint hotel room) – we decided to devote this presentation to all the infertile women who have had to struggle to fight for their dreams, fight for their passions, fight for a child. In honor of all of you who have graciously shared either your time, resources or both to The ART of Infertility – we dedicate this to you – the infertile but ever strong woman.

Here is a bit about our own personal stories and how we have found strength in our infertility.


Elizabeth’s Story.

My husband Scott and I met on New Year’s Eve 1999, married in May of 2004, and five years later, decided to add to our family by having a baby.

I went off the birth control pill in March of 2009 and started charting my cycles. My chart was a mess. Definitely not what you want your chart to look like while trying to conceive. By fall, my chart was looking better but I was finding that the time between ovulating and starting my period wasn’t long enough to be optimal for implantation and to sustain a pregnancy.

My first chart off birth control.

My first chart off birth control.

Right around that time, Scott’s sister, Shelley, got sick. She was the recently divorced mom of three little girls. The girls began spending Shelley’s custody days with us. Suddenly we were thrown in to sleepovers, play dates, homework, and bath time. We were the ones to tuck them in at night, soothe them when they woke up from nightmares, and nurse them back to health when they were sick. The circumstances were terrible, but having them living with us was one of the very best experiences of my life. Sadly, Shelley died in January of 2010.

That March, their dad moved them to Minnesota. With the girls nearly 600 miles away, we were devastated. This was made even worse by the fact that it had been over a year since we started trying to conceive and we were officially dealing with infertility. I wondered if the time that the girls lived with us would be the only time we’d ever parent. We needed to see a doctor to get started with testing and treatment but took some time to heal first. Well meaning friends and family, not knowing we were trying to conceive and unsuccessful, suggested that having a child of our own might help us heal. While we wanted a baby, it was no replacement for the precious nieces that we were longing for.

By the end of the year, we were ready. At Thanksgiving, I was headed to testing and my sister she announced she was pregnant her second month of trying to conceive. We spent Christmas of 2010 with the girls in a hotel in Minneapolis. The entire trip, I was receiving test results and scheduling more appointments.

Between the end of 2010 and the end of 2012, I was diagnosed with Luteal Phase Defect, Endometriosis, and Diminished Ovarian Reserve. We endured five rounds of oral meds with timed intercourse, four intra-uterine inseminations with oral and injectable drugs, I had a diagnostic laparoscopy, and I joined a RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association support group and then became the group’s host.

What I personally found hardest about infertility was being stuck in limbo as my friends and family had children, all the decisions that infertility forces you to make, and the fact that it’s an invisible disease. In order to make my infertility visible, I started creating artwork.


The first piece of artwork I made during my IF journey.

The first piece created out of my infertility journey, made while on medical leave after an exploratory laparoscopy to remove polyps and endometriosis.

I learned that others were also using artwork to deal with infertility and in fall of 2012, pitched an “infertility art exhibit” to the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, Michigan, where I live. The exhibit would provide educational info on infertility, display the environmental portraits, artwork and stories of those living with infertility, and offer an art workshop.  They said yes.

Early 2013 brought our one and only IVF cycle. My retrieval led to complications (internal bleeding and ovarian torsion) for which I needed emergency surgery. After I recovered, we transferred two of our three resulting grade 5AA blastocysts. I got pregnant, but miscarried twins early on. This all happened between the middle of February and June 1st and I needed a break after all we’d been through.

I spent the rest of the year working on the exhibit, compiling facts, making artwork, and photographing exhibit participants. I wanted to show them participating in activities other than infertility that defined them.

What I personally found hardest about infertility was being stuck in limbo as my friends and family had children, all the decisions that infertility forces you to make, and the fact that it’s an invisible disease. In order to make my infertility visible, I started creating artwork.

In February of 2014, we transferred our last embryo and I didn’t get pregnant. My husband and I had reached the end of our journey in attempting to have children that are genetically ours. We needed time to grieve and regroup with the idea that we may eventually move on to living child free or adopting from foster care. Two and a half years later, we’re still working on healing from all we dealt with. We need a bit more time to come to terms with what we’ve been through, and rebuild our relationship. However, I am starting to feel the pressure of time and the need to make a decision about how we will resolve our infertility. We are still considering living child free, especially since we have such a close relationship with the nieces we parented for a time. We are also considering using donor embryo, an option that I started considering after hearing the story of Noah and Maya, who I interviewed for the project.

In March of 2014, The ART of IF: Navigating the Journey of Infertility opened at the Ella Sharp Museum. Along with raising awareness about infertility through the art exhibit, I began lobbying for infertility legislation on Capitol Hill with my first trip to Advocacy Day in D.C. that May, where I met Maria Novotny.

Maria’s Story.

This is where my infertility story begins – at yes, believe it or not, the age of 15. I met Kevin, my now husband, at this age. Throughout high school and college, Kevin and I dated on and off. Ultimately, upon graduation we decided to get married. Both of us came from big families. In fact, my family was so large that my parents actually had my brother when I was 18. So the idea of being infertile NEVER crossed my mind. In fact, I was often warned that I would be “too” fertile. This was a joke at the time, but now is all too ironic.

Kevin and Maria with family on their wedding day.

Kevin and Maria with family on their wedding day.

After marrying at the age of 23, we moved to MI for Kevin’s job and bought a house. Soon we began nesting, adopting dogs and shortly after decided to “try”….

Months passed and nothing. No success. A year passed. And we knew something was wrong. I booked an appointment with my OB/GYN. Tests came back and it was suggested we go to our local fertility center.

We attended a consultation and left feeling completely overwhelmed. We were 24 and grappling not only with the numerous options available as well as financial cost – but also with the fact that we were trying to understand our new infertile identity. We felt paralyzed. We were living in a new state. We had no family near us. And we had few close friends. So, we decided to look for support…

But couldn’t find anything. Desperate just to meet someone else who was infertile, we turned to the internet and “came out” with our infertility. We shared our story on our local city’s newspaper and asked others if they too needed support. Slowly but surely, we began to connect with others looking for a safe space to deal with issues in a city that was rated by Forbes Magazine as “the #1 place to raise a family.”


At this time, I found myself needing to document my infertility journey. I felt a deep desire to capture the complex and confusing feelings that I was experiencing. So I began to write. Doing so, I wrote several pieces. One of which is titled The House, a piece now in The ART of Infertility which reflects on the house my husband and I bought prior to learning about our infertility.

As I began to do more creative writing pieces, I felt an increasing connection to return to school. As a college student, I majored in English. Learning how writing could help with emotional and physical healing, I started a Master’s program focused on writing and the teaching of writing. Graduate school became a place where I could escape the pressures of not conceiving, of not becoming a mom.

We attended a consultation and left feeling completely overwhelmed. We were 24 and grappling not only with the numerous options available as well as financial cost – but also with the fact that we were trying to understand our new infertile identity. We felt paralyzed. We were living in a new state. We had no family near us. And we had little to few close friends. So, we decided to look for support…

Today, I am in the last year of my schooling – finishing my PhD in an area that I call “rhetorics of infertility” which explores how writing and art are composition practices communicating the challenges women and men face when diagnosed with infertility.

And so, while I currently am not in treatment, nor am I pregnant – I still am very much in limbo. Very much in a place of not knowing what my next move should be. I am 30 now. I have lived the past 6 years knowing that I am infertile. But the need to make a decision about what to do next is so overwhelming that I am secretly hoping it will work itself out, that my husband and I won’t have to make a decision. This hope is what we call “limbo” – the not knowing of infertility and the sheer exhaustion that comes with its disease.


While we both have decisions to make about further growing our families, through ART of IF, Elizabeth and I have found more happiness, and peace than either of us has had in years. The connections that we have made with other infertile individuals and families, the work that we do in helping them along their journeys, and the awareness about the patient experience that we are able to raise, has given us fulfillment. For both of us, this project turned organization has become the baby that neither one of us could have.

We shared these stories with Merck employees, followed by a Q & A. Upon doing so, our co-presenter, a fertility specialist in the UK, concluded the session. She reminded all of us that while infertility can be difficult to learn about – both in terms of its sadness and depressing nature – we need to remember that infertility can make those dealing with it stronger. She spoke to the fact that The ART of Infertility is a testament to this. That when women face adversity, they can create beautiful things. We – the infertile – are strong (and powerful) women. We were very touched by her words and the important reminder that is especially relevant in this post-election time that we are now living. Let us not forget that our challenges have the potential to make us stronger and, through the lives we live and the work we do, we have the ability to make a positive impact on our own lives and the lives of those around us.

How have you found strength in your infertility journey? We would love for you to share it with us.

After traveling all night, we arrive at Merck to drop off the exhibit supplies.

After traveling all night, we arrive at Merck to drop off the exhibit supplies.




Artwork Wednesday: An Apple and its Seeds

Back in 2014 at Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. Maria and Elizabeth developed art packs. These packs were designed to provide an outlet of freedom of expression and healing to those affected by infertility.

Did you receive one of our art packs in D.C. and have an artistic story that you want to share that you haven’t shared with us already? We would love to feature your piece in one of our future #ArtworkWednesday posts.

If you’re unable to complete your project, that’s okay. We understand that creating artwork can be intimidating. However, it’s more about the process of setting aside the time and giving yourself some space for a creative outlet than the results.

Recently Elizabeth Sobkiw-Williams created a piece from one of those art packs. Read her personal story and view her moving artwork below:

Elizabeth Walker's untitled piece from one of the Advocacy Day art packs.

Elizabeth Sobkiw-Williams’ untitled piece from one of the Advocacy Day art packs.


Elizabeth Sobkiw-Williams

mixed media – yarn, watercolor

I once had a child ask me why an apple had seeds, and I told her that they could be planted and new apples would grow. In that moment I felt like something in nature had gone wrong with me. I was like an apple with no seeds, an anomaly, an end of the line. There would never be a piece of me that would be a part of the world.

I always look for the unique in nature, something to remind me that I am not alone in my struggle. And beauty can be found in these imperfections.

The Intern’s Perspective


Hello all, you don’t know me but I hope by the end of the year you will. My name is Jalen Smith, I will be working with Maria and Elizabeth this year as their Social Media and Communication Intern for The ART of Infertility. I am currently an undergraduate senior studying journalism at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan where I will graduate in May 2017. I come into this internship with a vast array of experience in communication/writing related positions. Here at MSU, I have worked with various campus media outlets including VOICE Magazine as their Vice President and Content Editor and The Black Sheep where I work currently as a Staff Writer. In addition to my experience in the media, I am also a member of the living learning community RISE (Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment) program where I served as a peer mentor and working towards a minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies in addition to my major. I am originally from Detroit, Michigan where I attended the award winning Cass Technical High School and served as a Public Affairs/Communication Officer for their Junior ROTC program

Enough about me though, I am super excited to be working with the project this year. This past weekend, I had my very first opportunity to see some of the artwork in person and truly get a feel of what this organization’s message is. The event took place at REACH Art Studio in Lansing, Michigan about a 10 minute drive from East Lansing. At first glance, the artwork was a lot to take in, I needed a moment of retreat to take in the context of the art I was seeing.

One of the many new pieces on display from Art of Infertility at the exhibit.

One of the many new pieces on display from Art of Infertility at the exhibit.

Having said that, the art was engaging, it was powerful and it was compelling. I particularly enjoyed certain key pieces that included Elizabeth’s own piece titled, “Crib with Medication Boxes.” It really spoke to me, the amount of trial and tribulations this disease has caused so many. It made me think about the families, the mothers, the fathers, that were heartbroken, made to feel “less than” because of their inability to conceive. It made me think about some of the small things in life some of us take for granted. “What comes easy for some does not come easy for others.”  A lesson in the realities of infertility for millions across this nation and quite frankly, across this planet was a hard pill to swallow. The art exhibit also had lots of other interesting pieces from many other artists and had a thought provoking outlook in the sector of cultural rhetorics.

Elizabeth Walker's piece titled, "Crib with Medication Boxes" Was one of the many featured in the show from Art of Infertility.

Elizabeth Walker’s piece titled, “Crib with Medication Boxes” Was one of the many featured in the show from ART of Infertility.

The concepts in which these rhetorics exist for me is still a confusing concept to grasp luckily Maria will be able to coach me through them this year. There are several different themes associated with the rhetorics of this event. For the Art of Infertility most of the artwork exist in three of those categories: activism, body, and unity. Activism is something that for me stands out as a core theme of this organization. The ability to spread awareness, start conversation and engage and bring together people of different backgrounds to discuss an issue that has long lasting physical, mental and emotional trauma. I’m so thankful that I have been given the opportunity to work with this team this year. To help create engaging content that will allow the voices of the voiceless to be heard. Looking forward to an academic year of purpose! Until next time! Hello again!

Maria Novotny and I discussing other artist's pieces during our visit to REACH Art Studio.

Maria Novotny and me discussing other artist’s pieces during our visit to REACH Studio Art Center.