Six Secret Confessions of an Infertile

by Elizabeth Walker

A couple of weeks ago, my husband, Scott, and I were interviewed by Steven Mavros of Waiting for Babies. It was a sort of pre-interview for the launch party and live taping that Maria and I will do in Philadelphia next week. (If you’re in the area, please join Maria and me in Philadelphia on August 9th for the Waiting for Babies launch party. Tickets are only $8 and include hors d’oeuvres and an open bar!)

It was the first time the two of us have been interviewed together and it was really valuable to share our story as a couple and reflect on everything we’ve been through over the past 8.5 years. I feel like we both gained more insight on how infertility affected us both individually and as a family.

It also got me thinking about all the crazy thoughts I’ve had along the way.  At the risk of sounding like infertility made me completely lose my mind, I’m sharing some secret confessions with you today. I figured I’m not alone in having some crazy or embarrassing thoughts while dealing with infertility. Maybe hearing mine will help you realize you’re not alone :).

NUMBER 1. I fantasize about finding a baby in the bushes or in the manger of a nativity scene during the month of December. I once read about a man who found a baby in the subway and eventually got to adopt it. If it happened to him, why can’t it happen to me?

NUMBER 2. I have felt extreme jealousy about the ability of Sea Monkeys to procreate. We had an aquarium of them when my nieces lived with us and there were new babies every single day. Why is it so easy for them, and so hard for me?

NUMBER 3. Likewise, when two tomato seedlings started sprouting in a dishcloth in my kitchen, I was first protective of them and then, several days later, in a fit of rage, destroyed them. Why could my twins not survive in my womb but these two little plants could spring up out of a dishrag?

NUMBER 4. I’m jealous that my friends get to hire babysitters. When I myself was in high school and a babysitter, I would fantasize of one day being the grown up and parent. The one who comes home in a glamorous dress after a night out with her adoring husband and pays the babysitter, asking what they did for fun while we were gone.

NUMBER 5. I seriously have to fight the urge to buy a baby doll every time I find myself in the baby aisle at Toys R Us. I think this also goes back to childhood and nurturing my dolls and dreaming of nurturing my own baby one day. Except that never happened. Now, I see the dolls through the cellophane windows in their boxes and long to take them home with me, knowing that that would truly be crazy and may be dangerously close to being completely unhealthy. Still, I’m tempted.

NUMBER 6. Recently, when I was walking my dog, I saw a neighbor walking down the sidewalk holding a newborn. For just a moment, I considered asking him if he’d trade me his baby for my dog.

What are your secret confessions as an infertile?

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.

 

The Poetry of Two Women in their Own Voices

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

Tamsin Prasad
My Nightmare

Tamsin with her pup at their home in Northern California

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

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

Michelle Baranowski
The Middle Place

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

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

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

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

Infertile Enough?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IVF Miracle Song – How a conversation with God led to writing a rap and finding community

Andre and Yolanda Tompkins have waited eight years to have a baby.

After a recent unsuccessful IVF cycle, Andre turned to prayer and music to cope. He created the IVF Miracle Song which you can listen to below.

Afterwards, watch our video interview to hear Andre tell the story behind his music.

This post does include images of babies and the topics of pregnancy and ultrasounds.

Thank you, Andre and Yolanda, for sharing your story with us! We’re thrilled to have it in our ART of Infertility oral history archive.

The Story Behind the Song

“Well, you know, I’m kind of passed the prime age to be pursuing a rap career so let me just throw that out there. I’m a military guy, I’ve been in for 22 years now so this is, that is my career proudly serving my country. But when I was younger, me and one of my best friends, he was actually the best man in our wedding, we used to try to get into the business so from doing that I kind of got pretty handy with the software, making instrumentals, and you know recording yourself.”

“It was thanksgiving week. We were coming off of the disappointing news that the first IVF cycle was unsuccessful. That first failure was so…it was devastating it literally was. I think both of us just sat in the house and we just really just wept all weekend.”

“You know I think going through something as painful as that, you’re obviously are going to have an external reaction but then there’s also that internal reaction that sometimes you just don’t know how to get out.”

“I just started writing. And I was like you know what I’m going to just go ahead and plug the microphone in and just start getting it out. “

“You probably heard how the chorus goes, you know, ‘we’re going to have a baby, we want to have a baby’, and that was really the conversation that I was having back and forth with God. You know, we are Christian. We are firm believers. We were both raised in the south in the Bible Belt and talking to God is something that we both do on a daily basis.”

“So this was almost out of a conversation like you know, ‘I know that I’m hearing you say, Lord, we’re going to have a baby but why did we just experience this?  Why is that?’. So I just couldn’t let that go. I refused to give up. I refused to say, well, this is the end. So it was almost like it was more of an edification for myself.  We’re going to have a baby, just keep telling myself, we’re going to have a baby. We’re going to have a baby.”

“When I originally heard it, it brought back you know the pain and the feelings that I had originally and it kind of made me feel like you know we’re definitely on the same page. We’re both like okay we knew that this is what we believe God had laid in front of us.”

“It brought hope for me and it became my, I say my theme song because I’m like okay we’re going to do this. I’m not going to give up on this process. So every time that I would listen to it I was like, okay. We’re going to have a baby, you know we want to have a baby, we’re going to have a baby, you know and I think it’s those positive affirmations that you know you tell yourself and eventually, I believe that if you talk yourself long enough, something’s going to happen.”

“So, I wanted to put it on You Tube because I saw that there were IVF playlists but when you would scroll through there was really nothing that would probably be considered urban. So I put it on You Tube and then after that I said, let me just go paste it on a few Facebook pages. I was pasting it on pages in Africa and in India and while I was reading a lot of these posts, I was like, wow, this is really something that a lot of communities just don’t talk about.”

“I can’t speak on behalf of the African American community but as an African American I can tell you that this is something that within our own community, we don’t really talk about a lot. So when you do have these times when you really want a baby but you can’t have one, you feel like you’re challenged in having one, who do you turn to? Who do you talk to? Who can you be transparent with? We tell people all the time, hey this is what I’m praying for but in these areas we don’t be as vocal as we should because we feel like people will judge us or see me as less as a man or maybe less as a female. And that’s not fair.”

“It’s almost like if you’re yelling out into a Grand Canyon, you’re like, ‘Hello out there,’ and you’re just hoping that someone yells back, ‘Hey, I hear you’ you know? And that’s kind of like it was to me. I just wanted to see if in this big open Grand Canyon of doubt and worry and frustration, is there anyone out there that can hear what we’re going through and they can relate and to get all of those responses back was just so positive and so comforting and just encouraging.”

“I actually started thinking maybe I should make a whole mix tape full of… but right now I’m just enjoying this time you know we’re 6 weeks 2 days pregnant today. Yesterday we saw the heartbeat, the little flickering on the ultrasound. My focus right now is just to take care of my beautiful wife, make sure she doesn’t have to lift a finger, and just prepare our family.”

“The fact that I was able to really open my eyes to this community that we’re in just thinking it’s just me and her in this by ourselves and in that moment of pain and in that moment of feeling lost, I found out that I was actually part of a family so to speak, that we’re all in this together and I think that’s just one of the beautiful things that has come out of this.”

“I know everyone is not religious and everyone has different religious preferences but if you can relate to what we’re saying, then don’t lose faith in that message. If that’s what you heard, push through the pain, push through the self-doubt. Push through the failed results, and just believe and trust and know that at the end of the day, God is going to be there for you and your family, and he will keep his promise. That’s the main thing I just want people to take away from it.”

Have you created music or put together an infertility playlist to help you on your journey? We’d love to hear about it! Learn how you can share your story with us. We always welcome your emails to info@artofinfertility.org and your phone calls. You can reach Elizabeth at (517) 262-3662.

 

 

Five Tips for Holiday Self Care

Embarking on the next couple of weeks of holiday celebrations, we offer you five tips that we find ourselves practicing as a method of surviving the celebration of a miraculous conception while dealing with infertility.

#5 Send a holiday card. Really! Tired of getting pictures of new babies and growing families in the mail? Send your own card! Remind others that you are a family! Maria does this frequently sending cards featuring herself, husband, and two puppies. For her, this is a form of infertility advocacy.christmasphoto_2016

#4 Treat Yo Self! Take time out and pamper yourself. Get a massage. Get your nails done. Make yourself feel good!

#3 Talk with your partner and ask, “What are we going to do to make the holiday special for us?” Maria recommends this especially as much of the holidays revolve around the excitement of nieces and nephews waiting for Santa to come. Maria tries to go out for a Christmas Eve brunch with her husband to block out a set time for just the two of them.

#2 Remember it’s okay to just say “no”. Not everything is going to be something that you are going to want to attend. Just like baby a baby shower, remember you don’t need to attend every holiday party or every family event. Sometimes you just need to say no. And that’s okay! Elizabeth said no to her extended family Christmas party this year and spent time with child free friends instead.

The lone decoration at Elizabeth’s house, which wasn’t put out until 3 days before Christmas.

#1 Try to step back and enjoy the simple things. To say infertility is complicated is an understatement. Balancing infertility with the holidays can sometimes increase anxieties. We suggest taking a night and escaping. Make a fire, turn on some holiday tree lights (or don’t if you’re on a decorating strike like Elizabeth), cozy-up with a cup of tea, blanket, and a good book to escape. Sometimes taking a moment to remove yourself from it all allows you to better process and handle the ups and downs that will no doubt come with your infertility diagnosis.

We hope some of the suggestions we have implemented over the years will help you navigate the holidays and new year. Most of all, we want you to know that you are not alone.

Wishing you peace this holiday season,

Elizabeth and Maria

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.

-Maria

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.

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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.”

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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.

 

 

 

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

How I Spent My Summer Vacation
A post by Elizabeth

You haven’t heard much from us this summer. We’ve taken a bit of a break from our regular social media posts to work behind the scenes. It’s been very busy.

After working as a photographer for the University of Michigan’s Department of Pathology for just over 16 years, I accepted the new position of Communications Specialist early this summer. I’ll be spending less time on imaging and more time managing the content for the department’s website as well as Inside Pathology magazine, and our annual report.

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Dressed for the morgue.

Within minutes of accepting my new roll, my partner unexpectedly announced his retirement. They don’t plan to back fill my old position and haven’t yet filled his, so I’ve been trying to manage it all since June 24th. This has meant that I’m on call for autopsy service every morning and get little else done!

A job to cover autopsy photography has finally been posted and closes on Friday. I’m hopeful that we can get someone in to relieve me soon and I can spend more time on the new job that I’m excited to dive into.

I worked with a delightful high school student this summer to get our artwork and supplies organized at our storage unit. It took us some time but everything is so much easier to find now. It looks like it might not be much longer before we need a bigger space. We’re all paid up through March but this will be one of our upcoming needs for sponsorship.

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Artwork and supplies in an orderly fashion.

We’re hard at work on our 501(c)(3) paperwork. Our articles of incorporation have been filed and it won’t be long until we’re a full-fledged non-profit. We’ve started assembling our board and are excited about what our non-profit status will mean for the sustainability of the project.

My sisters, my mom, and I went to see Dolly Parton in concert in August. Seeing Dolly was on my mom’s bucket list and attending the show induced tears of happiness. Dolly is an amazing performer and I view her as a great child free role model. It was great to spend an evening with Dolly and some of the nearest and dearest ladies in my life.

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Waiting for Dolly to take the stage.

My nieces came to Michigan for their annual summer visit. This year they stayed with us for 3 weeks. It’s never long enough. There were play dates, night time glow parties at my parents’ pool, and we tried our hand at our first batches of French macarons.

Our first attempt at macarons. Not too bad!

Our first attempt at macarons. Not too bad!

I have to admit that the macarons totally intimidated me. I only agreed because my middle niece really wanted to try making them. It ended up being a great project that we all enjoyed doing together and I learned that I shouldn’t be afraid to try things that scare me. Well, at least recipes that scare me ;).

I took a trip to the REACH Art Studio in Lansing where we’ll be showing some work from the permanent collection during the Cultural Rhetorics Conference at Michigan State University at the end of this month. Maria, Robin Silbergleid, and I will also be presenting at the conference. I hope you’ll come see the exhibit on Friday September 30th from 6 – 8 pm. 

We’re teaming up with the University of Michigan Center for Reproductive Medicine for a cigar box art workshop on October 10. We’ve also been prepping for a wind chime art workshop with the Utah Infertility Resource Center and the talk we’ll be presenting at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Scientific Congress in Salt Lake City on October 18. We have another exciting trip and exhibit coming up in November and we’ll be announcing the location once we have our travel finalized.

We'll have a variety of materials available to create wind chimes for pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day.

We’ll have a variety of materials available to create wind chimes for pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day.

This summer has brought some challenges for me in navigating my infertility. Mainly, how it’s affecting socializing with my fertile friends. I’m finding it hard to spend time with the families who have kids around the same age my twins would be had they survived. It’s made for some cancelled plans and afternoons in tears. Fortunately, my friends are willing to stick by while I try to figure out how to handle these situations.

Between this and the crazy work schedule, I’ve been utilizing all of my tools for self-care. Many days, on the way home from work in my vanpool, I color. I love the images in the Coloring Conception adult coloring book. Don’t forget that we’re going to be doing an online exhibit of images from the book this fall and you’re invited to participate. You can download the pages from a link in creator, Buffy Trupps’, blog post. Just scroll down past the video and enter your name and email address and the files will be mailed to you. Those who participate have the chance to win a Mindful Fertility Journal.

I recently finished coloring this page of Coloring Conceptions.

I recently finished coloring this page of Coloring Conceptions.

Finally, over the weekend, I took the first non-work vacation in, well, I can’t actually remember the last non-work trip I took. I met up with my friend Jo in Chicago. Our friendship is one of the many I have infertility to thank for. We spent time exploring the city, eating great food and getting inspired by exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago.

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With Jo in the Windy City.

Maria and I are in the process of hiring social media interns so we can get back to bringing you some great content every day of the week.

We’re always looking for those interested in sharing their stories through our blog as guest posters, those who would like to do an oral history interview, and those who would like to share their artwork through our exhibits. We invite you to learn more at our website. Feel free to contact me via email at elizabeth@artofinfertility.org or tweet us @artofif.

Elizabeth

 

 

 

The Transforming Power of Visual Art

We’re kicking off fall with a guest post from The Mindful Fertility Project’s Buffy Trupp, MA, LMFT, RCC. In this post, Buffy not only speaks to the transforming power of visual art, but invites you to participate in a virtual exhibit we are hosting this fall, using images from her new fertility coloring book, Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success. Read on to learn more.

The Transforming Power of Visual Art
Buffy Trupp

Infertility certainly presents like macabre art:  a genetic, physiological, hormonal condition that instantly obliterates our participation in the nature of things, the stream of time.

The attitudes and choices in how we each deal with infertility vary enormously, depending on age, gender, severity of diagnosis and many other personal factors.  But regardless of the medical treatments we decide on, we also choose to adopt a story of infertility: how we got it, how we live with it or through it, and what it means to us in the greater context of our lives.

Stories are essential for human beings.  The human psyche is hard-wired to make meaning.   Unbeknownst to us, and throughout our lives, the psyche connects the seemingly random events that mark and shape our reality and weaves them into a series of images or stories.

These images have great power.   They can make us or break us.  They can make the difference between intolerable suffering or amazing grace.  They can be medicine or poison.

We are born into some images, absorb them as children and live them out without ever knowing it.  They live deep within our cells, in our ovaries, our uterus, in our heart and inform our every move.  These stories can indeed be the most insidious.

But there are also healing images, healing stories; images that inspire and transform us, empower and renew us, restore and liberate us.

Apart from stirring our deepest, darkest fears of obliteration, is it possible that infertility also offers us a healing story?  A story that frees us to heal our lives and shed old, unhealthy beliefs?

Many infertile women believe the death of the embryo, sperm, egg or new born child indicates they are unhealthy.

Did you know it is the ability to surrender, to yield, and the willingness to die for the

greater good that differentiates a healthy cell from an unhealthy cell?

When we allow something to die within us, the formations of our old life, fierce guardians of habit and pattern, fall away, giving birth to a new way of inhabiting our body and mind and we heal.

Death is essential to life.

When did we forget this?

When loss is understood as an essential aspect of health,  women struggling to have children begin a healing story.

Healing stories transform even the most difficult of realities into affirmations of life.

Visual art captures this transformation.

The Mindful Fertility Project and The ART of Infertility believe that the art we create and the stories we tell while trying to conceive are central to our well-being.

We acknowledge both the necessity and benefit of art within the reproductive health field.

We are a move toward acknowledging creativity itself as healing.

And the result, while perhaps not quantifiable, can be measured by the quality of life and transformation experienced by all those who participate.

The images below are from a new fertility coloring book, Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success.

The colored images and the brief narratives that accompany them are inspirational, evoking both a sense of beauty and an immersion in the most elemental aspects of nature.  The words and visual images reveal that life can imitate art; that we can become the things that we see and imagine; that creation is established through our ongoing relationship with our body, with ourself.

“When I color, my body feels alive.”

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“When I color, my body feels beautiful.”

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“When I color, my body transforms.”

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Be the artist of a new narrative – a new series of images.  Let your canvas be the entirety of your embodied vulnerability, the tenderness of your heart, and the brilliance of your creativity. You can re-write your story, re-color your image, re-wire your nervous system, and find new meaning. No, this is not easy, and will take everything you have… and more.

But new life is already inside you.

While it may seem hopeless at times, you have capacities that you did not have as a child when the original stories, the original images were passed onto you: images of what it means to be a woman, how to metabolize unmet longing, what loss symbolizes, images of your place in the world.

Immerse yourself now in creativity. Choose a color and begin a new image, a new story. Feel a new pathway emerging. And allow it to come into consciousness  – through your art, lighting up your body, your nervous system, and fertilizing your heart with love.

You have not lost your chance.

THIS IS A CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS!

The Mindful Fertility Project & The ART of Infertility are publishing a virtual exhibit this fall.

Go to www.mindfulfertilityproject.com/art and immediately download 4 FREE images from our new adult coloring book, Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success.

Submit 1 colored image on or before December 15th to be featured in our virtual art exhibit AND for a chance to win 1 of 3 Mindful Fertility Journals valued at ($397) each.

The Mindful Fertility Journal is a virtual, mind-body fertility program that teaches you exactly how to optimize your fertile health naturally. It includes 28 unique mindfulness meditations, 14 easy-to-use self-acupressure videos, 12 easy-to-use yoga videos along with nutritional guidelines and meal plans. PLUS 6 incredible bonuses.

We will publish the virtual exhibit at the beginning of 2017; a compilation of all the colored images submitted.

Once the exhibit is published, we announce the winners of our Mindful Fertility Journal GIVEAWAY.

AGAIN, go to www.mindfulfertilityproject.com/art to immediately download 4 FREE images from Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success, to learn more about our virtual art exhibit AND to be eligible to win 1 of 3 FREE virtual mind-body programs to optimize your fertile health naturally.

I hope you’ll join us.

All my very best, always,

Buffy Trupp

Nesting

As I wrote in a blog post not long ago, Maria and I recently had a conversation about how our homes have taken on a different purpose and meaning due to our infertility and living in them as families of two. It got us thinking about nesting, which inspired me to create some artwork around that theme. I made one piece, my “Inhospitable Nest” around the memory a dream I had years ago.

Choosing the materials for that piece and setting aside time to create it was very calming. Weaving the wire in and out was a meditative process and, while I don’t always end up with a product that looks like it did in my head, this one did. Better even. It made me want to create more nests. I’ve since created two more that I’m sharing with you today.

The first was created around a painful experience I had while my sister was visiting with her two youngest children. My four youngest nieces and nephews were having a sleepover at my parents’ house. My mother bought them all matching pajamas and they were wearing them, sitting in a row on my parents’ couch. I was overwhelmed with sadness. I knew that if my twins, conceived after our first embryo transfer, had survived, they would be sitting in the middle of the line up.

Cousins by Elizabeth Walker. Mixed media - copper and aluminum wire, coral, moss.

Cousins by Elizabeth Walker. Mixed media – copper wire, coral, moss.

 

The second was inspired by a conversation I had with my husband, Scott. We have pet Zebra Finches at home. The birds laid five eggs. One was kicked from the nest, one never hatched. However, three baby birds were growing well. Sadly, they died one by one, the last just days from being ready to leave the nest. Scott mentioned that we shouldn’t let them have babies anymore because it was a lot of work for them without the babies even surviving, to which I responded, “They did better than we ever did.”

Five years, five Clomid with timed intercourse cycles, four IUI hybrid cycles, one IVF cyle resulting in the transfer of three embryos and the furthest we ever got was an early miscarriage. Still, I’m grateful for that brief time I was pregnant.

Better Than We Ever Did by Elizabeth Walker. Mixed media - copper and aluminum wire, pearls.

Better Than We Ever Did by Elizabeth Walker. Mixed media – copper and aluminum wire, pearls.