ONE MORE SHOT with The ART of Infertility in LA! Chatting with director Noah Moskin, aka my Hubs

Today we have a special guest blog post from Maya Grobel. Read a bit about Maya’s conversation with her husband Noah and learn why they decided to pick a camera and film their modern family building journey. Remember to join us this Saturday, June 9th at Venice Arts where Noah and Maya will screen their film and host a panel on making modern families starting at 3pm. 

In honor of the upcoming Men’s Health week (June 11-17) and the Los Angeles screening of our film, One More Shot, with The ART of Infertility exhibit, Reimagining Reproduction, I decided to do a Q&A with my man, director/producer/subject of our film and overall awesome husband.

Panel discussion with Maya (center) after a screening of the film, One More Shot, in Salt Lake City this February. Photo by Steven Vargo.

Noah and I spent half a decade, half our marriage really, trying to make a baby. We spent about the same amount of time trying to make a movie. I’m not sure which was harder (or more expensive) but I’m grateful that we are on the other side of both efforts and that we are able to be a part of something like the ART of Infertilty exhibit, where we can share our story, connect to others with a similar experience, and instill hope that there are different ways a baby can be made. One of our main goals with this film is to decrease the stigma and shame often associated with infertility, and normalize the different ways babies can come into this world. On June 9th, we are excited to be screening the film with the ART of IF at Venice Arts in Marina Del Rey, LA, which is not just our home town, but literally, the gallery and our home are on the same street! We’d love to invite any local folks who are interested in checking out the film, the panel that will follow, and the gallery reception to GET FREE TKTS by clicking on the link.

If you like this mini interview with Noah, aka Hubs, then you’ll love seeing more of him and many others who have been some how impacted by infertility.

Noah and Maya at home during their interview with Elizabeth in December of 2014.

M: We are showing our film, One More Shot, with the ART of IF— What does it mean to have this film included as part of this art exhibit that displays different aspects of the infertility struggle through artistic means?

N: I always like being a part of Art of IF. I don’t believe you need to make a feature length film to say something about infertility. ART of IF features all kinds of media and mediums. I think it’s so important because you can tell that every piece is so important to the artist. It’s them throwing their hearts and pain and wishes into these pieces. You can really feel how much the pieces mean to those that created them. And that’s the whole point. Get it out.

M: Why was it important for you to have this creative outlet in making and editing and producing this film while we were going through years of infertility treatments?

N: I’m not the best at expressing my feelings in conversation. It was tough for me when it felt like we were having the same conversations daily. I didn’t really know what to do with all of that. But I can tell a story. I can make a show. I can make film. So throwing myself into that not only gave me something constructive to do with my energies but it also helped me process what we were going through.

M: How did making this film help or hurt our relationship?

N: I don’t think it hurt our relationship. I think it helped. It was an opportunity for us to do a creative project together and have a focus that wasn’t about the next IVF procedure or scheduling meds. Instead, we were able to focus on making a movie and all the things that come with that. We were doing something together other than staying up late and crying about our situation. It helped us and it kept us sane.

M: Our fertility struggles were because of issues I had with my ovaries. If we had male factor infertility, do you think you would have been as open documenting and sharing our reality?

N: I don’t think the process of making the film would have been as straight forward for me if it would have been male factor. There was still some distance for me in making it that allowed me to be a bit more objective. Personally, the longer it took for us to make the film the easier it was for me to talk about the whole thing. If the problem had been male factor I think I probably would have internalized a lot more of it. I don’t think I would be the best person to represent the male factor story. I hope somebody does make a male factor take on all of this. It would be really interesting and brave. For One More Shot, I really think this film works so well because of you and your voice and the way you were so open throughout.

M: What is one thing you would encourage any husband/partner to do to both support their partner and also support themselves emotionally through the process?

N: I would suggest a two-prong attack. First and foremost you need to talk about it, probably more than you want to. The more you discuss it with your partner, the easier it will be to discuss it in the real world, and that’s very important. It’s not important in the sense that you have to be a voice for the community – that’s great if you feel empowered – but it’s important because the more you discuss it the less shame you will feel. It will no longer feel like a reflection of you as a person. Second, you need an outlet. You need a way to blow off steam. As much as talking about it is important, you need to feel like you aren’t defined by infertility. You need to do things that allow you NOT to think about what you’re going through. For me, it was travel, creative projects, and taking up rock climbing. Trying not to fall off a giant slab of rock is a great way to avoid thinking about infertility.

M: And lastly, why should anyone is LA on June 9th come see our film, join us for a panel discussion about making modern families and have a drink with us and the fabulous folks at The ART of Infertility exhibit?

N: This is a fun opportunity even if you’ve already seen the movie. I’m really excited for the panel discussion and to see some of the people we interviewed talk about their experiences and connections with the film. I always jump at the chance to see a filmmaker speak about a movie I like. You get a more in depth understanding of what it took to make a film like this. Also, we’re all awesome people and the ART of IF team is great so why wouldn’t you want to come out to the Westside and make some friends?

Urban Arts Gallery, Salt Lake City. Arches in Perspective: The ART of Infertility in Utah was displayed here and at Art Access. Photo by Sarah Arnoff.

Experiencing Infertility as a Person of Color: A Black Woman’s Perspective

Today, we are running the second part of our series “Experiencing Infertility as a Person of Color” created by our Michigan State University intern, Juliette. As a woman of color herself, this is a topic deeply personal and of interest to her as she collaborates with our organization to bring awareness to all experiences of infertility. Below is an overview of her interview with Madge, who has been a prior participant in the project.

Juliette, presenting her research on women of color and their experiences with infertility at Michigan State.

The second interview I conducted as part of my effort to unearth the reality of being a woman of color in the world of infertility took place with Madge Harris-Rowland. Madge is a black woman who currently teaches in Jacksonville, Florida; Madge received her infertility diagnosis in October 2013, a time in her life when she was living in Grand Rapids, Michigan and didn’t have health insurance. As someone who is young, broke, and quickly running out of time to still be on my parents’ insurance, this fact resonated with me.

What I’ve learned about infertility treatment up to this point is that it’s a numbers game; it poses a real financial constraint on the people it affects and adds one more layer of hardship to an already difficult diagnosis. Medical treatment isn’t cheap, yet we live in a country where affordable healthcare isn’t an option for a lot of communities of color and younger people. I liked talking to Madge because she was realistic about how money, and lack thereof, can limit what someone’s response to this disease is. As a woman of color without insurance, Madge consistently felt invalidated by medical personnel and clinics who didn’t offer her the same level of care as women she knew who had insurance. She often had to ask herself if this poor treatment was coming because of her identity as a black woman living in a predominately white area, or if it was because of her socioeconomic level and lack of insurance.

Madge

Madge’s testimony was the first from a black woman that I’d heard. She spoke about the issue of her blackness in a medical world sparse with representation, one that traditionally prioritizes the bodies of white women. As Madge says of infertility within her community, “There are less options and it is less talked about. There are these myths that we’re told about how [black women] can pop kids out. Infertility is not a big deal in African American communities.” The lack of representation for Madge didn’t end in Grand Rapids; it followed her to Jacksonville where as many other women were forced to do, Madge had to turn to an online platform to find support when no physical space existed for women of color.

I had gotten to know a little about Madge’s financial struggle, but I also wanted to know how her identity as a black woman affected her journey with IF. I wanted to know what infertility was to Madge before and after her diagnosis.

She told me, “I knew about it, I knew of it, but the things you see in the media and talking to other people… it was nobody that looked like me. There’s no one you can sit there and relate to because we don’t talk about it, we don’t show that side of our community. People think infertility is not a medical disease. You feel isolated because there’s no one that looks like you. I’m a teacher; I know what happens if you don’t have someone that looks like you in a positive light. There needs to be some type of research on how this affects women and men of color because there are so many stereotypes out there that are still seen as truth.”

Madge on her wedding day.

After talking to Madge, I had a lot to think about when it came to my own identity. I grew up with ideas about how the world worked, how my body would work within that world, and thought I was all but guaranteed to have a child if I chose to do so. I didn’t know that there are no guarantees, or what the price tag on medical treatments is if my body can’t naturally conceive. I didn’t know it could cost upwards of $30,000 just to adopt in certain states like Florida, or that creating your own support group is more common than resources being readily available. I’m glad I’ve been able to learn these truths about infertility, but I would like to see them change. Talking to Madge, I got a better look at what the reality and limited options there are for people like me, who in this stage of life, can’t afford to be infertile. I hope that in the future there is easier access to affordable care, that support groups are the norm and silence the rare exception. I hope that infertility is a conversation that happens with more frequency so that all communities affected by it can be supported financially and emotionally.

Experiencing Infertility as a Woman of Color: An Asian American Perspective

When I started working with The ART of Infertility organization, I knew very little about infertility and even less about how it affected women of color. As a black woman I wanted to change this, confront my own ignorance and attempt to represent the voice of marginalized women within a marginalized topic. But I wasn’t exactly sure how. When I read stories from occasional anthologies or on my Facebook newsfeed (no doubt due to algorithms hard at work in my Google searches about infertility), I repeatedly found that the people described were white women or white couples who were pursuing medical treatment options.

ART of Infertility intern, Juliette.

While I strongly agree with Audre Lorde in her claim that “there is no hierarchy of oppression,” I firmly believe that representation will always matter. Infertility affects people of color and our storytelling should create a space to expose and discuss these stories. Where was the discussion and aid for people who looked like me? For people who couldn’t afford medical treatment options or had no community to fall back on for support? Where were the women of color in the narrative of infertility, and what were their stories?

My questions began to get answered the day I got a call from Elizabeth, who wanted to see if I would be interested in conducting an interview with the amazing Annie Kuo, an Asian American woman who resides in Seattle, Washington. I jumped at the opportunity.

Annie is a mother to a six-and-a-half-year-old daughter, an activist that trains RESOLVE advocates to rally for family-building legislation on Capitol Hill, and a great source of information on the different options for women dealing with infertility. She’s hosted a RESOLVE support group for three years and done research on third party reproduction, adoption, foster care, and egg freezing.  

The following is a brief excerpt from a conversation I had with Annie focusing on how race affected her journey in the world of infertility. – Juliette


Juliette: As a woman of color, have you been able to get the quality of care you deserve? Have you ever felt like you’ve been denied certain things because of your ethnic identity?

Annie:  I haven’t personally noticed any difference in the level of care. But I am American who is the child of immigrants. I speak fluent English and live in a very progressive major city on the West Coast. I do know, however, that cultural factors impact people of color in terms of infertility awareness and the right time to consult medical personnel. For example, Asian Americans are less likely to seek medical advice within two years [of not conceiving] which wastes precious time. Due to the denial of their situation or distrust of a medical professional, they often will consult a friend or family member instead. If my Asian American sisters who are suffering silently can feel a closer identification with me when I speak about infertility, that’s worth speaking up for. One reason I’ve been so willing to tell my story is because I feel like it helps remove some of this social shame around something that affects a lot of people.

Annie Kuo, an ambassador and family-building advocate with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association.

I’ve heard women of color in support groups talk about fertility stereotypes that weigh upon them, the expectation they face if they don’t have their desired family size, the shame that they feel. There’s a cultural stereotype of Latino and African Americans that they’re very fertile people, so there’s an extra stigma (and lack of community understanding) within certain communities of color about infertility. A lot of what we’re doing is a movement; it’s a movement to remove some of that shame and stigma.  

When we’re out there on Advocacy Day to help Americans struggling to build their family, that’s fighting for everybody. For the people who have money to afford IVF, or at least take out loans to do it, but also for the people with infertility across the socioeconomic spectrum who pursue family-building options through means that cost less money—like foster care.

According to the National Institutes of Health, infertility affects 1 in 6 people. It’s an equal opportunity disease. It doesn’t care what race, color, or class someone is. It strikes people at random. The lower income folks, which let’s face it, do include people of color, struggle to build their families too. They can’t always afford IVF… a lot of times they can’t. These are the ones we fight for on family-building legislation around foster care, because often they will turn to foster care to expand their families. I want to get adoption tax credit refundability on Capitol Hill so people of color who are fostering to adopt have the option of adopting more than one child into their home, many of whom are siblings. There is a highly disproportionate number of foster children who have siblings.

Annie, with other Washington state advocates, at the 2016 Advocacy Day hosted by RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association.

In regards to third party reproduction, I definitely think there is an issue in finding the right match for you. It’s limited by who is in the donor pool. A couple years ago, our support group took a tour of the local sperm bank. There was an Indian American woman in our group and at the time, only one Indian sperm donor available. She wanted an Indian donor and that was her only choice at that bank.  In the Asian American community there are fewer women who are willing to donate their eggs, so there are fewer choices. Women even get recruited from Asian countries to donate their eggs because intended parents want to find the right match. When there are limited options, recruiting donors outside of North America expands the pool selection. Asian egg donors are paid higher in some places as well.

J: Do you think this lack of diversity within donor pool is because so many people don’t know the real scale of infertility in this country? Is it possibly a money factor?  Why aren’t there more in your opinion?

A: I think there’s a combination of factors, including lack of awareness about ways to help and that there is a need in general that struggles to be met. Part of it is stigma about giving up one’s own genetic material for pay. It’s almost looked down upon, like you sold out, gave up your gametes for money. It can be perceived as shameful to use it on the side of the patient and shameful to give it on the side of the donor. In India using a gamete donor is not mentioned. Often, donor recipients don’t even tell their relatives. Honestly, I think some of the gamete providers, I’m talking sperm and egg banks, they’re also not proactively going after donors of color. They’re not prioritizing this… I don’t know, maybe it’s some tall WASP’y guy making the decisions and they don’t have the frame of reference to get that this is an issue.

J: Do you think that art has a healing capability and a place in this conversation about infertility? Can it be used to represent a marginalized community and bring them into this conversation?

A: I think art is a wonderful way for expression and public consumption. A lot of people can see through creative forms like film, artifacts, and visual art what they are feeling inside. Art and emotion, I feel, are cosmically linked. There’s something spiritual about it. Something that can express what other forms don’t have the power to. I would encourage more people of color to get involved with having a creative outlet for what they are experiencing or suffering, whether that is journaling or creating a vision board or taking brush to canvas. Art, film, and writing are often healing ways to create when we may be limited in our creation of life, speaking reproductively. I think it’s a wonderful outlet to have and I think more people should consider pursuing art as an outlet. Not only to raise awareness and contribute to an exhibit, but to heal.  

Annie, with Maria and Elizabeth at The ART of Infertility Exhibit Opening in Seattle in April 2017.

To read more about Annie’s story, she shares her perspective on living with infertility as an Asian American in the following articles:


My conversation with Annie gave me a glimpse at a different side of infertility, one where the women not only battle their bodies but must also combat communal stigma, lack of donor options, and lack of representation. I think my biggest take away, one that I find myself coming to fairly often in my research on infertility, is that these things need to be talked about with more frequency. Annie’s insight, candor, and willingness to share her story to help other women of color dealing with IF so they don’t have to face what they’re going through alone is not only inspiring, it’s necessary. And it needs to happen more.   

 

Next week, we will feature Madge’s story and experience of navigating infertility as a black woman. Look for it soon!

Sisterly Reflections on Mother’s Day

May 13th is Mother’s Day. In my family, it is also our Mom’s birthday. Last week was a string of texts between my sisters and I discussion how we were going to celebrate my mom’s birthday this year. Realizing that my Mom’s birthday fell simultaneously on Mother’s Day, the question of how we were going to celebrate both events emerged. These conversations made me think about the awkwardness of navigating “celebrating your mom” while also being sensitive and respectful of those in your family without kids.

Maria with her four sisters on a family vacation to Wyoming.

Ever since I was diagnosed with infertility 7 years ago, this feeling of awkwardness has grown. It’s hard to show up at the combo “Mother’s Day and Mom’s Birthday” party and greet everyone with a smile and say “Happy Mother’s Day”. But I do. Mainly because this day isn’t about me — it’s about my mom. I do this also because I come from a big family – 4 sisters and 1 brother. For my sisters, Mother’s Day is still a big deal. It is something they enjoy celebrating with my mom. They also know, though, that Mother’s Day is a difficult day for me. Given that, this year for an ART of Infertility Mother’s Day blog post, I asked a two of my sisters to reflect on what Mother’s Day means to them now as they navigate how to celebrate my mom while also being sensitive to me and my infertility. – Maria

Reflections from Kate:

It’s Mother’s Day and even though I don’t have kids, I find myself thinking of what the day would look like if I did. Breakfast in bed, crisp white and blush roses on the kitchen table and little fingerprint cards lining the refrigerator. I imagine no cooking, no laundry and sleeping in until 7:30 am. I also think of my friends with kids and how they amaze me with their ability to juggle nursing schedules and daycare pickups while meeting deadlines at work and finishing PhDs. I think of my mom, a working mother of six kids, who tirelessly manages the needs of children ranging from thirteen to thirty one. I think of the individuals I know who froze their eggs due to the onset of cancer treatments. I think of the mothers who have lost children and the children who have lost their mothers. I think of my friends who suffered miscarriages and struggled to get pregnant.  And I think of my sister Maria, whose personal experience with infertility has transformed my impression of motherhood.

Maria, with her sisters and mom at Kate’s wedding.

Maria and I are fourteen months apart. If you do the math, that means that my mom was pregnant with me when Maria was just 5 months old. This made us inherently close as siblings, but distinctly unique in personalities. Nonetheless, I remember wanting to be just like Maria as a kid and begged my mom to let me go to preschool when Maria started kindergarten. I also remember Maria telling me what to do as a kid, and me being happily compliant. She enlisted me to paint the kitchen in red finger paint while my mom was violently ill with the flu, she convinced me to play the “ugly” Barbie when we played dolls, and she insisted that I “be her assistant” whenever we ran our imaginary McKay’s Bar and Cafe.

As much as I wanted to be just like my sister, I could never compete with Maria’s clear ambition and punctual nature. Maria always had timeliness in her deliverables and a goal driven mentality to her thoughts. In high school, she ran the neighborhood carpool and if you weren’t in the car at exactly at 3:15 pm, she would leave school without you.  At home, she completed all of her homework from 3:45 pm – 4:30 pm in order to make her closing shift at the local hardware store. In college, Maria was the only person I knew who worked from 9 am – 5 pm in the library so that she could cook, watch tv, and relax at night.

So when I found out that Maria and her husband Kevin had been trying to get pregnant for over a year without success, I was surprised. I imagined Maria applied the same punctuality and determination to getting pregnant as she had throughout other areas of her life. But as the years passed, the objective of becoming a mother and having a child was confronted with the diagnosis of infertility.

We as sisters rarely talk about Maria’s experience with infertility, but this Fall it came into focus while we were together in Philadelphia. Maria suggested that my sisters and mom come see the ART of Infertility exhibit she had curated and celebrate my 30th birthday. Over lunch and plates of dumplings and dim sum, my sister threw out a question none of us were ready to answer. Some may say, she has a gift of being direct.  “Do you think my infertility has influenced your decisions to have kids?” Silence.

I watched  one of my sisters choke on her pork bun as the other burnt her tongue on jasmine tea. Our eyes met in silent desperation as we waited for one of us to speak. This moment of hesitation was resolved by our own mother’s intervention. We didn’t talk much about this moment until after we returned home from the weekend. Motherhood is a personal decision and that question felt thrust upon us. Choosing when or even if we want to be mothers is not an open conversation in my family.

Growing up in an Irish-Catholic family of six, it has been an assumption and an actual vow made within the marriage ceremony to welcome children into your life. I know that for myself and my sisters we do eventually want to have children.  Maria’s loaded question called us to consider the influence of her infertility on our personal decisions. While it made all of us uncomfortable to discuss in public, I’ll do my best to honestly answer it now.

Maria’s  infertility has influenced my ability to understand the complexities in the very definition of “motherhood.” Before Maria was open about her struggle to get pregnant and the pain and stress it brought to her life and marriage, I had a very narrow framework on how I thought about motherhood. Growing up in a seemingly fertile family made it difficult to identify with the  hardships that so many women undergo to become pregnant. Yet, in witnessing  Maria’s journey  and hearing the stories of couples though the Art of Infertility, I have adjusted my assumptions around motherhood.  It has afforded me much needed sensitivity and compassion when having open conversations with friends who walk similar, difficult paths.

I can’t say that Maria’s infertility has directly influenced my decision to become a mom, but it has shaped how I think about embracing motherhood in the future. Seeing Maria apply her dedication and purpose to build a supportive community for couples struggling with infertility is inspiring. Watching her walk at MSU as a PhD candidate made the kindergarten Kate want to be in school too. Witnessing the reaction of couples at her curated art exhibit in Philadelphia made me proud of how she has channeled her creativity and inspired others to come forth with their stories.

Maria with her sister Julia, Kate, and her mom.

In light of the struggles to become a mom, Maria has continued to “mother” us as we embark upon new chapters in our lives. She’s been the support as we have moved to new cities, taken new jobs and opportunities, welcomed new brother-in-laws and said goodbye to family members who have passed. She has reminded us that motherhood is not an entitlement, but a true gift worthy of celebration. I now have a broader sensitivity to the struggles of those with infertility, those who have suffered loss as a mother, and new mothers in need of postpartum care.

Maria’s experience has also reminded me that there is no set timeline to motherhood. As my thirtieth birthday approached this year, I could almost feel my biological time clock start ticking. While my sister’s struggle with infertility presents looming questions of my own ability to have kids, I recognize that there are other ways I can be motherly within my life.

By honoring my mom, my aunts and grandmother, I celebrate the gift of life that they continue to nourish. In visiting new moms, I can help tend to postpartum needs. In listening to a friend after her most recent miscarriage or encouraging a mom-to-be with an unexpected pregnancy, I can lend my comfort and support.

As I begin embrace the idea of becoming a mom, I know that I will need Maria’s recognition and support. I also acknowledge that our dialogue around motherhood will shift if I do become pregnant. That’s why it was so hard to give Maria a concrete answer when she asked us about the influence of her infertility this Fall. Her inability to become pregnant has not adjusted my desire to become a mom, but it has required me to deconstruct my concept of motherhood and embrace a framework that is much more inclusive, honest and forthcoming about the challenges of fertility. Maria has forced me to conceive of motherhood on new terms and in a new spectrum. And if I’m lucky to celebrate Mother’s Day with my own kids, I can only hope that Maria will be there to help mother me through all the pains and celebrations that come along with it.

Reflections from Martha:

Mother’s Day is here again. Although I am not a parent myself, this holiday is one of great significance to my family members and me. Not only is it a time to appreciate those women who are closest to us, but also a time to be reflective and humble in the midst of those who face infertility.

Maria’s mom and Martha viewing an ART of Infertility exhibit.

I can recall spending Mother’s Day as a girl surrounded by friends and family. This day usually aligns with my mother’s birthday, so we would frequently host many individuals that day and celebrate Mom, aunties, grandmothers, etc.

When Maria got married, people frequently asked her “…so when are you going to have a baby?” As a newlywed, she would shrug and smile, assuring them it would be soon. As months turned to years, that optimism faded and Maria changed her tune. The smile and assurance switched to an uncomfortable laugh and the answer, “I don’t know.” Soon, we learned that she and Kevin were struggling with infertility.

As an outsider to their relationship, I do not understand all that they have gone through. I’ll admit that to this day, I still do not fully understand. I have never walked a mile in their shoes. I don’t know the words spoken behind closed doors. I don’t know the feelings of loss for something you’ve never held. I don’t know their sadness. I don’t know their pain. But, I do know it is valid. Their pain is real.

One of the greatest things I struggle with as being a sister to someone who has been diagnosed as infertile is learning how to comfort her. It is challenging to gauge if I am being supportive in an effective manner. Every Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I envision myself in Maria and Kevin’s shoes. I wonder what it must feel like to experience an inescapable sense of stimuli centered around fertility. Whether you’re walking through the grocery store or scrolling through your phone, those days are filled with moments of joyful expression from mothers and fathers everywhere. There’s no place to hide: no way to retreat. As her sister, all I can do is reach out. I send a text or give a call, expressing my love for them and sharing with them that I’m thinking of them that day.

Infertility can cause people to close their doors to the outside world and shut themselves off from loved ones who don’t understand the pain, but we need to understand. As a family member, I’m requesting two things: patience and education. Give me what I need to know to be there for you. There’s no manual that comes with this position. At times, I live in fear of putting my foot in my mouth.

I cannot relate to feeling branded “infertile” on Mother’s Day. It must be gut wrenching to look around you and feel teased, taunted, and angered by what others have that you continue to lack. To see something you’ve wanted for so long and something you treasure so deeply and yet, it’s the one thing that you cannot control. That frustration and sense of exclusion on that day must feel awful.

In light of my sister’s infertility, I still choose to celebrate Mother’s Day by taking a moment to honor the women I love. I see it as a holiday that offers a platform for thanking the all the women (not just biological mothers) who have given themselves to me unconditionally. After all, that’s what motherhood is: an act of undying, devotional love. It is a day to be inspired by those who have come before me and appreciate those who walk alongside me.

I’m proud that Maria continues to transform her mourning into an outlet of creativity that inspires others. My hope is that on Mother’s Day we all take a second recognize the strength of the women in our lives and stand in solidarity throughout the journey, not only as mothers, but also as sisters, granddaughters, and friends.

 

 

The Gift of Infertility

Today’s guest post is from Sarah Ivy and Juli Westcott, DC. Sarah and Juli are Barren Besties turned founders of the non-profit, Braving Infertility Together. Thanks, Sarah and Juli, for sharing your story. 

“Thank you all for coming to dinner tonight. It was great getting to meet you. If any of you would like someone to pray with you before you leave, I’d be happy to do that.”

“Hi, my name is Juli. I could really use some prayers. I just found out that my IVF transfer worked and I am pregnant, but I’m so scared something will happen.”

“Hi, Juli, I’m Sarah. Let’s pray right now.”

And so it began. Two women from two different sides of the infertility spectrum, both desperately wanting to become mothers, and wanting to feel like they were not alone in this journey. So, how did things go from acquaintances at a dinner to a true, deep friendship?

Sarah:
A little while after Juli became pregnant with her daughter, my husband and I had the opportunity to do an IVF transfer with a pair of adopted embryos. We were thrilled to find out that we were also pregnant! But unfortunately, when we went in for our sonogram at week nine, there was no heartbeat.

Juli:
At that time,  I was 12 or 13 weeks pregnant, and heartbroken for my friend. I debated on what to do, because I figured the last thing you want to see when you have just lost your baby is a pregnant lady, but I knew I needed to see her. I put on a loose sundress, bought a beautiful orchid plant, and drove down to her house.

Sarah:
This was the turning point in our relationship. Her bravery in that moment, in being afraid to come but doing it anyway, and my vulnerability in loss sparked a deep, authentic friendship that has only continued to grow.

Sarah’s loss was the summer of 2015, and Juli’s daughter, Cady Joy, was born in December. A few weeks after her birth, we decided to get our husbands together for dinner at the same restaurant where we met back in April. When our husbands met, we realized how similar they are – both came from a construction background, and both were fiercely protective husbands that had longed to be fathers. There was an instant connection, and that night brought us all closer together.

Juli and Sarah with their families at their book release party

Juli:
A few short weeks after our first family dinner, I remember sitting on the couch one night breastfeeding Cady, and all of a sudden my phone rang — it was Sarah. Now if you know Sarah, she is much more more likely to message or text than call, so I thought it was a bit strange and answered.

Sarah:
I asked, “Hey, does Cady need a friend?”

Juli:
I thought it was a strange question so, I said, “Sure… you can be her friend?” Not having any idea what she was trying to say.

Sarah and her husband had miraculously become pregnant naturally! We were both beyond ecstatic for this new little life, and secretly hoped that maybe it could be a girl so that our daughters could be friends. By the grace of God, we found out a few weeks later that it WAS going to be a girl!

Juli:
One of my favorite pictures we have together is a candid photo of us at Sarah’s Gender Reveal party. We are sitting next to each other smiling, and I am holding Cady who has her hand on Sarah’s tummy and the biggest smile on her face! It was just a sign of the sweet relationship these two girls would soon share.

Left to right, Sarah, Cady, and Juli at Sarah’s gender reveal party

In June of 2016, we had an amazing opportunity to go to a writing conference and do something we had both always dreamed of doing — become published authors. Our plan was to write books to share the stories of our journeys to our daughters, but God had a different plan. By the end of the conference, not only did we know that we were supposed to write a book about our support group (which had continued to meet and grow since that first dinner), but we also felt very strongly that we needed to make the group “official” and file our paperwork to become a non-profit organization, Braving Infertility Together.

Where are we today? Our group has grown from 15 women who met for dinner to over 450 women and their families in the DFW area, as well as over 100 women worldwide in our online support groups. For us personally…

Sarah:
We are at a point where we are no longer seeking medical intervention to grow our family. We are praying and trusting that if God wants us to have more children, we will, and if not, we will treasure the precious gift he has already given us in Charlotte.

Juli:
For us, it has been an emotional road the past year. After much discussion, we decided to do another IVF transfer back in August of 2017, and were so excited to find that we were pregnant again. Unfortunately, a few short weeks later, we discovered that the pregnancy was ectopic, and we lost our sweet baby in an emergency surgery to remove the tube where it had implanted. It took me several months and countless tears and prayers to have the courage to go through another transfer, but in February of this year (with my mom, Sarah, and Ray sitting in the waiting room), we did. By the grace of God, we are expecting our sweet little miracle in October of this year.

Through our friendship and growing non-profit, we have really had the opportunity to live life together. We have brought people into our homes, encouraged people to love each other, and walked with others through some incredibly dark moments, while at the same time loving and encouraging each other.

Sarah:
Juli is the most beautiful friend inside and out. If I had to pick three things about her that I would want the world to know, I would have to start with her hugs. That may sound silly, but I swear her arms wrapped around me and her chin on my head (she is nearly a foot taller than me) give me strength and security, and remind me that I have a BRAVE sister with me in all of this. The look on her face when we asked them to be Charlotte’s Godparents was only rivaled by the look on her face when she held her for the first time. Her genuine love for my daughter is so special. She prays for, loves on, and watches after CC as if she were her own. Lastly, her love for the Lord and her constant encouragement for my relationship with God and reminders of His truths are the greatest gift.

Juli and Sarah at Sarah’s 80s themed, rollerskating 35th birthday party.

Juli:
It’s hard to pick only three things I love about Sarah! She is so creative — she can make something beautiful out of literally anything, and it’s effortless. She is also an incredible communicator. I have so much pride and joy getting to watch her do what she was born to do. She speaks and teaches with such grace and eloquence. I have never seen someone so comfortable in front of an audience! Most of all, I absolutely love her heart. Sarah is one of the most genuinely caring and compassionate people I have ever met. She cares deeply, ferociously, and completely for those she brings into her life, and will stop at nothing to help anyone she has the power to help. She is an incredible example to me and so many others.

How has sharing the journey of infertility changed our lives? In our deepest darkest moments, we always know that we are the only ones who truly get how the other feels. We have a relationship built on incredible trust and honesty, and we have supported each other through so many of life’s challenges, in infertility and beyond.

There have been a few times where we have discussed whether experiencing infertility has been a burden or a blessing, and without hesitation, we both agree that given the option of not going through it but having to give away everything we have gained, we would choose it again without hesitation. The life-long friendship we have developed because of this journey is truly a gift. As we look towards the future of not only our families, but our organization, living without each other is not an option.

We are BRAVE because of each other, and can now help others be BRAVE in their journeys. THIS is the truest gift of infertility.

For more information about Braving Infertility Together, visit www.bravingit.org or, find them on Facebook or Instagram @Braving Infertility Together.

Two College Students Connect Over IVF

by Kristen Mahan and Alaina Schepp

Kristen:

When I asked my roommate and friend since freshman year, Alaina, to come to Reproductive Writes – an ART of Infertility event – I had no idea how our friendship would change. Sitting at the workshop with other participants talking about their personal experiences with infertility, I suddenly found Alaina opening up. She shared with the group that she — herself — was created from IVF. Not only that, all of her siblings were also created using IVF.

Kristen, left, and Alaina, right

Sitting there, hearing her story, I was surprised that this had never come up before! Alaina had always been close to her family, she would frequently go home to help out or even just hang out with her siblings and parents. I never really understood why, until she talked about how hard it was for her parents to get pregnant.

Walking back from Reproductive Writes that evening, Alaina shared with me how her parents  decided to undergo IVF after her dad found out he was not able to have kids. Alaina was the first child to be born from their IVF cycle. Shortly after they had Alaina, and desiring a big family, they decided to go through another two rounds of IVF.

As Alaina opened up to me that night about her parents IVF story, our relationship changed for the better. We stayed up for 3+ hours chatting and crying from some of her most prominent childhood memories. Hearing her story explains it all. I cannot even imagine how hard Alaina’s childhood was and what her family went through, and is still going through. Hearing her story made me realize how strong Alaina is and I am so thankful to have such a loving, kind, and genuine friend like her.

Alaina:

Seeing the exhibit, Reflections of Reproductive Loss and Access to Care, during the Reproductive Writes event was an experience that touched very close to home. I have always been very thankful for IVF for basically giving me my entire life I have today. When my parents explained IVF to me throughout the years I never thought of it as not working, until I saw the exhibit. My understanding was that if you were infertile, most of the time IVF would work. However, seeing the artwork and the stories of others, I realize that is not the case. The process of IVF always amazed me – how it can work and how it did work for my family. However, after the exhibit I realized how thankful I am and how fortunate we were for this to work, not once but three times.

I knew going into the exhibit that I would be able to relate more to the artwork than some of the other people there.  I also felt like I could relate to the pain by seeing IVF put a financial, medical, and stressful toll on my own parents. Being as close as I am with my family, it is a dream of mine to have a big family. With my family having fertility issues and being told they would not have children, it’s a fear of mine that I could be told the exact same thing.

Baby Alaina

I thought I could turn to IVF in a worst-case scenario, but going to the exhibit and hearing everyone’s complications and deeply sad stories, makes my worries much greater.  Seeing others’ heartbreaking stories makes the fear that much more real. However, I believe everything happens for a reason and that I need to trust in the plan that is in store for me. I believe that my family is closer because of IVF. It made my parents value my life, and each of my siblings’ lives, so much more because they truly thought they would never have children of their own, and now they have three. I have IVF to thank for giving me my family and my own life. Without IVF, I wouldn’t have the people who matter most to me.

I thought the exhibit was a perfect time to open up to Kristen about being an IVF baby. IVF is not something that is talked about enough, and that was clearly verbalized throughout the conversation at the exhibit. I have always thought of Kristen as a great friend and someone I could really trust, but it just wasn’t a topic of conversation I knew how to bring up. Sharing at the exhibit that I was an IVF baby brought about more conversations afterward that really shared my feelings, my thoughts, and my journey into what made me. Kristen was the first friend I was able to deeply share that with. With Kristen interning for The ART of Infertility, I knew she was able to understand where I was coming from and could comprehend it more than any of my other friends.

Kristen, left, and Alaina, right, on the first day of their junior year at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Kristen and I have had many memories together. Being together the past two years, we have been there for each other during the highs and the lows. We are able to go through school together and spend late nights studying and cramming for exams. Kristen and I love having a good time and being able to spend basically everyday together.

Kristen:

I think my favorite memories of Alaina and I are just staying up late and talking about anything and everything. Alaina is extremely outgoing and talkative so our conversations are endless. She is all around the most bubbly person I know. Like with any college girl, there is usually “boy drama” which Lain and I have been each other’s rock for. We are always up front with each other and try to give our most honest input on certain situations.

I went to Capitol Hill (for Advocacy Day) and all I got was this lousy best friend

#BarrenBesties, Brooke and Kathy, share stories of their friendship in today’s blog post. Thank you Brooke and Kathy!

Kathy, left, and Brooke, right

B: Kathy and I met on the message boards of thebump.com. We really started chatting when she was undergoing radiation therapy for her thyroid cancer. We have similar diagnoses in our marriages (minus her cancer), so we bonded really easily. She’s also freaking hilarious.

K: One of my first memories of my friendship with Brooke was flipping through a catalog (like the old school paper kind) and seeing this print of a quote- it was colorful and bright and immediately made me think of her. “In the midst of winter, I found, within me, an invincible summer.”- Albert Camus. I ordered it and awkwardly packaged it up and shipped it off to Arizona because she neeeeeeded it. I remember my husband saying you’re sending this to someone you met on the internet?? Yes. Yes I am.

B: One of our funniest moments was Kathy’s birthday gift being spoiled. At our second Advocacy Day, RESOLVE invited us to be Ambassadors and it included a full day training. Because we’re hilarious, we started calling each other Ambaaaaaaaassador in fancy British voices and it evolved into Badassador. And so for her birthday, I ordered her a custom necklace with our made up word on it. The Etsy seller posted a photo of it on social media and Kathy sent me a screen shot like “OMG LOOK.” and I’m like… “uhhh, Happy Birthday!”

K: The best things about our friendship are everything. Literally everything. I can say anything without fear of judgement. I can vent. I can complain. She relates to me in a way that is so rare to find in a friend. And the jokes. SO MANY JOKES.

B: Two years ago, one of our fellow advocates (we’ll call her Becky to protect her privacy) couldn’t make it to Advocacy Day, so we had a giant photo made of her face so she could be there “with” us. And then she ended up being able to come. We posted a selfie with it and she was like, “is that my face?” And then we died laughing.

K: I picked Brooke up at the airport with our flat friend riding shotgun and one of the greatest moments that year was the Flat and Real versions of Becky meeting each other. Flat Becky even got a photo op with RESOLVE CEO Barb Collura.

B: We have a million inside jokes. We can make each other laugh with a single word. It’s amazing to have someone who knows me so well.

We see each other – ideally – twice a year. We do Advocacy Day and then try to do a long weekend later in the year. Being from Arizona, I like to go to DC and spend time in cold weather. Two years ago, Kathy came to Arizona for my 35th birthday. Thirty-five was the age that I kind of gave myself to be the limit for freaking out about choosing childfree and pursuing treatment, so it felt like a big birthday. I wanted her with me, and she came! It was amazing. We went on a Selfie Trail because obviously.

K: We tried so hard to meet up this year- planned this great trip to Memphis and two days before- I was diagnosed with the flu. So instead of going to Graceland, she sent me a life size cardboard Elvis who now lives in my dining room. He stares out the window to freak out the neighbors. We have Amazon Primed things to each other that we never knew we always needed. I love her so much that I’ll spend 4 hours in the observation tower of the Air and Space Museum while she tracks the planes that land with an app on her phone. She gets all giddy like the little elementary school kids. We go to terrible spas and eat way too much Mediterranean food. And every single time we’re in an airport together it’s just a big ugly cry mess.

B: I heard about Advocacy Day in 2013 and it was too late to get it together to go, but we started talking about going in 2014. At some point, she invited me to stay with her, so I did what any rational person would do and booked a trip to spend an entire week in the home of a complete stranger. I didn’t even ask if she intended to turn me into a skin suit until I’d landed at Dulles.

Brooke and Kathy at Advocacy Day, 2017

K: When Brooke told me she wanted to go to Advocacy Day that very first year- It never occurred to me that we might not get along and it would be awkward having her in my house. My son, Sam, was just a few months old when she came that year. I remember being worried about if she would be uncomfortable with SO much baby everywhere. But that was all gone when she sat holding him at dinner that night. Now she is a part of his life, which I love. She sends him such thoughtful gifts. Now my 4 year old Sam asks when she is coming back and if he can take her to the trampoline park. And he always requests to see pictures of her dogs. He thinks it’s hilarious that they eat carrots as treats.

B: I never even knew she was worried about me having sad feelings about Sam. Quite honestly, it can be difficult to have a relationship with someone who was successful with infertility treatments while we’ve chosen to be childfree after infertility. I remember so vividly all the emotions of Kathy’s three IVF cycles and was so elated when she found out that the third had been successful. I love Sam deeply and it’s just never been an issue. It’s been difficult with other friends, but never with Sam.

Advocating together has been amazing. We’re both passionate about advocating for family building and ensuring that others have the options to pursue the family they want. The Capitol has become Our Place and we give Capitol themed gifts sometimes.

K: That first year when we met- it was like meeting your person and just knowing that you were going to be together forever. We spent that week laughing until we cried and I was so happy that she came to stay with me. A big part of that was experiencing our first trip to Advocacy Day together. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of empowerment that comes from the first trip to Capitol Hill. It has become just another thing that bonds us together and something we both share a passion for.

B: Well said, Biff. Love you. Mean it.

 

 

1 in 8 – Finding Strength through Poetry

Today, Yevgeniya Przhebelskaya shares her poetry and story with us. Thank you, Yevgeniya!

1 in 8
by Yevgeniya Przhebelskaya

“​1 in 8”
(previously published at Anti-Heroin Chick)
I’m 1 in 8 –

appreciate the irony,

was afraid of babies

in my teens timidly dating,

in my twenties finally married and getting a Masters

in Elementary Education.

 

Now I’m over thirty, husband is over forty,

where is our child: our precious daughter, our son?

Our frozen chosen – in the fertility lab,

30% chance of success

– each time they tear out my body and soul?

In our unfinished adoption paperwork?

“Sorry to disappoint, but

as caregivers for a live in adult

you need a 3 bedroom house and 300% consent”.

 

I’m 1 in 8

The other seven couples on the block

are having their first, second and third.

Should I get a dog? Or a bird?

Are my poems my children, a consolation prize from the Lord?

 

When I married my best friend Jerry back in 2007, we never expected infertility and fertility treatments to be part of the happy ever after. At the time of the wedding, I was pursuing a part time Master’s Degree in Elementary Education with a full time internship at the end and working as a part time education assistant to get free graduate tuition. I was under a threat of losing my credits if I took a school break to build a family.  Jerry was also not ready to take on responsibility of a father. So in blissful ignorance we waited until my Master’s program was over, and a grueling teaching internship was successfully completed.  The internship indeed turned out to be a test for our family in its own right, with a long commute, a demanding schedule, and a very critical supervisor.

In 2011, with four years of married life behind our belt, and work-leisure-chores routine squared away, Jerry and I were ready to become parents. Two more years later it became obvious that we would not be able to make a child simply by being passionate in the bedroom. After another two years of inconclusive tests from my OBGYN, we sought a help of a reproductive endocrinologist in NYC.

I sought out a female doctor with a gentle manner, and Cary Dicken from Sher Institute fit the bill. However, the final diagnosis and prescription in 2013 was firm: male factor infertility with a recommendation for IVF. At that point, Jerry and I took a one and a half year break to attend to my dental issues, and also to look into adoption.

There are a lot of choices and pathways regarding adoption; domestic, international, infant or older child. I joined support groups on Facebook, read books from the library and spoke with adoption professionals. Jerry was open to the idea of adoption and was supporting my research. Unfortunately, his father Vincent was not. And because Vincent had moved in with us a few years earlier, he was considered a member of the household for the adoption process. Additionally, there were housing requirements for a multiple adult household that made adoption a more complicated choice at the time. At this stage, adoption was not to be.

Jerry and I went back to Dr. Dicken for infertility treatment.  First we did an IUI, which was negative and then we proceeded to Micro IVF (IVF with a low dose of injectable hormones).

After several delays, Micro IVF was in May of 2017. Five eggs were retrieved, with the help of ICSI three fertilized, one was transferred at three days, and two frozen for follow up FET. I was cautiously optimistic at that point. Unfortunately, two weeks later, the dreams of easy IVF were dashed with a negative result.  Moreover, I had a flare up of an autoimmune digestive disease which was subsequently diagnosed as ulcerative colitis. While colitis was successfully taken under control with prescription medicine, my mind though plunged into a deep depression out of which I did not see an easy escape.

My life went back to pre-IVF days, but I was no longer content. My friends were getting married and, soon after, pregnant.  I was no longer a stable happy person, but rather a hurt and hopeless one. I even joined a Facebook group for Bipolar Depression, even though I have not been officially diagnosed with that diagnosis. Over there, I sheepishly asked if there were any advantages of being overwhelmed and depressed as I was. The answer to that question has changed my life.

A fellow Facebook acquaintance, Kap Zan shared that he wrote poetry during periods of depression, and then after a prompting, shared several of his poems. It was as if a Universe exploded in my head. I remembered the times I wrote poetry while feeling isolated in high school, and the times I wrote about   my love life in shambles in college, and my poem The Song of Extraterrestrial which Jerry set to music, foreshadowing our own love story. The next day (Sunday) I wrote a simple short poem at the end of church service, barely waiting for the closing hymn to end. That same week I wrote seven more, staying up late, or pausing in the middle of conversations.

I have found an outlet for suffering and a new strength by writing poetry.  I write poems regularly, and now am looking for creative ways to share them. I started Art Page on the website of the Leonia United Methodist church where I work as administrative assistant. I founded and facilitate monthly Bergen Poetry Workshop in my hometown. I send out my poetry to literary magazines and websites.  My poems have appeared in Ancient Paths, Time of Singing, Anti Heroin Chick and The Penwood Review. My poem “Supergirl” will be a part of the exhibition called Poetry Leaves in  Waterford Township Public Library in May 2018. The topics of my poems extend beyond infertility treatment into issues of faith, political awareness, healthy living and self analysis. I still suffer (first FET was BFN!), but I am glad that people are responding to ups and downs of my life journey, and I am able to encourage some of them even if they are not planning to have kids! I also started working out, and I find it helpful to build up my strength.

On the baby front Jerry and I are getting ready for the second and final FET in August and are once again talking about adoption. The father in law requires more and more care and is beginning to resemble a baby himself. Caring for him is both frustrating and rewarding. And Jerry and I are still passionate about each other – and will continue to be!

Ocean

Ducking

under waves of depression,

Or gliding

on the waves of inspiration,

Embracing Divine Navigation,

A poet

is surfing

in the Ocean…

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. 

Hello,

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.

Pain, Regret, and Blood: A Journey in Infertility

Today’s blog post is from J. Clyde Wills. He recently visited our exhibit, “Reflections of Reproductive Loss & Access to Care,” at University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh and contacted us afterward to share some of his story with us.

While infertility affects men and women equally, we don’t as often hear the perspectives of men dealing with an infertility diagnosis. Our mission is to share stories, especially under-represented stories, through the creative expression of art and writing, making infertility visible. That’s why we invited J. Clyde to share his story with you today. It’s also why we feel it’s important to incorporate specific programming around men’s stories, and the ways that infertility impacts men’s health, during Men’s Health Month each June.

This year, we’re again partnering wiith Dr. Paul Turek of The Turek Clinics to present an art exhibit and programming in Los Angeles from June 9 – 30. We hope you’ll check out our event landing page for initial information on “Reimagining Reproduction: The ART of Infertility in Los Angeles” and submit your artwork for consideration via our call for art.

We will have a special focus on highlighting the artwork and stories of men, as well as single parents by choice, those in the LGBTQ+ community, and other under-represented individuals and groups who are dealing with infertility or must use assisted reproductive technologies to help them build their families.

These perspectives are so valuable. Thanks, J. Clyde Wills, for sharing yours with us today!

Pain, Regret, and Blood: A Journey in Infertility

By J. Clyde Wills

I can’t talk about it without crying: IUI, IVF and five failed adoptions. We were trying egg donation before our marriage fell apart. I suppose I am still crying.

Kate* and I started the old fashioned way, which is what all newly married couples do whether they want babies or not. But we did. No one told me making babies would be so hard. In fact, high school health class taught me the opposite. When I was younger I never considered not using protection because even a romantic gesture could cause pregnancy.

Our first stop in fertility was at the Yale Fertility Center. We were told was one of the best fertility centers in the country. The first round of IUI, intrauterine insemination, yielded no results, so we tried IVF for the next round. Insurance only covered the first one so this round of in vitro fertilization was on us. During the whole process my role felt so secondary. It was my job to go into a little room at the doctor’s office containing the most regressive pornography I had ever seen, make my contribution into a sterilized container, and then get out of the way. After that it was my job to administer the shots.

I felt so helpless. I wanted to do more but there was nothing else I could do but give support and love. So I did that. Truthfully Kate was strong enough to give herself the shots.

Our hopes soared as Kate’s blood tests came back positive. The news that we were pregnant was intoxicating which made Kate’s daily regimen of shots easier to bear. Everyday I administered injections into her tummy but the discomfort became worth it. We were having a baby.

Our hopes changed the day Kate received her first ultrasound. The doctor passed the wand over her uterus but there was nothing. It was not just that there was no heartbeat but nothing at all. Hormones levels clearly read pregnancy but her uterus was empty. The pregnancy was ectopic and needed to be ended. After months of injections Kate now had to be treated with methotrexate, a drug normally used in chemotherapy, to end the pregnancy we had dreamed of.

We took a long break after that. Ending the pregnancy was too devastating. So we decided to try adoption. I wish someone had told the cruel reality of domestic adoption. I don’t know what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting this. We chose Lutheran Social Ministries as our agency. I was making a career as a Lutheran minister so it made sense to us. The first two adoptions failed quickly. Our agency connected us to birth mothers and after the emotional journey of meeting them and filling out forms the birth mothers chose another couple. That is how the system works. Potential adoptive parents must woo and court birth mothers who have the option to accept or reject and can always later change their minds.

Then we got the call. A woman was giving birth on the other side of the state. She was choosing an adoption plan for her baby so I left work and we drove to the hospital stopping at Baby’s R’ Us along the way to fill the car with everything we needed. After a long day we came home with Jacob whom we named after my father. For five days it was the kind of bliss that comes with being a new parent. We lived in 24-hour shifts as we fed him, changed him and loved him. This is where I start crying.

Photo by Aditya Romansa

After the fifth day we got the call. Jacob’s birth mother had changed her mind and a social worker would be coming to our house to take him away. That is also how the system works. Until she signs the surrender documents a birth mother has 90 days to have a change of heart. We would later learn that birth mom had used the adoption process to manipulate her own parents into keeping the baby. Giving Jacob away on that day may have been the worst day of my life. It felt no less like a piece of me had been amputated.

After Jacob, Kate and I took matters into our own hands, abandoned Lutheran Social Ministries and pursued private adoption. There is a whole cottage industry of adoption attorneys and we found one in Jacksonville, FL. It is more expensive but the success rate is higher. This is when we met Andrea.

Andrea already had five successful pregnancies. Her first child was adopted by her brother and her other four babies were adopted by couples like us. This was number six. Andrea denied that she was selling her babies to fund her addiction to crack cocaine. But we didn’t care. We just wanted a child. After months of regular visits to Florida and writing lots of checks Andrea disappeared. She went off the radar for a long time with no one, including her family and the attorney, having any idea where she was.

Andrea re-emerged when it was time to give birth and informed us she was keeping the baby. It was her right. Kate and I had no claim to the child, even after it was admitted that Andrea never had any intention of giving up her child and only wanted someone to pay her bills while she was pregnant. The sad part is Andrea did not get to keep her daughter either. Because of her continued abuse of drugs Andrea’s little girl was placed with a family member. Kate and I were never considered.

One more failed adoption after that and Kate and I quit the adoption game for good. We decided to try egg donation. The process is much the same as IUI and IVF with it’s many visits to doctors and shots in the tummy with hormones. The only difference is the egg is donated through any one of a variety of organizations. We scrolled through profiles like it was an online dating site until we found a match that made sense with a price we could handle. A suitable donor was selected but before the process could start our marriage disintegrated.

The end of our marriage is its own tragedy. It could be best equated to a scene from the 1973 film the Long Goodbye where, in order to intimidate his enemies, a gangster smashes a Coke bottle across his own lover’s face right after saying to her, “You are the single most important person in my life.” In truth there was never any violence in our marriage but the end was no less painful. I died that day.

I look at The ART of Infertility exhibit and see my life unfolding before me. I see the many sculptures built from fertility medications and remember every puncture into Kate’s smooth, soft skin. The crib containing $12,000 of medications is specifically heartbreaking. I recognize all of them because it was the contents of our pantry for years. It also reminded me of the crib and stroller that collected dust in a room that was never used. I still have a red biohazard container holding an entire regimen of soiled needles. I should have gotten rid of it years ago but haven’t done it. It is a visceral reminder represented in pain, regret and blood. I can’t let it go.

There is no trace of kumbaya in this story. Not everyone gets a happy ending. Not everyone gets a child or a family, regardless of effort or money spent. Not all dreams come true.

But I won’t allow my story to end this way. It’s not fair to me or to you. I find healing seeing this story expressed through art. Their story is my story and it comforts me. It also reminds me that in grief it is healthy to give my soul a voice and the permission for it to cry and sing. As loss is released, my burdens grow wings and fly away leaving me on earth clutching tightly onto the last of joy. If I am allowed one last prayer it is to see that joy blossom into redemption.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.