Love, Hope, and Acceptance: A Family’s Transition

We are thankful for all of the wonderful people that The ART of Infertility has allowed us to cross paths with. Today, we have a guest post from CJ Carman, who we first met in July of 2015 at her home in Northern California. A memoir about CJ’s infertility, parenting after adoption, and how she and her family were transformed along the way was just released. She shares some of that story with us today. Thanks, CJ!

CJ with baby Nicole

Before my husband and I got engaged, we had discussions about having children.  At first, we thought we did not want children but after several years of marriage, decided we did, in fact, want children very much.  So we set out to get pregnant and soon discovered that we were infertile.  After many tests and discussions with our physician, we decided to try infertility procedures that proved both physically and emotionally painful and that would, alas, fail to get me pregnant.  So much goes on when you are in this place.  So many comments and unsolicited advice from people who mean well, but inadvertently added to the pain.  Guilt was also a huge part of this package.  But my husband and I pretended to make peace with the fact that we would never have children. And then, we were inspired to look into adoption.

Both of us are Caucasian, but being very open to any child who needed love, we adopted an African American baby.  Adopting our daughter, Nicole, was literally the best thing that ever happened to us.  It was also the start of a journey that inspired me to write Love, Hope, and Acceptance: A Family’s Transition.  Besides the “normal” parenting challenges and the realities that come with raising a child of color, there were other opportunities to expand my way of thinking of this world in a positive way.  Living in a very diverse area, through Nicole’s activities and relationships, I was exposed to many different cultures and family lifestyles.  Nicole’s life opened many doors for me and I feel has made me a better person.

Part of Nicole’s journey was realizing that she was lesbian.  At a very young age, Nicole was more attracted to females than males and also tended to identify more with stereotypical male behaviors and dress and was labeled a “stud” in her lesbian relationships.  And while my husband and I were concerned for Nicole’s welfare, we were accepting of how she identified and expressed herself.  Little did we know that her inner angst continued into high school. You see, Nicole felt deeply that she was not a female interested in other females, but actually a male interested in females.  In other words, Nicole knew she identified as male while everyone still saw her as female.  Nicole knew she was transgender and really wanted to make physical changes so his brain’s image of who he was matched his outer appearance.  Thus began the transition from Nicole to Cole. But it was a transition for the whole family.  One that has been mind blowing in that we experienced the power of Cole’s human spirit crying out for, and gaining control over, who he truly is.

Part of this journey included an extraordinary wish by Cole to retrieve and freeze his eggs before starting hormone therapy (at that time, he was one of the first female-to-male transgender persons in the country to undergo this procedure). Cole knew he wanted biological children someday.  Once Testosterone therapy begins, it is extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to produce viable eggs. This was not a decision we all took lightly but one that ultimately led to the success of preserving a part of Cole that will become a living, conscious part of him.  The process was both costly and physically painful but one well worth it.

Cole’s senior portrait

Two-and-a-half years later, Cole is a thriving college student who is secure and happy.  It is not lost on me the almost full circle gift that my husband and I lost, found through adoption, and now can give to Cole – a chance to be a parent.    Now days, those in the LGBT+ community can entertain options once closed to them. I have no residual pain or regret about not being able to have a biological child.  Though Cole did not come into this world from my body, he is, most definitely a part of me. My labor was different but just as mind blowing and wonderful.  It gives me great joy that my husband and I were not only able to help Cole become and openly express his true self, but to help instill hope for his future as a parent.  What greater gift could a parent possibly receive?

Love, Hope, and Acceptance: A Family’s Transition, is available at Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

 

 

 

 

Mingling (Infertility) Experience Research and Friendship

While curating Cradling Creativity in Philadelphia, we had the pleasure to virtually connect with Bethany Johnson, MPhil, MA and Margaret M. Quinlan, PhD, two professors at UNC Charlotte. They graciously shared with us their research on infertility and communication. What struck us even moreso was how they were personally touched by infertility – through friendship. We want to share their story as it sheds light on both the impact of infertility on scholarship and teaching but also on the importance of friendship and support.  — The ART of Infertility

By Bethany Johnson, MPhil, MA  and  Margaret M. Quinlan, PhD

Our research journey began in a hotel room on a research trip when I (Bethany) learned an IVF cycle might have failed (they were ultimately able to freeze two embryos). I was in my third year of failed treatments then. It was a horrible morning—they called while I was in the shower at 7:38 a.m. I remember the exact time because the embryologist left a message saying “I really don’t like to leave messages on people’s voicemail,” yet I was not informed when I could expect a call, and the office wouldn’t open until 9 a.m., so there was no one for me to call back. I felt powerless, devastated and angry.

Meanwhile, Maggie was so upset for me—she asked if I wanted to just go home instead of completing our research trip, but I was desperate for something else to concentrate on. Later she told me she spent the day pulling her sweater over her expanding belly, and avoiding eye contact just in case anyone asked her about her pregnancy. She also told me later she never could have stayed and worked—she would have gotten in her car to go home and grieve. I felt so out of control that the only thing that anchored me was focusing on something else. I was so thankful she was there with me and didn’t push for us to go home.

It wasn’t the first time she was there for me in my treatment journey. Previously, she brought me a beautiful baby blanket as a gift when we got a dog—a gift I never thought I’d have a reason to receive. Then when I needed an outpatient surgery and my husband was forced to be out of town, she picked me up and drove me to the clinic, waited through the procedure, drove me to a hotel and tucked me in with meds and treats afterward, since my house wasn’t habitable that day. (It was a rough season.) But the greatest gift she gave me was during that research trip. She listened while I cried and grieved, dove into the archive with me, dreamed up research conclusions, walked miles around Brooklyn while pregnant, and then, on the drive home, opened up our research future.

The magic words were these: “Well why don’t we do a study about this?”

That was four years ago. Since then, we’ve conducted three studies, published four articles, made a documentary with graduate students and worked with our participants, a graphic designer (Bo Rumley) and an artist (Alma R. Evans of Ursa Wild Design) to create treatment support cards for people in treatment. Maggie and Alma both told me they wished they had cards to give to their friends (like me), and I wished I had them to give to others. But many of our interviewees said the same thing during our first study, and that’s how we ended up reaching out to The ART of Infertility to share what emerged from our research.

Photo credit: Lynn Roberson, UNC Charlotte, Communications Director, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

These cards eventually appeared in The ART of Infertility exhibit, along with the work of other talented artists and activists. At the opening, the cards were placed in an open mailbox, challenging viewers to imagine receiving or sending these unique messages to friends and family walking the lonely road of waiting for conception, sometimes receiving a diagnosis, and even beginning treatment or treatments. Being a part of this exhibit felt, in some ways, like the culmination of our efforts to make a difference because of my experience and the experience of so many others in our community.

 

Alma’s card in mailbox, The ART of Infertility. Photo credit: Maria Novotny

Through it all, I could count on the steadfastness of Maggie’s friendship, as well as the support of people we met throughout our work, and kept up relationships with after our studies concluded (when it was appropriate to speak with them again of course). For us, friendship and research always did and always will, overlap, even as medical statuses and experiences continue to shift and change.

Our Research on Infertility

Graduate students in “COMM 6011: Visual Ethnography” course. Photocredit: Lynn Roberson, UNC Charlotte, Communications Director, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences 

The graduate students really dove into the experience and wrestled with their own ability to be allies and supporters of people diagnosed with infertility or undergoing infertility treatments. As Maddy Michalik recalled, “This was my first experience with producing a documentary, and I learned so much about artful research methodologies as well as how to better communicate with individuals walking the (in)fertility path. Initially, I was struck by the varying degree to which patients shared their journey with others — some were very open and regularly updated friends and family on social media while others only told those that needed to know. This taught me that as with any health experience, individuals will cope and seek support in different ways, and as allies, we need to be mindful of how we communicate and offer support without being invasive or insensitive.”

Nathan Pope relayed, “Our hope is that the use of an artistic medium allowed for a more immersive, emotional experience for the viewer. Seeing an individual express their feelings and hearing their spoken word may create a more reflective space for the viewer, just as interviews created a reflective space for participants and the entire project created a contemplative moment for researchers.” Witnessing students learn the process of conducting research and wrestle with these issues as they raised awareness about meaningful support has been one of the most incredible results from our projects.

Part of the documentary features infertility greeting cards that are on display in The ART of Infertility exhibits, The graduate student-produced documentary, 1 in 8: Communicating (In)fertility will also be included in the traveling art exhibit. The first draft of 1 in 8: Communicating (In)fertility https://youtu.be/7z9jfZjoS04. The film was produced by: UNC Charlotte Communication Studies Masters Students/Producers including:  Desiree Bataba, Shanice Cameron, Cameron Davis, Samantha Maine, Elizabeth Medlin, Maddy Michalik, Nathan Pope, Miranda Rouse, and Olivia Sadler, and UNC Charlotte Senior Researchers: Margaret M. Quinlan & Bethany Johnson. The impact of our draft film continues to reverberate throughout the local community and beyond.

A goal of our (Maggie, Bethany and UNC Charlotte graduate students) arts-based infertility research is to prompt future research which deepens our understanding of (in)fertility diagnosis, treatment, and support for patients. We are grateful to be included in The ART of Infertility exhibits and look forward to future collaboration.

More On Our Research on Infertility

Johnson, B., Quinlan, M. M., & Myers, J. (2017). Commerce, industry, and security: Biomedicalization theory and the use of metaphor to describe practitioner-patient communication within Fertility, Inc. Women’s Reproductive Health, 4, 89-105.

Johnson, B., Quinlan, M. M., & Evans, A. (2017).  Research based Infertility greeting cards in traveling art exhibit. The ART of Infertility- Infertility Art Exhibit, Art Therapy. http://www.artofinfertility.org/

Johnson, B., & Quinlan, M. M. (2017, Nov). Race, racism and infertility. Racism in Science [series]. Vital: On the Human Side of Health [Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities]. Retrieved from https://the-vital.com/2017/11/10/racism-infertility/           

Johnson, B., & Quinlan, M. M. (2017, Nov). Infertility: Resources for family, friends, and practitioners. Racism in Science [series]. Vital: On the Human Side of Health [Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities] Retrieved from https://the-vital.com/infertility-resources/

Johnson, B., & Quinlan, M. M. (2017). Insiders and outsiders and insider(s) again in the (in)fertility world. Health Communication32, 381-385.

Johnson, B., Quinlan, M. M., & Marsh, J. S. (2017). Telenursing and nurse-patient communication within Fertility, Inc. Journal of Holistic Nursing.

Johnson, B., & Quinlan, M. M. (2016). For her own good: The expert-woman dynamic and the body politics of REI treatment. Women & Language39, 127-131.

Finding a Creative Outlet for Coping with Infertility

As part of our series on alternative success stories of infertility, we’re sharing a guest post from Elyse Ash. Elyse and her husband, Brad, pooled their talents to find a unique way to process the pain of infertility. Thanks, Elyse, for sharing your story!

Anyone who has gone through infertility knows how tough it can be on a marriage. And not “I-never-get-to-use-the-remote-control” tough…

It took my husband Brad and me two full years to get on the same page regarding our infertility diagnosis and course of action. But before that, there were two years of arguments about finances, crying after sex and discussing the positives and pitfalls of every medical option we faced.

And while we were still traveling, laughing, canoeing and hosting parties, the frenetic, fearful energy of our infertility was always right below the surface. At any given moment I could spontaneously burst into tears. We both lived in constant fear of pregnancy announcements from close friends…me, because I couldn’t hide my heartbreak anymore and Brad, because I couldn’t hide my heartbreak anymore and was prone to public sobbing.

We were stuck in this weird dance. I was mad at the world for not giving me what I wanted. Brad was mad at me for being “ungrateful” and dissatisfied with our already-undeniably-awesome life.

Kind of makes you miss the days of fighting over dirty dishes and taking out the trash.

But then things changed…and pretty quickly, too…

In fact, I can pinpoint the exact moment things started getting better between us…and it wasn’t when we saw a positive pregnancy test. It was when we decided to take the pain, anxiety and fear we were both experiencing individually and turn it into something productive and cathartic that we could do together. It was when we decided to combine our professional skills, collaborate and build something that could really help others. It was when we decided to launch Fruitful Fertility.

Photo by Aaron Lavinsky and Jerry Holt for the Star Tribune

I had the idea for Fruitful in the summer of 2016 after our first round of IVF failed. I was heartbroken, shocked and devastated…but I was also frustrated with how my dearest friends and family struggled to emotionally support me in a meaningful way. To be fair, they tried! Lord knows they tried. But the only people who made me feel better in any tangible way were friends who had BEEN THERE quite literally…who knew the rules of the IVF game and knew which questions to ask. It was then I realized that what I really wanted was a fertility mentor who understood what I was going through but who wasn’t trying to get pregnant anymore. Someone who was already on the other side and could offer me the perspective and wisdom I so desperately lacked.

Brad loved the concept, and as a web developer he got right to work helping me design the Fruitful website and matching process. We needed to create a platform to help best match fertility mentors with mentees based on a series of inputs: location, age, diagnosis, values, interests. We worked late. We pushed each other. We sketched out email flows. We registered for an LLC. We had no idea what we were doing, yet together we created this thing and poured all of our creativity and energy into it. We cared for it…nurtured it…loved it. It wasn’t just like a baby…but it also wasn’t NOT like a baby…

And now? Fruitful is growing! It’s been incredible to see our tiny user base flourish into a real community of fertility warriors; a mix of women and men who’ve been through this battle or are actively going through it. It’s been humbling and rewarding to watch, and it’s brought us together in a way that we never expected. Through this project, we could channel the anxiety and fear we felt around our own story and put it into something helpful and meaningful for others.

On a personal note, things have changed a lot us since we launched Fruitful in April 2017. We had our first Frozen Embryo Transfer in late June 2017, which was successful; we’re now due with our first kiddo in March 2018.

Our next challenge? Pursuing our full-time jobs while continuing to help others through Fruitful and taking care of a baby. And while I’m not quite sure how this will look logistically, I have complete faith that now Brad and I can get through anything.

 

 

 

Healing your HeA.R.T through Art

by Maya Grobel

Several years ago, Elizabeth Walker  (founder and co-director of The ART of Infertility) came to my house to interview my husband Noah and me for a project she was working on. After four plus years of a tumultuous journey to parenthood that involved every possible assisted reproductive technology in the book (clomid, laparoscopic surgery, IUIs, IVF, IVF with donor eggs), we were tentatively pregnant with a donated embryo that (thankfully) resulted in our daughter.

At the time, Noah and I were working on a project of our own. It was a documentary film about infertility, our own path to parenthood, and the making of modern families. None of us in the room knew that in our hearts we were actually pursuing a common goal— expressing our feelings about infertility through art, in order to process our experience, decrease stigma and shame around the disease of infertility, and normalize how different families are created.

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

Cut to four years later. Noah and I have an incredible daughter nearing three years-old, and a feature-length film called One More Shot that was recently released on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, and Vimeo on Demand. And Elizabeth, along with co-director Maria Novotny, has created a brilliant non-profit arts organization to support those struggling to create a family by showcasing artwork done by infertility patients. The exhibits by ART of IF aim to build awareness of infertility and educate the world about it, “portraying the realities, pains and joys of living with IF.”

When Elizabeth asked us to show our film at one of the ART of IF exhibits in Seattle, we were thrilled, and it became immediately evident that the collaboration between One More Shot and The ART of Infertility was a perfect match.

The screening in Seattle accompanied the exhibit SEA-ART-HEAL, held at the Seattle Center in April of 2017, and included a Q&A.

Our film was our entry into a world we knew nothing about. It chronicles our journey and explores the complex relational, emotional, physical, financial, medical, and ethical issues that accompany assisted reproduction. It’s a very personal glimpse into what infertility really looks like. In an attempt to find community around the shame and silence surrounding infertility, Noah and I interviewed others who had experienced similar struggles and found alternative ways to construct their families. This allowed us to meet and have in-depth conversations with people who shared what it was like to experience multiple pregnancy losses, let go of a genetic connection to their child, or watch someone else give birth to their child. It was eye opening for us, and also hopeful.  And when each baby-making intervention we tried failed, we knew that somehow, if we were open to all possibilities, and had high enough limits on our credit cards, we’d find a way to be parents.

As a psychotherapist now practicing in the realm of infertility, I can clearly see that this film, in a lot of ways, is our trauma narrative. Producing the film together, while stressful at times, allowed Noah and me to have a different creative focus when we were completely isolated and stranded on Infertility Island. While we couldn’t make a baby, we could make a movie. So we did. And through that we were able to analyze and understand our experiences, create something tangible and visual about it, and connect to this isolated but incredibly powerful and supportive community through a shared narrative. As Noah likes to say, we were able to make lemonade out of some sour-ass lemons. It was cathartic and I believe it also helped us heal our hearts at a time when they were very broken. Now we hope that it can help others heal too.

Our story really is a version of that of so many other people. And by sharing our story through our film, we know we can give a voice to this pain and connect to the hearts of so many people who struggle to make a baby. Sharing through visual story-telling was our medium. The ART of IF displays a variety of other artistic work that allows the viewer to see it from other personal points of view.  And through understanding, there is a sense of connection and hope.

So when Elizabeth asked us to join her and The ART of IF in Salt Lake City, Utah— well, it was a no-brainer. I just have to figure out where to trade in my California girl flip-flops for some snow boots.

A screening of the film One More Shot and panel discussion on using the humanities to cope with infertility will be held at Urban Arts Gallery in Salt Lake City at 6 pm MST on February 15th. This event, an extension of the exhibit, Arches in Perspective: The ART of Infertility in Utah, is free and open to the public. Reserve your space at http://bit.ly/onemoreshotutah.

Not near Salt Lake City? One More Shot is now available on Netflix, iTunes, Vimeo on Demand, and Amazon. The ART of Infertility will have events in Los Angeles, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Chicago later this year. Check out our full schedule for events near you.  

 

 

 

Bringing The ART of Infertility to My Hometown in Utah

Today we hear from Camille Hawkins, Executive Director of the Utah Infertility Resource Center. We’re excited to be collaborating with Camille to bring The ART of Infertility to Utah next month for an exhibit and programming beginning mid-February and running through mid-March.Thanks, Camille, for sharing your story!

The first time I saw the positive line on a pregnancy test I was in disbelief. Five years of planning sex around ovulation, temperature taking, pills, my husband leaving semen samples in the awkward room at the clinic, injections, undressing from the waist down, putting my cold feet in stirrups, vaginal ultrasounds and suppositories, surgeries. Having grown up in the extremely family-oriented culture of Utah, there was nothing I wanted more than to have a baby and be a mom. We had finally made it. And then it ended.

One of the hardest things about miscarrying my beautiful embryo(s) was accepting that there was nothing more I could do to increase my chances of getting (and staying) pregnant again. All of the things I had the power to do had already been done. I saved my money religiously. I ate healthy. I followed the instructions for the daily cocktail of injections. I never put a laptop on my lap or got in a hot tub. I meditated and prayed. Lots.

Infertility sucks. That’s all there is to it. What’s more, people around me often didn’t understand the almost unbearable emotional pain I was dealing with. I tried sharing my story with others, but my thoughts, feelings, and experiences were frequently invalidated by well-meaning friends, family, and colleagues. I was so desperate, depressed, and isolated. Most days it felt that the only hope in life was the idea that maybe, just maybe, a miracle would happen that would finally allow me to be a mom. The day I went to work as a counselor and met with my client who had received an abortion at the same time I was miscarrying was the day I realized I could not do this alone anymore.

I needed real connection. I needed expression. I needed to know that I wasn’t alone. A black hole was pulling me in. I desperately needed someone or something to pull me out. I started to look and found nothing. I started painting and journaling to release and communicate the pain, but I still had no one on the outside to say, “Yes, this is awful. I know your pain. I went through it too. I was on that roller coaster.”

In March of 2014 I started a support group in my living room. That support group was the seed that led to the Utah Infertility Resource Center (UIRC), a nonprofit organization serving thousands of Utahns who are facing infertility. This is done through no and low-cost infertility counseling, in-person support groups, online support, infertility awareness, informational consultations, and educational events that bring our community together. The number of infertility community members that UIRC serves continues to grow, and in Spring 2018, we will offer yet another meaningful program called “Works and Wonders: Art Inspired by the Journey of Infertility.”

I met Elizabeth and Maria during a trip I took to Washington D.C. to advocate to congressional leaders on behalf of Utah’s infertility community. I learned about their personal stories and experiences with infertility and how they, like me, were using art and writing as creative expressions to make visible the pain of infertility. They told me how they too created a non-profit organization, The ART of Infertility. This organization collects art and writing reflective of infertility and reproductive loss and curates provoking and empowering exhibits about infertility so as to build community support and provide greater education and awareness. After talking to them, I knew that my hometown needed to host one of their exhibits.

I needed real connection. I needed expression. I needed to know that I wasn’t alone.

Two years later, URIC is partnering with The ART of Infertility to host a series of month-long programming, titled “Works and Wonders: Art Inspired by the Journey of Infertility”, running from Feb 16, 2018 – Mar 16, 2018. These innovative and emotionally powerful events will consist of:

  • Arches in Perspective: The ART of Infertility in Utah”, an infertility-themed art exhibit with original works at Art Access Gallery and Urban Arts Gallery in downtown Salt Lake City organized and curated by The ART of Infertility.
  • A series of community art therapy workshops, January 20 at Art Access with therapist Emily Bagley, and at each of our six monthly support groups throughout the state.
  • A film screening of the documentary, One More Shot, with a panel discussing using the humanities to cope with infertility on February 15 at Urban Arts Gallery.
  • An opening reception at each gallery on February 16 in conjunction with the SLC Gallery Stroll.
  • And, a closing night gala at The Falls Event Center on March 16 at 6 pm.

We have already held one art therapy workshop for our clients in preparation for the exhibit and the process and outcomes were heart wrenching, touching, and profound. One of the clients who attended said, “This workshop really brought out a lot of feelings I didn’t know I had. I was able to express those feelings in a productive way, and was able to have something to remind me.” I watched each person in this workshop, and learned all it takes to create art around infertility is a willingness to express and a medium to express with. The stories of each of our clients are already beautiful and healing. It just takes a willingness to transfer it from our brains and bodies to something outside ourselves.

I know there is nothing special about my own infertility story. In fact, as Executive Director of UIRC, I now hear the same story over and over again. All Day. Every day. The good news is that because of UIRC, no one in Utah ever has to go through this journey alone ever again. I, along with Maria and Elizabeth, hope “Works and Wonders” will provide even more opportunities for Utahns struggling with infertility to get the education, connections, and opportunities for expression that I know they so desperately need. I can’t wait for you to join us!

We are still accepting artwork for this exhibit. Enter yours at http://bit.ly/ArtworkUT2018.

Maria, Elizabeth, and Camille at Infertility Advocacy Day in 2016.

Fine and Good – Jamie’s Story of Healing through Art

We’re still accepting entries for our upcoming exhibit, “Cradling Creativity: The ART of Infertility in Philadelphia” and we’d love to have your writing or visual or performance art. You can submit your art at http://bit.ly/PhillyArtEntry. One of the artists who will be featured in “Cradling Creativity” is Jamie Blicher. Today, Jamie shares how she’s used art to heal while dealing with infertility. Thank you, Jamie, for sharing your work and story with us!

I lived in New York City for 10 years, where I met the amazing Brian. We got married in May 2014. I’ve always worked very hard at my career (I’m a Retail Buyer) and have the most incredible friends. But to me, family has always come first. So, Brian and I moved home to Maryland to be near ours and start our own (so much for the planner in me!). We tried to get pregnant naturally for a year and when nothing was happening, I turned to Shady Grove Fertility in Rockville, Maryland. The first step was to try an IUI. After three consecutive failed IUI procedures, we moved to IVF. The first transfer worked but I miscarried identical twin boys at 8 weeks. We transferred the second embryo in April and the second transfer didn’t work.

I’ve always painted, scrapbooked, bedazzled and did every art project under the sun. Art (as well as singing and dancing) has always been a form of meditation for me–and what a better time to practice! After the second procedure failed, I was looking for a specific brush in my toolbox and saw that I had thrown some unused IVF needles in the toolbox so I put paint in a syringe and loved how it looked on my canvas. I started sharing my paintings on social media and knew that I wanted to help change the conversation about infertility by speaking about it publicly and explaining why I was painting so much!

In June, I shared my story on Facebook. It felt like I was finally cluing friends into my “dirty little secret” of infertility. I wasn’t at all expecting to get the reaction that I received. Thirty-seven (I counted) Facebook friends sent me private messages about how they are going through the same thing or just went through it.  I received texts and phone calls from old friends, coworkers and friends’ parents about their stories. I met countless others who have felt therapeutic by discussing their fertility challenges. Brian and I couldn’t believe it–if infertility is so common, why aren’t we talking about it? Why do I see commercials for restless leg syndrome and not IVF support groups and medicine?

After sharing my story publicly, I’ve continued to paint using the IVF needles and have found so much energy from this and the amazing infertility community I’ve found. Unfortunately, we had another miscarriage early last month at again 8 weeks, but my hopes are high and I’m painting and talking with other “TTC sisters” more than ever. Being open about this has helped me in many ways from my incredibly supportive work environment to the warmer smiles from acquaintances in the community. I always go back to the “be kind because you never know what someone is going through” quote I love.

I’m not great, but I’m fine and good. There are days when I randomly start crying in my car and there are days when I’m so positive and cheerful, it’s annoying. I like to joke about my situation using one of my favorite Seinfeld quotes, “That’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody can just take them. That’s exactly how I feel about my body right now. I can get pregnant but need to figure out how to hold the pregnancy. But through everything, the most important thing I’m learning is to stay open about the process. Other stories have helped me so much and I hope to help others. I don’t feel lonely anymore–I feel like a warrior in this struggle to achieve happiness. If I’m anything like my unbelievable mother (I am), I know I’ll be an amazing mom too one day–no matter how that happens.  But for now, I’m happy being me and using creativity and community to face adversity and win!

You can follow Jamie on Instagram @theglitterenthusiast 

Breastfeeding after IF – Natalie’s Story

August is National Breastfeeding Month. Breastfeeding may not be the first thing you think of when you hear the word infertility. However, there are a variety of ways that barriers to breastfeeding/breastmilk and the disease intersect. Throughout the month, we’ll spend some time exploring the topic. In today’s post, Natalie Higginbotham shares her experience with breastfeeding after infertility, including the challenges that she encountered due to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This post does contain a picture of a baby and parenting. Thanks, Natalie, for sharing your story! 

Breastfeeding After Infertility
by Natalie Higginbotham

Soon after my son Atticus was first born, I remember a flurry of nurses and medical staff trying to help him breastfeed while I was in the recovery room. I had just come out of a cesarean section, and was very loopy from the medicine I was given to help relax. A nurse held an oxygen mask to my face telling me to take deep breaths since my blood oxygen level was taking longer than normal to come back up. All I could focus on was my new baby boy, trying to make sure he had the opportunity to breastfeed. One of the biggest concerns I had going into my c-section was the possibility of it negatively affecting my ability to nurse.

After I settled into my private room, one of the first nurses to visit us was a lactation consultant. We’d met once before in the Breastfeeding and Baby Basics Class. She came in and congratulated us. She proceeded to say how she was just in another mother’s room who was in the same boat as me. Apparently, polycystic ovarian syndrome  (PCOS) and c-section births do not coincide with an easy breastfeeding journey. Due to hormonal imbalances, some women with PCOS have difficulties maintaining an adequate milk supply. With so little going in my favor it was important she visit often during my hospital stay to give me the help I needed. She instructed me to pump after every feeding, and to pump every couple of hours – even in the middle of the night.

Luckily, my body responded well to all that pumping. My milk supply came in after I got home, and I seemed to have no issues nursing. I have a few friends who needed to stop nursing early on, due to the pain or other problems. I was so happy that overall, I didn’t really have any excruciating pain or issues that kept me from nursing Atticus.

Natalie and Atticus - Breastfeeding after InfertilityFor me, breastfeeding was about so much more than just feeding my baby. After years of not ovulating and abnormally long cycles from PCOS that led to failed cycle after cycle; breastfeeding was my opportunity to let my body do something right for once. As it turns out, my body finally knew what to do and did it well. I found it very rewarding to be able to nurse and bond with my long-wished-for baby. His conception and birth didn’t go as planned, but at least I was able to provide him with nourishment like I hoped for. I went from being angry at my broken parts to proud and happy with my body’s ability to do something right for once.

Coming up on fifteen months of our breastfeeding journey, infertility’s influence is still present. I am trying to wean my reluctant toddler. Nutritionally speaking, it is perfectly fine and he doesn’t need to nurse. However, he still very much relies on it for comfort. In a way, so do I. Breastfeeding my long-fought-for baby has been such a reward. The bond we built breastfeeding provides solace and mends all the brokenness infertility caused.

We want to begin another frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycle in hopes of giving him a sibling. I am not allowed to breastfeed while on the many different injections the cycle requires. Understandably so, I don’t want him pumped up with residual in-vitro fertilization medicine any more than I want to feed them into my own body. The pressure is on now to wean him.

I enter the end of our breastfeeding journey with some uneasy feelings. I worry that we will wean and go on to do our FET only for it to fail and weaning be all for not. I worry that he is the only baby I’ll get and I’ll regret weaning him sooner than he was ready. In a way, I don’t want it to end, because that means my baby isn’t a baby anymore. Watching my baby grow up is a strange mix of pure joy and heartbreak. Joy in seeing him thrive and heartbreak in missing the tiny cuddly newborn that is grew up way too fast. I’m savoring these final moments of nursing and my baby wavering into full on toddlerhood. Either way, I know I’ll look back on our breastfeeding journey with joy, happiness, and comfort in all it has meant to me after a three year long battle with infertility.

Read more about Natalie’s story at http://www.ivf-mama.com

Do you have a story of breastfeeding and infertility that you would like to share? Please contact us at info@artofinfertility.org.

Rising Ever Upward

Today’s guest post, by Justine Brooks Froelker, is another example that there are all kinds of ways to find success after infertility. Thanks, Justine, for sharing your story!

Rising Ever Upward
by Justine Brooks Froelker

My alarm goes off at 4:14 am. I am one of those people, it must be set on a 4. Just one of my things I suppose. Admit it, you have at least one of those too.

I do the affirmations of my morning routine despite it being so early and my early flight looming. I figure I can read and meditate on the plane. My eyes feel heavy and my stomach is already growling, both quickly combining in me becoming one hangry person.

“You got everything?” my husband Chad asks as I am sitting on the floor getting as many puppy cuddles as I can before I leave for 5 nights on this first leg of the my tour.

“I think so,” I reply as tears fill my eyes.

4 am alarm.

Hungry.

Goodbyes.

A dream full of risk and knowing realized.

All making for me feeling all the feels.

I have been in the mental health field for 18 years, the last 10 of those spent in private practice. Just a few weeks ago, I all but closed my practice to head out on tour to 8 cities nationwide over the next two months offering my Rising Ever Upward workshops and intensives based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown, shame and vulnerability researcher.

I have been a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator (CWDF) for over 3 and half years, meaning I am one of only about 1500 CDWFs worldwide who are trained and allowed to do Dr. Brown’s curriculum. For the first two years of the work I guided my individual clients through the curriculum. For the last year I have held small group intensives in my office. And now, I am taking the work on the road in what many would call the biggest risk of my career. Risk or not, to me, it is my calling and an obedience to my truth, God’s plan, and the power of this work.

It is also only the beginning.

Justine Brooks Froelker

The work of Brené Brown is all about living, loving, leading and parenting in an authentic, brave, and wholehearted way. In other words, it is the engaged life we all yearn for but aren’t quite sure where to start. This work saved me five years ago after my own failed infertility journey of tens of thousands of dollars spent, three lost babies, and an ending no one wants, dreams of, plans or paid for. This work has given me the language and the skills to dig my way out of a darkness I never thought I’d see the light of day from. This work lives in me, has settled into my bones, and is in every cell – modeling it and teaching it to others is an honor, privilege, and something I simply cannot not do, especially in and for the infertility community.

Most of all though, this work is in honor of my story and of my three.

Last week, I kicked my tour off in St. Louis, and already, the ripples of people showing up, being seen, and living brave are changing the world. See for yourself in Michelle’s testimony:

IF you’ve ever struggled with feeling stuck, or on the cusp of something good or even great, but unable to take the next step, unsure of how to muster the courage to move forward;

IF you’ve struggled with shame or been frozen in place because of fear of what others will think, or fear of failure, or fear of rejection;

IF you’ve let your past define your present or limit your belief in your future;

IF you’ve ever played a tape in your head that says, “I’m not good enough, thin enough, smart enough, young enough, strong enough.

IF you want a new story for your life and you’d like to be the author of that story;

Then Justine Froelker’s Rising Strong Workshop is for you. It’s life-changing, transformative – the real deal.

Like millions of people, I’ve read Brene Brown’s work and listened to her renowned Ted Talks on shame, fear, courage, vulnerability and living a whole-hearted life. And each time I did, I thought: I would love a blueprint to implement those ideas and that research into my life. And then I quickly went back to my old ways of thinking

In this workshop, Justine takes Brene’s work and helps you apply it through a process that you can implement immediately to your own life, and then apply it over and over again. You literally write a new story.

Within days of finishing the workshop, I stepped out of my comfort zone and took action on my novel in progress. I pushed through the fear of what others will think and pulled the trigger on some things that will help me bring it to fruition. And I’ve implemented some simple (not easy, but simple) daily actions that are already changing how I interact with friends and family.

Those self-limiting tapes, that crap playing in my head, keeping me from chasing my dreams with all I’ve got and limiting my connection with others? They’re not completely silenced (yet), but now I know where the damn mute button is. 

~Michelle C.

If you are ready to live more wholeheartedly, love more deeply, be more engaged in your relationships, and more brave in your business, come see me on tour this summer, I still have 5 cities left.

And, make sure to follow at www.daringinstl.com and www.facebook.com/justinebfroelker for future St. Louis dates.

Finding My Inner Warrior

Today’s guest post is from Taylin Beechey. Taylin says, “I found your website and found the idea of sharing pieces of our stories from our infertility experiences to be a beautiful idea. Along my journey I have kept a lot of writing about my experience as a young woman having been born with a rare birth defect leaving me unable to conceive with out IVF treatment. Four years later, I am pregant and I would love nothing more then the opportunity to share my story in hopes that someone, somewhere will find comfort in knowing they are understood, That they are not alone. I have attached my story in hopes you could read it. Thank you so very much in advance.”

So, we’re sharing Taylin’s story with you today.

Finding My Inner Warrior Through Infertility

Taylin Beechey

It took me a long time to decide if this was a story I ever wanted to share or not. For me, sharing wonderful beautiful things in my life has always been easy and I am sure it makes many assume I am a completely open book. Sharing the hard stuff though…that’s my real struggle.

The stuff that leads you to that dark place that we don’t like to talk about. For me, it’s mostly because of how uncomfortable it might make someone else feel. What if they don’t know what to say? What if they feel awkward around me after? No… I better keep it locked up to myself.

Taylin and her husband, Josh, in 2015. Photo by Devon C. Photography

That was then, this is now!!! I have come to realize that although there WILL always be people who it makes uncomfortable, maybe there will be one woman, one man, one couple that feels understood in a way that I didn’t. For me, that’s worth it.

There are some moments in life that we will always remember as vividly as the second they happened. For me this will always be the moment I was told I wouldn’t have children. Well the exact words were… “You have a rare birth defect and if you where my daughter and had XXXXX amount thousands of dollars I would do IVF today! Otherwise it would be advisable that you explore other means of starting a family.” Divine intervention must have taken over as I will never really understand how I even made it home that day. That 45 minute drive from my clinic is one I have no recollection of.

I can say for my 28 years I’ve lived and learned through my fair share of pain. I lost a parent, I’ve loved people who struggle with addiction, dealt with my fair share of mean girls, had more than enough heartbreak to last a lifetime.  Nothing on this planet has rocked me like those words coming out of the doctor’s mouth. The loss of a dream of a child you haven’t even met yet is a pain I cannot express to you on paper. It’s your whole life’s dreams wrapped up and tossed in a waste basket. A million thoughts go through your mind as a woman.

Wasn’t I born to do this? Am I not good enough to be a mother?
Is this punishment for something wrong I have done?
Maybe I could be that childless lady, the one with the really nice white furniture instead!
Why me? Why us? Will my husband still love me?

It is a spiral of thoughts, questions, and blame.  Trust me when I tell you that the level of CRAZY, we women are capable of, would scare most men ha ha. Nowhere else in life would a person be expected to experience this amount of pain and hide it. We mourn death, we rally around victims of disasters, we start interventions and support groups for addiction.  Infertility though, it’s in its own category. One that makes us feel we should be quiet. God forbid we make someone else uncomfortable due to our sadness.

Perhaps we keep it so quiet because the response to our pain can be so hurtful. I have lost count of the number of times I was told to stay calm. “STAY CALM IT WILL HAPPEN.”  CALM YOU SAY? How about I fire you from your job, rob your home, kick your car. “Now just stay calm.” How does it feel for you? Light or heavy? Those are all replaceable things. This child that I will never have and am mourning is NOT REPLACEABLE!!!!  So NO I will not be calm!

In fact, if your reading this do yourself a favor and be the complete opposite of calm. YELL! THROW A PILLOW AT THE WALL. USE A COUPLE OF WORDS YOUR MOTHER WILL DISAPPROVE OF! HA, HA, but really it’s true because I’ll tell you this pain, it’s deep and the only way to survive it is to let it all OUT! When you say this to us it’s actually insulting, and trust me when I say I know you meant it with so much love. I really do, and I’m thankful that you care enough to say anything at all. It’s not helpful though and it truly isn’t kind.

Taylin with her friend, Melissa Holman, at the cottage. Taylin says of Melissa, “My rock. A friend who spent weekly teas with me and was there for the years of finding out I was unable to have children and through all of my infertility treatments & later success.”

We don’t share our pain because we would hate to have it dampen your joy. We worry that maybe next week you won’t invite us to that baby shower, or Johnny’s first birthday. This also is not helpful. I do understand the logic and there were days when being near a child’s birthday would have done me in, but let me make that call. As there were also hundreds of days that my friends’ and family’s children were all that kept me going. I would look into their big glassy eyes and think, “I’m not giving up because this face is so worth everything I will have to do to get there.” So if you’re looking to do me a favor, do this. Let me hug your child a little longer, let me hold their hands when we all cross the street. Let me feel the magic that is a child who looks at you like you’re the coolest person they have ever met. I was blessed in this category by my friends and family who allowed me to love the hell out of their babies. I know you know who you are and am I soooo thankful. Your children saved me in ways I can never thank them for.

1 in 8 couples will experience infertility issues. This means someone you know right now is struggling. So please be kind don’t ask the newly married couple when they’re having babies. Don’t ask the partner who already has children if their spouse is the issue. Do not tell your friends how amazing it is that you just decided to try for the first time ever on Friday and BOOM had a positive test the following Monday. But do tell us your pregnant. Trust me, behind the pain we are so joyfully happy for you.

Do show us how much you love your children. it gives us something to keep fighting for. And, do as my friends did… hug me on bad days and celebrate with me when my day finally comes.

Infertility is a long and mostly dark road full of financial stress, needles upon needles upon needles, ultrasounds, and more doctors’ appointments than I can count. Sleepless nights of worry and prayer, tears, and breaks to catch your breath.

There is no right way to grieve a child that will never be. To mourn. To struggle and to face getting through each day. All I can say is feel every wave, the ones that have you unable to breath and the ones that allow you to float for a little while.

I don’t have the answer for why this is happening to you. I only know that the person who comes out on the other side will be the most bad-ass version of yourself you have ever seen. I know this because my biggest struggle as a mother came before my child had even been born.

You have a warrior inside of you that will blow your mind. I have done things in the past three years I would have never believed possible.  My husband and step-daughter look at me some days like I may be Wonder Woman and then I stop and think, “Hell, I kind of am!!”

Taylin, center, with husband Josh and step-daughter, Claudia.

I am 1 in 8. A soon-to-be mother, an IVF Warrior, a woman who will never be willing to take no for an answer. I’m surrounded by some bad-ass women and a wise step-daughter, a loving husband and some strong men, supportive family and one talented fertility doctor. And let’s not forget those above me, clearly sending down some love from the heavens!

I pray that if the moment ever comes and you’re in that doctor’s chair, that you know it’s ok to be weak. It’s ok to be scared. But, mostly importantly, it’s ok to let people in. This is where we find out what our relationships are really made of. At the end of your journey you’re going to want the people standing next to you to be the ones who weathered the storm with you. I have found my people through this pain and I have found some real beauty in this world along the way.

xox
Taylin

Waiting for Babies

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

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

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

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

Waiting for Babies
by Steven Mavros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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