Loss

Sadly, many of us have had friendships strained, or lost, as a result of our infertility. These secondary losses can be incredibly tough.

We received an art submission for our exhibit, SEA-ART-HEAL: The ART of Infertility in Seattle, that directly deals with this kind of loss. We’re sharing it in today’s post.

Have you lost a friendship as the result of your infertility? What was that experience like for you? Perhaps you would find it helpful to express those emotions through creating a piece of art, like this artist (who wishes to remain anonymous) did. If you do, we’d love for you to share it with us!

Loss
Anonymous
dress, paint

It is March. I have been bleeding more days this year than not.
My best friend, who gave me this dress, had unprotected sex
one time and got pregnant. When I also was pregnant, I could roll
my eyes at that. When I was not pregnant anymore I was
NOT OK.
I miscarried a baby that cost me thousands of dollars to get pregnant with.
“Two days ago I cried to (husband) and told him I hope I fucking miscarried so that you’d take me back.”
STOP (insert more abusive bullshit).
JUST STOP.

I lost my baby but I also lost my best friend.

Loss by Anonymous. dress, paint

 

 

The Visual Minimal – Elisa’s Story

by Elisa Fox

Miscarriage – a word that was hardly part of my vocabulary. A word I never thought would apply to ME. That’s an “other” word. You know, those things that only happen to miscellaneous “other” people, like cancer, horrific car accidents, and house fires. An improbability, but now, part of my story.

I was 24, married for three years, and happily naïve. I found myself pregnant after a couple months of trying and we were thrilled! Though it seemed unreal, I continued onward with a secret and a grin and anxiously awaited my first ultrasound. I took a couple more pregnancy tests just to be sure, and those pretty pink lines reassured me every time.

Then, I started spotting. My heart sank. I frantically searched online for answers, something that would tell me this was normal. But somehow, I knew. I knew it was ending.

A few days later, I was no longer pregnant.

There was now no due date to anticipate.

An ultrasound appointment to cancel.

Announcement gifts to return… or hide… or throw away..

My grief was crippling and confusing. How could I feel this much grief over something so short?

I tried convincing myself that it was no big deal, we’ll try again in a couple weeks, and it was my own fault for getting excited so soon. I even tried to go to work the next morning.

The next few months (who am I kidding, the next year) were a blur of depression, isolation, and heartache. Was my pregnancy even real? Was it all just a dream? I had no morning sickness, no bump, no sonogram. I was in a fog and did not know how to comprehend what was happening. All I knew is that if I became pregnant again as quickly as possible, maybe I could forget this ever happened. I was obsessed with figuring out what was wrong with me, as if answers would heal my wounded heart. I started taking every vitamin I could find and demanded my doctor test me for multiple issues. It all came back fine, to my dismay. I just wanted an answer.

Everyone around me had no trouble getting and staying pregnant, why is this happening to me?

The isolation was suffocating. Not many people knew that I was pregnant, and if they did, it didn’t seem like they knew how to respond. “At least you were only six weeks”, or, my personal favorite, “at least you know you can get pregnant.” These statements were only obvious reminders that they have no idea what I’m going through. I stayed at home as much as possible because I was terrified of losing control of my emotions. I was so fragile. A pregnancy announcement or bump picture on Facebook would send me into a malfunction for the next several weeks. Well-meaning people could easily set me off into a tailspin of sadness without even realizing it.

The days passed and I did what I needed to do to function. I set niceties aside and focused on myself. Medication, unfollowing certain people on social media, seeing a counselor, and diving into art were all part of working through my grief. It took me a long time to accept that it was OK to grieve. I had nothing to show for my pregnancy, only memories. I felt like a fraud.

Over a year had passed since my miscarriage and I found the courage to attend a local support group for pregnancy & infant loss.

I shared my story when it was my turn and saying the story out loud from beginning to end was so therapeutic. I had replayed those dark days in my head over and over, but saying it out loud provided a type of release that I can’t explain. Seeing the other families there and knowing just by their presence that we had something in common was so comforting. Seeing mothers and fathers nodding their heads and shedding tears of empathy while I told my story was incredible and so validating. I’m not a fraud, I’m not alone, and I’m not the only one who has felt this way.

Mis-Conception

Around this time I opened an online shop for my art called The Visual Minimal. I am a full time graphic designer and began making artistic prints for my own home and memorial prints for the women I met in the support group. I made the Mis-Conception print to memorialize the loss of my pregnancy, a series of pink lines representing a pregnancy test that fades in and out. It served as a validating reminder that what I went through was real and profound. That print blossomed into an Infertility&Loss series that represents all spectrums of this journey. My hope is that these prints can serve as a beacon of hope that reminds you not only of your sweet baby, but that you’re not alone.

I created the Infertility&Loss series at The Visual Minimal as a reminder that the grief this journey can bring is overwhelming, but so is God’s promise that these dark days will pass. I believe art can speak to our souls in ways words simply cannot. I would love nothing more than to use the gifts God has given me to encourage other families going through the same trials that I have experienced.

Learn more about Elisa’s artwork at https://www.thevisualminimal.com and find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheVisualMinimal/

Undeniable Proof of Infertility – Memorializing a Journey

Traveling with this project, Elizabeth and I have had the privilege to listen and learn about all of you and your infertility stories. More recently, a few of you have been kind enough to share your stories and art with me for my dissertation “The ART of Infertility: A Community Project Rhetorically Conceiving Failed Fertility.” This dissertation emerged out of my collaborative partnership with Elizabeth and The ART of Infertility.

Being moved by meeting all of you, I sought to write a dissertation that did not scandalize infertility. Rather, I wanted to write a dissertation that honored the difficult journey we all need to endure because of infertility.  Simply, I wanted to share your stories and remind others that infertility matters. It may not be well-understood, but art can be a method to make visible the stories our infertile bodies carry.

As I finished writing my dissertation a few weeks ago, my body began to feel drained. Writing your stories, reflecting on my own infertility, the dissertation itself felt as if I had just given birth. Even my husband was exhausted! It has been an act of mental, emotional and financial labor — something many of us in the infertility world can understand. To memorialize this sense of fatigue, I created “72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof.” It sums up the 72 periods that have come and gone in the process of writing this dissertation. I share the piece below as an homage to my infertility journey, as well as a thank you to all of you who have influenced not only this piece of scholarship but who have shaped who I am today: A Strong, Infertile, Woman — now with a PhD — because of all of you.

72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof
Maria Novotny
acrylic on canvas

72 Tears: Undeniable Proof

I was young, 24 years-old, when I first encountered difficulties conceiving. Not ready to face the facts that I may need to undergo fertility treatments if I ever wanted to carry a child on my own, I decided to go to graduate school. It was my escape where I quietly hoped and prayed that by some magic power I would naturally become pregnant. Yet, as time passed on, I had to slowly face the fact that magic nor graduate school would make me become pregnant.

“72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof” is a data-visualization of the six years, twelve months and 72 periods that serve as undeniable proof of my infertility. During the first few years, when I began my period tears would trickle down my face. I mourned the sadness that yet another month had passed without conception. However, as time passed and to hear the stories of others who have had to live with infertility, my own strength increased. No longer did every period begin with tears running down my face.

I made this piece shortly after I turned in my dissertation to my committee. It serves as an homage to the journey I have taken both professionally and personally as I work to make experiences of infertility better understood.

“A Map to Us” – Stephanie McGregor

Today’s guest blog post is from Stephanie McGregor, a Canadian teacher and artist. Read her story and how she is using her art to help her deal with infertility.

blogpost6 My name is Stephanie McGregor. I’m an artist/teacher and have been struggling with infertility for two and a half years now. Until several months ago, my husband I kept quiet with our struggles, until I did a blog post called “The Monkey in the Room”. You can follow this link if you’d like to read it:

http://www.stephaniemcgregor.ca/blog-montauk/2016/1/3/the-year-of-2016

I knew that I wanted to start a project that I could turn to whenever I feel sad about not yet having a baby.

I bought a very large, blank canvas and hung it up in the room that I hope will one day be a nursery. It sat, white and untouched for a while, until an intriguing thought began to unfold.

I could make a map!

blogpost1

A piece of Stephanie’s art work.

As  I started sketching out places that are important to me, a little story started forming and it speaks of all the places that our “lost” child can find us.

At first I began painting our little cedar bungalow and my childhood home (which is actually next door!) I added depth with colour of the trees and wildlife wandering across the canvas. Then, the memories started to come trickling in. Like the way my three sisters and I would run after my dad as he mowed the lawn and the pool parties we once had. My childhood dog still scouts around, a protective light glowing.  Our lost pink paddle boat chugs down the river, leading to the cottage where we spent every summer. The more I continue to work on this painting, the more saturated with memories my “map” will become.

As I’m painting, I also think of my mom and dad’s struggles. They tried for seven years to have children. Eventually, they had in vitro fertilization, which was successful and they had three five pound baby girls (including me). My younger sister came 15 months later, an unexpected, wonderful surprise!

A McGregor family portrait

A McGregor family portrait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cannot express how wonderful my childhood was and this is what I focus on as I’m painting. All I want is the chance to have a family of my own to create new memories with. I plead with my future child, saying that here there are:

Adventures unnamed

Creatures to befriend

Discoveries undiscovered

And possibilities to pretend….

 If only he/she could find us!

Some days I am feeling so overwhelmed with emotion that I aimlessly wander over the canvas, dabbing paint with no direction. What am I doing this for?

I’m sure anyone going through infertility can relate to some of these feelings.

Other days I feel hot anger and will brush an orange red sunset across the canvas. What is wrong with me?

 A lot of times, as if in meditation, I spread translucent layers of blue to form soft waves. I can accept this path I’m on. Then again, once in a blue moon, I feel hideous green envy. Why her and not me? I allow myself to paint without worry of ruining this piece.

Other times, I focus my attention to one small part of the map and then revel in the feeling of creating something beautiful. This feeling anchors me.

blogpost3

Other days, I simply sink to floor, my worries weighing heavy and crowding my mind. It sometimes strikes me that this room is supposed to be a nursery, but it is filled with only paintings. I am hit again by fact that besides a paintbrush, my arms are empty.  The fact that I so badly want to make new memories with a family of my own and I don’t know when that will happen.  It’s been two and half years and how much longer do I have to go? Why does it feel so lonely? Does anyone really understand how I feel?

I am also struck by how this journey has changed me. I find that I’ve put myself at a distance from friends and family. I’m afraid to dream too big or wish too much.  Instead of bounding carefree down the road, I step cautiously, looking out for rain. I wonder where this road is going.

But then I glance up and I see what I am in the process of creating. This map is part of my story, one that I can share with my future child.  It really is beautiful. At the end of my story, I wrote to my little lost one:

I can’t map out a life for you that:

Leads you always the scenic route

Away from sadness and pain

I can’t promise you won’t have to walk

Through the dark forest even for a little while

 The very least I can do

Is make this Map to Us

And hope, wait, and dream

That it finds its way to you.

 So I stand up and keep on painting my map. I don’t know exactly where my road to becoming a mom is going yet, but I still have a lot of hope.

I have a few suggestions for anyone who is looking for a project to work on. Why not think of something big that will take a while for you to work on? You can plan out your idea and then whenever you feel like you just need to take your mind off of what you are going through, you can do a small part and not have to think about it very much.

I wish you well on your journey!

To read more about Stephanie’s story and to see more of her artwork, visit her website at; www.stephaniemcgregor.ca

 

 

The Intern’s Perspective

cr-exhibit-2016_031

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature, Nurture and storytelling through the art of Jen Burdess

Awhile back, Maria and I came across a news story about an infertility art exhibit, One in Eight, that ran at the Ice Cube Gallery in Denver during National Infertility Awareness Week this year. So, naturally we had to reach out to the artists, Jen Burdess and Anne Hallam. We’re happy that Jen is our guest blogger today! Below, she shares how and why she created her artwork and what the experience of sharing it with others has been like for her. Thank you, Jen, for sharing your story!
-Elizabeth

A detail image of Nature, Nurture, by Jen Burdess. The piece was on display in the exhibit, One in Eight, in Denver in April and May, 2016.

A detail image of Nature, Nurture, by Jen Burdess. The piece was on display in the exhibit, One in Eight, in Denver in April and May, 2016.

The inspiration for Nature, Nurture came from the implications of the medical diagnosis of infertility I received three years ago. The diagnosis attacked my identity as a woman. In an effort to reconcile those feelings of loss, Nature, Nurture was created. Though my diagnosis will never change, this work has given me some sort of closure to a period in my life of uncertainty and anxiety. Nature, Nurture consists of three linoleum cuts that were inspired by the anatomy of the breast. They were then hand printed. Each lino cut was printed 136 times. This number corresponds to the rate of infertility in America. One in eight couples will suffer from infertility. 17 out the 136 prints is colored red to represent those with infertility. The lino cuts are printed on used breast pads. The breast pads were chosen as a representation of how far I have come. Without ART (assisted reproductive technology), I would not have had my beautiful son. It only seems right then to use art to record my journey.

The breast pads stretched over 30 feet of wall and was 12 feet high in some places. It was important to me that work was large. I wanted it feel large and imposing, something that could not be ignored. I chose to carve three different designs and printed each in their own color to represent that there isn’t just one cause of infertility or one type of person that it affects. There are many different reasons. Some women never find out the cause. I was diagnosed with stage IV endometriosis. Stage IV indicates that the endometriosis has affected your ovaries and has caused cysts on them. It had also ruined my Fallopian tubes and had caused adhesions and scarring throughout my pelvic cavity. While it was devastating to know the extent of the damage, it also gave me some closure. I had a very clear cut diagnosis. It was very cathartic to devote the time and patience it took to print over 400 breast pads. It was a meditative process and helped me to process the emotions that come along with the diagnosis of infertility.

one-in-8

Nature, Nurture by Jen Burdess.

The response I received from the show was overwhelming. I wasn’t sure how everything was going to pan out. I knew I wanted to open up about my experience did not know what that really meant. How would I feel about talking with strangers about this? Could I handle criticism for my choices? I just wasn’t sure. We had a few events planned during the show. One was being part of a gallery tour. We had four groups of people cycle through the gallery. The gallery was split in two. My work on one side and some formalist artists on the other side. Their work was all about design and color. The contents couldn’t have been any more different. The tour groups went from chatty and happy to somber and silent as I started to tell my story. People thanked me for sharing something so personal and many women shared their stories with me. Simply by speaking up, perfect strangers told me their very personal stories of heartache and the many different ways they had built their families.

one in eight show

Sharing my story was difficult to do but every time I told it, it became a little easier. Infertility is a lonely place. It is very isolating. It calls into question your identity as a woman. From a young age girls play at being mothers. Society expects women to take up this role. Those who choose not to have children can be judged very harshly. Women becoming mothers is an ingrained expectation. That expectation, coupled with a desire to become a mother, is a heavy burden for those struggling with infertility.