Sperm Stories: A New ART of Infertility Project

In honor of Men’s Health Month, we wanted to announce a new ART of Infertility affiliated project! We are thrilled to receive funding and support to investigate how men rely upon and use social media when experiencing infertility. This is a project that was co-designed by our social media undergraduate intern, Kristen Mahan. Kristen will be a senior this year at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh majoring in digital marketing. Back in the Fall of 2018, Kristen enrolled in a class taught by Maria where she expressed interest in working more as an intern with the ART of Infertility. We are thrilled to have Kristen on our team and helping us understand how we can better support men with infertility.

All of this means, we need your help! We want to know what guys want and need from social media when experiencing infertility. Much of the content out on the web is created by and for women. While this is great and starts the conversation, we need to #flipthescript and think about the other half that need support too.

Read more about the project, follow @sperm_stories on Instagram and Facebook. Message us or email at info@artofinfertility.org and participate at the end of June in a short survey that helps us understand the content that guys want. Below are a few Q&As to contextualize the project further.

“Sperman Adventures – Volume 1” a piece reflecting on male experiences of infertility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Q: Why focus on men, infertility, and social media?

Infertility is an issue that affects both women and men but is generally stigmatized as only women’s issue. Nonetheless, it is estimated that one-third of infertility cases are the result of male reproductive issues, one-third a result of female reproductive issues, and one-third either a combination of both sexes or unexplained (“How Common Is Male Infertility”, 2016). Yet, despite men representing a significant population of the infertility community, resources have been stagnant and research has found men with infertility lacking support networks and educational resources (Petok, 2015; Gannon, Glover & Abel, 2004). Such lack of targeted support and resources has led to an increase in a sense of stigma, isolation, depression, and stress in men experiencing infertility (Hanna & Gough, 2016).

This proposed study aims to intervene in the stigmatization of male infertility by creating and testing a social media campaign directed at infertile men during the month of June, which is nationally recognized as Men’s Health Month. Rationale for a social media campaign is rooted in a 2010 study that found media campaigns can greatly produce positive changes and prevent negative changes in health-related behaviors (Wakefield, Loken & Hornik, 2010). Their study advocates for additional research around health media campaigns to test the effectiveness of individualized, targeted campaigns. Given the proposed effectiveness of health media campaigns, particularly for stigmatized demographics, this study seeks to better understand the educational resources and support offered to men experiencing infertility.

Q: How do I participate?

Participation is easy and completely voluntary! If you do participate, you are eligible to receive a $10 Amazon gift card. To participate, please contact us at info@artofinfertility.org because we need you to sign a consent form. A consent form is needed because this is a project affiliated with a university. This means we will be talking and sharing our findings with other colleagues and infertility researchers. You can participate using a pseudonym or “fake name”, and we can talk more about how you may like to participate via email or a phone call. You must “sign up” to participate by July 10, 2018.

Q: Why is the ART of Infertility running this study?

The ART of Infertility does many things beyond hosting art exhibitions. Much of our mission is to learn from the stories and people we meet through our work hosting infertility art exhibitions and breaking the silence around infertility. To do this then, we work with universities to run research projects. This project is an opportunity for us to better reach men struggling to build their families. This means we welcome straight men, gay men, and single men to participate. Help us understand the content and community you need in online/social media spaces.

Also, as a study funded through an undergraduate research grant, your participation will help mentor Kristen, our intern, looking to run social media health campaigns once she graduates in 2019. This is a joint effort that seeks to benefit everyone involved!

The ART of IF / Sperm Stories team: Elizabeth (left), Kristen (center), and Maria (right).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: So when do I start?

Now! Really, posts and content have already been made “live” on both our Facebook and Instagram pages. While this research project technically lasts throughout the month of June, we will be continuing to populate and keep this account alive. We are committed to learning from our participants and building a community that talks and features male perspectives of family building. Help us continue the conversation by following these accounts today!

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.

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.

Still in the Trenches on Father’s Day

Today, during Father’s Day and Men’s Health Month, we offer you the perspectives of three men whose path to fatherhood has been blocked by infertility. For resources on male factor infertility and men’s health, we encourage you to visit The Turek Clinics and Men’s Health Network.

Matt Quarterman

We lost a child almost before we knew we had one.

My partner had an ectopic pregnancy that ruptured. We had been trying to conceive for about six months, but the hospital was the first that we knew of it. She was bleeding internally. She lost parts of her body in surgery.

So our experience with infertility – tests and procedures, questions from friends and family, their baby showers and birth announcements – was colored by losing a child we didn’t know we had.

I’ve learned that every infertility journey is unique. The details might seem inconsequential to the outside observer, yet each of the specifics makes the story your own. I hope that by examining my own experience through these poems, some of my fuzzy logic or murky feeling might ring true for others.

Even when we’re alone, we are not alone.

Excerpt from Babyland
Matt Quarterman
poetry

It’s expensive enough that not everyone
can go. We know the time saved up
we know the long journey
We know returning empty-handed
is hardest. Trade a plastic cup
of tokens for tickets to earn the prize.
There’s the ultrasound screen,
there’s the wheel of pills,
there’s the calendar app, reminders and
still not enough. Not enough can be offered,
report card clean, but no-one here judges,
the problem is ours together to create,
to solve. Some get there unexpectedly,
an osprey dives through empty oxygen,
the force of the flower the green fuse drives,
fool’s gold, cruise boat, news reel,
the heat death of everything, passengers waving.
They’ve run out of options. They hope
for the best at the turnstiles,
the monorail speeding away,
always away. Forget it – it’s Baby Land.

Nathan Chan

“Sometimes on the way to your dream, you get lost and find a better one.”– Lisa Hammond

Nathan’s passion for the surrogacy and egg donation field started in 2009 as a young male when he pursued single parenthood. It was a complicated process which he found difficult. He had always been a source of assistance to his friends and he felt a calling to join. This calling led him to spend 2014-2016 working at another leading Canadian Surrogacy and Egg Donation consultancy, where he played a large role in many of the success stories.

Nathan has spent more than five years pursuing single parenthood in India and Canada. At one point in this journey, he was even lucky enough to use a known Egg Donor. His journey to parenthood is still in progress. He is empathetic to the Intended Parents’ journey to surrogacy because he personally understands the challenges.

Nathan takes great pride in supporting Intended Parent(s), including many single men who are now proud fathers using his surrogacy and egg donation services. Participating in this art exhibit has been very important for him as this process of sharing his infertility journey through art has been very empowering. Nathan lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada where he is the Managing Director of Proud Fertility, an inclusive surrogacy and egg donation consultancy. He is also an accomplished musician and visual artist, best known for his Aurora Borealis series.

Angst of an Infertile Caterpillar, 2010
Nathan Chan
painting on canvas

Angst of an Infertile Caterpillar, 2010 by Nathan Chan

This piece was created when I was feeling lost after my first early miscarriage. I questioned the steps that I have taken, the money I spent on IVF and surrogacy, and it was during a time in my life where I was resentful and hateful of myself and the choices I made for my desire to have a child.

Is there more to life? Have I moved too fast in life to spread my wings quicker than anyone else? Many days, I feel like a very beautiful monarch butterfly, but many other days I feel as though I’ve lost one of my wings.

I have a lot of re-energized moments where I feel I can start over again, but like the caterpillar, I see my past where I’ve flown as a butterfly with broken or missing wings. Or, I see that there are too many difficulties and challenges to overcome and it doesn’t help when I’m a caterpillar exposed to so many issues in the past and the many problems that I have seen so closely in my life.

They say there is little communication between the caterpillar and butterfly, but I wish that in my life, there could be a better relationship between the two. It would be tremendously amazing if I could see a symbiotic relationship between the two because I want my caterpillar and butterfly to see and learn from each other’s experiences and perspectives.

Memorializing My Losses, 2013
Nathan Chan
mixed media

Memorializing My Losses, 2013 by Nathan Chan

This piece was created when I came to a point where I wanted to memorialize my losses through surrogacy. I needed a way to honor those losses. Each figure represented an embryo transfer attempt in India and Canada. It was very important for me to contextualize everything and capture it onto a canvas. These losses make up who I am and what I have become. These losses were not small, and not to be minimized.

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side, 2013
Nathan Chan
mixed media

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side, 2013 by Nathan Chan

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” is a common phrase that everyone knows. It refers to the way we tend to look at other people’s lives and other things that we don’t have. All throughout my life, I compared myself to others. Whether so and so has a bigger house, so and so had a higher grade on their assignment, so and so visited XYZ country in the world, so and so has a higher paying job, and finally, so and so has a partner and children.

This painting is of two simple houses in the shape of an “N,” my first name initial and there is an inverted sunset. The inverted sunset represents the state of turmoil I am in. These two buildings are deliberately sitting on plots of grass that are of different shades of green. As I pondered over this common phrase, I have never really understood what “greener” means. What shade of green actually denotes “greener grass” As I thought more about this, I realized this shade is darker green.

Through my reflections, I have learned to be grateful for all my experiences, including my experiences of infertility – my experiences of pregnancy loss as a single male Intended Parent. As I rebuild my life I call “home,” I can only make two choices. I can either be resentful and miserable and loathe everyone else around me, or I can be grateful for the life I have led and will continue to live. I must acknowledge the growth I have experienced. I have a diverse set of skills and talents and I have family support in my endeavors.

“The grass is greener where you water,” is perhaps another idiom that has been overused. But I need to water my own lawn by simply focusing on the things I do have, and count my blessings. It’s either that, or I am going to drive myself miserable and upset with the things that what others “appear” to have that I don’t. I hate these clichés, so I want to come up with my own – “The Grass is Always Greener on My Side.”

Jeffrey Tucker

I believe that writing – especially poetry – is an act of confession. Whether the thoughts expressed in art are joyous, sorrowful, or somewhere in-between (or both, in some instances), the act of committing pen to paper builds a bridge between the reader and the writer’s psyche, often with an intimacy eschewed in normal conversation.

Which is the say that I tell secrets in my poetry. This poem, in particular, allowed me to express something I would never say out loud. It was both liberating and terrifying to write – an experience (in sentiment, if not in practice) that I have heard many people describe passing through in the journey of infertility: on one hand, you want to scream; on the other hand, you want to hide. Thus, this poem – whose writing process inspired the same feelings in me – in an apt form to convey my emotions.

On Geography and Biology and the Meeting Thereof
(Excerpted from Kill February, from Sage Hill Press)
Jeffrey Tucker
poetry

My brother-in-law and his wife: gone,
off to cruise Mexico: siesta
or Fiesta, la Riviera Maya, salted latitudes
south. I picture the two white-footed Utahans
quick-stepping down a burning brown beach,
silver hawkers at hand. They have not heard the stories
I have, of endless squatting in jails
for a wrong U-turn, an unpaid bribe.
Yet I am unconcerned. It’s a cruise,
after all, staffed with smiling deckhands
so eager to pass out Turkish towels
or spray palms with alcohol. If they
died, my wife thinks aloud, they would not
leave our nieces – the four girls – to us.
Since we don’t live in Utah, I say,
and she nods. No family nearby,
not for two thousand miles. And I knew
that my body does not allow us pregnancy, morning sickness, any of that
lovely fecund wreck. But I did not know that geography
conspired against us at the same time
(not that I ever wish for a death).