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!

How ART of IF Intern Kristen Mahan will #FlipTheScript this Men’s Health Month

As most of you already know, we The ART of Infertility will be in Los Angeles during the month of June for Men’s Health Month. We are thrilled to be collaborating with Dr. Paul Turek of The Turek Clinics and to have Men’s Health Network as a Media Sponsor. Throughout the next few weeks, we will have a series of announcements sharing specific programming we will be hosting in conjunction with the exhibit. Here is our first “mini announcement”: we got a grant!

Maria, left, with Kristen at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Throughout this year, The ART of Infertility has been working with Kristen, our undergraduate intern who is majoring in marketing at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Kristen worked with Maria to design a research project that studies how social media campaigns can be better targeted at men with experiences of infertility. This work represents a new direction The ART of IF is embracing — mentoring young students about infertility and engaging in small research projects to provide an educational experience that responds to real, world issues in the fertility world.

We will have a lot to learn in this process but are excited and hope that we can #FlipTheScript to learn how to better include men in conversations of reproductive loss. Read more about the research project and Kristen’s take on it.

What is this grant?

With the help of Maria Novotny, I have been awarded the 2018/2019 Undergraduate Student/Faculty Collaborative Research Program grant. The research grant through the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh will allow me to travel to Los Angeles with the project and learn about the challenges men face when experiencing infertility. As a young college student, I really do not know much about this experience. But working with the project for a few months, I have become more acutely aware that even if I’m not infertile — a friend or family member in the future most likely will share in this experience.

What is my research project?

Because The ART of Infertility tries to support marginalized populations experiencing infertility and that the Los Angeles event is held in conjunction with Men’s Health Month, my research project is focused on men.  Meaning, I am researching what educational resources men are in need of when experiencing infertility. We know one issue is a lack of male-focused infertility support. So, my research as a digital marketing student is interested in using social media as a way to foster a sense of support and community for infertile men. I plan to create a social media campaign, run that campaign after the opening of the LA exhibit, and then test the effectiveness of that campaign through a targeted survey. This means, that I need participants! So guys, this means I need you!

Why focus on social media?

A 2010 study found that media campaigns can greatly produce positive changes and prevent negative changes in health-related behaviors. I hope that my social media design and survey results will illuminate a series of findings and recommendations that describe methods of how to improve health-related resources for infertile men. Thus, reducing the isolating, stressful, emasculating, and stigmatized experience of male infertility.

What I’m looking forward to:

As a newer member to The ART of IF team, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity this grant from UW Oshkosh is allowing me to experience. Finally being able to see one of the exhibits that Maria and Liz put so much time and energy into will help me grow as a communications intern for ART of IF as well as a marketing/digital major in general. Throughout the first few months of interning with ART of IF, I have mostly seen women share their experiences with infertility. Having the chance to shift gears towards what males experience as well will be beneficial for my learning of the topic of infertility.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Story Behind the Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Man’s IF Holiday Perspective: It’s All Relative

Kevin shares his thoughts on dealing with infertility and the holidays. As a guy, he finds solace in dealing with infertility through his work – whether that is intellectual or hands-on. Read more about the inspiration Kevin took from deer hunting this past year.

This November, I went deer hunting for the first time. While sitting in the woods, patiently waiting for a deer to walk past my blind, I began to read Einstein’s biography.  The book discusses in detail Einstein’s two theories of relativity – general and special. His special theory of relativity is what challenged Newton’s long held traditional concept of absolute space and time. Through a series of mathematical equations and experiments, Einstein disproved Newton and instead demonstrated that space and time were relative to the observer – not an absolute concept. For example, someone moving inside of a train will have a different experience than someone standing on the side of the road watching the train go by.

Kevin, sitting in his blind, deer hunting.

Kevin, sitting in his blind, deer hunting.

Reading this in the woods, I couldn’t help but see how much of this theory also relates the experience of infertility.  My wife and I have were diagnosed with infertility 5 years ago. That moment was life altering and brought upon itself a host of questions we never imagined we would have to think about. Today, we often have to remind ourselves that there is no absolute right interpretation or method of dealing with infertility. Just like Einstein’s theory: infertility is relative to the observer. Every year around the holidays, this topic comes up for us as a couple. Often we may be experiencing things differently, and we may have different ways or methods to make the holidays work in our minds. Let’s face it, this holiday is all about the birth of a child and it’s a tough one for the infertility community.

For me, and I would imagine many other men out there, talking explicitly about infertility is not really our way of coping and channeling our energy into something positive. Personally, over this year I have focused a lot on work and have been afforded some unique experiences to travel and live my passion of being a medical physicist. I have also poured myself into renovating our house that we bought as a symbol of our love and what we share together, even if we never have children of our own. This is extremely important to me.

A garage entrance that Kevin remodeled into a living room.

A garage entrance that Kevin remodeled into a living room.

I do not think we should despair over having different ways to make these holidays doable, but we should rejoice in that we share in this experience together. There is somewhat of a beauty in thinking about Einstein’s theory and that there is no absolute correct way to interpret and cope with infertility. However, it is comforting to know that a common thread is that the infertility community all shares this experience together. I hope everyone else out there can use this as a bit of consolation and uplift as we head move into a new year.

Picture Your Fertility: An Interactive Art Event for #MensHealth

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Chas’ story was featured in the exhibit on Thursday night at The Turek Clinic in San Francisco. Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

If you logged onto Facebook this past Sunday, you could not help but be reminded of two cultural events. One, the Warriors vs. Cavilers game. Two, the fact that it was Father’s Day. Both events though shared images and remembrances of healthy, strong men.

Yet, the reality is that in the American men are dying at epic numbers because of their reluctance to see the doctor and be screened for preventable disease (see Men’s Health Network). The suicide rate of men is nearly four times that of women (see AFSP). And, yet,  the United States still does not have a National Office for Men’s Health (see Men’s Health Magazine).

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Attendees at Picture Your Fertility transform specimen cups using duct tape and alphabet stickers. Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Last Thursday, the ART of Infertility took a moment to draw attention to this gap in American men’s attitudes towards health and medicine. “Picture Your Fertility: An Interactive Art Event for #MensHealth” featured stories and artwork created around issues of infertility and men’s health. Below you will find some of the pieces of art created at the event, as well as some of the stories that were featured at this unique event celebrating Men’s Health Month.

A special thanks to The Turek Clinic for hosting, our media partner, Men’s Health Network Reproductive Science Center for their sponsorship, Janet Reilly for wine, Rob Clyde for his Q&A of If I Could Tell You, and all those who donated to The ART of Infertility before, during, and after the event. We’ll be sharing more photographs from the event soon. See the photos below for a little sneak peek from Rebecca Wilkowski Photography.
Dr. Paul Turek welcomes guest to the clinic.

Dr. Paul Turek welcomes guest to the clinic. Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Guests could create their own comic strip. Photo by Maria Novotny.

Guests could create their own comic strip. Photo by Maria Novotny.

Rob Clyde talks about his film, If I Could Tell You.

Rob Clyde talks about his film, If I Could Tell You.

Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Artist Jamie Turri with her piece, What It Takes. Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Artist Jamie Turri with her piece, What It Takes. Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Infertility and Him: Staying Mobile

June 13 – June 19 is Men’s Health Week. As a week that highlights the importance of men taking care of their health, we are focusing on male perspectives and infertility. Today, we share some of Kevin’s perspectives. Last week, Kevin shared this short piece with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. In this post, he talks a bit about how he has turned to running with his dog, Mason, as a routine that has not only helped him deal with infertility but has helped him take healthier steps towards his future. We invite you to read Kevin’s short story and remind you that if you will be in the San Francisco area this week, to join us, on Thursday June 16 from 7-9:00pm at The Turek Clinic for our capstone Men’s Health event. The event is free and you can register here: http://bit.ly/MHMRegArtSF

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Kevin, with his wife, Maria, and their two dogs: Gia (spaniel) and Mason (black lab). Stella (their first puppy) is not pictured as she passed away in January 2016.

As my wife and I delved into the IF journey about 5 years ago, one element that came to the forefront, and still remains, is health. Suddenly, we were critical of so many of our lifestyle choices: what we ate, how often we exercised…were we not respecting our bodies?

Understandably, I think it is easy to get obsessive when it comes to IF, but that is not the solution either. A healthy balance is what is needed. One avenue I explored, and still require in my routine, is running. I run off of my stress. When we first encountered IF, I just started running. I ran two half marathons and a full marathon in one year’s time…it might have been obsessive.

But it worked. I still use it for my mental & physical strength, and for other topics too: when we put our first canine, Stella, down. She was very symbolic of what our first child meant to me and I know very few will ever understand that truth. But I ran that off too, cherishing her memory in the miles I run, with her close friend and my canine boy, Mason.

Running has evolved to other hobbies, including woodworking and renovating a garage to living space since September 2015, when we purchased land to serve as a legacy. And I am in the process of finalizing the design of an art piece for The Art of IF.

When we began our support group search, in a conservative city for that matter, we found the existing groups to be more exclusive, and sometimes not even including men! We knew a group that included all IF backgrounds would be a necessity beyond our needs, but also benefit others struggling to find support. This is how we realized we had to start our own RESOLVE support group in Michigan, and we met good friends that we are still close with today, even outside the group.

The takeaway: I have always found it crucial to stay mobile in life; it will carry you through life’s hardest times and make you invaluable to those in need around you.

Kevin’s Recommended Links:

Expression through Poetry

Sharing poetry today from Jeffrey Tucker. This poem and other artwork and infertility stories of men and their families will be on display at our pop-up art exhibit on Thursday June 16 in San Francisco from 7 – 9 pm at The Turek Clinic. Free registration at our Eventbrite listing.

We’re excited to be partnering with The Turek Clinic and Men’s Health Network for this event in honor of Men’s Health Month which will feature art making stations, food, drinks, and a peek at the new film If I Could Tell You and a Q&A session with director, Rob Clyde. Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Email elizabeth@artofinfertility.org for more information. Please join us!

Jeffrey Tucker
Artist’s Statement

kill-february_Page_1I 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 comitting 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, forthcoming from Sage Hill Press)
– Jeffrey Tucker

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 Utahns
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).

The Aftermath of a Male Factor Infertility Diagnosis

While we have more men sharing their stories with us through artwork and interviews these days, they’re still underrepresented in our project and in the media as a whole. By participating in Men’s Health Month, we’re hoping to shed light on how infertility affects men and encourage more men to use art as a tool in coping with their disease.

In this post from the blog archives, originally posted in July of last year, we hear from ART of IF interview participant and artist, Chas. We’re sharing his artwork at our pop-up exhibit at The Turek Clinic in San Francisco next week, and I just confirmed that he and his wife, Audrey, will be attending as well! Please plan to join us to check out the show, create something of your own at our art making stations, and enjoy food, wine, and the company of others in the infertility community, like Chas. You can get your free tickets here.
– Elizabeth

 “We would have cute kids!”

That was the line I said to my wife while we were in college. Forward? Sure. Did I mean it? Yes. Did I know it would take 3 years and 7 IUI’s to finally have a child? Definitely not.

My wife and I wanted to do the things that we felt we had to do before we had kids. You know: get married, careers, buy a house, travel, etc. It wasn’t until my college roommates had their first child in May of 2012 that we sat down and said, “We want a child. We want to experience that kind of love.”

Flash forward 3-4 months of trying, we both felt something was wrong but due to our medical coverage we had to wait a full calendar year of trying to conceive before diagnostic tests could be run. In June of 2013 we were finally referred to our reproductive endocrinologist and the tests began. All of my wife’s tests came back with nothing wrong with her, but I was a different story.

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Low motility and low sperm count. That is what my semen analysis (SA) read. I was angry. How could this happen? I have never done illegal drugs, I can count on one hand the times I had smoked a cigar, I workout, eat well, take care of my body, What the hell? Did I do my fair share of the college bar scene? Sure, but it’s not like I drank a fifth of Jack Daniels a night. This had to be wrong. Then the next SA three weeks later had the same results. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Why me?

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I was diagnosed with unexplained male factor infertility.  When I was diagnosed with male factor infertility I truly did go though the 5 stages of grief. At first I wanted more SA’s because I was a red-blooded American male and nothing could be wrong with me. Denial. Then when all 5 those SA’s came back the same I was angry at myself, and my body for failing me, with my anger directed towards anyone who crossed my path. I would snap at the littlest things and pick fights just to fight. The anger really stayed for a long time. After that came the bargaining: if I take these infertility vitamins and change my diet that should do the trick. It worked for other people it had to work for me. When the vitamins and diet change didn’t work the depression set in. This is when things got pretty bad. I was truly numb to the world. I disconnected from my wife. She would ask me a question about my day and I would give one-word answers. I couldn’t find the joy in the things I use to love doing. I didn’t want to be around anyone, I just wanted to stay home in the dark. After our 6th IUI failed during National Infertility Awareness Week 2014the acceptance finally started. My wife had posted something on a social media site that she didn’t know other people could see, outed if you will, our struggle to have a child to our friends and family. The cat was out of the bag so to speak.  After that only love and support followed from our friends and family. With that love and support we did a picture for NIAW and we also made a team for the Northern California Walk of Hope.

Chas_NIAW Having to watch my wife take pills and get injections probably was one of the worst parts of the whole IUI process.  The pills gave her hot flashes and I handled that pretty well I think. I always had something to cool her down. The injections were hard to watch. I know IVF injections are more extensive but watching her give herself Menopur injections sucked. Watching her do the pain dance, as we called it, always got to me, but the bruises afterwards would bring tears to my eyes. I had to helplessly stand by and watch as my wife had to go through this for something my body was failing to do.

The infertility community as a whole has been so amazing. My wife and I have met so many amazing people going through the challenges of infertility. I don’t think I have ever met that many people that truly pull for you to succeed in that capacity. There is such a kinship in the community that you really do have to experience it and cannot be qualified into words.

If putting my story out there can change one man’s mind for the better about Male Factor Infertility I would feel I accomplished my goal for this blog. Unfortunately, there really isn’t research and support out there for MFI. Why is it on rise? Chemical age? Maybe, but there is no concrete proof. This is especially true for unexplained MFI. There is no need to feel ashamed and disconnected from your partner no matter the diagnosis you are in this together.

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The Truth Behind Combat Related Infertility

As we celebrate #MensHealthMonth, we share a story from Crystal who describes the day her family’s life changed forever. Her fiance, Tyler, was injured while serving with the US Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade. She shares their inspiring story on how they have fought not just for better Veteran’s care but have fought for their own family.

We salute Tyler and Crystal who remind us that infertility does not discriminate. It can impact anyone – men, women, veteran or civilian.  

***

Tyler at National Mall

Tyler, pictured outside of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

May 3, 2005 was a day that changed our lives forever. Tyler was serving with the US Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade when his Company was called into the Arghandab River Valley to rescue their Battalion Scouts. After arriving in the valley, the Company’s Weapons Squad, where Tyler was serving as an Assistant Gunner, headed to a high point to provide support by fire. While on the hillside Tyler’s squad came under fire and within minutes Tyler was shot four times. The first bullet lodged in his spinal canal, which left him instantly paralyzed from the waist down and unable to move out of the line of fire. Tyler’s Squad Leader, SSG Matt Blaskowski and SPC Clover recognized the danger Tyler was in and despite continuous fire ran to Tyler’s aid to pull him to safety. Tyler was already paralyzed, but the second bullet was what threatened his life as it ripped through his left lung and lodged in his liver. Tyler was left fighting for his life, and without the intervention of others and a will to live he would not have survived.

Little did either of us know May 3, 2005 would set our paths to cross and ultimately lead to another big fight. Tyler and I met in 2013 when he decided it was time to move past his paralysis and return to the things he loved, sports and outdoor recreation. This is where I came in; I worked in adaptive sports for Veterans and together Tyler and I were able to rekindle his love for all that Colorado has to offer and ultimately fall in love with each other!

Shortly after Tyler and I started dating we began discussing a family and how that would be possible with his injury. This is where the biggest fight we have ever faced together began. Due to Tyler’s paralysis we quickly discovered that IVF was our only option to have a biological child of our own. Soon after, we discovered that due to a 1992 “ban” Congress put on the VA there was no coverage for this medical procedure. We were heart broken, devastated, disappointed, the list goes on, after discovering that Tyler’s wounds received in combat would present a $40,000 barrier to us fulfilling our dream of having a baby of our own and Tyler’s last step to fully reintegrating into civilian society.

Neither Tyler nor I were ready or willing to give up on this dream. He fought with everything he was to survive after May 3rd, despite all odds we found each other, were building a life together, and as a stronger team we would fight for this together. There have been so many “bad” days where anger and disappointment feel as they are taking us over in the journey to have a family, and at times complete disgust that our country, a country that you can’t walk down the street without seeing a yellow ribbon, “God Bless our Troops” sticker, or hearing “thank you for your service,” could let this man down so completely. To cope with the spinal cord injury is difficult enough, to fight for your life is enough to ask of Tyler and every other Service Member in his situation, to ask them to give up on the opportunity to pursue a family simply because politics gets in the way is absolutely unacceptable.

I have seen this man struggle through enough already; to get through life as a paraplegic is not an easy task, but he has NEVER ONCE complained about anything or regretted his service to our country until this. To ask him to give up on something he has wanted his whole life, to be called “Dad” simply because he answered the call to Duty, served honorably, and happened to be wounded in a way that prevents him from being able to pursue this dream without medical intervention is this country, this Congress, truly turning their backs on those men and women who have given so much of themselves already.

These reasons are why Tyler and I have chosen to not only find any way possible to pursue this medical treatment on our own, but to also stand against this gap in coverage and fight to both bring awareness to the issue and change policy to ensure this never happens again. The bad days are no longer consumed with anger and no where to place it, disgust and no way to overcome it, but instead we have taken this opportunity to advocate on behalf of Tyler and every other Veteran in his seat, to stand in front of Congress and give them a face to remember when they vote on the proposed legislation that would reverse this “ban.” It has become our mission to ensure Congress no longer vote on statistics related to this issue, but instead vote on faces, on families, on those men and women who they sent to war with a promise to provide health care to those who came back wounded, ill, or injured.

Tyler and Crystal training for the Ride the Rockies tour.

Tyler and Crystal training for the Ride the Rockies tour.

Tyler has done an amazing job at living life from a wheelchair, we have built an amazing life together full of support and a promising future, but this wheelchair, this bullet in his back, that should not be an excuse for Congress to deny him or anyone else in his position what Congress cherishes most themselves. When we were in DC at Advocacy Day 2016, there was a majority of Congressmen and Congresswomen that had family pictures strewn throughout their offices. This became our platform and will continue to be our motivation for change. We have a wall full of medals Tyler earned in combat, we have a wall full of pictures with us and our dogs, but what we are missing is what Congress already has, what war did not take away from them, we are missing Baby Wilson’s birthday.

If you would like to follow-along with our journey to Baby Wilson, IVF Advocacy for Veterans, please see our blog at http://www.pushmeeveryday.com

June is Men’s Health Month: Fertility is Not Just a Woman’s Issue

Today we join Men’s Health Network and kick off Men’s Health Month. The goal of this health advocacy campaign is to educate the public about the many preventable health problems that affect men and boys, and empower them and their loved ones to move towards a healthier, happier life.

The ART of Infertility views this campaign as a reminder that behind every baby is a male. Men’s health is a family issue. It affects wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters. Thinking about #MensHealth and encouraging our male partners to see a fertility specialist can often be a step towards building one’s family. 

Knowing this, today feature a guest blog post from Sean at Men’s Health Network who talks about the importance of having healthy dads. And remember to join us June 16 from 7:00-9:00 for an interactive art exhibit featuring stories and art about Men’s Health and their fertility at The Turek Clinic

Building healthy men means more healthy families

By Sean McCalley, Men’s Health Network

1994 was a rough year.

John Candy passed away. Someone attacked Nancy Kerrigan at the Olympics. Major League Baseball went on strike. The album of the year was the soundtrack to The Bodyguard.

It wasn’t all bad, though. The show Friends and the band Weezer debuted. So did the movie Forrest Gump. Jack Nicholson even used a golf club to show a car who’s boss.

More importantly, Congress also passed a bill declaring “National Men’s Health Week” to Men's Health Month Bannercoincide with Father’s Day and raise awareness for a global crisis. President Bill Clinton signed it into law; now, it’s an annual call to action for people around the world as part of Men’s Health Month.

Men die five years younger than women, on average. They also die at higher rates for nine of the top ten causes of death in the United States. That includes heart disease, cancer, suicide, accidents, etc. Men simply have a harder time staying healthy.

Part of the problem is cultural. We men are fighters who laugh in the face of danger. It’s partly genetic, as some racial demographics have a higher risk for certain diseases. Sometimes, it’s personal; like getting so mad you do something you might regret later.

Whatever the reason, men need all the help we can get to have long, healthy lives – even if we don’t want to admit it. That’s why Men’s Health Month is so important, and why it’s still going strong after 22 years. The campaign is centered on education and outreach than spans from the community level to Congress.

Governors and mayors issue proclamations for Men’s Health Week in their jurisdictions to promote and highlight Fathers Day. Private businesses host health screenings, as do government agencies, churches, fraternities, and many other organizations. People share their personal stories on social media.

The hope is to persuade us stubborn men to take at least one second (but preferably a MHM-no-date-dark-red-0415month) to look at our health situation, make inventory, and figure out how to make it better. Sometimes men just decide to make a family member happy and finally see a doctor for that mole; for others, it’s a question of maturity or finding financial flexibility.

Whatever the reason, the goal is to make us better men. Luckily, it’s worth the effort.

Here are some tips on how we can make this Men’s Health Month the best one yet:

  1. Fathers can set an example for their kids by making an appointment for a checkup. Healthy men make healthy families.
  2. Let someone know that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness or lack of ability. Men are just as likely as women to suffer from a mental health issue; however, they’re less likely to be diagnosed, and four times more likely to commit suicide.
  3. In the public health realm, make sure the connection is clear between a man’s health and the health of his family and community. Most people intuitively understand the role mothers play in supporting their children’s health. Too few however, understand that having a healthy father is just as important.
  4. Participate in the Men’s Health Month #ShowUsYourBlue day on Friday, June 17. Send in pictures of you and your friends wearing blue and post them on social media using #ShowUsYourBlue.