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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can follow Jamie on Instagram @theglitterenthusiast 

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

 

 

20 Days After Miscarriage

Today’s guest blog is from Lindsay Mader. In it, she gives us a glimpse at each of the 20 days after she learned she was miscarrying. I love this post because it’s a great reminder to us that everyone handles grief in different ways, that grief isn’t linear, and that there is no time line for grief. Thank you, Lindsay, for sharing your post with us. We wish you peace and healing as you navigate your infertility journey.
– Elizabeth

20 Days After Miscarriage

morpho-butterfly-1452254349nbz

We got the news on Friday, October 28th. That Friday is Day 1.

Day 1 – We got the bad news. We had tickets to a show we’d been looking forward to for months. We got dinner before. The hostess said “Just two?” Yup. There’s only two of us now. I cried twice while at the show. Once into Joe’s chest and once in a bathroom stall. I wanted to die.

Day 2 – I didn’t brush my hair or my teeth. I did put on pants and went outside. I cried, a lot. I ate a lot and drank lots of wine.

Day 3 – I did some cleaning. Had to get groceries in public. Made it all day, no tears.

Day 4 – Back to work. I’m glad I had the weekend to process. Cried on my way to work. Today should have been our first ultrasound. Cried three times at work. Joe makes me laugh on the darkest days.

Day 5 – I feel like I’m in a fog of sadness. This is my favorite time of year and I worry that it’s ruined.

Day 6 – I’m making a lot of terrible jokes. Guess I’m coping. Tonight, I fall asleep with tear filled eyes. So many opportunities are lost.

Day 7 – Started my morning off crying sobbing at my desk. I’m angry and I don’t know where the anger needs to go. I’m sad. Tears flow freely. My friend rolled over and hugged me. An act of kindness goes a long way. Someone knocked over my “hope” sign. That’s reflects my life pretty well today.

Day 8 – Blood draw. HCG was 12.4. I’m less pregnant each day? I guess. We did receive an Edible Arrangement from family. That was so thoughtful and made us feel so loved.

Day 9 – Fun day with Amanda! At lunch, directly next to us were two couples celebrating a pregnancy. They opened gifts at the table. Guys, I think I’m being followed by pregnant people.

Day 10 – I’m sleeping enough but I feel exhausted all the time. Doing everyday things is hard. Met with Nicole for some BFF time. I’m grateful for people who invest in me even though I’m not always the best company.

Day 11 – We met with the doctor today and determined next steps. More meds this time around but we are optimistic. Support group met today. They give me life❤

Day 12 – Election Day. I had a pretty good day.

Day 13 – My anxiety has heightened for several reasons but I’m doing better than I thought I would at this point.

Day 14 – Another good day. Spent some time with a friend who encouraged me.

Day 15 – I received surgery and transfer dates today. Also, the cost. About $6,000. The guilt I feel is heavy. I also got the news that I’m officially no longer pregnant. I got to see my Mom today! I broke down when I saw her. Overwhelmed by the cost of IVF again and that fact that I thought I’d be pregnant when I saw her next and I’m not.

Day 16 & 17 – I had a wonderful time with my Mom. It was just what I needed.

Day 18 – It’s always hard to get going after a fun weekend.

Day 19 – While struggling with my own stuff, it was brought to my attention that my infertility makes some uncomfortable. That hurts.

Day 20 – I’m hopeful. I’m excited for Christmas. Our transfer is right around the corner. Today, the clouds have lifted.

#startasking What about men and infertility?

Infertility is often looked at as a disease that only affects women. In reality, infertility is caused by female factor and male factor equally at 30% each. In the balance of cases, the infertility is the result of both partners or unexplained. Even when the disease is not a direct result of issues with a male partner, infertility has a huge impact on men. Unfortunately, men’s stories are not heard as frequently.

ART of Infertility is interested in telling diverse stories of infertility, and is always honored to share the stories of men. We’re very excited to have been invited by Dr. Paul Turek of The Turek Clinic in Beverly Hills and San Francisco, to hold a pop-up art exhibit in his clinic in San Francisco on Thursday June 16th from 7 – 9 pm, in honor of Men’s Health Week. We’ll be sharing the artwork and stories of men and their families along with food and art making stations. If you’re in the area, we hope you’ll attend. In the meantime, you can learn more about male fertility and infertility from Dr. Turek here and read and listen to the personal story of Bret, an ART of IF participant in Southern California, and his family below. Bret reflects on the experience of miscarriage and trying to decide whether to continue or end treatment.  This post does contain images of children and parenting.

– Elizabeth

Bret with his son Cole, who was conceived via Inter-uterine insemination, or IUI.

Bret with his son Cole, who was conceived via Inter-uterine insemination, or IUI.

“I knew the moment the doctor came in to do the ultrasound. I saw his actions and he didn’t even have to say anything. I’ve done enough ultrasounds with him before and I kind of knew how they went and he was triple checking everything and I knew, this was not good. She didn’t want to accept it the first time and it was difficult. I kind of knew the writing was on the wall. Maybe we also approached her second pregnancy in a different way. I didn’t want to tell anybody until the end of the process. She was just so happy being pregnant and I tried to advise her, this is nobody’s business but ours. It was tough because I had that in my mind that it wasn’t going well and she was so ecstatic being pregnant. We were in two very different places at the same time. I just tried to do what I could. There was also a lot of work stuff going on at the same time so I wasn’t here for the 3 weeks when this all happened. I was at work almost he whole time so it was not a good time, at all, for anyone.”

“The only thing I can do is support her. Be there for her, a shoulder to cry on. She needs to get these emotions out so that’s what I try to do. I’m not very good at it but I try.”

Bret_004_men-and-infertility“I guess I don’t have a support, I guess I don’t. I don’t really talk to anybody about it. I have my ways that I guess I try to let things out and deal with it but I don’t talk to anybody. I like to go out in the wilderness and I usually go with a group of friends and we go backpacking or go walk up a mountain or something cool and well, last July we had our family vacation. We did a little anniversary thing and got away and we came home and I just said, I’m leaving. I’m going. I just went and walked out in the mountains by myself for about 4 days. This was about 6 weeks after the miscarriage. It helped. It wasn’t the cure I was looking for but it was helpful and that’s it and then it was back to work and back to the grind and I really haven’t dealt with it, I just try to put it behind me.”

Bret, Erica, and Cole at their home in Southern California.

Bret, Erica, and Cole at their home in Southern California.

Click on the clip below to hear audio of Bret and his wife, Erica, discussing whether to continue or end treatment.

 

 

Coping with Infertility: Celeste’s Journey through Song and Art

My name is Lauren Gaynor and I am a senior at Michigan State University studying English and Professional Writing. I am the new undergraduate research assistant for The ART of Infertility project and I am overwhelmed and excited by the fact that I have the opportunity to share some of these stories with you.

The first story that I am about to share is reflective of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Although Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month is in October, we still felt it important to share this story of Celeste who is all too familiar with this kind of loss. Celeste shows us how she copes with these experiences of loss through art and singing.

The ART of Infertility first met Celeste at the Tri-State Walk of Hope this past September. As we packed up our tent, Celeste shared with us her recent experience of infertility and loss – the passing away of Robin and Rosa.

Celeste Image

Celeste has coped with her infertility through her love of song and expressive art.

After trying to conceive unofficially since September 2011, Celeste officially began trying in June 2012 and has been working with a reproductive endocrinologist since 2013. Six intrauterine inseminations, four in vitro fertilizations and 3 transfers all resulted in negative pregnancy tests, with the exception of her pregnancy with Robin and Rosa.

She conceived a set of twins on November 11, 2014. Unfortunately, she suffered an early pregnancy loss with son, Robin, on December 22, 2014. After being diagnosed with congenital heart disease, her daughter Rosa joined Robin on May 29, 2015.

Celeste channeled her loss and grief through art and music and we asked if she would like to share some of her pieces for a special blog post. Inspired by the work at the Carly Marie project, Celeste captures her loss, grief and journey through her reflections and artwork. The artistic pieces featured are meant to foster Celeste’s connection with Robin and Rosa, express her grief and emotion and continue on the hope of her journey with infertility.

Piece #1

Celeste Piece 1

Celeste shares, “I made this piece as a part of the Carly Marie “Capture Your Grief” photo healing project. The project is meant to help bereaved parents move through their grief during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. The top for Day Three was ‘In Honour.’”

“I started with pencil and paper, and thought about my twins. How would l like to honor them this day? The pencil sort of took over, and out poured my heart on paper. I then finalized the piece in ink.”

According to Celeste, the heart surrounding their names represents infinite love while the Gemini zodiac is for Rosa’s name and the Capricorn zodiac is for Robin’s name. The heart below their names represents their conception date. The infinite love that Celeste has for her babies is shown through the border of hearts surrounding the piece.

“When I look at it again, it makes me think of the Petri dish in which fertilization occurred. There is so much love and beauty in that moment, even if the environment was clinical and scientific.”

Not only is Celeste an artist but she is also an avid singer. Therefore, she inserted text inside of the heart that displayed the lyrics to songs that she sang to her babies while they were in the womb. Celeste would sit in their nursery and sing “You Are My Sunshine” (Traditional), “I Will Wait” (Mumford & Sons), “Human” (Christina Perri) and a plethora of others. Their memory is engrained in the song, art and spirit of Celeste’s intentions through this piece.

Piece #2
Day 11: Glow In The Woods
Celeste Piece 3

 

Glow in the Woods captures the grief and pain of losing her children. Although their memory lives on in some of her pieces, grief will still sometimes overtake the joy of their memory. It seems that this grief is related to being lost in the woods. “At first, I feel terrified and abandoned. But then, I look around and catch glimpses of light to find my way back home. My family is my life. John especially. With each passing day, he helps me see the light. He is my glow in the woods.”

Celeste compares IVF and ART to the thorny brush of the forest encapsulating and trapping her. These seem to be suffocating rather than setting her free. Celeste states that this is the infertility forest but, “the glow in the infertility forest is the thought that I have the power to decide when enough is enough.”

No matter what Celeste has her husband by her side. If all of the work and intrauterine inseminations and in-vitro fertilization doesn’t result in a child, it will be okay in the end because as Celeste says, “My husband is by my side and love is all I need.”

Piece #3
Broken Dreams
Celeste Piece 2

Despite all of the love and support throughout the process of conceiving, Celeste shares that it was difficult to remain hopeful throughout all of the broken hopes and dreams.

“Infertility and loss have changed my whole world. I used to be a reckless daydreamer and thought that the sky was the limit. Now after experiencing 6 failed intrauterine insemination cycles, 5 failed in-vitro fertilization cycles and the loss of twins, I am afraid to dream.”

This piece truly captures the dark cloud that seems to overwhelm all of the love, support and persistence that Celeste dealt with during her infertility. Despite the hopes and dreams of Celeste, reality seemed to take over and create fear and depression in place of her dreams.

Piece #4
Dark + Light

Celeste Piece 4

Despite broken hopes and dreams, Celeste reminds herself, that there is always sunshine on the horizon. Celeste proves that hope doesn’t always fade and love is all that she needs to persevere through the pain.

This intention captures giving birth and the pain, grief and joy that accompanied Rosa’s life. “Giving birth to Rosa made me realize that without pain, there would be no joy. The physical pains of labor and delivery were intense. But the moment the nurse placed her in my arms, the pain lifted from my memory and all I could see what sunshine.”

The contrast of the dark clouds and bright sunshine bring to life the beauty and struggle of Celeste’s infertility. “The dark storm cloud represents the pain and negativity that infertility brings to my life. The fear and doubt of my childhood dream which is in question.”

The unknown darkness of not being able to fulfill a dream is frightening and beautifully captured by Celeste’s artistry. Celeste’s art shows that for her despite the darkness, there is always hope behind the clouds. “The sunburst behind it, again, is the joyous and beautiful things to come from my infertility struggle. The hope that, at times is mostly concealed, continually tries to break free. The sunshine, while we cannot see it every day, is always there.”

Pregnancy Loss Cards bring Healing

Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month is technically over but I hope that its effects are long lasting. During October, I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Jessica Zucker and calligrapher, Anne Robin, creators of a new line of pregnancy loss cards. The story of how art and writing has brought them healing, and how they hope their cards will bring healing to others, is below. Please be aware that the story does contain descriptions and themes of pregnancy loss.

Elizabeth

On a Thursday in October three years ago, Jessica Zucker was 16 weeks into her pregnancy when she began miscarrying at home. She was there alone and describes the experience as incredibly painful, intense, emotional, and horrifying. “I have these memories burned into my mind and my heart. Having her fall out, having to cut the cord, looking at her, putting her on a towel, and putting her in a bag.”

While her husband rushed home, Jessica was hemorrhaging. Fortunately, he made it in time to get her to the doctor but the amount of blood loss she was having made an un-medicated D&C necessary. That night, she drank wine and ate chocolate in bed. Jessica explains that grieving the loss of her daughter was made even more complicated by the fact that she herself also could have died. She wonders how she mustered the strength to make it through. “My grief would just come out. I would be driving somewhere and I would just start bawling or even screaming at the horror of how things happened,” Jessica said.

deeply-sorry-4

As a way to process her grief, Jessica, a clinical psychologist who specializes in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health in Los Angeles, began writing about loss. At first, she wrote about the politics of pregnancy loss and explored why we live in a culture where we can’t talk about the experience of miscarriage, where women somehow feel ashamed about their experiences. Then, last October, during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, Jessica initiated #ihadamiscarriage and went public with her own story in a piece she wrote for the New York Times. She explains that it’s helped so much because she’s connected with such wonderful women in the loss community around the world. “I feel my greatest way to honor my daughter, to honor our brief life together, our brief connection, has really been through my writing and I think that’s been the way that I’ve actually healed.”

“I feel my greatest way to honor my daughter, to honor our brief life together, our brief connection, has really been through my writing and I think that’s been the way that I’ve actually healed.”

Wanting to fill a void in the cultural conversation and in the marketplace surrounding pregnancy loss, Jessica decided to create a line of cards; to create something concrete and meaningful as a way to connect after a loss. Research shows that, after miscarriage, women are blaming themselves, feeling guilty, and feeling incredibly isolated. “My hope is that the cards convey messages that help women feel seen, feel validated in their experience, feel understood, and inevitably feel less alone because the card sender is thinking of them.” Jessica explains.

She also thought the cards could provide a sort of go-to guide for people who wonder what to say after someone they love experiences loss. They want to say the “right” thing, but many times don’t know what to say so they stumble.

love-you-5

Jessica knew which messages she wanted to convey through the cards but needed help designing them. She reached out to calligrapher, Anne Robin, who also has experience with pregnancy loss. “There were three (miscarriages) at different stages, all within the first trimester. One of them was at 12 weeks, one was at 11 weeks, and then two babies that we found out at 20 weeks had severe inter-cranial hemorrhage.” recalls Anne. “They realized there must have been some kind of genetic problem but they couldn’t find it.”

Anne was told by her geneticist to “just try again.” “That’s easier said than done, obviously, but I was pretty determined and felt like I needed to, like I couldn’t NOT try again, and again, and again, until it finally worked.” Anne recalls.

Eventually, it did work, and Anne now has a 4-month old son. As a way to memorialize her babies, she has a little box she keeps ultrasounds in, along with letters she’s written to them, and other mementos. “I still wanted something very physical so the one thing I did and I do really kind of cherish is had a new necklace made with a ‘C’ for my older son, that’s cut out of a circle, and then for the two babies that we lost much later, kind of the two that felt more real to me, I have these kind of empty rings. It’s something that I always have on me and it feels special and now my baby holds onto it a lot. He’ll have one of his fingers through the rings so that always feels really symbolic to me.” Anne explains.

grief-knows-5

Anne also used Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month last year to share her story publicly, creating a series of prints around the topic of pregnancy loss that were available for purchase, download, and use, on her website. She wanted to do something else this year and was looking for a project when Jessica approached her about doing the artwork for her pregnancy loss cards. “I finally had this baby in June and was interested in kind of coming full circle. Last year I was doing this all at seven weeks pregnant and totally terrified.” Anne explained, adding that, this year, she had a little bit more peace about her experiences and felt like she could really invest time and heart into the process.

I was pretty determined and felt like I needed to, like I couldn’t NOT try again, and again, and again, until it finally worked.”

To get started, Anne had Jessica look at her Instagram account to send her a list of fonts she liked and they brainstormed ideas. Realizing they both have an affinity for Mid-Century Modern design, Anne moved forward with shades of turquoise, mustardy yellow, and brick red, following a color scheme falling within that design aesthetic. “I didn’t want to make them super bright because I felt like they should be more muted because of the subject matter,” Anne explains.

Once a general design plan was in place, Jessica let Anne run with it.  “I love everything she does so it’s kind of ridiculous. I told her, you go for it, this part is all you,” she said.

What resulted was a series of pregnancy loss cards featuring honest messages, and gorgeous calligraphy. While some of the stronger language may not resonate with everyone, Jessica hopes that there’s a card in the series for everybody and wanted to convey a sense of consistency.

pregnancy-after-4

With messages including, I’m here for you always and I love you like crazy, Jessica explains, “I’m trying to underscore the point that I’m here for you right now because this happened and then next week we can hang out in this uncomfortable space together because this is part of life and where a lot of growth, unfortunately, happens.”

She adds that rushing grief doesn’t help anybody and ignoring it most definitely doesn’t either. “I think it’s incredibly important to try to resist judging one’s grief and that we should really shy away from comparing and contrasting grief or loss experiences.” The card stating grief has no timeline expands on this theme. “Women shouldn’t have to worry that they’re going to make somebody uncomfortable or that it’s inappropriate somehow to talk about their loss. That they should feel well within x amount of time,” Jessica says.

It was important to Jessica to have a card for pregnancy after loss, and she describes the baby loss/still birth announcement in the collection as stunning and so meaningful and important.

Both Jessica and Anne have been completely overwhelmed and excited by how well the cards have been received. “At first we were literally talking about printing 25 copies of each card. We had no idea the press we were going to get and the reaction that people would love them so much.” says Anne, adding how nice it’s been that people have been expressing gratitude that the cards are now available.

loss-announcement-4

Working on this line of cards has been an important part of Jessica and Anne working through emotions surrounding their own experiences with loss and it seems that the cards are definitely fulfilling Jessica’s goal of delivering honest and truthful messages, filling a gap in the marketplace, and sparking a discussion about pregnancy loss. She explains, “We have to embrace that this is part of trying to create life and women shouldn’t feel that they have to be quiet about it.”

Jessica’s hope is that future generations grow up in a landscape that is incredibly different when it comes to these important and normative issues, saying, “It can be like a rollercoaster ride. you can be laughing one day or one hour and, the next hour, screaming about your pain and that’s okay.”