Six Secret Confessions of an Infertile

by Elizabeth Walker

A couple of weeks ago, my husband, Scott, and I were interviewed by Steven Mavros of Waiting for Babies. It was a sort of pre-interview for the launch party and live taping that Maria and I will do in Philadelphia next week. (If you’re in the area, please join Maria and me in Philadelphia on August 9th for the Waiting for Babies launch party. Tickets are only $8 and include hors d’oeuvres and an open bar!)

It was the first time the two of us have been interviewed together and it was really valuable to share our story as a couple and reflect on everything we’ve been through over the past 8.5 years. I feel like we both gained more insight on how infertility affected us both individually and as a family.

It also got me thinking about all the crazy thoughts I’ve had along the way.  At the risk of sounding like infertility made me completely lose my mind, I’m sharing some secret confessions with you today. I figured I’m not alone in having some crazy or embarrassing thoughts while dealing with infertility. Maybe hearing mine will help you realize you’re not alone :).

NUMBER 1. I fantasize about finding a baby in the bushes or in the manger of a nativity scene during the month of December. I once read about a man who found a baby in the subway and eventually got to adopt it. If it happened to him, why can’t it happen to me?

NUMBER 2. I have felt extreme jealousy about the ability of Sea Monkeys to procreate. We had an aquarium of them when my nieces lived with us and there were new babies every single day. Why is it so easy for them, and so hard for me?

NUMBER 3. Likewise, when two tomato seedlings started sprouting in a dishcloth in my kitchen, I was first protective of them and then, several days later, in a fit of rage, destroyed them. Why could my twins not survive in my womb but these two little plants could spring up out of a dishrag?

NUMBER 4. I’m jealous that my friends get to hire babysitters. When I myself was in high school and a babysitter, I would fantasize of one day being the grown up and parent. The one who comes home in a glamorous dress after a night out with her adoring husband and pays the babysitter, asking what they did for fun while we were gone.

NUMBER 5. I seriously have to fight the urge to buy a baby doll every time I find myself in the baby aisle at Toys R Us. I think this also goes back to childhood and nurturing my dolls and dreaming of nurturing my own baby one day. Except that never happened. Now, I see the dolls through the cellophane windows in their boxes and long to take them home with me, knowing that that would truly be crazy and may be dangerously close to being completely unhealthy. Still, I’m tempted.

NUMBER 6. Recently, when I was walking my dog, I saw a neighbor walking down the sidewalk holding a newborn. For just a moment, I considered asking him if he’d trade me his baby for my dog.

What are your secret confessions as an infertile?

Holiday Survival Cheat Sheet

Dealing with the holidays while dealing with infertility can be brutal.

Just a few examples…

  • Seeing jewelry commercials celebrating new moms who gather by trees for their newborns’ first Christmases.
  • Hearing songs on the radio highlighting tiny tots with their eyes all aglow.
  • Family holiday gatherings that make it impossible to ignore that everyone else’s families are growing but yours.
  • Siblings who gift calendars full of adorable photos of your nieces and nephews to your parents while you look on, childless yet another year.

So, we at The ART of Infertility are again sharing this list of tips for surviving the holidays that I compiled several years ago. 

Some of the ideas are mine, some are of those of people I’ve met along the way, some are from online blogs, or resources like RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. I wish now that I had kept track of where I’d found them so I could give credit where credit is due. However, it’s been too helpful to me, and those in my infertility support groups, over the years to keep it to ourselves. So, we’re sharing it with all of you today.

Keep it bookmarked, save it to your computer’s desktop or your phone’s home screen. Or, new this year, follow this link to download a PDF that you can post somewhere you’ll be sure to see it regularly. Heck, maybe a friend, family member, or co-worker will see it and get some more insight about what may be difficult for you this time of year and then be more mindful of their holiday interactions with you :).

I chose number 3 today and baked my first loaf of Paleo bread. I haven’t decided what to do about number 59 yet, but I’m looking forward to fulfilling number 62, with quality time with my nieces and nephews when we take a family vacation to Tampa next month.

Hang in There!
– Elizabeth

Tips for Surviving the Holidays

  1. Treat yourself.
  2. On a good day, make a list of things you’re grateful for and read it when you’re feeling down.
  3. Give yourself an enjoyable challenge.

    After nearly 9 months eating a Paleo diet, I made my first loaf of Paleo bread.

    After nearly 9 months eating a Paleo diet, I made my first loaf of Paleo bread.

  4. Shop Therapy!
  5. Enjoy one on one time with your partner.
  6. Take good care of yourself.
  7. Tell parents and other family members how you are feeling using “I” statements.
  8. Limit time spent with family if you find it too stressful.
  9. Change the way you celebrate.
  10. Create new traditions.
  11. Volunteer.
  12. Plan at least one day during the holiday that you are really looking forward to.
  13. Make a date to see your siblings and/or parents away from children so you can really catch up.
  14. If you think you may act badly under stress, decide ahead of time how to behave.
  15. Be sure to incorporate the usual events that are meaningful and joyful for you into your plans. Don’t let infertility rob you of your joys.
  16. Don’t go to holiday events.
  17. If you do go to holiday events, have an escape plan.
  18. Instead of attending an entire event, go to only the portion of the event that you find enjoyable or tolerable.
  19. Don’t feel like you have to hold babies.
  20. Alternatively, hold every baby available to get your “fix.”
  21. Be prepared for the “When are you having kids?” question.
  22. Decide ahead of time whether or not to tell your family about your infertility.
  23. Don’t be afraid to cut off uncomfortable conversations.
  24. Be ready to cope with pregnancy announcements.
  25. Be forgiving of yourself.
  26. Hide in the bathroom for a few minutes (or more) when necessary.
  27. Put yourself first.
  28. Be interesting! Adjust the focus from your inability to have a baby to something positive about you.
  29. Shop online instead of in the stores to control what you see and when.
  30. Ban the baby department if you must go into stores.
  31. Create mantras.
  32. Cry.
  33. Focus on the lighter side of infertility by joking with your partner or friends who understand.
  34. Don’t open holiday cards. It’s okay to throw them away or put them aside to open on a good day.
  35. Get exercise.
  36. Avoid television to avoid the holiday commercials.
  37. Party with adults only!
  38. Rely on your support person/people.
  39. Have an emergency to-do list of enjoyable activities. Write it when you’re having a good day and then pick an item from the list when you’re having a bad one.
  40. Take a break from Facebook.
  41. Be honest with others about your feelings.
  42. Dress up!
  43. Think positive! Let yourself dream about future holidays as a parent.
  44. Remember the reason for the season, whatever it is to you.
  45. Plan a January “get away” or other reward.
  46. Ask for/tell others what you need from them.
  47. If it’s too hard to shop for baby and kid items, buy a gift card instead.
  48. Try to avoid sitting next to new/expectant moms at dinner.
  49. Slow down.
  50. Start each day with intention.
  51. Do what you need to do for yourself without an apology.
  52. Remember that “No.” is a complete sentence. You don’t need an excuse.
  53. Do what’s right for you.
  54. Find a way to honor your lost baby or babies.
  55. Schedule time to grieve.
  56. Don’t expect to live up to others expectations.
  57. Practice empathy.
  58. Make your own holiday cards and avoid the card aisle.
  59. Decorate for the holidays or don’t. Either way, do what feels right to you.

    Maria and Kevin's tree one Christmas.

    Maria and Kevin’s tree one Christmas.

  60. Write an uplifting note to yourself on a good day. Keep it in your purse or a pocket to read when you are feeling down.
  61. Journal your feelings.
  62. Create memories with a special child in your life.
  63. Write down your favorite childhood memories.
  64. Avoid talking about Infertility at holiday parties. If someone brings it up, say you’d rather enjoy the holidays instead.
  65. Watch a holiday classic.
  66. Make a list of resolutions, sticking to things you can control.
  67. Give yourself an infertility break by not trying to get pregnant over the holidays.
  68. Educate others by being ready with infertility statistics when the topic comes up.
  69. Find a creative outlet like coloring, painting, or another kind of crafting.
  70. Remember that it won’t feel like this forever.

Taking a Time Out to Grieve During the Holidays – Perspectives from Elizabeth

Thanksgiving, 2009 was the last holiday before my world came crashing down. The illness and death of my sister-in-law, the relocation of three of my nieces who my husband and I had been caring for in my home, our infertility diagnosis.

I’ve been weepy the past few days. Okay, more than weepy. I’ve indulged in an ugly cry a few times. There isn’t anything current that is contributing to this. It’s like my body remembers that we’re entering the season of traumas past and is working through emotions that are rarely as close to the surface as they once were, but must need some attention.

In the months following that holiday season that everything went wrong, it wasn’t hard to grieve. It was something I did constantly, both intentionally and unintentionally. I had a play list of songs, that I’d deemed “sad” that I listened to every day on my commute to and from work. I attended therapy sessions and grief support group meetings, I told everyone who’d listen what I’d been through. I journaled. However, as time has passed, and I’ve adjusted to life without my sister-in-law, without the girls, WITH infertility, I don’t often take time out to acknowledge what I’ve been through and grieve it. Years of unsuccessful infertility treatments, the miscarriage of my twins, the strain that infertility has put on my relationships.

That last Thanksgiving, I saved the wish bone from the turkey and put it in a dish on the shelf above the sink in my kitchen. It’s been there since. There have been a few times I’ve reached inside to make sure it was still there. Traced my finger along its curves. I’ve even taken it out a time or two. It was only recently that my husband knew it was there and that I started thinking that it’s time for the wish bone to move on.

thanksgiving-art

So, I spent some time, intentionally grieving the primary and secondary losses of infertility while creating this piece. Doing so was painful, messy. I had to face emotions that aren’t pleasant and sit with them for a while. It’s a remembrance of the lives that were, a prayer for wishes long desired to come to fruition, and an acknowledgement of not just the fragility of it all, but the strength that we find in community.

While there are many things about this season that are difficult, I’m thankful for those I have in my corner, both at home and around the world, because of this infertility journey I’ve been on. I send you wishes for peace as you enter this difficult season.

We Are Strong Women

No matter who you voted for, waking up last Wednesday morning morning it was clear: the world has been changed. For Elizabeth and me, this took on particular meaning as we finalized our presentation for Merck KGaA’s As One For employee education day, an event devoted to Merck staff understanding the perspectives of patients using their products.

We made the trip to Switzerland with six suitcases and two backpacks full of art and supplies.

We made the trip to Switzerland with six suitcases and two backpacks full of art and supplies.

Sitting in our Coinsins, Switzerland L’Auberge Salon (aka – our small but quaint hotel room) – we decided to devote this presentation to all the infertile women who have had to struggle to fight for their dreams, fight for their passions, fight for a child. In honor of all of you who have graciously shared either your time, resources or both to The ART of Infertility – we dedicate this to you – the infertile but ever strong woman.

Here is a bit about our own personal stories and how we have found strength in our infertility.

-Maria

Elizabeth’s Story.

My husband Scott and I met on New Year’s Eve 1999, married in May of 2004, and five years later, decided to add to our family by having a baby.

I went off the birth control pill in March of 2009 and started charting my cycles. My chart was a mess. Definitely not what you want your chart to look like while trying to conceive. By fall, my chart was looking better but I was finding that the time between ovulating and starting my period wasn’t long enough to be optimal for implantation and to sustain a pregnancy.

My first chart off birth control.

My first chart off birth control.

Right around that time, Scott’s sister, Shelley, got sick. She was the recently divorced mom of three little girls. The girls began spending Shelley’s custody days with us. Suddenly we were thrown in to sleepovers, play dates, homework, and bath time. We were the ones to tuck them in at night, soothe them when they woke up from nightmares, and nurse them back to health when they were sick. The circumstances were terrible, but having them living with us was one of the very best experiences of my life. Sadly, Shelley died in January of 2010.

That March, their dad moved them to Minnesota. With the girls nearly 600 miles away, we were devastated. This was made even worse by the fact that it had been over a year since we started trying to conceive and we were officially dealing with infertility. I wondered if the time that the girls lived with us would be the only time we’d ever parent. We needed to see a doctor to get started with testing and treatment but took some time to heal first. Well meaning friends and family, not knowing we were trying to conceive and unsuccessful, suggested that having a child of our own might help us heal. While we wanted a baby, it was no replacement for the precious nieces that we were longing for.

By the end of the year, we were ready. At Thanksgiving, I was headed to testing and my sister she announced she was pregnant her second month of trying to conceive. We spent Christmas of 2010 with the girls in a hotel in Minneapolis. The entire trip, I was receiving test results and scheduling more appointments.

Between the end of 2010 and the end of 2012, I was diagnosed with Luteal Phase Defect, Endometriosis, and Diminished Ovarian Reserve. We endured five rounds of oral meds with timed intercourse, four intra-uterine inseminations with oral and injectable drugs, I had a diagnostic laparoscopy, and I joined a RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association support group and then became the group’s host.

What I personally found hardest about infertility was being stuck in limbo as my friends and family had children, all the decisions that infertility forces you to make, and the fact that it’s an invisible disease. In order to make my infertility visible, I started creating artwork.

roses

The first piece of artwork I made during my IF journey.

The first piece created out of my infertility journey, made while on medical leave after an exploratory laparoscopy to remove polyps and endometriosis.

I learned that others were also using artwork to deal with infertility and in fall of 2012, pitched an “infertility art exhibit” to the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, Michigan, where I live. The exhibit would provide educational info on infertility, display the environmental portraits, artwork and stories of those living with infertility, and offer an art workshop.  They said yes.

Early 2013 brought our one and only IVF cycle. My retrieval led to complications (internal bleeding and ovarian torsion) for which I needed emergency surgery. After I recovered, we transferred two of our three resulting grade 5AA blastocysts. I got pregnant, but miscarried twins early on. This all happened between the middle of February and June 1st and I needed a break after all we’d been through.

I spent the rest of the year working on the exhibit, compiling facts, making artwork, and photographing exhibit participants. I wanted to show them participating in activities other than infertility that defined them.

What I personally found hardest about infertility was being stuck in limbo as my friends and family had children, all the decisions that infertility forces you to make, and the fact that it’s an invisible disease. In order to make my infertility visible, I started creating artwork.

In February of 2014, we transferred our last embryo and I didn’t get pregnant. My husband and I had reached the end of our journey in attempting to have children that are genetically ours. We needed time to grieve and regroup with the idea that we may eventually move on to living child free or adopting from foster care. Two and a half years later, we’re still working on healing from all we dealt with. We need a bit more time to come to terms with what we’ve been through, and rebuild our relationship. However, I am starting to feel the pressure of time and the need to make a decision about how we will resolve our infertility. We are still considering living child free, especially since we have such a close relationship with the nieces we parented for a time. We are also considering using donor embryo, an option that I started considering after hearing the story of Noah and Maya, who I interviewed for the project.

In March of 2014, The ART of IF: Navigating the Journey of Infertility opened at the Ella Sharp Museum. Along with raising awareness about infertility through the art exhibit, I began lobbying for infertility legislation on Capitol Hill with my first trip to Advocacy Day in D.C. that May, where I met Maria Novotny.

Maria’s Story.

This is where my infertility story begins – at yes, believe it or not, the age of 15. I met Kevin, my now husband, at this age. Throughout high school and college, Kevin and I dated on and off. Ultimately, upon graduation we decided to get married. Both of us came from big families. In fact, my family was so large that my parents actually had my brother when I was 18. So the idea of being infertile NEVER crossed my mind. In fact, I was often warned that I would be “too” fertile. This was a joke at the time, but now is all too ironic.

Kevin and Maria with family on their wedding day.

Kevin and Maria with family on their wedding day.

After marrying at the age of 23, we moved to MI for Kevin’s job and bought a house. Soon we began nesting, adopting dogs and shortly after decided to “try”….

Months passed and nothing. No success. A year passed. And we knew something was wrong. I booked an appointment with my OB/GYN. Tests came back and it was suggested we go to our local fertility center.

We attended a consultation and left feeling completely overwhelmed. We were 24 and grappling not only with the numerous options available as well as financial cost – but also with the fact that we were trying to understand our new infertile identity. We felt paralyzed. We were living in a new state. We had no family near us. And we had few close friends. So, we decided to look for support…

But couldn’t find anything. Desperate just to meet someone else who was infertile, we turned to the internet and “came out” with our infertility. We shared our story on our local city’s newspaper and asked others if they too needed support. Slowly but surely, we began to connect with others looking for a safe space to deal with issues in a city that was rated by Forbes Magazine as “the #1 place to raise a family.”

infertility-support-grand-rapids

At this time, I found myself needing to document my infertility journey. I felt a deep desire to capture the complex and confusing feelings that I was experiencing. So I began to write. Doing so, I wrote several pieces. One of which is titled The House, a piece now in The ART of Infertility which reflects on the house my husband and I bought prior to learning about our infertility.

As I began to do more creative writing pieces, I felt an increasing connection to return to school. As a college student, I majored in English. Learning how writing could help with emotional and physical healing, I started a Master’s program focused on writing and the teaching of writing. Graduate school became a place where I could escape the pressures of not conceiving, of not becoming a mom.

We attended a consultation and left feeling completely overwhelmed. We were 24 and grappling not only with the numerous options available as well as financial cost – but also with the fact that we were trying to understand our new infertile identity. We felt paralyzed. We were living in a new state. We had no family near us. And we had little to few close friends. So, we decided to look for support…

Today, I am in the last year of my schooling – finishing my PhD in an area that I call “rhetorics of infertility” which explores how writing and art are composition practices communicating the challenges women and men face when diagnosed with infertility.

And so, while I currently am not in treatment, nor am I pregnant – I still am very much in limbo. Very much in a place of not knowing what my next move should be. I am 30 now. I have lived the past 6 years knowing that I am infertile. But the need to make a decision about what to do next is so overwhelming that I am secretly hoping it will work itself out, that my husband and I won’t have to make a decision. This hope is what we call “limbo” – the not knowing of infertility and the sheer exhaustion that comes with its disease.

***

While we both have decisions to make about further growing our families, through ART of IF, Elizabeth and I have found more happiness, and peace than either of us has had in years. The connections that we have made with other infertile individuals and families, the work that we do in helping them along their journeys, and the awareness about the patient experience that we are able to raise, has given us fulfillment. For both of us, this project turned organization has become the baby that neither one of us could have.

We shared these stories with Merck employees, followed by a Q & A. Upon doing so, our co-presenter, a fertility specialist in the UK, concluded the session. She reminded all of us that while infertility can be difficult to learn about – both in terms of its sadness and depressing nature – we need to remember that infertility can make those dealing with it stronger. She spoke to the fact that The ART of Infertility is a testament to this. That when women face adversity, they can create beautiful things. We – the infertile – are strong (and powerful) women. We were very touched by her words and the important reminder that is especially relevant in this post-election time that we are now living. Let us not forget that our challenges have the potential to make us stronger and, through the lives we live and the work we do, we have the ability to make a positive impact on our own lives and the lives of those around us.

How have you found strength in your infertility journey? We would love for you to share it with us.

After traveling all night, we arrive at Merck to drop off the exhibit supplies.

After traveling all night, we arrive at Merck to drop off the exhibit supplies.

 

 

 

Summer Stress Relief

As you may know, in addition to running the ART of Infertility, I work in imaging and communications for the University of Michigan Medical School’s Department of Pathology. I was a biomedical photographer for 16+ years and in May, was offered a new position as Communications Specialist. Moments before I received my good news, my colleague announced his retirement. While I was happy for him, his timing could not have been worse. Since July 1st, all of the responsibilities of three full time employees, have fallen to me.

While I love working, and was able to have a pretty good handle on things for the first several weeks, the past couple of weeks have been a challenge. There are never enough hours in the day and the stress of the work piling up is getting to me. Also, since they don’t plan to back fill my old position, and haven’t yet posted my colleague’s position, there is no end in site.

I’ve been pulling out all of the tools I generally use. Yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, art making (including keeping a sketch pad and markers at my desk for doodle breaks), and therapy sessions. Another tool that I often use is to give myself attitude adjustments. I felt like I needed one that would give me a fresh start today. So, last night, I broke out some sidewalk chalk to help.square-sidewalk-chalk-art-therapy

I drew an outline of my head and torso and used the chalk to represent the stress I feel. The anxiousness in my chest, the thoughts constantly filling my head, and the pain that builds up in my neck and shoulder on my left side. It felt good to get out some nervous, stressful energy by marking the pavement and the colors were soothing to me. Then, when I had completed my drawing, I washed it away with water as a symbol of releasing that stress and the effects it has on my physical and emotional well being.

chalk-therapy-composite-art-of-infertility
While today has been another busy, stressful day, and there’s even more work in my pile, I’m more at ease because I took some time out and made a conscious effort to practice self care.

What kind of self care do you practice? Do you think washing away a chalk drawing would be helpful to you? If you give it a try, let us know what the experience was like for you.

-Elizabeth

Five things I Wish I’d known when First Diagnosed with Infertility

Awhile back, a friend asked me what I wish I had known when I first received my infertility diagnosis. While there are hundreds of things I’ve learned over the past seven years, these are some that have proven to be very helpful to me in my journey. So, I’m sharing them with you today. 

Elizabeth

1. Resolving your infertility will likely take longer than you expect. Hopefully you’ll get lucky and it won’t, but you should be prepared for a long process.  It’s going to take some time to move through testing, treatment, and finally reach resolution, whether it’s through treatment, adoption or ultimately choosing to live childfree. For this reason, I often tell those who have recently been diagnosed to take some time to adjust to their diagnosis, find out what their options are, and move forward with the most aggressive option available to them as soon as they are ready.

E. Walker FET.xls

A portion of the medication calendar for my first frozen embryo transfer.

2. It’s okay to take breaks.  Sometimes breaks are forced, due to medical or financial reasons, and sometimes they are a choice. Either way, try to make the most of your “time off”. Infertility is all consuming, even when you’re not going in for daily ultrasounds and stuck with a curfew in order to inject yourself with meds at the right time. Take this opportunity to connect with the people and activities that you enjoyed before you started dealing with Infertility. Explore new hobbies, whatever they might be. Or, just sleep if you have no energy for hobbies after the marathon of medical appointments you’ve just endured!

3. Make friends with others experiencing infertility. No one else is going to understand the mix of joy, agony and guilt you feel when a family member announces a pregnancy like they are. No one else can give you some Lupron when your doctor’s office doesn’t have any on hand and your order from the pharmacy is delayed by a snowstorm (thanks, Jessica!) and no one else can easily decode the sentence, “I’m 6DP5DT. I triggered on April 10th. When do you think it’s safe to POAS?”

infertility friends

Infertility friend, Lindsey, and me. I visited with her and three other infertility friends in Columbus over the weekend.

4. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself to little things that make you happy. It’s important to set boundaries for self-care. Say no to attending baby showers, leave the family Christmas party before Santa shows up to pass out gifts to the kids, or visit friends after their toddler is in bed for the night. Above all, always have an escape route and reward yourself for doing things that are hard. I always take a trip to Sephora or Ulta after a trip to Babies R Us, for example :).

Nail_polish

A new bottle of nail polish is an inexpensive reward after shopping for a baby shower gift.

5. Share your story. Whether it’s with one family member you can trust, a group of others struggling with Infertility around a table at a support group meeting, or publicly through social media. Infertility can be very isolating. Sharing your story will benefit you and others by creating a community of support and awareness and reminding you that you are not alone in your struggle.

Interested in sharing your story through the ART of Infertility project? We are always interested in talking to those who would like to be interviewed or contribute to the project through art or writing

Anxiety, Infertility, and Peace through Art and Meditation

by Elizabeth Walker

Several years ago, I was sitting in my therapist’s office having a discussion. I don’t remember what we were talking about but I was likely sharing some recent stressful situation when she responded with something like, “I think that we can attribute this to your anxiety,” to which I replied, “Anxiety? I don’t have anxiety.” She looked extremely skeptical. That’s when it clicked, “Oh! You’re right. I DO struggle with anxiety.”

The truth was, being anxious and on edge was something that was so normal for me, I didn’t even recognize it as such. My mind never stops. I’m always thinking about what’s coming next, always running potential scenarios through my head. Worried about what might happen if I choose to do A instead of B. It’s distracting, stressful, and my infertility diagnosis only made it worse.

So, I became devoted to setting aside time in my day for meditation, hoping it would calm my mind. Usually it was before bed at the end of the day or during my commute to and from work. (I carpooled at the time. I do not recommend this if you are driving!)  It wasn’t easy at first. I found that guided visualization seemed to work best for me but would still find myself distracted and thinking of everything but what the calm voice inside my ear buds was instructing me to. However, with practice, it became one of my favorite times of the day. Even better, before long, I didn’t even need to actually listen to the audio recording. I could just think about it and get relief!

The CD cover for Anji's Meditation for the Fertile Soul.

The CD cover for Anji, Inc’s Meditation for the Fertile Soul.

One of my favorite meditations throughout this journey has been one by Anji, Inc, called Finding Stillness. It’s part of a collection called Meditations for a Fertile Soul. Part of this guided visualization focuses on finding your own place of peace within your body and imagining what it looks like. Mine is on my left side, just behind my lower ribs and is a pearlescent periwinkle. I began to imagine this place any time I felt the anxiety taking hold of me. It helped tremendously.

After some time, I wanted to create a physical representation of that space. I love creating little shadow boxes because they are small and don’t overwhelm me like a large, blank canvas sometimes can. So, I created this “Place of Peace” using a small cardboard box (think the kind jewelry comes in), a wooden frame, water color paper, paint, and feathers. place-of-peace_3118My ultimate goal in this infertility journey is to feel peace. The feathers represent that lightness that I hope to feel when I have reached some resolution, whatever that may be.

 

Healing through Reading – Eight of our Favorite (In)fertility Books

Recently, Maria and I were reflecting on some of the books that have helped us at various stages in our journeys. We thought we’d share just a handful of them with you today.

Elizabeth

Maria’s Picks

empty cradle

 

Empty Cradle: Infertility in America From Colonial Times to the Present by Margaret Marsh and Wanda Ronner

Infertility around the Globe: New Thinking on Childlessness, Gender, and Reproductive Technologies edited by Marcia C. Inhorn and Frank Van Balen infertility around the globe

These were the first “academic” books that I found when I first became interested in studying infertility for graduate school I remember feeling excited that I could take all of the pain I was feeling by TTC and try to make arguments for changing the stigma that surrounds infertility. Today, as I write my dissertation on the rhetorics of infertility, I continue to rely on these authors and their arguments about the silence, shame and stigma surrounding infertility.

 

Taking Charge of your fertility

Taking Charge of Your Fertility, 10th Anniversary Edition: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health

This book immediately takes me back to when I was first TTC. I had finally shared my struggle to get pregnant with my family. On a trip back to WI, my parents hosted a family dinner. At the dinner, my grandmother pulled me aside and gave me this book. She told me that a few of my relatives had also struggled to get pregnant and that this was a book that they highly recommended. I remembered feeling loved by my grandmother because of her thoughtfulness and I was reminded that it wasn’t just me that wanted to have a baby – my whole family did.

 

what he can expect

What He Can Expect When She’s Not Expecting: How to Support Your Wife, Save Your Marriage, and Conquer Infertility!

I first purchased this book about a year and a half into TTC. I was depressed, angry, and unhappy. I loved my husband but being in a marriage seemed like a constant reminder of something that we were missing out on – a baby, a family. I knew that my attitude and sadness had taken a toll on me and, importantly, my husband. I bought this book and gave it to him as an apology. He was trying to love me the best that he could, even though I didn’t know what I wanted or needed. Seeing this book today reminds me of all the trials and obstacles we faced throughout our 5 years of marriage. Today, I know that the deep love I have for my husband is due very much to ability to face infertility.

 

Elizabeth’s Picks

About What Was Lost

About What Was Lost: 20 Writers on Miscarriage, Healing, and Hope Edited by Jessica Berger Gross

Although only one of the stories in this book deals specifically with infertility, reading it was essential to me beginning to process the grief around my own miscarriage. I had put off dealing with my emotions about losing my pregnancy because I was still dealing with the trauma from the emergency surgery that was required after complications from my egg retrieval caused ovarian torsion and internal bleeding. As I read the stories of other women through the essays in this book, I thought of my own story and how I could interpret my experience and make sense of what had happened to me.

 

The Baby Book

The Baby Book by Robin Silbergleid    

There’s something just so incredibly powerful about the experience of infertility expressed through the format of poetry. For me, sitting down with this book creates a quiet space to reflect on my own journey, and it has helped me come to terms with my diagnosis and how it’s made me who I am today.

 

 

 

 

Infertility and the Creative Spirit

Infertility and the Creative Spirit by Roxane Head Dinkin and Robert J. Dinkin

One of the themes that I’ve been interested in exploring through ART of Infertility is the many ways that we can contribute to our communities and leave legacies without having children.  I love this book because it explores the ways that seven prominent women in history found creative outlets for their journeys, impacting the world we live in today.

 

 

 

Silent Sorority

Silent Sorority: A (Barren) Woman Gets Busy, Angry, Lost and Found by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos

While those of us with an infertility diagnosis all have our own unique stories, we experience the same kinds of emotions. I read this book quite early in my journey and felt I had truly found someone who understood me. Pamela was speaking my language! I wanted to make it required reading for all of my friends and family so they would understand what I was going through.

Myth – One round of IVF is all it takes to “beat” infertility. 

I was very reluctant to try IVF. Three and a half years into trying to conceive I had endured 5 rounds of Clomid and timed intercourse, 4 IUI hybrid cycles, a diagnostic laparoscopy, and six months of weekly therapy appointments to sort out how I felt about the prospect of using IVF to try to build my family. I had spent months doing research about the procedure, along with even more extensive research about adoption. After much consideration, my husband and I figured that IVF would be the cheapest, fastest, easiest path to parenthood, even though it isn’t any of those things. Assuming it worked.

One in eight couples in America have received a diagnosis of the disease of infertility. Like most Americans needing IVF, our health insurance wouldn’t cover the treatment. We’d have to pay out of pocket. Not only that, the emotional investment can be extremely expensive. We decided that, for us, the best plan would be to try one round of IVF, transfer any resulting embryos, and move on to other options.

I remember when I told my mother-in-law we had decided to give it a try. I was in the dollar aisle of a grocery store talking to her on my cell phone. “That’s good,” she replied. “We know IVF works.” However, while I appreciated her confidence and hoped that it WOULD work for us, I’d done the research and had insight that she didn’t have. Although IVF would give us the best odds we’d ever had of achieving a pregnancy, they were still against us. IVF working was definitely not a sure thing.

#IVFcrib

Crib with Medication Boxes by Elizabeth Walker. Mixed media with custom crib by Morgan Shores Woodworking.

As described in this December article from The New York Times, a study out of the University of Bristol and the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom found that “nearly two-thirds of women undergoing I.V.F. will have a child by the sixth attempt, suggesting that persistence can pay off.”  The out of pocket costs for those cycles? As explained in this article about the same study, published by the Los Angeles Times, “a rough calculation (assuming two attempts at embryo transfer per cycle) would cost up to $132,000”.

These are the remnants of approximately $10,000 worth of medications, needles and syringes I used while undergoing one IVF and two subsequent Frozen Embryo Transfers. What could have resulted in my child, or children, instead resulted in a pile of boxes, bottles and sharps containers that I find hard to discard because they help represent my treatment journey.

These are the remnants of approximately $10,000 worth of medications, needles and syringes I used while undergoing one IVF and two subsequent Frozen Embryo Transfers. What could have resulted in my child, or children, instead resulted in a pile of boxes, bottles and sharps containers that I find hard to discard because they help represent my treatment journey.

THIS is why it’s so important that we advocate for legislation that will help those with infertility build their families. Maria and I will be at Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. on May 11th, fighting for this cause and we invite you to join us! It’s an amazing, empowering experience, and a place where incredible friendships are made. In fact, Maria and I met at Advocacy Day in 2014.

If you want to learn more, check out this link from RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. Or feel free to contact us to chat about it at info@artofinfertility.org. If you can’t make the trip, check out this link to learn more about the federal legislation and for easy ways to contact your Senators and Members of Congress to show your support. Another easy way to make a difference is sharing messages about Advocacy Day on social media. You could share this video, for example. Together, we can raise awareness, busting the myth that one IVF treatment is all it takes, and working to improve the treatment coverage that will help those with infertility build their families.

Elizabeth

#IFadvocacy

Water, the President, and Infertility

You’ve probably heard of the water crisis in Flint, MI. In case you haven’t, here’s the gist of it. While the city of Flint was under emergency management by order of Governor Rick Snyder in 2014, a decision was made to discontinue sourcing the city’s water from the city of Detroit.

As a cost saving measure, Flint’s water supply would instead come from the Flint River. The river water was so corrosive that it broke down the city’s lead pipes, leaching toxic levels into the Flint residents’ water. Lead poisoning in children can cause developmental delays, vomiting, hearing loss, and more. In adults, it can cause memory loss, high blood pressure, reduced sperm count, miscarriage, the list goes on. In addition to lead poisoning, an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease, which is possibly the result of the contaminated water supply, has killed 10 people. This is all completely horrific.

In October, Flint’s water supply was switched back and is once again sourced from Detroit. However, the damage to the pipes has been done and the water is still unsafe. It wasn’t until January 5th though, that Governor Snyder declared a State of Emergency and on January 16th, President Obama declared the situation in Flint a federal state of emergency. Obama was visiting Detroit yesterday and spoke about this disaster.

flint water crisis

Nearly seven years into my experience with infertility, it’s rare that I have those moments that anyone with an infertility diagnosis knows well. They come out of nowhere. The hit by a truck, breath knocked out of you, heart breaking into a hundred pieces moments when someone asks you if you have children, you see a young child reach for his father’s hand, or a pregnant woman lovingly rubs her belly. I’ve come a long way in dealing with the emotions that come along with this disease. However, listening to coverage of President Obama’s speech on my local NPR station, Michigan Radio, while sitting in traffic during my commute last night, I nearly burst into tears. The reporter quoted the president and then followed up with audio from his speech, reflecting on the crisis in Flint.

“I’m very proud of what I’ve done as president, but the only job that’s more important to me is the job of father. And, I know that if I was a parent up there, I would be beside myself that my kids’ health could be at risk. That’s why over the weekend, I declared a federal emergency in Flint to send more resources on top of the assistance that we’ve already put on the ground.”

Obama went on to say that he’s designated a federal coordinator to make sure the people in Flint get what they need from their country, that he’s met with Flint’s Mayor, Karen Weaver, and told her that he’s going to have her back, and all of the people of Flint’s back, as they work their way through this terrible tragedy.

My heart broke when I heard those words. My heart is racing now, after listening to Obama’s speech again to transcribe his sentiments. The President says he’s proudest of his role as a parent, a role that millions of Americans long for, yet are unable to achieve, because they have the disease of infertility.  The federal government has the city of Flint’s back, as it absolutely should, yet there is no federal mandate for health coverage for the diagnosis or treatment of infertility.

Most Americans don’t have infertility coverage and many have to pay completely out of pocket for their health expenses due to this disease, a disease that is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a public health concern. The federal government doesn’t even have the backs of veterans who are infertile as a direct result of injuries sustained in the line of duty. There is currently a Veterans Administration ban on coverage for in vitro fertilization, a procedure that could bring the dream of parenthood to thousands of veterans of war who can’t become mothers and fathers without it. Parenthood. The role which their commander in chief values above all.

The people of Flint are worried about their health, scared of what their futures might hold, or might not hold, as a result of the public health crisis of contaminated drinking water. People are outraged so they’re raising their voices and they’re being heard.

This is why I raise awareness through infertility art exhibits, art and writing workshops, and conference presentations with ART of Infertility. This is why I lobby on Capitol Hill each year on Advocacy Day for legislation that, if put into effect, will help those with the disease of infertility build their families through treatment or adoption.

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Maria and me on Advocacy Day 2015.

My infertility diagnosis affects my health and well being and alters the possibilities for my future. It makes me outraged that my loved ones and I don’t have access to the care we need to treat our disease. So, I write my members of congress, meet with them on Capitol Hill, align myself with members of the infertility community so we can support each other. I shed light on the trials of infertility through portraits and interviews of those dealing with the disease and curate exhibits of artwork created by them so the public, our insurers, and legislators can better understand why it’s important that we gain the health coverage we need.

Like the president, I’m proud of the work I have done. However, my job won’t be finished until every person who wants to be a mother, or wants to be a father, has access to the resources they need to achieve their dream.

-Elizabeth

Advocacy Day is on May 11 this year. Please join me in Washington, D.C! Click here for more info.