Masculinity & My Infertility Journey

 

A few years ago, Kevin wrote a blog post for RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association reflecting on the challenges of being a guy and dealing with infertility. Today, we are running an audio recording of his piece. In it, Kevin confronts a tough question for men dealing with infertility.

Men are expected to “grow up” and “take care of the family” but what happens when these traditional expectations cannot be reached?

Kevin with his wife.

Listen to him talk about coming to the realization that he may never see his wife pregnant, may never feel their baby kick inside of her.

You can read his full story here.

Infertility Reminders in the Mailbox

Elizabeth Walker

The mailbox can be a dangerous place for those dealing with infertility. Receiving a baby shower invitation or a baby announcement can feel like a knife in the heart, or a punch in the gut. At least you usually have some idea they are headed your way. It’s the other random pieces of baby, child, and mom mail that give me the most trouble. One in particular.

mailbox_webI don’t have a problem with catalogs from Justice and American Girl or coupons from Babies R Us. I have 6 nieces an 2 nephews so those are places I shop. Every now and then I get an offer for life insurance from Gerber or an invitation to enroll my daughter in National American Miss pageants. I’m guessing that I just fit the demographic for Gerber and I imagine some of the stores I frequent with my nieces are responsible for the pageant requests. However, my blood pressure rises each time I open the mailbox to find an issue of Working Mother magazine.

If it weren’t for infertility, I would be a working mother now. When I pictured parenthood, I always saw myself balancing my children and my career. Sure, it would be a challenge but I was up for it. I get great pleasure from my work and envisioned my dedication to my career aspirations as a great model for my children and their future success, just as I feel my parents’ dedication to and love for their work influenced me. Working Mother magazine would be right up my alley. I’d likely read it cover to cover and check out any bonus content online.

I’m not sure how I got on their list. Again, maybe I’m just the right demographic, or maybe they are affiliated with one of the retail outlets I spend my money at. Maybe I even inadvertently signed up for it at some point when I neglected to read the fine print when I signed up to receive email notices. I tried for awhile to get off their list. An email to the publishing company, a comment on their Facebook Page. When that didn’t work I just started giving them to my working mother friends.

working-mother

Last year, I decided to reframe my relationship with the magazine by using it to make blackout poetry. If you’re not familiar with the technique, you take a page of text and do a quick scan of it, circling any words or phrases that jump out at you. Then, you go back through and can narrow those down, and use them to create a poem, blacking out the rest of the text around those words. It felt great to cut a page out of the magazine and circle words with my pencil, later using black paint to isolate the words that would form my poetry. I decided to cut the page out in the form of a woman holding a baby and then decoupaged it onto canvas. Here’s the final result.

Working-Non-Mother_web

Committed, worthy, successful, non-mother.

Shouldn’t have to win acceptance.

My own positive impact.

In the year since I made this piece, I’ve started receiving form letters from insurance companies about purchasing coverage for my “teen driver,” which makes me feel even further behind.

Maria and I will be leading a workshop on black out poetry at the Art/Not Terminal Gallery, located in the International Pavilion of the Seattle Center, next to Key Arena, on April 29 from 2 – 5 pm. We invite you to join us to create some black out poetry of your own. We’ll bring all of the supplies you need, including a variety of magazines and medical consent forms to choose from. However, we encourage you to bring your own forms, pieces of mail, etc. to use if you wish. You can purchase a ticket (it’s just $15) to reserve your spot at our blackout poetry Eventbrite page.

We hope to see you there!

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.

Myth – You’re No Longer Infertile Once You Become a Parent

Becoming a parent after dealing with infertility cures childlessness but doesn’t cure infertility. Today, we hear from Lauren of Rainbows & Unicorns, a site about parenting after pregnancy loss and infertility. She reflects on mothering her daughter who was born after donor egg IVF. This story originally ran during National Infertility Awareness Week 2016 and does include an image of parenting. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Lauren!

I scoop up my toddler and carry her upstairs to begin our bedtime routine. Diaper, pajamas, teeth, goodnight Daddy, books, and then — my favorite part — songs and cuddling.

She lies on my belly, her head against my chest. “Saaah!” When one song ends, she looks up and asks for another. And another. And another. Eventually my little ball of energy goes limp in my arms. I hold her for a few minutes, treasuring her chubby cheeks and the smell of her sweet, malty little head before kissing her goodnight until she wakes up to nurse at four in the morning.

Lauren with her daughter at bedtime.

Lauren with her daughter at bedtime.

Although singing the same limited repertoire until my throat hurts and not having more than a five-hour stretch of sleep for almost two years grate in different ways, I remember how it wasn’t always like this. In the tough moments — like trying to console a teething child having an hour-long exhaustion tantrum at 3 am — I somehow find inner strength. I get to do this.

I am a mother thanks to many people, including a younger mom who donated her eggs so that I could experience the same joy she felt when she held her son for the first time.

It wasn’t joy that I felt when I met my daughter. By then, I’d been through too much to let myself feel anything so big. After miscarriage, infertility, being told I would never have a healthy genetic child, and a high-risk pregnancy requiring me to deliver via planned cesarean, I couldn’t allow myself to believe that I was finally a mom. Not until I heard my daughter’s first cries. Not until I held her. Not until she was furiously suckling did it dawn on me that I was out of the trenches.

But am I really a regular parent now? Parenting after infertility is a strange place to be. As I like to describe it, “I’m no longer in the trenches, but I’m covered in mud.”

The grief of infertility is hard to remember. Like the face of someone you loved a long time ago, it’s hard to recollect its features in detail. That is, until a whiff of their perfume, or a pregnancy announcement, or an innocent remark from someone who has no idea why the question “When are you having another baby?” causes your heart to quietly crack a little.

“I’m no longer in the trenches, but I’m covered in mud.”

For many parents like me, we’ve left Infertility Island but we’re moored offshore somewhere else. Play dates with other parents — so many blissfully unaware of everything that can go wrong before, during, and after conception — can have moments that are hard to navigate. How do you relate to another parent who casually announces she plans to get pregnant in March so the baby is born before Christmas? What do you say when someone asks when you’re having another baby? How do you casually explain egg donation when asked where your daughter’s red hair comes from? In time, the answers come.

Don’t misunderstand; none of this is as hard as trying to have a baby. But when you’re a graduating member of a club you never wanted to join, you’re caught between two worlds: the one you had to leave once your child arrived; and the other everyone else assumes you’re in.

I have my “rainbow unicorn” (if a “rainbow” is a baby born after loss, I surmised one born after infertility would be a “unicorn”) and she fills my days with more joy than I thought possible. But joy and pain aren’t mutually exclusive. What a lot of people don’t realize is that having a baby resolves childlessness — not infertility.

You’re caught between two worlds: the one you had to leave once your child arrived; and the other everyone else assumes you’re in.

Even though we’re parents, we’re still infertile. Unless we fall into a small lucky statistic of spontaneously conceiving after infertility, if we want a second or third child we will have to submit to the invasive, sometimes painful, and always expensive tests and protocols we endured a few years before — this is equally true whether you do infertility treatment or adopt.

If we want a second child, we’re lucky to have eight chromosomally normal frozen embryos to choose from. All we have to do is pick a date for transfer. Most of my infertile comrades don’t have leftover embryos, either because they didn’t do IVF or, if they did, they didn’t have any embryos left over. It struck me the other week that some of my friends are going to have to go through the whole TTC thing all over again. They have my full support and admiration.

For me, parenting after infertility has given me some unexpected blessings. First and foremost, I have this amazing little girl in my life. She’s affectionate, smart, talkative, mischievous, and healthy. We might not share DNA, but we share a sense of humor, a love of Marmite, a dislike of tomatoes, and we’re both pretty tall with big feet. Most importantly, she’s here, and she couldn’t have been created any other way. My journey to motherhood was filled with more pain than I thought I could bear, but I’d do it all over again to have this sweet child that I get to call my daughter.

Eighteen months into this parenting gig, I am more or less at peace with a whole lot of stuff that I never thought I’d be able to accept.

I have a chromosome disorder which means genetic children aren’t possible, so I chose egg donation to build my family. I can say that openly and joyfully now that I’m a parent. I can be open about the way my daughter was conceived because the irrational shame of not being able to reproduce has dissipated.

Breastfeeding has been tremendously healing in this respect. I wasn’t expecting much, so I was surprised that it came to me so easily. Being able to feed my daughter they way I hoped has restored faith in my otherwise broken body. My body can’t make a baby that will live, but it’s pretty damn good at growing and feeding them!

Over the last year and a half, I’ve spent days looking into my nursing daughter’s beautiful eyes fixed on my face — the same eyes I admired in our donor. Not recognizing any of my family of origin’s features in my daughter was, at first, strange. Sometimes she looks like her dad, sometimes she looks like our donor. To my surprise, I like seeing our donor’s influence. It’s reassuring to see something of the special woman I chose to replace my DNA reflected in my daughter.

Eighteen months into this parenting gig, I am more or less at peace with a whole lot of stuff that I never thought I’d be able to accept.

You might say I had a crash course in comfort levels, though. My daughter’s hair is a deep red, and every time we’re out three people, on average, stop us to admiringly ask if red hair runs in my family. At first the question made me wince. I didn’t know how to answer the question without also sharing the circumstances of my kid’s conception. I’ve got good at saying, “Nope! But isn’t it beautiful?” When pressed, I explain, “Red hair is a recessive gene, which means both genetic parties have to carry it.” In this way, I’m able to acknowledge my daughter’s genetic origins while not divulging too much to a stranger if I don’t feel like it.

I guess that’s what parenthood is about: constantly being surprised and having to readjust expectations, all the while practicing patience, kindness, and even finding the funny side when something’s gone wrong.

And in that sense, my infertility journey prepared me well.

Lauren is a mother via egg donation, after miscarriage, infertility, and a massive postpartum hemorrhage. She writes about her journey to motherhood and what it means to be a non-genetic parent at OnFecundThought.com. A London-born, Southern Spain-raised writer and artist, Lauren lives in San Diego with her husband and their toddler. Follow her on Twitter at @DEIVFmama and Instagram at @onfecundthought.

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.

Living Childfree on Father’s Day – Reflections from Angela and George

Today’s blog post is a reflection on living without children after infertility. It comes to us from Angela and George. Angela attended Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. in May and participated in one of our mini-interviews for the project. Thank you George and Angela for sharing your story.

Angela – When I first read the email about doing a guest blog I got really excited. A chance to finally tell our story as a couple. I’d long planned to do a blog from the time we started our infertility journey. I was looking forward to sharing our good news after our long struggle to get pregnant. I’d picked out a name, written a couple of entries and even shared them with some close friends. Sharing our pregnancy progression with our friends and family was a dream of mine. Unfortunately, we never had any good news to share. After a couple of IUIs, an unsuccessful IVF and countless tears and prayers, there just wasn’t anything positive to say. I had no interest in writing a blog about our “failures.”

Fast forward two years and we now have a new normal. While we haven’t talked about this officially, I imagine that we’ll be child free. We haven’t discussed our 8 frozen embryos, our dwindling infertility insurance coverage (which ends when I turn 44 in 4 days) or any plans to adopt or foster to build our family. We no longer have the funds to put toward those options. My husband has also been concerned that yet another BFN will devastate me emotionally and put me back in that dark place that I’ve fought so hard to come out of. To be honest, we really don’t talk about this at all. That in itself is somewhat painful to me, but it may be more about self and marriage preservation than anything else.

image3What is there to say about living child free on Father’s Day? I guess we could write about our current life and all the child free fun we’re going to have in the future. Traveling, burning through our kids college money and just living a life of leisure. It also meant that we’d have to actually sit down to discuss this topic that is always in the back of my mind, but very difficult to bring up.

George – I had never thought about having a Father’s Day that was childless until we were offered this opportunity to be on this blog. To me it’s not easy seeing my wife go thru the struggles of being infertile. It hasn’t been an easy road for either of us. With Father’s Day approaching, my silver lining is the fact that I’m lucky to have my own father around still and I get to celebrate it with him in person this year. There’s always that thought of, “what if I had a kid of my own,” but to me the fact that there is still something to celebrate makes things a little easier. I embrace the fact that we are infertile as though it’s what God has planned for us. We can go out and tell our story to let others know they’re not alone in this battle, and we can all come together on tough days such as Father’s Day and celebrate life, with or without kids. The bottom line is that we will always have something to celebrate even if we end up celebrating child free. We will always have each other and family to lean on during the tough times, and we can also be that shoulder to lean on for others who are just starting the struggles of infertility.image4

Angela – I’m smiling as I read his piece. I’ve often wondered what our future will look like. For so long, we talked about our babies, our plans for them and our life as a family of three or four. This is such a difficult topic to have. Wanting something so terribly and trying to accept that you may never get there. I’m delighted to know that George sees a future for us as a family of two. This journey has definitely put a strain on our marriage. I often felt like I was alone to deal with this. Reading my husband’s words prove that I’m not alone and never will be.

As George mentioned, we will continue to share our story. We want to remind people that there is life after years of dealing with infertility. Time hasn’t necessarily healed old wounds. While I’m not sure this is something you ever “get over,” I agree with my husband when he says we will continue to be a source of support for others. The two of us can be an example of what a happy, healthy, child free family can look like.

While my husband may never hear these words from our own child, we will take today to celebrate our fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins and all the dads in our lives. Happy Father’s Day to each and every one of you.

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

#startasking What did my infertility teach me about parenting? – Marissa’s perspective

We love infertility lists, and this is an incredible one! It comes to us by way of Marissa, an ART of Infertility participant and collaborator. Thank you, Marissa, for sharing your story with us.

Elizabeth

5 Things Infertility Taught Me About Parenting

This is a post I never imagined I might write . . . After fifteen assisted cycles (7 IUI & 8 IVF), two surgeries, three failed attempts to adopt, and a cautious pregnancy, my husband and I welcomed our first son earlier this year. Only then did I begin to allow myself to consider not only what it would feel like to have a child but also to become a parent.

I am absolutely certain that I am different as a parent because of my infertility experience and changed as a member of the infertility community because I am parenting. I am as certain that I could have never imagined the growing gratitude that I would now feel for our infertility journey! These are (the top!) five things infertility taught me about parenting:

1. You Are Not In Control (And That’s Totally OK!)

Being out of control was one of the most frightening aspects of infertility for me—being carefully in-control was my go-to response for everything new and scary. Getting a PhD, no problem! Moving cross-country four times in my twenties, I can do that! IVF, bring it on! My mom came with us to my first RE appointment and took a picture of me standing outside of the office to save for our baby book. A year later my husband hid the empty little book with the single photo after I’d thrown it across the room in a mixed-up burst of mad sadness. I hated how happy I looked before I knew the storm that was brewing. I hated that there was nothing I could do guarantee that I would become a parent. I hated that I couldn’t change my body and how it worked (or didn’t). I’d changed so many aspects of my life (my home, my job, my diet, my lifestyle) in attempts that felt naïve and futile. I felt cursed, and I wondered if I had done something to cause this awful burden.

Infertility crushed not only my dreams of what my life would be like but also my usual ways of making sense of the world. Before infertility, I expected that hard work produced results. After years, failures, losses, and mounting costs, I began to seriously doubt my life beliefs. I became clinically depressed. I developed anxiety. I fought accepting that effort did not equate outcome. I had to be forced to let go. I grieved the sense of order that had previously shaped how I saw not only my life, but also how I saw others’ lives. As a teacher, this was especially devastating. It was a double blow: I lost my vision of my future family and my purpose in my career. I struggled to differentiate between what I could control and what I could not. With the help of a thoughtful therapist (who was also an infertility survivor), I found I could not control outcomes but could control my responses. Each week, in a sketchbook, I would draw my plan of action—my mantras for the week, the cycle, the loss, heck— even the hour on very bad days. And I had a lot of very bad days. Days when I cried in my classroom in front of my students. Days when I felt like it took effort for me to breathe. But, a few days (or hours) were not so bad. I began to find strength and purpose through connecting with others. Instead of focusing inward on my own pain and fears, I began to focus outward into the infertility community, in my support group, and on events like RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day. I began, once again, to see positive outcomes from my actions.

Participating in the infertility community restored my faith in myself and in what I might accomplish. I might not be able to will myself to become a parent but I could use my voice to speak about my experiences, create art that responded to my emotions, and advocate for others to have the right to pursue their own dreams of a family.

Giving up some control opened me to experiences I could not envision. It re-energized my teaching, and helped me to see my students with greater empathy. It forced me to focus my attention on the present, and to act proactively without immediate gratification. Of course, now it is easy for me to see how absolutely essential these lessons are for the experience of being a new parent. Trying to control is a natural response for many people to new and scary experiences, like parenting! While my impulse is still to control, I have learned to be content with doing the best I possibly can at any given moment. While I still hope for certain outcomes, I don’t punish myself if things don’t go the way that I expect. Even more so, I have encountered the most wonderful surprises that I might have missed had I continued to live in such a rigid way! There seem to be thousands of books focused on parenting and baby care—particularly sleep—that promise ‘results’ within strict structures. There are so many mixed messages, and so much pressure. It is a familiar feeling for me, but my perspective has seismically shifted. Instead of trying to control and living constantly with the image of a perfect future, I am working to focus upon enjoying the current ride.

2. Your Child Is Not You

Early on in our infertility experience, when we began to pursue domestic infant adoption (which was not successful for us), I had to face the idea that my becoming a parent might not involve my own or my husband’s DNA. Even after a career that involved working with vulnerable populations of young children in which I contemplated adoption frequently before experiencing infertility, I had taken for granted that when I chose to have children, my genetics would be part of the equation. I had to admit to myself that part of my vision of my future family included children who might resemble us in appearance and in interests. Beyond these worries and fears, we faced the loss of control (see #1) over our potential future child’s earliest start in life. When we were cycling, I spent so much effort trying to control every aspect of my own body in preparation for pregnancy—I changed my diet, gave up caffeine and alcohol, did yoga and acupuncture (even though I still HATE needles even after the hundreds of shots I’ve given myself). I even ate the pineapple (you must know what I mean!) When we faced our first adoption situation, all of that changed. The expectant mother was seven months along, and had no prenatal care. She was denying her pregnancy and was using drugs and alcohol. Within the 24 hours we had to make our decision, we embraced the possibility that our child might be nothing like us. We had no idea who they would or could be. We took the plunge. And we were crushed when the expectant mom texted us that she had chosen to parent her child.

We knew then that we would love the child who joined our family, no matter who they might be (or become). I had always said I would feel that way when I was asked. And when you are pursuing adoption you are asked a lot if you could love ‘someone else’s child.’ Even though I always answered yes without hesitation, I was still afraid there might be a difference for me. A difference of expectations. A difference of fear.

Once I had grieved that difference and confronted those fears, I began to see a new possibility: That I could never know who my child would be.

That I would learn who they would be as they became themselves. Worries have turned to delight for me as I watch my son discover his own capabilities and interests. He has challenged me to accept him as himself and not as my vision of who my child should be. Because of this, I can choose to respond to my son with love and with support, a practice that I strive to maintain each day.

 3. All Seasons Of Life Both Grow And Strain Relationships

Infertility affected every single one of my relationships: My family, friends, my husband, and my work. Infertility is generational: I felt as devastated that my parents would not become grandparents as I did that I would never parent. Like many infertility patients, I started trying for a family when my friends did. My Facebook and Instagram feeds became minefields. I quietly unfollowed almost everyone I knew (or at least it felt that way) when the daily deluge of pregnancy announcements and baby pictures suffocated me. I even temporarily left my infertility support group when it became clear that I would be the last member without a child. It had transitioned to a new mom’s group and I felt left behind. I was too jaded to join a new group to be the living reminder of the worst-case scenario. Who does 8 IVF? Who ‘fails’ at adoption? Even our therapist cautioned it might be time to ‘move forward.’ As friends’ babies grew into toddlers and preschoolers, I bought birthday gifts through full body sobs at children’s stores. I wanted so much more from those around me. I wanted support, I wanted acknowledgment. I wanted care. But I was in an ugly place. I couldn’t even remember what my life had been like before when I still felt possibility.

But, there were a few high points: When we went public with our online adoption profile, we received an outpouring of support. We felt some of the silent stigma of treatment temporarily lifted. A few friends even came forward with their own struggles to offer solidarity. Yet, one, two, three adoptions failed, and we could not continue. It was the darkest time of my life. We could no longer afford the monthly fee to continue to host our profile. I’d known this for a while, but I kept hoping. A few days later, I went to the mall to buy a gift before a family birthday party. I was walking around the food court when I felt a gush. I was having breakthrough bleeding cause by a medication I took after treatment. Blood soaked through my dress, poured down inside of the tights I was wearing, and pooled around in my shoes. I lied on the couch in the Macy’s bathroom and called my mom to bring me new clothes. I felt so ashamed that she would see me in that state. My rock bottom. The very next day we chose to cycle ONE last time. Actually, my husband decided. I was livid with him. How could he put me through this? How could he possibly understand the physical toll? How could he still have any hope? I went through the motions of the cycle, plagued by anxiety. The night before the transfer, I had a glass of wine. That morning, a cappuccino. When I began to feel sick a few days later, I worried that I’d gotten an infection from the transfer.

It never occurred to me that I felt sick because the cycle was successful. I hadn’t had any morning sickness with the last pregnancy. I spent the next few days wearing Sea Bands and in a state of suspended animation. When I began to bleed a few weeks later, I thought I knew what to expect. It would be a loss and we would be grateful we’d only told our parents. But, it wasn’t a loss. It was a subchorionic hematoma. One that healed. An earlier than usual ultrasound revealed a single small blob with a rhythmic heartbeat. And, just like that, it seemed like our journey might end.

Except I wasn’t ready at all. I had spent so much time feeling isolated from family and friends that I was not sure how to repair the relationships. My husband and I had battled infertility for the entirety of our marriage (we chose IVF in lieu of a honeymoon). We had to learn how to relate to one another when we weren’t in crisis mode. And, how would I tell my closest infertility friends?

Would my identity as an infertility advocate continue to be valid if I was a parent, too?

The process of becoming an infertile parent has not been easy. There are no roadmaps for the seasons of life, and I have found that each season affects relationships. Some are strained, some grow in unexpected ways. A few friends who were close when I was struggling (and who are still journeying) have now distanced themselves from me. I don’t take it personally, and I try to be open should they need me. I better understand the pain my parents felt because of my struggle as I experience the impulse to protect my son. I no longer expect my life to be one smooth, predictable journey, and I try to weather all of its seasons as thoughtfully as I can. I try to be the friend that my friends need, not the friend that I want them to be to me.

4. Life is Both Precious And Fragile

Before my first pregnancy, I had never lost anyone close to me. I hadn’t confronted my own mortality. I had never truly grieved. And I had no idea what a process it was. My grief was messy, raw, and just when I thought I was feeling better, it was totally unresolved. How could my baby die? How could I love and yearn and long for someone who was as big as a sesame seed? Well-meaning friends said things like “at least it was early,” and “at least you know you can get pregnant.” But this was a real child to me. And it was gone. And we would never learn why. And there was no model to mourn for them or to remember them. And everything reminded me that my baby was lost.

During our fourth IVF cycle, I felt sick after my retrieval. I’d had mild ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) before but I felt worse this time. By early afternoon I was struggling to breathe. We went to the ER. I was in so much pain I was fading in and out of consciousness. Doctors told me my left ovary had burst, filling with blood and fluid, and pushing on my diaphragm. They explained that I’d likely have emergency surgery to remove one or both of my ovaries, and that they needed to transfer me to the University Women’s Hospital. They hadn’t decided yet if I’d go via helicopter or ambulance. I turned to my husband and vowed we would NEVER do IVF again! I’d risked my life, and for what. ONE stupid egg! I was transferred to the hospital, and made it through the night with the support of fluids and without surgery. As l recovered, I questioned whether I wanted to become a parent enough to risk my own health.

When that egg, now a blastocyst, was transferred after my recovery, I committed myself to treating the experience differently. If this was to be my only time with that single embryo, I would enjoy each and every moment. I didn’t want to spend the whole time we had together obsessively peeing on sticks. I wanted to take them to experience life, and to enjoy our time together. It was a definite change of intent for me. I began to see both how precious and how fragile that small, new life could be. And instead of only grieving the brevity of our time together, I began to cherish it. They were coming with me everywhere anyway, so I went to my favorite restaurant, I went out with friends, I went shopping, I went to visit family members. I wanted their life, no matter how short, to have meaning. And I wanted to remember them. We did ultimately lose that one little embryo (and several more) but with each subsequent transfer, I became better at relishing that short time rather than lamenting it. I was grateful for it. I tried to embrace the same attitude with my family and friends. I began to reach out, and to transform in this connection. Instead of waiting for family and friends to support me, I began to give without expectation. I made time to spend time with those I loved. And, we began to celebrate the lives of our babies during the time we had with them, and after they left us. We have memorials throughout our home that commemorate each loss. We dug out that baby book, and we filled it. We took photographs and we made art pieces. We acknowledged that we create the meaning that their short lives have for us. And we take this day-to-day sense of gratitude with us into parenting. We were already parents.

Now, as I am parenting a living child, I remind myself daily to consider the challenges and the joys within a larger frame. Things still get hard—not as hard as in the darkest moments—but hard nonetheless.

I take a moment every day to visit our small memorials, like the photo below, to remind myself why I am doing this and what it means for me, and for our son. And I am able to move forward from there.

 

A photo taken during the memorial of one of the babies Marissa miscarried.

A photo taken on Coronado Island during the memorial of one of the babies Marissa miscarried.

 

5. You Have A Voice (And A Responsibility To Use It)

And, finally, the last and one of the most important lessons that I learned was that I have a voice. And I have a responsibility to use it. Before infertility, I was the definition of soft-spoken, even though I am an artist. People even questioned if I would succeed as a teacher because my voice was so soft! I scoffed at them because I saw myself as strong and as plucky! I have struggled to conjure up that image of myself when I feel anything but. But, I could not stand by during our journey. I could not be silenced. I needed to speak out, and to share, and to connect. I began in a small way, by making art about my feelings about our experiences.

One of the first pieces of art that Marissa made around the experience of infertility.

One of the first pieces of art that Marissa made around the experience of infertility.

It was a safe way for me to open up the conversation, and to begin to share. The infertility community nourished this voice, and pushed me to use it. Being a part of Advocacy Day, being a part of the ART of Infertility, being a part of my support group—they all provide me with a sense of purpose greater than myself. Knowing my voice has helped me to overcome some of the worries and fears every new parent experiences, too. I know that I can and will speak out, and seek help, and know that I am not alone. And that has made all the difference. We can only end the stigma and the silence if we are willing to speak out for ourselves and to share our stories.

ART Roundup

Artwork is something that can help people during the healing process as they are dealing with infertility. It is a way for people to get their anger and frustration out and take control over something in their lives again. Below is some of the powerful and emotional artwork that we have posted throughout the weeks.

Fertility Tornado: By Kristin Phasavath. This fertility tornado is a representation of what it feels like when you are swept up in anything fertility related. This fertility nurse is surrounded by this tornado every day and painting this was a way for her to release her frustrations. After gong through fertility treatment herself, she hopes that this painting will help connect many of her fertility comrades.fertility-tornado_webMy Time’s Running Out: By Andrea Diamond. This work of art is really a mention of how infertility can make you feel, both on the inside and outside. Barbie, who is society’s representation of true feminine beauty is ageless, while we all change and grow. Andrea feels that as she grows older the decline of her internal organs is represented in her physical appearance as well. This Barbie doll was an outlet for Andrea’s anger as she went through secondary infertility.my time's running out.2jpg

Untitled: By Abigail Glass. Abigail was on her second round of IVF when she had an orientation for an adoption agency. It took 9 months before they brought their son from Guatemala home. This piece represents her story and about 100 needles used on her fertility journey, which happens to be a small amount compared to over the years.

Infertility Box: By Sarah Clark Davis. This box has been a massive comfort for Sarah over the years. It has say on her bureau for a long time to remind her not to let infertility take over her life. The inside of the box was a way for her to let out her rage over the fertility treatment process. The quote by Michael J. Fox has really spoken to her throughout her treatment and has stayed with her so she wanted to make it part of the box as well.infertility boxSon-flower: By Shaelene Clark. This painting is something Shaelene spent a lot of time and emotion trying to complete. The broken pot is a representation of how Shaelene feels, broken but still trying to hold itself together. Through her 8 years of infertility she has had multiple miscarriages, which is represented in the dying flowers. After many years of trying, she was finally able to get her beautiful son-flower and the triumph of having a child after a rough delivery.Son-flowerInconceivable: By Aine Quimby. Aine was in her mid-twenties when she was told she was infertile. Through fertility treatments and miscarriages her body felt completely vulnerable and exposed. She poured all of her isolation and grief into this painting. She has connected with many people over the years who have had similar experiences and that has helped her express her feelings with people who can better understand the struggles.Inconcievable

Myth – If you get pregnant once, you’re fertile and will never have trouble getting pregnant again.

This Monday we focus on busting myths around secondary infertility. Secondary infertility is defined as the inability to become pregnant, or to carry a pregnancy to term, following the birth of one or more biological children. The birth of the first child does not involve any assisted reproductive technologies or fertility medications. (see RESOLVE, Secondary Infertility). Today, about 12 percent of women in the United States have secondary infertility, and it accounts for more than half of all infertility cases. (see RESOLVE).

secondary-infertility-cortney

Cortney, who we interviewed for the project, had no trouble conceiving her four year old daughter but was diagnosed with secondary infertility after she attempted conceiving a second child.

We have collected numerous stories of secondary infertility throughout the duration of this project. But today, we highlight the story from popular infertility blog, Our Misconception. Here they share the story of Sarah who recounts the experience of already being a mother while struggling to conceive her second child. I do have my moments where I begin to grieve the loss of what might have been…a sibling for my son, the family that we have been dreaming about, and just the fact that my body has felt like a failure.

We hope you read her story and are encouraged to share your own experiences and struggles to conceive, even when you already may have a child.