Reflections on Reproductive Writes

Last week, we held our Reproductive Writes workshop at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Our marketing and communications intern, Kristen Mahan, attended the event and shares a reflection on that experience with us today. On Wednesday, starting at 7 pm, we’ll hold our Reproductive Writes workshop at Michigan State University. We have some spots left and would love to see you there. You can find out more and reserve your seat at http://bit.ly/reprowritesmsu2018tickets

Reflections on Reproductive Writes
by Kristen Mahan

As a new ART of Infertility marketing intern, attending the Reproductive Writes workshop at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh was extremely eye-opening. I have been working with The ART of Infertility for over two months, but I was never able to see the nonprofit in action. Viewing and reading the captions of the artwork from infertility patients was saddening and it gave me a different perspective of eventually having kids. I brought my two roommates to the event and we all agreed this is something that has barely crossed our minds. We realized as young women, that we are so worried about taking the pill or getting an IUD and trying not to get pregnant, that in all reality there’s a high chance that when we finally do want kids, it may not happen.

Maria speaks to a group at Reproductive Writes, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh on February 21, 2018.

I consider myself to be someone who is fairly up-to-date on political issues going on in our country. However, I had barely considered the impact of the regulations regarding infertility. Listening to a male speak out at the event on his infertility journey of paying out of pocket for five failed IVF treatments was astonishing. For people suffering from infertility and then not being able to afford treatments with no help from the government is heartbreaking.

Attending The ART of Infertility’s Reproductive Writes event pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone and confirmed that my energy being put into this organization is for an amazing cause for an agonizing disability that can affect anyone.

The Holiday Blues

 

This short reflection is a few years old. I wrote it after being recently diagnosed. The holiday season was fast approaching at this time, creating a lot of anxiety.  Re-reading this reflection, I am quickly transported to a place of deep pain. The reflection seems like a distant memory, yet, also hauntingly familiar. Many of the feelings and thoughts are still there. The only difference is that they appear less frequently and not in the same velocity as they did when I first wrote this reflection. Today, I wonder, when did I stop fighting my infertility and begin to embrace it? And why did I choose surviving infertility over fighting for a family? – Maria

The Holiday Blues

The holidays have always been special to my husband and I. This is when we first met. When we first started dating. When we got engaged. When we told our families we were getting married. When we bought our first house. When we got our first puppy.

An image of our first puppy, Stella. We picked her up from the shelter the on New Year's Eve. She was symbolic of a new year, new life.

An image of our first puppy, Stella. We picked her up from the shelter on New Year’s Eve in 2010. She was symbolic of a new year, new life.

Lately though, we’ve been needing to rely on those memories in order to escape feeling the holiday blues. Now, as we find ourselves in this new place, this new understanding of what it means to be a married childless couple, we have needed to question what this means.

This year we decided to volunteer for Thanksgiving. To visit with the elderly. We thought this to be a great idea as it avoids feeling the constant reminder of this childless lack. And by volunteering we felt a great bond with Bob, Mary, and Ethel. All three did not have a family to visit them. They were very much on their own. Feeling many of the same emotions we felt. Not sadness, not loneliness. Just acceptance of this is how life was to be. Finding meaning and special joy in little things. Little things like having the café at the nursing home open and simply visiting with those who silently felt the same acceptance towards life.

But Christmas and Thanksgiving are two very different holidays. Thanksgiving is reflective and about the food and blessings that you have. Christmas is projective. It is very much about “another year.” And more often than not it is about children. Baby Jesus and manger scenes. Promoting a redemptive and celebratory message about the power of the baby.

It is also about kids and the “magical joy” of Christmas. Kids waking up Christmas morning and running to the tree. Screaming at the excitement at finding an Xbox or Easy Bake Oven – but more often simply screaming because Santa arrived and provided.

This has become clear to us over the years that we’ve been married. Each year, it seems harder for us to embrace the spirit of the holidays. We know this and often comment on it. “What are we going to do to make the holiday’s special for us?” we ask each other.

We come up with different ideas to make it special. Often times it is simply going for a drive to see the lights and reliving the memories of us doing this when we were younger, before we were married – when we looked to the future of family with hope and excitement.

Now though, it is more common than not to experience the holiday blues.

christmasphoto_2016

While we still find it difficult to celebrate the holidays, we make sure to send out a holiday card each year. This card is from this year. We make a point to stress that while we may not have children, we are a family.

In fact, the puppy that we got around the holidays is no longer with us. Five years have past since I last wrote this reflection. Her passing reminds us of how we could have our own 5-year-old at this point in our life. Our own child eagerly waiting to find presents under the tree. Instead though we are still trying to make sense of it all. Still trying to find joy in the little, non-traditional family we made.

When I hear “Blue Christmas” by Elvis on the radio, I am transported to the moment I wrote this reflection. Sometimes it is nice to be reminded that while the holidays can be a time of joy, they can also heighten personal pains.

Reactions from an Intern

By Danielle Bucco

Version 2As a 21-year-old college student, I can say that all the different aspects of infertility had never occurred to me. It is not something that many people my age even hear about unless a friend or family member is going or has gone through it. If it hadn’t been for my communications internship with ART of Infertility, I would not have realized that it occurs to so many people and in so many different ways. Since I am not looking to start a family any time soon, I never really considered all the many different struggles that men and women sometimes have to go through to create a baby. It is even more shocking when people still cannot have their own children even with all the developments to science and technology, which only goes to show that there is so much more to discover.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest surprises was the amount of people who go through infertility issues. Besides learning all about E-News spokesperson, Giuliana Rancic as a teenager (I loved her show), I never thought that it was something that so many people, both men and women, had to deal with. However, that is one of the reasons that I am so thankful to have an internship with this organization. Since it is such a personal issue many people find solace and comfort in other people who have gone through similar situations. It is like having a large support group where people will always be there to listen to any anger, frustrations, or just to share stories to show that no one is alone. This type of support is inspiring, especially when it comes to certain organizations dedicated to helping people who are dealing with infertility. It is like having another layer of support and during such a time of pain and frustration, there can never be too many people cheering you on, or picking up the pieces if it doesn’t work out.

One of my favorite parts about being an intern is hearing all the amazing stories from members of the infertility community. There are so many people who take the pain that they are feeling and use it to inspire others and to show that it is possible to survive such an emotional and physical journey after such immense disappointment. Two stories that stand out to me particularly were the stories of Katie and Angela. Both women took their pain and used it towards helping others. It is hard for someone, like myself, who has not gone through this to truly understand what it is like but hearing people’s testimonies is incredibly helpful to get an idea of how stressful it must be to try to conceive but continue to come across complications. By hearing stories about this, people who have not dealt with this can begin to understand how sensitive of a topic it can be to bring up and how everyone handles their grief in different ways. One of the most important things I learned from listening to these stories was to let people grieve in their own way. Not everyone is going to grieve the exact same way and that’s okay. It is only important to let them know that they have support and to be whatever that person needs them to be.EHW_4856ART-of-Infertility_Angela_3667

One of the toughest things about being an intern for an infertility organization is the learning curve. As I write blog posts or social media posts, I am still looking up what certain words mean or what the correct way of phrasing a certain condition is. Even coming across other posts, I find myself looking up certain words because I am confused by what they mean. It can be overwhelming at first but eventually it does start to get easier and of course with the occasional slip-up at times, I am expanding my knowledge of all different aspects of infertility.

Overall this has been such an incredible experience for a young intern such as myself. It has given me so much knowledge on a whole subject that students never learn about but is something that so many people deal with. One of the many things that I hope to take away from this experience is to talk about this issue more openly with others who may not understand. Although no one who has never gone through it will ever truly understand, hopefully by talking about it with others more, it will create a better understanding of the issue and bring further awareness to more generations.

 

s/m/othering

We’re featuring artwork from the project’s permanent collection in this week’s blog post.  Marissa McClure has created this piece, s/m/othering, in which she has removed the babies, children, and reproductive organs from well known pieces of art. She then invites others to choose an image that speaks to them and share their reaction to the image by pasting it, along with their narrative, in a book.

File Aug 18, 4 26 43 PM

File Aug 18, 4 23 30 PM

We’ve been traveling with the book and it’s been in Iowa City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Northern California with us so far. We’re sharing some images and stories from the piece this post and you can look for us, and the book, at our upcoming events in New JerseyMichigan, California, Illinois, and Arizona where we’ll invite you to share your own story through Marissa’s piece, mini interviews and photo sessions, and some other fun interactive projects we have planned.

File Aug 18, 4 22 41 PM - Version 2

File Aug 18, 4 27 23 PM

You can read Marissa’s complete paper on s/m/othering at this link. Thank you, Marissa, for sharing your art with us!

File Aug 18, 4 28 24 PM

 

 

 

Living and Writing in the Aftermath

Today we have a guest post from Robin Silbergleid. Thanks, Robin, for blogging for us this week! Robin is teaching a writing workshop, Women Write the Body, for us on June 14th in East Lansing, MI. Here’s a link to the workshop details. Please consider joining us! 

Living and Writing in the Aftermath

By Robin Silbergleid

This is how it goes. I’m at a school function for my eleven-year-old daughter. The auditorium clamors with families. A woman rushes by, tugging a toddler’s hand, an infant in a front carrier. On the stage, a teacher is visibly pregnant. My son, age three, draws a picture, asks when the show, which hasn’t started yet, is going to be over. Behind us, a baby fusses.

And somehow, I’m mentally spinning, back to the April four years ago when it looked certain that I would miscarry yet again.

It’s such an odd mix of emotions that hits me at these times: gratitude for having the children I do, and that old longing and fear. I won’t have another child. Won’t experience pregnancy again, the thrill of two pink lines on a home test, the faint rustle of a fetus at ten weeks.

I kiss the top of my son’s head. Watch my daughter rush past, holding a flag that says Texas, the state of her birth, so quickly I can’t snap a picture to preserve the moment.

*

I didn’t set out to make a career writing about infertility and pregnancy loss. But, as I’ve said in other contexts, I began my professional life the same time I started the journey (oh so innocently!) toward single motherhood via anonymous sperm donation. And I was so profoundly changed by those long months of blood draws, ultrasounds, and injections that for a long time I couldn’t write about anything else.

To borrow a phrase from poet Carolyn Forche, we all live in the aftermath of what has happened to us.

It’s been four years since I walked out of the clinic with a gritty ultrasound photo and a hug from my doctor. I am, all things considered, a “success” story. I have the second child I so desperately wanted. He’s now a chatty three-year-old obsessed with Elsa from Frozen, equally happy to wear blue fingernail polish or dig for worms on the playground.

And, to be fair, most of the time I’m so busy with the work of parenting and exhausted from chronic sleep deprivation that I don’t have much time to think about the failings of my ovaries or the uterus my ob/gyn described as ‘hostile’.

But all it takes is a certain song on the radio, or driving down I-96, or finding an alcohol wipe in my backpack, or heaven forbid a letter from the clinic, and I’m there. What if I’d started trying a few months earlier? What if I’d done IVF at a different clinic? What if I’d chosen to transfer one and not two? What if I’d waited one more month? What if.

It’s not so raw anymore, the way it was in those hormone-addled days of high risk pregnancy, breastfeeding, and new motherhood. But, as writer Melissa Ford has so rightly said, resolving childlessness is not the same as resolving infertility. And there’s no question: infertility has been a defining experience my adult life, both personally and professionally. I see it every time I look at my son, with the blue eyes and light hair he clearly did not inherit from me.

Writing has offered me a way to process those experiences, in all their complexity. My writing about infertility has gone from unprocessed scribbles written in a waiting room to poems with diagnostic codes, rants and thank yous. I’ve written now a memoir and a full-length collection of poems about infertility and loss, on top of numerous shorter essays. And while I do not think that writing is in and of itself therapeutic, over the long run writing has provided me with the language and narrative to make sense of what I’ve experienced, to reframe it and work through it. Beyond that, sharing my story, and reading and listening to the stories of other women with similar experiences, has led to enduring connections and relationships. We are reclaiming our bodies and our selves, one word at a time.

Robin Silbergleid is the author of the memoir Texas Girl and the chapbooks Pas de Deux and Frida Kahlo, My Sister. Her collection of about infertility treatment The Baby Book is forthcoming in November 2015 by CavanKerry Press. She lives, writes, teaches, and mothers in East Lansing, Michigan. You can find her online on Twitter @RSilbergleid or at robinsilbergleid.com.

Kickstarter – Help us take the ART of IF to Washington, D.C.

As I began writing this, Maria was somewhere up in the sky or enjoying her layover in Minneapolis and I was about to board my flight to LAX. The past month has been a whirlwind prepping for our exhibit in Iowa City last weekend and Los Angeles County, this Saturday. I can only imagine that the next few weeks will fly by as well!

RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day is May 14th and Maria and I, along with Maria’s husband, Kevin, and my mother, Judy, will be on Capitol Hill in Washington, lobbying for legislation to help those with infertility build their families.

The ART of Infertility is heading to Washington, D.C. with a pop-up exhibit and workshops on May 15.

The ART of Infertility is heading to Washington, D.C. with a pop-up exhibit and workshops on May 15.

On Friday May 15th, we’re holding a pop-up art exhibit and writing and art workshops at Busboys and Poets at 5th and K in Washington, D.C. from 3 – 7 pm. The event is free and open to the public. We have artwork coming in from around the country (we’re still accepting art entries if you’d like yours included, click here.) and will be displaying local artwork, as well as a selection of the portraits and stories we’ve collected over the past year. Marissa McClure Sweeny will be teaching an art workshop and Jenny Rough, who you heard from on our blog yesterday, will lead a writing workshop. Registration is required for the workshops so please contact us if you’d like to attend. These community art events are powerful tools for raising awareness about infertility and building a network of support for those living with the disease.

The event in DC will be our 13th in a little over a year. (Is that possible? I had to check it 4 times to believe it was right!) We’ve been almost completely self-funded until very recently and, if the project is going to be sustainable and allow us to provide a creative outlet to more people in more cities, we know we can’t continue that trend. It’s been suggested by those who like what we are doing that we launch a Kickstarter campaign to allow people to easily contribute to the cause.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 8.18.24 PM

A screen shot of the Kickstarter campaign we hope will help take the exhibit to Washington, D.C.

If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, here’s how it works. You have an opportunity to contribute to a project, in this case, our pop-up exhibit and workshops in D.C. and get a little something from the project in return.  We have some cool ART of IF swag featuring art from the project as rewards for contributing (ART of IF T-shirt, journal, or messenger bag, anyone?), as well as opportunities to get framed artwork from the show and a digital version of the exhibit we put together for D.C. We set a goal of $3500 and only receive money if our funding goal is reached. We don’t make it to $3500, we don’t get a thing. We only have 20 days to reach our goal! So, we’re asking for your help in funding this show in our nation’s capitol. Will you please join us in supporting the men and women with infertility in the DC area and those traveling in from around the country for Advocacy Day by contributing to our campaign? Here’s the link! ART of IF in DC Kickstarter Campaign.

Thank you!

Elizabeth

 

What is Your First Fertile Memory?

Today’s guest blogger is Jenny Rough. We’ve gotten to know Jenny a bit while working on our upcoming workshops and pop-up exhibit in Washington, D.C. and are looking forward to meeting her there next month!

Elizabeth

What is your first fertile memory?

A friend of mine asked me that question, and I spent a few moments in silence. I thought back as far as I could.

Sunflowers.

Sunflowers

The day I stood among the sunflowers in a garden by the side of our house. The sunflowers had grown even taller than me, just as my mom had said they would when we planted the tiny seeds. I was four years old.

It’s fascinating to me to hear how others answer that same question. Last month, I asked the women in the Living Childfree support group I host through RESOLVE. One woman recalled a summer night and a backyard full of fireflies. Another woman remembered a hike through a rainforest. Her family was an “indoor” family, so every twist and turn on the adventure brought a new surprise and engaged her senses.

On May 15, when the ART of IF’s pop-up exhibit is in Washington, D.C., I’ll be holding a workshop on journaling your fertility journey. One of the writing exercises will be to spend five minutes writing about fertile memories.

How about you? What is your first fertile memory? Please email me at jenny.rough [at] jennyrough.com, or post a comment here and share. I’d love to hear about it!

Jenny Rough is a writer who lives in Alexandria, Virginia. Every summer, she hikes out the sunflower fields near her home. Visit her on the web at jennyrough.com.

sunflowers-2