5 Ways A Barren Bestie Can Help Navigate Infertility

When you are first diagnosed with infertility, you can feel alone. You can feel like the world is against you. Like all of your future plans have suddenly been erased. It feels unfair and you can get angry. Here is the thing: this is normal. Infertility sucks. #NIAW helps make infertility feel a little bit less isolating. But this is just a week. How do you get through the other 51? For us, while some weeks can be great and others hard, really hard (take for example the upcoming Mother’s Day weekend), to get us through we rely on our #barrenbestie. This #NIAW we have decided to #flipthescript and talk about the friends who have gotten us through and are still on this crazy rollercoaster that is infertility

Maria:
Probably a year ago, Liz and I were talking about the importance our friendship has had on our infertility journey. For those who do not know, Liz and I met in 2014 at RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day. We were both from the state of Michigan and running support groups but had never met. As we spent the day together, we felt a friendship forming and not a forced friendship. Talking to Liz was easy. I’m the oldest in my family and never had a close “big” sister. But in the months following Advocacy Day it was feeling as if Liz could possibly fill this roll.

What I didn’t realize or anticipate was that I was actually not looking for “a big sister” figure. I was looking for and needing an infertility friend. Someone who wasn’t my partner going through the exact same journey, but someone who had their own story and their own journey that they were trying to figure out. Liz and I became that for each other, especially as we started collaborating together and creating what is this – The ART of Infertility.

In D.C.

While infertility no doubt sucks, I can’t imagine not going through this because despite all of the pain – I got a great and amazing person in my life: Liz. When I talk about my infertility story, it is hard to not include her in it. My husband, Kevin, frequently jokes that she is “the sister wife” to our marriage. In many ways, she is and she has helped me (and my marriage) grow stronger. My hope this #NIAW is that we don’t stop talking about infertility the rest of the year, but that we find the friends and support systems that can help us continue the conversation and #flipthescript that infertility matters ALL the time, not just once a year. My barren bestie, Liz, has helped me realize that and is helping us create change in this community that has been too often forgotten.

Elizabeth:
I’m not a woman who had always envisioned being a mother. I was always more interested in forging a path of my own, of not following the expectations of society. I imagined finding love and imagined getting married. Sure, maybe we would decide to have children but it wasn’t first and foremost. Until it was. Once I decided I wanted to be a mother, I wanted it fiercely. The trouble was, the rest of my body wasn’t in line with my head and my heart.

There’s that period of time, early on in an infertility diagnosis, when you haven’t found your tribe yet. You’re having a hard enough time trying to make sense of the cards you’ve been dealt, let alone trying to explain the game to others. You feel like your situation, your infertility, isn’t severe enough to reach out to find other people in similar situations because certainly they’ve had it worse. Their diagnosis is more severe, they’ve tried treatment and it failed, whatever the reason is, you find it. I’m here to tell you to that the sooner you find your people, the more manageable your life will become. Infertility friends, barren besties, are a lifeline.

Maria has been that lifeline for me. As she stated above, we found a quick and easy connection. It’s hard to believe that just four years ago, we hadn’t yet met. It’s crazy to me to think of life before her and it’s both exciting, and sometimes scary, to think about what the future might hold. We’ve both been in a similar stage of our journeys for the entire time we’ve known each other. Our relationship has been a safe space for both of us. But, like with many friends through infertility, there may come a time when maintaining a friendship will be more difficult. We’ve grown and challenged each other. We’ve built this organization together, and, together, we’ve accomplished more advocacy work in a short amount of time than I ever imagined possible.

Elizabeth and Maria and speaking at the Utah Infertility Resource Center’s fundraising gala in March, 2018. Photo by Steven Vargo.

My hope is that through this work, and the work that so many others are doing, it won’t be so difficult for those who come after us to find themselves diagnosed with infertility. The silence and stigma will have been lifted and they’ll already know those in their community they can turn to for understanding. That they won’t have to worry about access to care because insurance coverage for infertility treatment will be there for them if they choose to go that route. It’s also my hope that there will be better support and mental health resources while going through treatment and for people who get through treatment without becoming parents, or who choose not to undergo treatment at all. To make sure this happens, we all need to remember that infertility awareness isn’t about one week in April, but is year-long.

I’m so grateful for Maria, and my other barren besties, who have helped me weather this storm. Unlike the early years of my diagnosis, life is mainly good and happy these days. Not because the fact that I’m not a parent is any easier to endure, because it’s not, but because I have them in my life.

5 Ways A Barren Bestie Can Help Navigate Infertility

  1. Feel good about you and your body!
    It can be hard to separate yourself from a body that is failing you. Your barren bestie will remind you that you are more than your broken parts, and encourage you to practice self-care. So, grab a friend and treat yo’self! Go shopping! Get a massage! Go out for a nice dinner! Practice yoga!
  2. Talk about What Sucks in Life (even if it isn’t all about infertility)
    Liz and Maria frequently joke that they talk more to each other than their husbands (shh)!! But we do, with boundaries of course. So on the weekends we tend to take a break. During the week, we have “scheduled times” normally in the morning on the way to work and on the drive home. While the content of these talks can range from ART of IF “to do lists” to our “real” jobs to the niece or nephews birthday party that is happening over the weekend, these talks help us process how we get through the daily challenges and triggers that come with IF. No one understands like a barren bestie does. It also helps us not overwhelm or burden our partners.
  3. Gain Perspective about What Matters
    Okay, so we are lucky that through this project we have been invited to travel, literally the world. From Paris to Seattle we have made time to experience a variety of different places together and hear so many inspiring infertility stories. Traveling has helped us gain perspective on what we want as a priority in our life and helped us realize the impact of sharing your story.

    In France, fall of 2016.

    4. Encourage You to Share Your Story
    A good friend knows you even when you are trying to not know yourself. Sometimes it can be tiring and hard to share your story. Barren besties know this. They also know that sometimes sharing your story can help you grow stronger. Practice talking about infertility with your friend, and slowly, with their help, you can start to share it with strangers –  suddenly you may find yourself as an infertility advocate!5. Learn to Find Silver Linings, even during the worst of times
    We all have our own infertility story. In nearly all of them, there are ups and downs and    unexpected twists and turns. Figure out what your silver lining is, what lesson was learned. Maybe it won’t get you closer to your family-building goal, but you may be able to find unexpected joy in areas. For Liz and Maria – this is certainly the case. Without infertility, we would never know each other. We would never grow to be strong women, using our  voices  to hopefully create change and talk about all the challenges that come with infertility. Despite it all, we don’t regret being infertile. It has revealed too many silver linings in our lives.

 

The Gift of Infertility

Today’s guest post is from Sarah Ivy and Juli Westcott, DC. Sarah and Juli are Barren Besties turned founders of the non-profit, Braving Infertility Together. Thanks, Sarah and Juli, for sharing your story. 

“Thank you all for coming to dinner tonight. It was great getting to meet you. If any of you would like someone to pray with you before you leave, I’d be happy to do that.”

“Hi, my name is Juli. I could really use some prayers. I just found out that my IVF transfer worked and I am pregnant, but I’m so scared something will happen.”

“Hi, Juli, I’m Sarah. Let’s pray right now.”

And so it began. Two women from two different sides of the infertility spectrum, both desperately wanting to become mothers, and wanting to feel like they were not alone in this journey. So, how did things go from acquaintances at a dinner to a true, deep friendship?

Sarah:
A little while after Juli became pregnant with her daughter, my husband and I had the opportunity to do an IVF transfer with a pair of adopted embryos. We were thrilled to find out that we were also pregnant! But unfortunately, when we went in for our sonogram at week nine, there was no heartbeat.

Juli:
At that time,  I was 12 or 13 weeks pregnant, and heartbroken for my friend. I debated on what to do, because I figured the last thing you want to see when you have just lost your baby is a pregnant lady, but I knew I needed to see her. I put on a loose sundress, bought a beautiful orchid plant, and drove down to her house.

Sarah:
This was the turning point in our relationship. Her bravery in that moment, in being afraid to come but doing it anyway, and my vulnerability in loss sparked a deep, authentic friendship that has only continued to grow.

Sarah’s loss was the summer of 2015, and Juli’s daughter, Cady Joy, was born in December. A few weeks after her birth, we decided to get our husbands together for dinner at the same restaurant where we met back in April. When our husbands met, we realized how similar they are – both came from a construction background, and both were fiercely protective husbands that had longed to be fathers. There was an instant connection, and that night brought us all closer together.

Juli and Sarah with their families at their book release party

Juli:
A few short weeks after our first family dinner, I remember sitting on the couch one night breastfeeding Cady, and all of a sudden my phone rang — it was Sarah. Now if you know Sarah, she is much more more likely to message or text than call, so I thought it was a bit strange and answered.

Sarah:
I asked, “Hey, does Cady need a friend?”

Juli:
I thought it was a strange question so, I said, “Sure… you can be her friend?” Not having any idea what she was trying to say.

Sarah and her husband had miraculously become pregnant naturally! We were both beyond ecstatic for this new little life, and secretly hoped that maybe it could be a girl so that our daughters could be friends. By the grace of God, we found out a few weeks later that it WAS going to be a girl!

Juli:
One of my favorite pictures we have together is a candid photo of us at Sarah’s Gender Reveal party. We are sitting next to each other smiling, and I am holding Cady who has her hand on Sarah’s tummy and the biggest smile on her face! It was just a sign of the sweet relationship these two girls would soon share.

Left to right, Sarah, Cady, and Juli at Sarah’s gender reveal party

In June of 2016, we had an amazing opportunity to go to a writing conference and do something we had both always dreamed of doing — become published authors. Our plan was to write books to share the stories of our journeys to our daughters, but God had a different plan. By the end of the conference, not only did we know that we were supposed to write a book about our support group (which had continued to meet and grow since that first dinner), but we also felt very strongly that we needed to make the group “official” and file our paperwork to become a non-profit organization, Braving Infertility Together.

Where are we today? Our group has grown from 15 women who met for dinner to over 450 women and their families in the DFW area, as well as over 100 women worldwide in our online support groups. For us personally…

Sarah:
We are at a point where we are no longer seeking medical intervention to grow our family. We are praying and trusting that if God wants us to have more children, we will, and if not, we will treasure the precious gift he has already given us in Charlotte.

Juli:
For us, it has been an emotional road the past year. After much discussion, we decided to do another IVF transfer back in August of 2017, and were so excited to find that we were pregnant again. Unfortunately, a few short weeks later, we discovered that the pregnancy was ectopic, and we lost our sweet baby in an emergency surgery to remove the tube where it had implanted. It took me several months and countless tears and prayers to have the courage to go through another transfer, but in February of this year (with my mom, Sarah, and Ray sitting in the waiting room), we did. By the grace of God, we are expecting our sweet little miracle in October of this year.

Through our friendship and growing non-profit, we have really had the opportunity to live life together. We have brought people into our homes, encouraged people to love each other, and walked with others through some incredibly dark moments, while at the same time loving and encouraging each other.

Sarah:
Juli is the most beautiful friend inside and out. If I had to pick three things about her that I would want the world to know, I would have to start with her hugs. That may sound silly, but I swear her arms wrapped around me and her chin on my head (she is nearly a foot taller than me) give me strength and security, and remind me that I have a BRAVE sister with me in all of this. The look on her face when we asked them to be Charlotte’s Godparents was only rivaled by the look on her face when she held her for the first time. Her genuine love for my daughter is so special. She prays for, loves on, and watches after CC as if she were her own. Lastly, her love for the Lord and her constant encouragement for my relationship with God and reminders of His truths are the greatest gift.

Juli and Sarah at Sarah’s 80s themed, rollerskating 35th birthday party.

Juli:
It’s hard to pick only three things I love about Sarah! She is so creative — she can make something beautiful out of literally anything, and it’s effortless. She is also an incredible communicator. I have so much pride and joy getting to watch her do what she was born to do. She speaks and teaches with such grace and eloquence. I have never seen someone so comfortable in front of an audience! Most of all, I absolutely love her heart. Sarah is one of the most genuinely caring and compassionate people I have ever met. She cares deeply, ferociously, and completely for those she brings into her life, and will stop at nothing to help anyone she has the power to help. She is an incredible example to me and so many others.

How has sharing the journey of infertility changed our lives? In our deepest darkest moments, we always know that we are the only ones who truly get how the other feels. We have a relationship built on incredible trust and honesty, and we have supported each other through so many of life’s challenges, in infertility and beyond.

There have been a few times where we have discussed whether experiencing infertility has been a burden or a blessing, and without hesitation, we both agree that given the option of not going through it but having to give away everything we have gained, we would choose it again without hesitation. The life-long friendship we have developed because of this journey is truly a gift. As we look towards the future of not only our families, but our organization, living without each other is not an option.

We are BRAVE because of each other, and can now help others be BRAVE in their journeys. THIS is the truest gift of infertility.

For more information about Braving Infertility Together, visit www.bravingit.org or, find them on Facebook or Instagram @Braving Infertility Together.

Parallel Selves

#BarrenBesties M’Recia and Brooke collaborated to create the piece we’re sharing today, which we displayed in “Arches in Perspective” in Salt Lake City earlier this year. Be sure to click on the audio at the bottom to hear Brooke talk more about what went into creating the piece.

Parallel Selves
M’Recia Seegmiller and Brooke Walrath
mixed media – photography, graphic design, poetry

I wanted to use my idea of creating images that show what longing for a child feels like and I asked my friend and colleague Brooke to collaborate with me. I told her about my ideas and she shared a poem she wrote with me called I Envy Myselves. I immediately loved her poem and, together, we felt inspired to create a photography piece to go with her poem.

 


Two College Students Connect Over IVF

by Kristen Mahan and Alaina Schepp

Kristen:

When I asked my roommate and friend since freshman year, Alaina, to come to Reproductive Writes – an ART of Infertility event – I had no idea how our friendship would change. Sitting at the workshop with other participants talking about their personal experiences with infertility, I suddenly found Alaina opening up. She shared with the group that she — herself — was created from IVF. Not only that, all of her siblings were also created using IVF.

Kristen, left, and Alaina, right

Sitting there, hearing her story, I was surprised that this had never come up before! Alaina had always been close to her family, she would frequently go home to help out or even just hang out with her siblings and parents. I never really understood why, until she talked about how hard it was for her parents to get pregnant.

Walking back from Reproductive Writes that evening, Alaina shared with me how her parents  decided to undergo IVF after her dad found out he was not able to have kids. Alaina was the first child to be born from their IVF cycle. Shortly after they had Alaina, and desiring a big family, they decided to go through another two rounds of IVF.

As Alaina opened up to me that night about her parents IVF story, our relationship changed for the better. We stayed up for 3+ hours chatting and crying from some of her most prominent childhood memories. Hearing her story explains it all. I cannot even imagine how hard Alaina’s childhood was and what her family went through, and is still going through. Hearing her story made me realize how strong Alaina is and I am so thankful to have such a loving, kind, and genuine friend like her.

Alaina:

Seeing the exhibit, Reflections of Reproductive Loss and Access to Care, during the Reproductive Writes event was an experience that touched very close to home. I have always been very thankful for IVF for basically giving me my entire life I have today. When my parents explained IVF to me throughout the years I never thought of it as not working, until I saw the exhibit. My understanding was that if you were infertile, most of the time IVF would work. However, seeing the artwork and the stories of others, I realize that is not the case. The process of IVF always amazed me – how it can work and how it did work for my family. However, after the exhibit I realized how thankful I am and how fortunate we were for this to work, not once but three times.

I knew going into the exhibit that I would be able to relate more to the artwork than some of the other people there.  I also felt like I could relate to the pain by seeing IVF put a financial, medical, and stressful toll on my own parents. Being as close as I am with my family, it is a dream of mine to have a big family. With my family having fertility issues and being told they would not have children, it’s a fear of mine that I could be told the exact same thing.

Baby Alaina

I thought I could turn to IVF in a worst-case scenario, but going to the exhibit and hearing everyone’s complications and deeply sad stories, makes my worries much greater.  Seeing others’ heartbreaking stories makes the fear that much more real. However, I believe everything happens for a reason and that I need to trust in the plan that is in store for me. I believe that my family is closer because of IVF. It made my parents value my life, and each of my siblings’ lives, so much more because they truly thought they would never have children of their own, and now they have three. I have IVF to thank for giving me my family and my own life. Without IVF, I wouldn’t have the people who matter most to me.

I thought the exhibit was a perfect time to open up to Kristen about being an IVF baby. IVF is not something that is talked about enough, and that was clearly verbalized throughout the conversation at the exhibit. I have always thought of Kristen as a great friend and someone I could really trust, but it just wasn’t a topic of conversation I knew how to bring up. Sharing at the exhibit that I was an IVF baby brought about more conversations afterward that really shared my feelings, my thoughts, and my journey into what made me. Kristen was the first friend I was able to deeply share that with. With Kristen interning for The ART of Infertility, I knew she was able to understand where I was coming from and could comprehend it more than any of my other friends.

Kristen, left, and Alaina, right, on the first day of their junior year at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Kristen and I have had many memories together. Being together the past two years, we have been there for each other during the highs and the lows. We are able to go through school together and spend late nights studying and cramming for exams. Kristen and I love having a good time and being able to spend basically everyday together.

Kristen:

I think my favorite memories of Alaina and I are just staying up late and talking about anything and everything. Alaina is extremely outgoing and talkative so our conversations are endless. She is all around the most bubbly person I know. Like with any college girl, there is usually “boy drama” which Lain and I have been each other’s rock for. We are always up front with each other and try to give our most honest input on certain situations.

Connection

Leanne Schuetz was inspired by her #BarrenBesties to create this piece, which we first exhibited during “Cradling Creativity” in Philadelphia. Leanne’s piece, “Advanced Maternal Age”, is currently on display in our exhibit “Visualizing Voices of Reproductive Loss” at the University of Wisconsin Madison, now through the end of May.

“Connection”
Artist: Leanne Schuetz
Mixed Media on 9×12 Canvas board

I was inspired by the quote that says “When you can’t look on the bright side, I will sit with you in the dark”

This piece is a tribute to the dear infertility friends I have made through out my journey.  Women who never told me that I had to cheer up, or relax but allowed me to feel my disappointments and heartbreak and said, “Me too, you are not alone.”

Connection by Leanne Schuetz

 

 

 

 

Click below to hear Leanne recite her label.

I went to Capitol Hill (for Advocacy Day) and all I got was this lousy best friend

#BarrenBesties, Brooke and Kathy, share stories of their friendship in today’s blog post. Thank you Brooke and Kathy!

Kathy, left, and Brooke, right

B: Kathy and I met on the message boards of thebump.com. We really started chatting when she was undergoing radiation therapy for her thyroid cancer. We have similar diagnoses in our marriages (minus her cancer), so we bonded really easily. She’s also freaking hilarious.

K: One of my first memories of my friendship with Brooke was flipping through a catalog (like the old school paper kind) and seeing this print of a quote- it was colorful and bright and immediately made me think of her. “In the midst of winter, I found, within me, an invincible summer.”- Albert Camus. I ordered it and awkwardly packaged it up and shipped it off to Arizona because she neeeeeeded it. I remember my husband saying you’re sending this to someone you met on the internet?? Yes. Yes I am.

B: One of our funniest moments was Kathy’s birthday gift being spoiled. At our second Advocacy Day, RESOLVE invited us to be Ambassadors and it included a full day training. Because we’re hilarious, we started calling each other Ambaaaaaaaassador in fancy British voices and it evolved into Badassador. And so for her birthday, I ordered her a custom necklace with our made up word on it. The Etsy seller posted a photo of it on social media and Kathy sent me a screen shot like “OMG LOOK.” and I’m like… “uhhh, Happy Birthday!”

K: The best things about our friendship are everything. Literally everything. I can say anything without fear of judgement. I can vent. I can complain. She relates to me in a way that is so rare to find in a friend. And the jokes. SO MANY JOKES.

B: Two years ago, one of our fellow advocates (we’ll call her Becky to protect her privacy) couldn’t make it to Advocacy Day, so we had a giant photo made of her face so she could be there “with” us. And then she ended up being able to come. We posted a selfie with it and she was like, “is that my face?” And then we died laughing.

K: I picked Brooke up at the airport with our flat friend riding shotgun and one of the greatest moments that year was the Flat and Real versions of Becky meeting each other. Flat Becky even got a photo op with RESOLVE CEO Barb Collura.

B: We have a million inside jokes. We can make each other laugh with a single word. It’s amazing to have someone who knows me so well.

We see each other – ideally – twice a year. We do Advocacy Day and then try to do a long weekend later in the year. Being from Arizona, I like to go to DC and spend time in cold weather. Two years ago, Kathy came to Arizona for my 35th birthday. Thirty-five was the age that I kind of gave myself to be the limit for freaking out about choosing childfree and pursuing treatment, so it felt like a big birthday. I wanted her with me, and she came! It was amazing. We went on a Selfie Trail because obviously.

K: We tried so hard to meet up this year- planned this great trip to Memphis and two days before- I was diagnosed with the flu. So instead of going to Graceland, she sent me a life size cardboard Elvis who now lives in my dining room. He stares out the window to freak out the neighbors. We have Amazon Primed things to each other that we never knew we always needed. I love her so much that I’ll spend 4 hours in the observation tower of the Air and Space Museum while she tracks the planes that land with an app on her phone. She gets all giddy like the little elementary school kids. We go to terrible spas and eat way too much Mediterranean food. And every single time we’re in an airport together it’s just a big ugly cry mess.

B: I heard about Advocacy Day in 2013 and it was too late to get it together to go, but we started talking about going in 2014. At some point, she invited me to stay with her, so I did what any rational person would do and booked a trip to spend an entire week in the home of a complete stranger. I didn’t even ask if she intended to turn me into a skin suit until I’d landed at Dulles.

Brooke and Kathy at Advocacy Day, 2017

K: When Brooke told me she wanted to go to Advocacy Day that very first year- It never occurred to me that we might not get along and it would be awkward having her in my house. My son, Sam, was just a few months old when she came that year. I remember being worried about if she would be uncomfortable with SO much baby everywhere. But that was all gone when she sat holding him at dinner that night. Now she is a part of his life, which I love. She sends him such thoughtful gifts. Now my 4 year old Sam asks when she is coming back and if he can take her to the trampoline park. And he always requests to see pictures of her dogs. He thinks it’s hilarious that they eat carrots as treats.

B: I never even knew she was worried about me having sad feelings about Sam. Quite honestly, it can be difficult to have a relationship with someone who was successful with infertility treatments while we’ve chosen to be childfree after infertility. I remember so vividly all the emotions of Kathy’s three IVF cycles and was so elated when she found out that the third had been successful. I love Sam deeply and it’s just never been an issue. It’s been difficult with other friends, but never with Sam.

Advocating together has been amazing. We’re both passionate about advocating for family building and ensuring that others have the options to pursue the family they want. The Capitol has become Our Place and we give Capitol themed gifts sometimes.

K: That first year when we met- it was like meeting your person and just knowing that you were going to be together forever. We spent that week laughing until we cried and I was so happy that she came to stay with me. A big part of that was experiencing our first trip to Advocacy Day together. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of empowerment that comes from the first trip to Capitol Hill. It has become just another thing that bonds us together and something we both share a passion for.

B: Well said, Biff. Love you. Mean it.

 

 

Reflections on UURAF

by Juliette Givhan, The ART of Infertility’s Undergraduate Research Intern

This past Friday, the 13th of April, I was able to participate in Michigan State University’s 18th annual University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum. The forum, which was held at the student Union on State’s campus, was an opportunity for students to summarize the research they had conducted throughout the year and present it in front of a public audience in the format of a poster.

As I arrived at the Union to present a synopsis of the work I have done with The ART of Infertility Project I was prepared to be disappointed. UURAF, while an opportunity to present research, is also a competition… one that I was sure would be dominated by STEM majors who would expertly present posters chock full of graphs, data charts, and ground-breaking findings. I felt that my poster, which displayed art from the project and the reality of a human story that cannot be quantified in the same way that other research can, would be out of place. I didn’t know, as I was clipping my poster to the stock board I had been provided, that I would leave the room after an hour and a half of presenting my findings feeling a huge sense of accomplishment.

I left UURAF wishing I could have stayed longer. The forum provided a space where I could accomplish one of my main goals of working with this project: to spread word of the reality of infertility and to display that art can be used as a means of conveying complex emotions. The poster I presented was broken into five sections: a break down of The ART of Infertility Project and what my role within the project has been, a description of the workshop— Reproductive Writes— held on State’s campus, my own artistic response to the topic of infertility, and a small section for facts about infertility. The last and largest section of the poster was taken up by interviews I had conducted with Annie Kuo and Madge Harris-Rowland, two women of color whose stories built a commentary on representation within the world of infertility. My favorite part of participating in UURAF was being able to spread the narrative of these two women whose varied experiences presented a reality outside of the often-assumed norm of infertility solely affecting white women.

I also really enjoyed interacting with interested passerby as well as the judges who would determine the winner within my category (Humanities and Performing Arts.) Everyone that I spoke to was interested in the project and asked questions. Their eyes widened in alarm when presented with the financial reality of trying to treat infertility, of looking into adoption or egg freezing. I was sharing knowledge with people that they didn’t previously have, and that was really rewarding. I even gave my email to a woman who wanted to know if the project was still taking submissions.

Overall, I really appreciated being able to share the work not only I— but Elizabeth, Maria and Robin—had done on the project. Presenting at UURAF put my research into perspective, it let me see a reflection of the work I had done this semester—work that I am proud of and that I hope will impact those who were able to witness it and spread awareness of the reality of infertility.

We were all excited to learn that Juliette’s poster won first place in her division, Humanities and the Performing Arts. Congratulations, Juliette!

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

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

Maria, left, with Kristen at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

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

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

What is this grant?

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

What is my research project?

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

Why focus on social media?

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

What I’m looking forward to:

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

 

1 in 8 – Finding Strength through Poetry

Today, Yevgeniya Przhebelskaya shares her poetry and story with us. Thank you, Yevgeniya!

1 in 8
by Yevgeniya Przhebelskaya

“​1 in 8”
(previously published at Anti-Heroin Chick)
I’m 1 in 8 –

appreciate the irony,

was afraid of babies

in my teens timidly dating,

in my twenties finally married and getting a Masters

in Elementary Education.

 

Now I’m over thirty, husband is over forty,

where is our child: our precious daughter, our son?

Our frozen chosen – in the fertility lab,

30% chance of success

– each time they tear out my body and soul?

In our unfinished adoption paperwork?

“Sorry to disappoint, but

as caregivers for a live in adult

you need a 3 bedroom house and 300% consent”.

 

I’m 1 in 8

The other seven couples on the block

are having their first, second and third.

Should I get a dog? Or a bird?

Are my poems my children, a consolation prize from the Lord?

 

When I married my best friend Jerry back in 2007, we never expected infertility and fertility treatments to be part of the happy ever after. At the time of the wedding, I was pursuing a part time Master’s Degree in Elementary Education with a full time internship at the end and working as a part time education assistant to get free graduate tuition. I was under a threat of losing my credits if I took a school break to build a family.  Jerry was also not ready to take on responsibility of a father. So in blissful ignorance we waited until my Master’s program was over, and a grueling teaching internship was successfully completed.  The internship indeed turned out to be a test for our family in its own right, with a long commute, a demanding schedule, and a very critical supervisor.

In 2011, with four years of married life behind our belt, and work-leisure-chores routine squared away, Jerry and I were ready to become parents. Two more years later it became obvious that we would not be able to make a child simply by being passionate in the bedroom. After another two years of inconclusive tests from my OBGYN, we sought a help of a reproductive endocrinologist in NYC.

I sought out a female doctor with a gentle manner, and Cary Dicken from Sher Institute fit the bill. However, the final diagnosis and prescription in 2013 was firm: male factor infertility with a recommendation for IVF. At that point, Jerry and I took a one and a half year break to attend to my dental issues, and also to look into adoption.

There are a lot of choices and pathways regarding adoption; domestic, international, infant or older child. I joined support groups on Facebook, read books from the library and spoke with adoption professionals. Jerry was open to the idea of adoption and was supporting my research. Unfortunately, his father Vincent was not. And because Vincent had moved in with us a few years earlier, he was considered a member of the household for the adoption process. Additionally, there were housing requirements for a multiple adult household that made adoption a more complicated choice at the time. At this stage, adoption was not to be.

Jerry and I went back to Dr. Dicken for infertility treatment.  First we did an IUI, which was negative and then we proceeded to Micro IVF (IVF with a low dose of injectable hormones).

After several delays, Micro IVF was in May of 2017. Five eggs were retrieved, with the help of ICSI three fertilized, one was transferred at three days, and two frozen for follow up FET. I was cautiously optimistic at that point. Unfortunately, two weeks later, the dreams of easy IVF were dashed with a negative result.  Moreover, I had a flare up of an autoimmune digestive disease which was subsequently diagnosed as ulcerative colitis. While colitis was successfully taken under control with prescription medicine, my mind though plunged into a deep depression out of which I did not see an easy escape.

My life went back to pre-IVF days, but I was no longer content. My friends were getting married and, soon after, pregnant.  I was no longer a stable happy person, but rather a hurt and hopeless one. I even joined a Facebook group for Bipolar Depression, even though I have not been officially diagnosed with that diagnosis. Over there, I sheepishly asked if there were any advantages of being overwhelmed and depressed as I was. The answer to that question has changed my life.

A fellow Facebook acquaintance, Kap Zan shared that he wrote poetry during periods of depression, and then after a prompting, shared several of his poems. It was as if a Universe exploded in my head. I remembered the times I wrote poetry while feeling isolated in high school, and the times I wrote about   my love life in shambles in college, and my poem The Song of Extraterrestrial which Jerry set to music, foreshadowing our own love story. The next day (Sunday) I wrote a simple short poem at the end of church service, barely waiting for the closing hymn to end. That same week I wrote seven more, staying up late, or pausing in the middle of conversations.

I have found an outlet for suffering and a new strength by writing poetry.  I write poems regularly, and now am looking for creative ways to share them. I started Art Page on the website of the Leonia United Methodist church where I work as administrative assistant. I founded and facilitate monthly Bergen Poetry Workshop in my hometown. I send out my poetry to literary magazines and websites.  My poems have appeared in Ancient Paths, Time of Singing, Anti Heroin Chick and The Penwood Review. My poem “Supergirl” will be a part of the exhibition called Poetry Leaves in  Waterford Township Public Library in May 2018. The topics of my poems extend beyond infertility treatment into issues of faith, political awareness, healthy living and self analysis. I still suffer (first FET was BFN!), but I am glad that people are responding to ups and downs of my life journey, and I am able to encourage some of them even if they are not planning to have kids! I also started working out, and I find it helpful to build up my strength.

On the baby front Jerry and I are getting ready for the second and final FET in August and are once again talking about adoption. The father in law requires more and more care and is beginning to resemble a baby himself. Caring for him is both frustrating and rewarding. And Jerry and I are still passionate about each other – and will continue to be!

Ocean

Ducking

under waves of depression,

Or gliding

on the waves of inspiration,

Embracing Divine Navigation,

A poet

is surfing

in the Ocean…

My Four-Year Break from Infertility Treatments

by Elizabeth Walker

Four years ago today, I put the final pieces of artwork on the wall and opened what became the first exhibit of The ART of Infertility.  There’s no way I could have imagined then, what this organization and the people I’ve met through it would become to me.

The remnants of my IVF retrieval and frozen embryo transfers, included in the piece, Crib with Medication Boxes.

I’d just completed my final treatment cycle, a frozen embryo transfer, which was unsuccessful. I didn’t know where I’d go next, but I knew I needed time and space to figure things out. The ART of Infertility has been that for me over these years. Even better, it has allowed me to give others their own time and space so that they may also use art as a source of healing.

In the past four years, my dear friend and co-director, Maria and I, along with a team of dedicated and passionate interns and volunteers, have traveled to 14 states and the District of Columbia (plus Switzerland) and held 22 exhibits and 23 workshops, and given 12 presentations. We’ve collected and shared hundreds of infertility stories through art.

I’m forever grateful to those of you who have supported this organization. To you who have spread the word, attended our events, allowed us to come into your homes to interview you, and have parted with your artwork so we can travel with it and share diverse stories of infertility, we thank you. To our exhibit hosts, partners, and sponsors, thank you for helping us amplify the voices and experiences of those with infertility. To our families; Scott, Kevin, and our pups­­, who miss us both when we’re home and when we’re gone, thank you for understanding what this work means to us.

We have exciting exhibits and programming this year. We just wrapped an amazing month in Salt Lake City, Utah and in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. In a matter of weeks, we’ll be in Madison, WI and we will spend the month of June in Los Angeles and the month of October in Chicago. We feel lucky every day that we get to do this work, even luckier when we’re jet-lagged and our muscles are sore from hauling suitcases, because it means we’re reaching further than we ever imagined.

I set out to be a parent, and co-parenting this organization with Maria has made every bit of my infertility journey worth it.

Check out our upcoming schedule, current calls for art, and find out how you can get involved at artofinfertility.org.