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.

Perspectives on Reproductive Writes from Juliette Givhan

An intro to our Michigan State University (MSU) Undergraduate Research Intern, Juliette Givhan, and her take on our recent Reproductive Writes workshop at MSU. 

Hello,

My name is Juliette Givhan and I’m a new addition to The ART of Infertility team. I joined Elizabeth, Maria, and Robin with the goal of helping them organize, analyze, procure, and ultimately anthologize the creative materials surrounding infertility and reproductive rights generated for this project.

I study at Michigan State University where I’m near the end of the pursuit of an English degree with a concentration in creative writing and a minor in African American and African Studies. I’m a poet and I write from my individual experience as a Black American. My writing has been shaped by this focus and I’ve come to realize that this has often involved an erasure of my experiences as a woman. I find that where I am proud to be Black and have always felt a strong need to express my Blackness, I rarely uplift and take pride in my identity as a woman.

When I think of what it means to be a woman I think of the stereotypes of femininity sculpted by patriarchal influences: the mother of many children figure, the stay at home domestic goddess figure, etc. Since I have never fit into any of these roles I have rarely thought about or processed the reality of my own identity as a female, one defined by my own experiences. My goal with this project, then, is to embrace the fact that my actions- the daily experiences that collect as my identity- need to also have a stage on which to be addressed. I think working on The ART of Infertility Project is going to offer the space for my writing and thinking to take this first step.

Infertility as a topic of research is something that I am interested in learning more about because of how much I don’t know. I have had connections with IF before in the women on one side of my family, who have repeatedly experienced complications with pregnancies and conceiving, but I don’t know the facts or figures. I don’t know the emotional toll IF has on people, or how to accept that a reality might exist in my own life that means one day I might not be able to have the children that I don’t even know if I want.

I find how this project uses art to express these difficult, diverse, and complex issues to be extremely comforting. Art is the medium I have personally used to express myself, so I believe in its power of expression and healing. I’m looking forward to helping create an anthology of this projects work because a tangible and accessible collection could potentially connect so many people who could benefit from this community of support.

Participants at Reproductive Writes, February 28 at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI

The Reproductive Writes workshop that took place in the LookOut! Gallery on Michigan State University’s campus was the first time I’ve been to a workshop that addressed the issue of reproductive rights. When I started working on The ART of Infertility Project I knew very little about reproductive rights because it was not something that I ever heard talked about. Our society censors information about the human body, especially the female body, and this gap of information has largely left me ignorant to the issues that exist and affect the people of this country. I came to the event excited to deconstruct my own ignorance in these topics and nervous at admit to how much I didn’t know.

We started the evening with a question: what does reproductive rights mean to you? After having time to reflect those who chose were able to share their definitions. This moment was particularly interesting for me because no two definitions were the same, though parallels certainly existed. One woman defined reproductive rights as wanting to end the stigmatism she felt from outsiders who expected her to be pregnant because of her position as someone’s wife. Another’s definition was having the right to choose whether to have a child and letting that option belong to the individual it affected. My own definition of reproductive rights was having access to affordable healthcare to support a fetus and later a child. I realized that as a broke college student, my definition of reproductive rights was bound to be different than someone who was married or someone who was diagnosed as infertile.

Realizing that the definition of reproductive rights was fluid was as empowering as it was obvious… after I’d given it some thought. Though the room only held about fifteen people, several diverse backgrounds were represented. There were undergraduate students new to the conversation like myself, a graduate student, a nurse familiar with the medical side of working with IF, women from the MSU and Lansing community, even a man who used a penis shaped poem to portray his interpretation of reproductive rights. Each voice had its own story to tell and interpretation to make and I appreciated hearing all of them.

Having had some time to reflect on the workshop I think my main take away was that more spaces like these need to exist, where people from diverse backgrounds can come together and talk about the realities that exist for them. Being in a space to talk about these things and make poetry and have discussion was a relief after so many years of silence. I think more people need to have the chance of experiencing something like Reproductive Writes because spreading awareness of issues is the best way, in my opinion, to end ignorance.

Pain, Regret, and Blood: A Journey in Infertility

Today’s blog post is from J. Clyde Wills. He recently visited our exhibit, “Reflections of Reproductive Loss & Access to Care,” at University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh and contacted us afterward to share some of his story with us.

While infertility affects men and women equally, we don’t as often hear the perspectives of men dealing with an infertility diagnosis. Our mission is to share stories, especially under-represented stories, through the creative expression of art and writing, making infertility visible. That’s why we invited J. Clyde to share his story with you today. It’s also why we feel it’s important to incorporate specific programming around men’s stories, and the ways that infertility impacts men’s health, during Men’s Health Month each June.

This year, we’re again partnering wiith Dr. Paul Turek of The Turek Clinics to present an art exhibit and programming in Los Angeles from June 9 – 30. We hope you’ll check out our event landing page for initial information on “Reimagining Reproduction: The ART of Infertility in Los Angeles” and submit your artwork for consideration via our call for art.

We will have a special focus on highlighting the artwork and stories of men, as well as single parents by choice, those in the LGBTQ+ community, and other under-represented individuals and groups who are dealing with infertility or must use assisted reproductive technologies to help them build their families.

These perspectives are so valuable. Thanks, J. Clyde Wills, for sharing yours with us today!

Pain, Regret, and Blood: A Journey in Infertility

By J. Clyde Wills

I can’t talk about it without crying: IUI, IVF and five failed adoptions. We were trying egg donation before our marriage fell apart. I suppose I am still crying.

Kate* and I started the old fashioned way, which is what all newly married couples do whether they want babies or not. But we did. No one told me making babies would be so hard. In fact, high school health class taught me the opposite. When I was younger I never considered not using protection because even a romantic gesture could cause pregnancy.

Our first stop in fertility was at the Yale Fertility Center. We were told was one of the best fertility centers in the country. The first round of IUI, intrauterine insemination, yielded no results, so we tried IVF for the next round. Insurance only covered the first one so this round of in vitro fertilization was on us. During the whole process my role felt so secondary. It was my job to go into a little room at the doctor’s office containing the most regressive pornography I had ever seen, make my contribution into a sterilized container, and then get out of the way. After that it was my job to administer the shots.

I felt so helpless. I wanted to do more but there was nothing else I could do but give support and love. So I did that. Truthfully Kate was strong enough to give herself the shots.

Our hopes soared as Kate’s blood tests came back positive. The news that we were pregnant was intoxicating which made Kate’s daily regimen of shots easier to bear. Everyday I administered injections into her tummy but the discomfort became worth it. We were having a baby.

Our hopes changed the day Kate received her first ultrasound. The doctor passed the wand over her uterus but there was nothing. It was not just that there was no heartbeat but nothing at all. Hormones levels clearly read pregnancy but her uterus was empty. The pregnancy was ectopic and needed to be ended. After months of injections Kate now had to be treated with methotrexate, a drug normally used in chemotherapy, to end the pregnancy we had dreamed of.

We took a long break after that. Ending the pregnancy was too devastating. So we decided to try adoption. I wish someone had told the cruel reality of domestic adoption. I don’t know what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting this. We chose Lutheran Social Ministries as our agency. I was making a career as a Lutheran minister so it made sense to us. The first two adoptions failed quickly. Our agency connected us to birth mothers and after the emotional journey of meeting them and filling out forms the birth mothers chose another couple. That is how the system works. Potential adoptive parents must woo and court birth mothers who have the option to accept or reject and can always later change their minds.

Then we got the call. A woman was giving birth on the other side of the state. She was choosing an adoption plan for her baby so I left work and we drove to the hospital stopping at Baby’s R’ Us along the way to fill the car with everything we needed. After a long day we came home with Jacob whom we named after my father. For five days it was the kind of bliss that comes with being a new parent. We lived in 24-hour shifts as we fed him, changed him and loved him. This is where I start crying.

Photo by Aditya Romansa

After the fifth day we got the call. Jacob’s birth mother had changed her mind and a social worker would be coming to our house to take him away. That is also how the system works. Until she signs the surrender documents a birth mother has 90 days to have a change of heart. We would later learn that birth mom had used the adoption process to manipulate her own parents into keeping the baby. Giving Jacob away on that day may have been the worst day of my life. It felt no less like a piece of me had been amputated.

After Jacob, Kate and I took matters into our own hands, abandoned Lutheran Social Ministries and pursued private adoption. There is a whole cottage industry of adoption attorneys and we found one in Jacksonville, FL. It is more expensive but the success rate is higher. This is when we met Andrea.

Andrea already had five successful pregnancies. Her first child was adopted by her brother and her other four babies were adopted by couples like us. This was number six. Andrea denied that she was selling her babies to fund her addiction to crack cocaine. But we didn’t care. We just wanted a child. After months of regular visits to Florida and writing lots of checks Andrea disappeared. She went off the radar for a long time with no one, including her family and the attorney, having any idea where she was.

Andrea re-emerged when it was time to give birth and informed us she was keeping the baby. It was her right. Kate and I had no claim to the child, even after it was admitted that Andrea never had any intention of giving up her child and only wanted someone to pay her bills while she was pregnant. The sad part is Andrea did not get to keep her daughter either. Because of her continued abuse of drugs Andrea’s little girl was placed with a family member. Kate and I were never considered.

One more failed adoption after that and Kate and I quit the adoption game for good. We decided to try egg donation. The process is much the same as IUI and IVF with it’s many visits to doctors and shots in the tummy with hormones. The only difference is the egg is donated through any one of a variety of organizations. We scrolled through profiles like it was an online dating site until we found a match that made sense with a price we could handle. A suitable donor was selected but before the process could start our marriage disintegrated.

The end of our marriage is its own tragedy. It could be best equated to a scene from the 1973 film the Long Goodbye where, in order to intimidate his enemies, a gangster smashes a Coke bottle across his own lover’s face right after saying to her, “You are the single most important person in my life.” In truth there was never any violence in our marriage but the end was no less painful. I died that day.

I look at The ART of Infertility exhibit and see my life unfolding before me. I see the many sculptures built from fertility medications and remember every puncture into Kate’s smooth, soft skin. The crib containing $12,000 of medications is specifically heartbreaking. I recognize all of them because it was the contents of our pantry for years. It also reminded me of the crib and stroller that collected dust in a room that was never used. I still have a red biohazard container holding an entire regimen of soiled needles. I should have gotten rid of it years ago but haven’t done it. It is a visceral reminder represented in pain, regret and blood. I can’t let it go.

There is no trace of kumbaya in this story. Not everyone gets a happy ending. Not everyone gets a child or a family, regardless of effort or money spent. Not all dreams come true.

But I won’t allow my story to end this way. It’s not fair to me or to you. I find healing seeing this story expressed through art. Their story is my story and it comforts me. It also reminds me that in grief it is healthy to give my soul a voice and the permission for it to cry and sing. As loss is released, my burdens grow wings and fly away leaving me on earth clutching tightly onto the last of joy. If I am allowed one last prayer it is to see that joy blossom into redemption.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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.

Waiting

A Guest Post by Natascha Dea

I met the love of my life at 37—well past the age most doctors want you to be when trying to have your first baby. When our own attempts at having a baby culminated in multiple miscarriages, and countless failed pregnancy tests, we spoke with my ob-gyn and moved into the seemingly frightening world of fertility treatments.

My work, my passion, has always been in exploring female sexuality and strength through photography. With the infertility treatments, I found myself in such a weird new place… a domestic limbo that felt wildly out of place with my art… two years of infertility treatments increasing and decreasing hormones, timed medications, and life on standby as doctors appointments and procedures changed moment to moment because of hormone levels; four years of unsuccessful pregnancies. I felt stalled in my creative work and I worried that by sharing what I was going through I’d lose clients and supporters of my work.

I started seeing a therapist to help with the ups and downs of the treatment cycles, hormones, and miscarriages, and she and I talked about this a lot. At this point, my love & I’d shared our struggle with only a handful of people. My therapist convinced me to start talking about what we are going through, and to start writing about it. If I wasn’t making work that felt like “my work” then at least I’d be doing something creative.

And so I started sharing with family and friends and writing a little bit every day. Slowly, by sharing with people we love and trust and by writing, I found my voice. I began sharing aspects of our journey publicly on my social media. Our Reproductive Endocrinologist, Dr. Eve Feinberg who wrote the Foreword for Waiting, saw some of my photographs from our journey on Instagram and started telling me that she loved my photographs and that she thought they’d make a great book. Her confidence in this made me look at these seemingly disparate photographs as a possible series.  When I viewed them side by side, I started to see our story.

If you’ve gone through infertility treatments, you are familiar with Waiting. You wait for ultrasounds and lab work. You wait for visits with your doctor. You wait for refrigerated boxes filled with medications to arrive at your door. You wait for baseline test results, and for the phone call that tells you to begin your new cycle’s protocol. If your cycle is interrupted for any reason, you wait to begin it again. At the end of an infertility treatment, you wait for a pregnancy test.

An image from “Waiting” by Natascha Dea

Each month, in between treatment rounds, you wait and hope that you might get pregnant naturally after tracking every little bit of your monthly cycle.

It’s overwhelming, consuming, and can be an incredibly isolating experience. I do not think Waiting would have been born without the initial encouragement of my therapist and doctor. I was exhausted and blocked creatively and emotionally. There are studies that show that the diagnosis of infertility is as stressful as the diagnosis of cancer. And yet, when an individual or couple is diagnosed with infertility, they largely process and handle it alone. The subjects of infertility and reproductive care are still considered taboo by a huge swath of society; so many people battle infertility and go through infertility treatments quietly and without the support of their families, friends, and colleagues. And while I know that the relationship between a patient and doctor should be collaborative—and I am so very grateful to have that relationship now with all of my doctors—I know from previous experience that is rarely the case. So how do we better support each other?

I believe the first step is sharing our stories. The more we step outside our comfort zones—and maybe even the dictates of society—and talk about our experiences with infertility, infertility treatments, pregnancy, miscarriage, reproductive care, and family building we normalize these subjects. We know that infertility is experienced by 1 in 8 couples in the US. When 1 in 8 people you know is experiencing infertility, when every person on earth was born as a result of an egg and sperm creating an embryo, why is it still so taboo a discussion?

It’s only recently that I have really understood that my art, my work, my passion, is in women’s stories and specifically in examining those aspects of being a woman that are considered taboo. I’ve been hugely inspired by the women and artists who are sharing their stories around infertility. But there is still so much that goes unsaid due to lack of support. One of those unsaid things is that while we know it is stressful, it is also expensive to battle infertility. Not everyone can afford to undergo infertility treatments, or to “just adopt” as is so often the response when the subject of infertility arises. Family building, when you cannot get pregnant or sustain a pregnancy naturally, is incredibly expensive. How do you battle infertility when every part of you is emotionally, physically, or financially stressed? And that’s why I decided to have a portion of the proceeds from the sales of Waiting support the work of the Kevin J. Lederer Life Foundation, an organization that helps to increase access to infertility education and family building, through grants for infertility treatments and adoption.

Sharing our stories changes the world. Art knocks down walls.

Waiting is very much a visual study of one woman’s experience, my own; but my story is not unique. I know that as I talk with more people about our struggle and as I witness our family, friends, and colleagues begin to share theirs. I hope Waiting helps those who haven’t gone through this struggle to better understand and support those battling infertility. And I hope it inspires those, women and men, individuals and couples, who are battling infertility to share their own stories.

 

 

Bio:

Natascha Dea is an American photographer whose photographs intersect fashion and art in a captivating exploration of sensuality and erotic femininity.

Natascha was born in Germany, calls New York City home, and splits her time between Venice Beach and Chicago, where she currently lives with her family. She is available for editorial, commercial, and personal portrait commissions and travels. Her work can be found hanging in private collections in four countries, has been published internationally on LENSCRATCH and L’Oeil de la Photographie, and is featured on The Quiet Front. Duncan Miller Gallery recently featured Natascha’s black and white work for sale on their special project Your Daily Photograph as Emerging and Classic photography. She is the author of Waiting, a monograph of photographs she made during two rounds of IVF, published by FortyTwo Women Press and in bookstores on March 6, 2018. Her second monograph, Natascha Dea’s Women, will be published by FortyTwo Women Press on May 1st, 2018.

Natascha is a vocal advocate for equality, reproductive rights and justice, and better access to reproductive and infertility healthcare for all. She is the founder of the Neshama Collective, a year-long creative workshop and gathering for women artists battling infertility.

She is currently preparing for her ninth round of fertility treatments. She can be reached at www.nataschadea.com or www.waitingbynataschadea.com or on Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter @nataschadea or @waitingbook.