Apply for Grant to Join ART of Infertility at Advocacy Day

In May, we’re heading to Advocacy Day for our fourth year. We know that there are many in the infertility community who would also like to attend, but find it difficult when they are already paying out of pocket to try to build their families.

So, this year, we’re offering a grant to allow a first-time attendee from an under-represented state to make the trip to attend this event, hosted by RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association.

You can get all the details below. We hope that those of you eligible will apply, and that everyone will share the word with their online and in real life support groups, their clinics, families, and friends.

Details:

  • The grant will cover airfare and ground transportation, lodging, and a stipend for meals.
  • All eligible entries will be considered and staff from RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association will choose the awardee.
  • All information must be submitted by Tuesday, April 4th at 11:59pm EST and the grant recipient will be notified on, or before, April 12th.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • To be eligible, you must live in one of the following locations: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine,  Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
  • You must also be able to travel to Washington, D.C. on May 16th, 2017 and stay through the evening of May 18th, 2017.
  • Eligibility requires participation in all Advocacy Day activities, including physical assistance with a pop-up exhibit featuring Advocacy Day stories and artwork that will be curated by The ART of Infertility and on display during the welcome reception on Wednesday May 17th.

To Enter:

Please fill out the following form: http://bit.ly/ADGrant_2017

About The ART of Infertility:

In March 2014, the first exhibit “The ART of IF: Navigating the Journey of Infertility” debuted at the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, MI. Elizabeth Walker curated this exhibit which emerged from her own experiences with infertility. In an effort to make sense of her infertility diagnosis and surround herself with people who understood the difficulties of navigating infertility, she joined an infertility support group and realized the importance of sharing her journey with infertility. She also began creating artwork representing infertility and with others in her infertility support group collected artwork and stories for the Ella Sharp exhibit. Shortly after its exhibition, Maria Novotny met Elizabeth at Advocacy Day, an annual event hosted by RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, which lobbies Congress on access to care and other issues important to the infertility community. Both being from the state of Michigan, Elizabeth and Maria spent the day lobbying MI congressional representatives.

Spending time together, we shared how infertility was shaping not just our personal lives but professional ones as well. Maria explained that she was studying “rhetorics of infertility” as part of her PhD at Michigan State University. Elizabeth described how she was trying to bring the exhibit to other cities and collect more stories and artwork from around the country. We both shared a desire to become more involved in the infertility community and less concerned with becoming pregnant ourselves. We shared how we were finding our own healing in creative outlets and connecting with other infertile women and men. After the advocacy event, Maria sent Elizabeth some short non-fiction vignettes detailing the everyday struggles of being young, recently married and diagnosed with infertility. In turn, Elizabeth shared mixed media art pieces representing the pain, frustration and isolation of experiencing failed fertility treatments. Through this sharing, we both noted how central creativity was to our healing and, so, we decided to collaborate. Through this collaboration, we developed “The ART of Infertility” the national art, oral history and portraiture traveling exhibit.

Why Advocacy Day:

Advocacy Day holds a special place for The ART of Infertility. It is where Elizabeth and Maria first met and where the project really began to grow. Advocacy Day serves as a reminder of why we travel the world curating exhibits and raising infertility awareness. As two infertile women, however, we understand that affording Advocacy Day can be a challenge. This grant is aimed to provide support for an infertile person who would like to attend but could otherwise not afford to come. It is our hope to inspire another infertile person by granting them the opportunity to join hundreds of passionate women and men fighting for infertility justice.

Click here to learn more about Advocacy Day.

Questions can be directed to: info@artofinfertilty.org

 

Redefining Infertility Success Stories

Infertility art work

Infertility success stories. We’ve all heard them. We all want to be one.

No one would argue that a journey that includes a baby and parenting is a success story. However, we at The ART of Infertility (ART of IF) believe that it’s not the only definition of infertility success.  Sometimes we find success in unexpected and beautiful ways.

In an effort to challenge perceptions of successful infertility outcomes, we’re publishing the first of what we hope will be a long line of non-traditional infertility success stories.

Reflections on Infertility Success from The ART of IF’s Elizabeth and Maria

“A successful outcome of my own experience with infertility has been the ways in which it has advanced my career. At one time, I worried about how my morning monitoring appointments might negatively affect my work. The frequency of doctor visits and the on-demand scheduling made me feel completely flaky and unreliable.”

“However, coping with my infertility by using art and writing, I started The ART of Infertility project. Working on ART of IF, I’ve had the opportunity to gather and share stories internationally. I also gained the experience in communications that allowed me to be promoted from Biomedical Photographer to Communications Specialist at The University of Michigan Medical School. I love my teams at ART of IF and at U of M and the work that I do. I wouldn’t be where I am today professionally without infertility” – Elizabeth

“When I first enrolled in college, I wanted desperately to become a physician’s assistant. In fact during high school, I spent my summer’s working at my grandfather’s urology clinic – often times accepting semen donations – an ironic memory that continues to make me laugh. Yet, as my first semester in college progressed, I found myself anxious and stressed. My science classes, while interesting, were difficult. During this time, I was also enrolled in an English writing class. Writing seemed to come naturally to me and I found happiness (and thus) success with writing.

Today, as I finish the last semester of my PhD in Rhetoric & Writing, I find myself feeling as if my higher education journey has come full circle. Studying what I call “rhetorics of infertility” and situating The ART of Infertility as a research site, I find my initial interest in health and medicine come to fruition. Here, with as a Co-Director of this project, I use our research to make arguments for more patient-centered practices of care. This work is personal and meaningful. I believe this is my new definition of success, doing work that matters and everyday has deep personal meaning. I’m pretty sure that while my infertility led me to this point, I still lucked out.” – Maria

An Infertility Success Story from Our Archive

Leanne Schuetz was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome as a teenager. Even though she and her husband were in their early twenties when they began to try to conceive, it took five years, experiencing multiple miscarriages, and undergoing a series of intrauterine inseminations, before their daughter Olivia was born. While Leanne and her husband dreamed of having a lot of little ones, Olivia will be an only child.

Just over three years ago, Leanne first began creating artwork. Mixed media pieces of women who she calls “my girls”. Through this, she’s found a community outside of infertility and has truly become an artist. She’s found out first-hand how art heals. Listen to Leanne’s story, or read it, below and browse a mini gallery of her pieces to see how she’s progressed as an artist over time.

“It all started because I was really depressed because we weren’t going to do treatment again for infertility. Olivia’s going to be an only child, and I know that sounds really selfish. That we have her, you know. Like I should be so thankful that we finally had her and here I am depressed that we can’t have more kids. But I always imagined my life with lots of little ones for a really long time.”

“So, Olivia was in school full time and I still couldn’t go back to work because I wouldn’t make enough to cover the day care, even when she WAS in school. So I had all this time on my hands about what am I going to do with myself. And so, I just started doing the CitraSolv papers, which led to art journaling, which led to my girls.”

Leeanne Schuetz has used art to find out who she is outside of infertility.

“Their proportions aren’t always exactly right but that’s okay. It’s about celebrating their imperfections, and lately I’ve been thinking about, you know. I like the idea of courageous hearts – of facing where they’re at, who they are. I’m talking about them like they’re real but they’re real to me. And being okay with who they are and everything that makes them different, and special, and unique, and… Some of my girls are sad and some of them are happy. It just kind of depends on how I’m feeling that day and how they come out.”

“It’s not all about infertility. You know, some pieces definitely are because I certainly still have bad days where a pregnancy announcement will knock the wind out of me. Or the days that I remember my miscarriages and for me, I’m using art as a way to move on past infertility. It’s trying to really have a life beyond the fact that I’m infertile.”

“For so many years, I mean, years before Olivia was born, the years after Olivia was born, my whole life was revolved around infertility. So really, for me, I’m using art as a way to try to find out who I am apart from that and to discover what I like and what I don’t like.”

“I like doing mixed media, I love collage, I love acrylic paint, I love water color. I really love doing collage and I love layering. All my pieces have a lot of layers to them.”

“For the most part I never know what I’m going to make before I start. I know it’s probably going to be a girl of some sort but I don’t know who she is or what she looks like, So, just whatever I’m feeling, you know. Happier days tend to be brighter, more fun colors. I went through this phase with a lot of browns. You know, I was in a funk and I was really drawn to the browns. I love purple. Purple always ends up in my colors, I’m not really sure why.”

“I was inspired by some other artists who I met online who were really encouraging and they’ve really just been amazing. The artists online that I’m friends with, you know, because for a long time, ‘I’m not an artist, I’m not an artist,’ you know, ‘I can’t, I’m not creative, I’m not really an artist, it’s just a hobby.’”

“They’re the ones who just encouraged me saying, ‘No, you ARE an artist. This is a part of who you are and it’s okay to call yourself an artist. Even if no one ever sees your art, it’s okay to call yourself that and it’s okay to want to grow as an artist and to learn new techniques.’”

“I mean, I’m definitely a baby artist. I still have a lot to learn, but yes!”

“I’d love to be able to do some sort of workshop, teaching other women who think they can’t draw and have no skill. I’d love to be able to do something like that I’d love to, I don’t know. I have a little Etsy shop. I sell art once in a while but I know eventually I’d love to teach it to anyone who would want to learn. You know, especially I think I have a special place in my heart for people who think that they’re not artistic, for people who think they can’t do art. Because I always said I’m not artistic. My step-mom had to kind of drag me along in starting doing it and I’m really thankful for her for that because I would have never attempted it because, ‘I’m not creative’.”

“Everyone is creative. They just have to find what that is and what makes you happy, and what you like to create. And even if your art isn’t considered “good art” by anyone else, if you enjoy making it, then just keep making it.”

View more of Leanne’s work on Facebook. We’d love to hear the success, outside of becoming a parent, that has come from your own infertility journey. Share it with us and you could be featured in a future post. Help us bring inspiration and hope to others on their infertility journeys.

IVF Miracle Song – How a conversation with God led to writing a rap and finding community

Andre and Yolanda Tompkins have waited eight years to have a baby.

After a recent unsuccessful IVF cycle, Andre turned to prayer and music to cope. He created the IVF Miracle Song which you can listen to below.

Afterwards, watch our video interview to hear Andre tell the story behind his music.

This post does include images of babies and the topics of pregnancy and ultrasounds.

Thank you, Andre and Yolanda, for sharing your story with us! We’re thrilled to have it in our ART of Infertility oral history archive.

The Story Behind the Song

“Well, you know, I’m kind of passed the prime age to be pursuing a rap career so let me just throw that out there. I’m a military guy, I’ve been in for 22 years now so this is, that is my career proudly serving my country. But when I was younger, me and one of my best friends, he was actually the best man in our wedding, we used to try to get into the business so from doing that I kind of got pretty handy with the software, making instrumentals, and you know recording yourself.”

“It was thanksgiving week. We were coming off of the disappointing news that the first IVF cycle was unsuccessful. That first failure was so…it was devastating it literally was. I think both of us just sat in the house and we just really just wept all weekend.”

“You know I think going through something as painful as that, you’re obviously are going to have an external reaction but then there’s also that internal reaction that sometimes you just don’t know how to get out.”

“I just started writing. And I was like you know what I’m going to just go ahead and plug the microphone in and just start getting it out. “

“You probably heard how the chorus goes, you know, ‘we’re going to have a baby, we want to have a baby’, and that was really the conversation that I was having back and forth with God. You know, we are Christian. We are firm believers. We were both raised in the south in the Bible Belt and talking to God is something that we both do on a daily basis.”

“So this was almost out of a conversation like you know, ‘I know that I’m hearing you say, Lord, we’re going to have a baby but why did we just experience this?  Why is that?’. So I just couldn’t let that go. I refused to give up. I refused to say, well, this is the end. So it was almost like it was more of an edification for myself.  We’re going to have a baby, just keep telling myself, we’re going to have a baby. We’re going to have a baby.”

“When I originally heard it, it brought back you know the pain and the feelings that I had originally and it kind of made me feel like you know we’re definitely on the same page. We’re both like okay we knew that this is what we believe God had laid in front of us.”

“It brought hope for me and it became my, I say my theme song because I’m like okay we’re going to do this. I’m not going to give up on this process. So every time that I would listen to it I was like, okay. We’re going to have a baby, you know we want to have a baby, we’re going to have a baby, you know and I think it’s those positive affirmations that you know you tell yourself and eventually, I believe that if you talk yourself long enough, something’s going to happen.”

“So, I wanted to put it on You Tube because I saw that there were IVF playlists but when you would scroll through there was really nothing that would probably be considered urban. So I put it on You Tube and then after that I said, let me just go paste it on a few Facebook pages. I was pasting it on pages in Africa and in India and while I was reading a lot of these posts, I was like, wow, this is really something that a lot of communities just don’t talk about.”

“I can’t speak on behalf of the African American community but as an African American I can tell you that this is something that within our own community, we don’t really talk about a lot. So when you do have these times when you really want a baby but you can’t have one, you feel like you’re challenged in having one, who do you turn to? Who do you talk to? Who can you be transparent with? We tell people all the time, hey this is what I’m praying for but in these areas we don’t be as vocal as we should because we feel like people will judge us or see me as less as a man or maybe less as a female. And that’s not fair.”

“It’s almost like if you’re yelling out into a Grand Canyon, you’re like, ‘Hello out there,’ and you’re just hoping that someone yells back, ‘Hey, I hear you’ you know? And that’s kind of like it was to me. I just wanted to see if in this big open Grand Canyon of doubt and worry and frustration, is there anyone out there that can hear what we’re going through and they can relate and to get all of those responses back was just so positive and so comforting and just encouraging.”

“I actually started thinking maybe I should make a whole mix tape full of… but right now I’m just enjoying this time you know we’re 6 weeks 2 days pregnant today. Yesterday we saw the heartbeat, the little flickering on the ultrasound. My focus right now is just to take care of my beautiful wife, make sure she doesn’t have to lift a finger, and just prepare our family.”

“The fact that I was able to really open my eyes to this community that we’re in just thinking it’s just me and her in this by ourselves and in that moment of pain and in that moment of feeling lost, I found out that I was actually part of a family so to speak, that we’re all in this together and I think that’s just one of the beautiful things that has come out of this.”

“I know everyone is not religious and everyone has different religious preferences but if you can relate to what we’re saying, then don’t lose faith in that message. If that’s what you heard, push through the pain, push through the self-doubt. Push through the failed results, and just believe and trust and know that at the end of the day, God is going to be there for you and your family, and he will keep his promise. That’s the main thing I just want people to take away from it.”

Have you created music or put together an infertility playlist to help you on your journey? We’d love to hear about it! Learn how you can share your story with us. We always welcome your emails to info@artofinfertility.org and your phone calls. You can reach Elizabeth at (517) 262-3662.

 

 

The ART of Infertility – 2016 Year in Review

Men's Health Month Pop-Up Exhibit at The Turek Clinic, San Francisco

Men’s Health Month Pop-Up Exhibit at The Turek Clinic, San Francisco

A Holiday Thank You

Throughout this year, you supported The ART of Infertility. Perhaps you sponsored an art workshop, invited us to speak at an event, or attended an art exhibition. Whatever the form of your support, we thank you.

We have come a long way since the project began in 2014. Without your collaboration, The ART of Infertility would not be the success that it is today. We are honored to count you as s supporter of the project. As we move into 2017, please know that your desire to raise infertility awareness inspires our work.

Becoming a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit

To support the project’s growth, we are becoming a non-profit organization. We filed our articles of incorporation in June and are working with our attorney to wrap up the rest of our paperwork before the year’s end. We are excited about our soon-to-be non-profit status and invite you to consider The ART of Infertility in your end-of-year donations. 

Your financial support directly impacts the project. It helps us cover storage fees for the collected artwork, transcription of oral histories, and also supplements art workshop supplies. We welcome donations of in-kind services as well. You can make a donation to the ART of IF via our secure Square checkout.

New Artwork

A panel from Infertility is the Worst by Zechmeister-Smith

A panel from Infertility is the Worst by Zechmeister-Smith

We added 17 new pieces of artwork from 4 artists to our permanent collection in 2016. Have artwork you’d like exhibited? Learn how here! Included among these works is the series Infertility is the Worst by Kelly Zechmeister-Smith. Kelly created this piece using micron pen and watercolor paint and says, “This work began with an inexplicable creative urgency to represent my layered feelings surrounding my own unexplained infertility (UI)–a maddening diagnosis.  Creating small, cartoonish self portraits highlighting my daily experiences as a childless artist and teacher quickly became a therapeutic outlet for me.  My hope is that the viewer finds these pieces a playful yet raw glimpse into the life of someone struggling with UI.”

2016 Highlights

Joining Forces for Men’s Health

In June, Men’s Health Month (MHM), we teamed up with The Turek Clinic’s San Francisco office and Men’s Health Network to raise awareness about the unique challenges men face when dealing with infertility, as well as other barriers to men’s health care. We displayed artwork and stories from the project’s collection and attendees were invited to visit make and take art stations. Plans are underway for a MHM event in Los Angeles for 2017. Contact us if you’re interested in collaborating!  View event photos here.

Presenting at ASRM

In October, we visited Utah (one of two new states this year, the other Texas) to present the talk ART of Infertility: Curating Patient Centered Perspectives Via an Artifact Oral History Methodology at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’sAnnual Scientific Congress. We were excited to be both first time attendees and first time presenters.  It was fantastic to see members of our infertility family from around the nation and make new connections as we attended sessions and visited the expo hall.

ART of IF goes International

In November, the The ART of Infertility went international when we received an invitation to do a pop-up art exhibit for a staff education day for Merck KGaA Darmstadt, Germany (known as EMD Serono in the states). The event, held in Coinsins, Switzerland, also included a presentation during which we shared our own stories and stories from the oral history archive. We also participated in a Q&A for the medical deliverables team, which later continued with lively discussion around the water cooler.

Visit our website to learn about the other places we visited, exhibited, held workshops, and collected stories in 2016.

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Presentations, Publications, and Podcasts

Cultural Rhetorics Conference, Michigan State University

Cultural Rhetorics Conference, Michigan State University

– 7  Presentations

– 3 Forthcoming Publications

– 2 Podcasts
      Beat Infertility, January
     Imagine Otherwise, August

Looking Ahead to 2017 and Beyond

– We will continue raising infertility awareness and education with several events across the country that are in the planning stages. Details will soon be announced on our website. 

– We will continue our mission to collect and distribute diverse stories of infertility and the stories of those who use assisted reproductive technology to build their families.

– Due to the popularity of the ART of IF, we are also working on plans for 2018! However, there are still plenty of opportunities to bring the ART of IF to your city for an exhibit, workshop, presentation, or to collect oral histories in both 2017 and 2018. Please reach out to us if you’d like more information.

We look forward to your continued support of the project and encourage you to follow our work on our blog and The ART of Infertility’s social media pages. Wishing you much success in 2017 as we all work to advocate on the behalf of millions impacted by infertility. 

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With gratitude, 
 
Maria and Elizabeth
 

Interested in sharing your story through The ART of Infertility? Check our website to learn how to participate! 

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Five Tips for Holiday Self Care

Embarking on the next couple of weeks of holiday celebrations, we offer you five tips that we find ourselves practicing as a method of surviving the celebration of a miraculous conception while dealing with infertility.

#5 Send a holiday card. Really! Tired of getting pictures of new babies and growing families in the mail? Send your own card! Remind others that you are a family! Maria does this frequently sending cards featuring herself, husband, and two puppies. For her, this is a form of infertility advocacy.christmasphoto_2016

#4 Treat Yo Self! Take time out and pamper yourself. Get a massage. Get your nails done. Make yourself feel good!

#3 Talk with your partner and ask, “What are we going to do to make the holiday special for us?” Maria recommends this especially as much of the holidays revolve around the excitement of nieces and nephews waiting for Santa to come. Maria tries to go out for a Christmas Eve brunch with her husband to block out a set time for just the two of them.

#2 Remember it’s okay to just say “no”. Not everything is going to be something that you are going to want to attend. Just like baby a baby shower, remember you don’t need to attend every holiday party or every family event. Sometimes you just need to say no. And that’s okay! Elizabeth said no to her extended family Christmas party this year and spent time with child free friends instead.

The lone decoration at Elizabeth’s house, which wasn’t put out until 3 days before Christmas.

#1 Try to step back and enjoy the simple things. To say infertility is complicated is an understatement. Balancing infertility with the holidays can sometimes increase anxieties. We suggest taking a night and escaping. Make a fire, turn on some holiday tree lights (or don’t if you’re on a decorating strike like Elizabeth), cozy-up with a cup of tea, blanket, and a good book to escape. Sometimes taking a moment to remove yourself from it all allows you to better process and handle the ups and downs that will no doubt come with your infertility diagnosis.

We hope some of the suggestions we have implemented over the years will help you navigate the holidays and new year. Most of all, we want you to know that you are not alone.

Wishing you peace this holiday season,

Elizabeth and Maria

We Are Strong Women

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

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

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

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

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

-Maria

Elizabeth’s Story.

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

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

My first chart off birth control.

My first chart off birth control.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maria’s Story.

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

Kevin and Maria with family on their wedding day.

Kevin and Maria with family on their wedding day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Artwork Wednesday: An Apple and its Seeds

Back in 2014 at Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. Maria and Elizabeth developed art packs. These packs were designed to provide an outlet of freedom of expression and healing to those affected by infertility.

Did you receive one of our art packs in D.C. and have an artistic story that you want to share that you haven’t shared with us already? We would love to feature your piece in one of our future #ArtworkWednesday posts.

If you’re unable to complete your project, that’s okay. We understand that creating artwork can be intimidating. However, it’s more about the process of setting aside the time and giving yourself some space for a creative outlet than the results.

Recently Elizabeth Sobkiw-Williams created a piece from one of those art packs. Read her personal story and view her moving artwork below:

Elizabeth Walker's untitled piece from one of the Advocacy Day art packs.

Elizabeth Sobkiw-Williams’ untitled piece from one of the Advocacy Day art packs.

Untitled

Elizabeth Sobkiw-Williams

mixed media – yarn, watercolor

I once had a child ask me why an apple had seeds, and I told her that they could be planted and new apples would grow. In that moment I felt like something in nature had gone wrong with me. I was like an apple with no seeds, an anomaly, an end of the line. There would never be a piece of me that would be a part of the world.

I always look for the unique in nature, something to remind me that I am not alone in my struggle. And beauty can be found in these imperfections.

The Intern’s Perspective

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Hello all, you don’t know me but I hope by the end of the year you will. My name is Jalen Smith, I will be working with Maria and Elizabeth this year as their Social Media and Communication Intern for The ART of Infertility. I am currently an undergraduate senior studying journalism at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan where I will graduate in May 2017. I come into this internship with a vast array of experience in communication/writing related positions. Here at MSU, I have worked with various campus media outlets including VOICE Magazine as their Vice President and Content Editor and The Black Sheep where I work currently as a Staff Writer. In addition to my experience in the media, I am also a member of the living learning community RISE (Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment) program where I served as a peer mentor and working towards a minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies in addition to my major. I am originally from Detroit, Michigan where I attended the award winning Cass Technical High School and served as a Public Affairs/Communication Officer for their Junior ROTC program

Enough about me though, I am super excited to be working with the project this year. This past weekend, I had my very first opportunity to see some of the artwork in person and truly get a feel of what this organization’s message is. The event took place at REACH Art Studio in Lansing, Michigan about a 10 minute drive from East Lansing. At first glance, the artwork was a lot to take in, I needed a moment of retreat to take in the context of the art I was seeing.

One of the many new pieces on display from Art of Infertility at the exhibit.

One of the many new pieces on display from Art of Infertility at the exhibit.

Having said that, the art was engaging, it was powerful and it was compelling. I particularly enjoyed certain key pieces that included Elizabeth’s own piece titled, “Crib with Medication Boxes.” It really spoke to me, the amount of trial and tribulations this disease has caused so many. It made me think about the families, the mothers, the fathers, that were heartbroken, made to feel “less than” because of their inability to conceive. It made me think about some of the small things in life some of us take for granted. “What comes easy for some does not come easy for others.”  A lesson in the realities of infertility for millions across this nation and quite frankly, across this planet was a hard pill to swallow. The art exhibit also had lots of other interesting pieces from many other artists and had a thought provoking outlook in the sector of cultural rhetorics.

Elizabeth Walker's piece titled, "Crib with Medication Boxes" Was one of the many featured in the show from Art of Infertility.

Elizabeth Walker’s piece titled, “Crib with Medication Boxes” Was one of the many featured in the show from ART of Infertility.

The concepts in which these rhetorics exist for me is still a confusing concept to grasp luckily Maria will be able to coach me through them this year. There are several different themes associated with the rhetorics of this event. For the Art of Infertility most of the artwork exist in three of those categories: activism, body, and unity. Activism is something that for me stands out as a core theme of this organization. The ability to spread awareness, start conversation and engage and bring together people of different backgrounds to discuss an issue that has long lasting physical, mental and emotional trauma. I’m so thankful that I have been given the opportunity to work with this team this year. To help create engaging content that will allow the voices of the voiceless to be heard. Looking forward to an academic year of purpose! Until next time! Hello again!

Maria Novotny and I discussing other artist's pieces during our visit to REACH Art Studio.

Maria Novotny and me discussing other artist’s pieces during our visit to REACH Studio Art Center.

The Transforming Power of Visual Art

We’re kicking off fall with a guest post from The Mindful Fertility Project’s Buffy Trupp, MA, LMFT, RCC. In this post, Buffy not only speaks to the transforming power of visual art, but invites you to participate in a virtual exhibit we are hosting this fall, using images from her new fertility coloring book, Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success. Read on to learn more.

The Transforming Power of Visual Art
Buffy Trupp

Infertility certainly presents like macabre art:  a genetic, physiological, hormonal condition that instantly obliterates our participation in the nature of things, the stream of time.

The attitudes and choices in how we each deal with infertility vary enormously, depending on age, gender, severity of diagnosis and many other personal factors.  But regardless of the medical treatments we decide on, we also choose to adopt a story of infertility: how we got it, how we live with it or through it, and what it means to us in the greater context of our lives.

Stories are essential for human beings.  The human psyche is hard-wired to make meaning.   Unbeknownst to us, and throughout our lives, the psyche connects the seemingly random events that mark and shape our reality and weaves them into a series of images or stories.

These images have great power.   They can make us or break us.  They can make the difference between intolerable suffering or amazing grace.  They can be medicine or poison.

We are born into some images, absorb them as children and live them out without ever knowing it.  They live deep within our cells, in our ovaries, our uterus, in our heart and inform our every move.  These stories can indeed be the most insidious.

But there are also healing images, healing stories; images that inspire and transform us, empower and renew us, restore and liberate us.

Apart from stirring our deepest, darkest fears of obliteration, is it possible that infertility also offers us a healing story?  A story that frees us to heal our lives and shed old, unhealthy beliefs?

Many infertile women believe the death of the embryo, sperm, egg or new born child indicates they are unhealthy.

Did you know it is the ability to surrender, to yield, and the willingness to die for the

greater good that differentiates a healthy cell from an unhealthy cell?

When we allow something to die within us, the formations of our old life, fierce guardians of habit and pattern, fall away, giving birth to a new way of inhabiting our body and mind and we heal.

Death is essential to life.

When did we forget this?

When loss is understood as an essential aspect of health,  women struggling to have children begin a healing story.

Healing stories transform even the most difficult of realities into affirmations of life.

Visual art captures this transformation.

The Mindful Fertility Project and The ART of Infertility believe that the art we create and the stories we tell while trying to conceive are central to our well-being.

We acknowledge both the necessity and benefit of art within the reproductive health field.

We are a move toward acknowledging creativity itself as healing.

And the result, while perhaps not quantifiable, can be measured by the quality of life and transformation experienced by all those who participate.

The images below are from a new fertility coloring book, Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success.

The colored images and the brief narratives that accompany them are inspirational, evoking both a sense of beauty and an immersion in the most elemental aspects of nature.  The words and visual images reveal that life can imitate art; that we can become the things that we see and imagine; that creation is established through our ongoing relationship with our body, with ourself.

“When I color, my body feels alive.”

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“When I color, my body feels beautiful.”

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“When I color, my body transforms.”

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Be the artist of a new narrative – a new series of images.  Let your canvas be the entirety of your embodied vulnerability, the tenderness of your heart, and the brilliance of your creativity. You can re-write your story, re-color your image, re-wire your nervous system, and find new meaning. No, this is not easy, and will take everything you have… and more.

But new life is already inside you.

While it may seem hopeless at times, you have capacities that you did not have as a child when the original stories, the original images were passed onto you: images of what it means to be a woman, how to metabolize unmet longing, what loss symbolizes, images of your place in the world.

Immerse yourself now in creativity. Choose a color and begin a new image, a new story. Feel a new pathway emerging. And allow it to come into consciousness  – through your art, lighting up your body, your nervous system, and fertilizing your heart with love.

You have not lost your chance.

THIS IS A CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS!

The Mindful Fertility Project & The ART of Infertility are publishing a virtual exhibit this fall.

Go to www.mindfulfertilityproject.com/art and immediately download 4 FREE images from our new adult coloring book, Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success.

Submit 1 colored image on or before December 15th to be featured in our virtual art exhibit AND for a chance to win 1 of 3 Mindful Fertility Journals valued at ($397) each.

The Mindful Fertility Journal is a virtual, mind-body fertility program that teaches you exactly how to optimize your fertile health naturally. It includes 28 unique mindfulness meditations, 14 easy-to-use self-acupressure videos, 12 easy-to-use yoga videos along with nutritional guidelines and meal plans. PLUS 6 incredible bonuses.

We will publish the virtual exhibit at the beginning of 2017; a compilation of all the colored images submitted.

Once the exhibit is published, we announce the winners of our Mindful Fertility Journal GIVEAWAY.

AGAIN, go to www.mindfulfertilityproject.com/art to immediately download 4 FREE images from Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success, to learn more about our virtual art exhibit AND to be eligible to win 1 of 3 FREE virtual mind-body programs to optimize your fertile health naturally.

I hope you’ll join us.

All my very best, always,

Buffy Trupp

Summer Stress Relief

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Elizabeth