The Visual Minimal – Elisa’s Story

by Elisa Fox

Miscarriage – a word that was hardly part of my vocabulary. A word I never thought would apply to ME. That’s an “other” word. You know, those things that only happen to miscellaneous “other” people, like cancer, horrific car accidents, and house fires. An improbability, but now, part of my story.

I was 24, married for three years, and happily naïve. I found myself pregnant after a couple months of trying and we were thrilled! Though it seemed unreal, I continued onward with a secret and a grin and anxiously awaited my first ultrasound. I took a couple more pregnancy tests just to be sure, and those pretty pink lines reassured me every time.

Then, I started spotting. My heart sank. I frantically searched online for answers, something that would tell me this was normal. But somehow, I knew. I knew it was ending.

A few days later, I was no longer pregnant.

There was now no due date to anticipate.

An ultrasound appointment to cancel.

Announcement gifts to return… or hide… or throw away..

My grief was crippling and confusing. How could I feel this much grief over something so short?

I tried convincing myself that it was no big deal, we’ll try again in a couple weeks, and it was my own fault for getting excited so soon. I even tried to go to work the next morning.

The next few months (who am I kidding, the next year) were a blur of depression, isolation, and heartache. Was my pregnancy even real? Was it all just a dream? I had no morning sickness, no bump, no sonogram. I was in a fog and did not know how to comprehend what was happening. All I knew is that if I became pregnant again as quickly as possible, maybe I could forget this ever happened. I was obsessed with figuring out what was wrong with me, as if answers would heal my wounded heart. I started taking every vitamin I could find and demanded my doctor test me for multiple issues. It all came back fine, to my dismay. I just wanted an answer.

Everyone around me had no trouble getting and staying pregnant, why is this happening to me?

The isolation was suffocating. Not many people knew that I was pregnant, and if they did, it didn’t seem like they knew how to respond. “At least you were only six weeks”, or, my personal favorite, “at least you know you can get pregnant.” These statements were only obvious reminders that they have no idea what I’m going through. I stayed at home as much as possible because I was terrified of losing control of my emotions. I was so fragile. A pregnancy announcement or bump picture on Facebook would send me into a malfunction for the next several weeks. Well-meaning people could easily set me off into a tailspin of sadness without even realizing it.

The days passed and I did what I needed to do to function. I set niceties aside and focused on myself. Medication, unfollowing certain people on social media, seeing a counselor, and diving into art were all part of working through my grief. It took me a long time to accept that it was OK to grieve. I had nothing to show for my pregnancy, only memories. I felt like a fraud.

Over a year had passed since my miscarriage and I found the courage to attend a local support group for pregnancy & infant loss.

I shared my story when it was my turn and saying the story out loud from beginning to end was so therapeutic. I had replayed those dark days in my head over and over, but saying it out loud provided a type of release that I can’t explain. Seeing the other families there and knowing just by their presence that we had something in common was so comforting. Seeing mothers and fathers nodding their heads and shedding tears of empathy while I told my story was incredible and so validating. I’m not a fraud, I’m not alone, and I’m not the only one who has felt this way.

Mis-Conception

Around this time I opened an online shop for my art called The Visual Minimal. I am a full time graphic designer and began making artistic prints for my own home and memorial prints for the women I met in the support group. I made the Mis-Conception print to memorialize the loss of my pregnancy, a series of pink lines representing a pregnancy test that fades in and out. It served as a validating reminder that what I went through was real and profound. That print blossomed into an Infertility&Loss series that represents all spectrums of this journey. My hope is that these prints can serve as a beacon of hope that reminds you not only of your sweet baby, but that you’re not alone.

I created the Infertility&Loss series at The Visual Minimal as a reminder that the grief this journey can bring is overwhelming, but so is God’s promise that these dark days will pass. I believe art can speak to our souls in ways words simply cannot. I would love nothing more than to use the gifts God has given me to encourage other families going through the same trials that I have experienced.

Learn more about Elisa’s artwork at https://www.thevisualminimal.com and find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheVisualMinimal/

Living with an Invisible Illness

by Elizabeth Walker

Throbbing, wrenching, searing, exhausting, sickening, miserable, and dreadful. Those are the words I chose from the McGill Pain Questionnaire to describe the pain I felt during a flare of my fibromyalgia last week.

I’ve dealt with chronic ailments my entire life. When I was in elementary school, it was migraines. As a teenager, it was irritable bowel syndrome and what I now know was endometriosis. In my early twenties, I developed chemical sensitivity and was covered in itchy red welts over my entire body for two years straight.

Then, in my mid-twenties, the chronic, widespread pain set in. Pain. All over my body. All day. Every day.  Along with the pain was sheer exhaustion. No matter how much sleep I got, it was never enough and I would seriously melt down over the thought of the energy it would take to do simple tasks like filling the dog’s dish or responding to an email.

After nearly eight years of the pain and exhaustion, visits to specialists, a battery of tests, and several stints in physical therapy, I was finally diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia (FM) is a central sensitization syndrome. Basically, my central nervous system is on high alert at all times and pain, and other sensory signals, are amplified.

It turns out, that all of those other problems I’d had earlier in my life fall under central sensitization syndromes as well. Migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, chemical sensitivity, endometriosis. They all fall under the same umbrella. As do temporomandibular disorders (otherwise known as TMJ or TMD) which I have also since been diagnosed with. Additionally, interstitial cystitis, restless leg syndrome, and even post-traumatic stress disorder are categorized this way. Often, as in my case, patients present with different central sensitization syndromes over the course of a lifetime.

Most of these syndromes are invisible, but the implications on those diagnosed can be debilitating. My FM has caused me pain nearly every day of my life for the past 15 years. When I get what I call a flare, I’m in excruciating pain, shaky and nauseated, for at least two and a half days at a time. Flares can last up to a week and can occur as frequently as twice in a week.  I’m in complete misery. Yet, people often tell me when I’m in a flare, that even though I report that I feel dreadful, I look great.

I never really believed this until recently. A co-worker emailed me a photo that he took of me at a work event. The day it was taken, I was dealing with maxed-out pain. The absolute worst it gets for me. It was so bad that, not to freak anyone out, I was actually thinking about how I could put myself out of my misery in a way that would have the least amount of impact on my family. How would I do it? Where? When, exactly? However, looking at the photo, you would never know it. I’m smiling while I work, carrying my big heavy camera, walking around in strappy high heels.

A photo of me on one of the most miserable pain days of my life.

My chronic pain and fatigue have had a huge impact on my infertility journey. When I was finally diagnosed with FM, I was already trying to conceive. Because of this, I wasn’t able to try any of the medications used to treat FM. None of them were appropriate for someone who was pregnant, or trying to get pregnant. I couldn’t take the medications, but I couldn’t get pregnant either. Then, I started taking other medications to help me get pregnant and they made my pain worse. Yet, I still couldn’t achieve a pregnancy.

It was a vicious cycle and I felt like I was running a marathon that would never end. So, I took a break to try meds for a while. Cymbalta. My miracle drug. I don’t know how managed before it. While I still have pain nearly every day, the intensity of my day to day pain is decreased while I’m taking this medication. Life is much more manageable.

When quite a bit of time had passed and it was time to get back to fertility treatments, I had to go off my meds. For me, weaning off Cymbalta is done gradually over the course of a couple of months and the withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant, dangerous even. Brain “zaps” (which feel like electric shocks shooting through your brain), vertigo, anxiety, nausea, tremors, visual disturbances. Not only is this scary, I was terrified of how intensely my pain would return after the Cymbalta was out of my system. However, I couldn’t move forward with treatment for infertility without discontinuing the meds I take for pain, so it was the only way to go.

No more Cymbalta, just more infertility medications. Medications delivered orally, by suppository, by injection. No pregnancy, just more physical and emotional pain. A variety of invisible ailments. Invisible disabilities.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past few weeks. A year ago I changed my diet. I now eat a Paleo diet and have had some allergy testing so I avoid the foods I found out I’m allergic to as well. No sugar. No dairy. No grains. No eggs, pineapple, paprika, asparagus, crab, trout, and more. The results of the change in diet have been life changing. It’s meant that I’ve actually had some pain free days over the past year. Something I hadn’t experienced in well over a decade. However, the past couple of months have been hard. I’ve continued to eat a strict diet, but I’ve had more frequent flares. It scares me. I wonder if it means that I’ll soon go back to living in fear like I did not long ago. Back to week long flares several times within a month.

The other reason I’ve been thinking about it is because I’ve joined the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee in my department at the University of Michigan. I’ve been working on populating the committee’s website and have been gathering information from the members of our team. Which areas, pertaining to diversity, should I list as their areas of interest or expertise? Which topics should people feel comfortable approaching them about for mentorship or assistance?

I’m guessing that the majority of the people on the committee with me, let alone that work in my 1000+ person department, have no idea that, despite looking healthy and “great”, I’ve become well versed in the human resources policies for medical leave, and my rights as a person with a disability, due to my fibromyalgia, my infertility, and the two medical leaves I had to take within a year of each other as a result. They would never guess that the issues I can help my fellow co-workers with are disabilities, medical leave, grief, miscarriage, and more.

Through it all, I’ve had an amazing support system. Friends who understand when I need to cancel plans because my pain is unbearable. Family members who make sure the holiday meals include foods I can eat. My husband, who let’s me sleep the entire day if I need to, and plays me funny cat videos to help take my mind off things for a little while.

I also have an outlet through my art. Somehow, creating is healing. Whether it’s the calm I feel brushing acrylic paint across a canvas, or the meditative act of weaving with wire, I feel steady. I feel like I’m more than my pain. More than my disability.

I invite you to join me, and The ART of Infertility, at SEA-ART-HEAL: The ART of Infertility in Seattle. You’ll have an opportunity to see the healing affect that art has had on me, and on others in the infertility community, through a collection of art and poetry on display at the Art/Not Terminal Gallery at the Seattle Center the entire month of April. Our exhibit opening reception is April 1, from 6 – 9 pm.

This exhibit, and the accompanying film screening of the movie, One More Shot (with a Q&A with the filmmakers), and a blackout poetry art workshop, are funded in part by the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture and sponsored by Pacific NW Fertility, Seattle Reproductive Medicine, Embryo Options, Acupuncture Northwest and Associates, and SIFF Film Center. Our media sponsors are ParentMap and The Stranger, and our community partner is Baby Quest Foundation. You can get all the info you need about the exhibit events, including registration, and how to buy a ticket for One More Shot, or reserve your space for the workshop, at http://bit.ly/SeaArtHeal (If you are interested in spreading the word about this event to your networks, please email me at info@artofinfertility.org and I will send you a tool kit :)!)

If you’re not in Seattle, don’t worry. We’ll have a lot of artwork and stories headed your way via our social media throughout April. We also have events coming up in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. You can check out our complete schedule on our website. http://www.artofinfertility.org

Wishing you health and peace on your journey,

Elizabeth

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.

 

 

Giving Tuesday as a Not Quite Non-Profit

We are working with our attorney to finish up the last of our final paperwork for filing as a non-profit. We are excited about what this will mean for the sustainability of The ART of Infertility (ART of IF) and the work we do to educate about the experience of infertility and provide a creative outlet and community of support for those living with it. For those of you new to ART of IF, or who need a refresher, here’s a link where you can learn more about our mission and our team.

A participant works on a memory box at an art workshop in Ann Arbor, MI.

A participant works on a memory box at an art workshop in Ann Arbor, MI.

Our articles of incorporation were filed in June. This means that, considering that our final paperwork is accepted and non-profit status is granted (and we have no reason to believe it won’t be), any donations will be tax-deductible retroactively to the date they were filed. Long story short, you give, it will be a future tax deduction.

However, we have really been struggling with asking a population who has already sacrificed so much, to give more. Many of you have to pay out-of-pocket to even get testing to receive an infertility diagnosis, let alone have an attempt to build your family through treatment or through adoption.

You scrimp and save, give up the large and small luxuries in life, max out credit cards, take out home equity loans, just to have a chance to have what comes so easily and virtually free to most, a child.

So, if you’ve passed the point in your fertility journey where every penny counts, or have access to insurance that keeps your out-of-pocket costs low, then yes, by all means, we could definitely use some cash!

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Our current storage space shortly after we moved in. It’s now filled to the brim and we need an upgrade!

Thanks to those of you who have generously shared your artwork and stories with us, we have an urgent need for a bigger storage space for our artwork and art workshop supplies for 2017. Ideally, we’d like a space that also allows us prep area for exhibits and workshops. You can help us by giving to our general fund at this link. Any amount, large or small, is greatly appreciated. Seriously!

If not, we totally understand. Here are some free and low cost ways to contribute to ART of IF to and the work we do to benefit the infertility community.

  1. Ask friends and family you think would be interested in ART of IF to follow us on social media. We’re on Twitter and Instagram @artofif and on Facebook. You can learn how to ask your friends to like our page on Facebook by following these instructions.
  2. Share a favorite blog post from ART of IF on social media.
  3. Send us your infertility artwork, permanently or on loan, so that we can share it through our exhibits, blog, and website. You do not have to be a professional artist. We welcome any form of expression by those of any skill level.
  4. An image from the series, "Infertility is the Worst" by Kelly Zechmeister-Smith

    An image from the series, “Infertility is the Worst” by Kelly Zechmeister-Smith

    Schedule a time to share your story with us via an oral history interview. Interviews can be conducted in person or via phone or Skype.

    Maria conducts an oral history interview during Advocacy Day events in Washington, D.C.

    Maria conducts an oral history interview with project participant, Angela,  during Advocacy Day events in Washington, D.C.

We consider it an honor and a privilege to collect and share your infertility stories through our art exhibits and oral history project. None of what we do would be possible without your participation and we are grateful every day for what the gift of your stories allows us to do. Please help us continue our work by contributing to ART of IF now.

All the best,

Maria Novotny and Elizabeth Walker, Co-Directors of The ART of Infertility

The Intern’s Perspective

cr-exhibit-2016_031

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.

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.

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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

3 Powerful Visualizations of Infertility

The name “The ART of Infertility” has a double meaning. The artwork, created by women struggling with infertility, and Assisted Reproductive Technologies, the medical treatments that help those struggling to become parents. It is also a play on the word “artifact” and the numerous medical objects that can accumulate from going through infertility. IF also has a double meaning. IF is the acronym for infertility. It is also a common word that infertility patients use as they live the limbo that infertility forces them into as their schedules are controlled by fertility treatments.

Today we feature some art that reimagines, reinterprets and repurposes some medical art-i-facts to tell part of their infertility story. When the exhibit travels, these are always some exhibit favorites. They are powerful and tell the truth – infertility hurts and infertility is hard. But going through infertility reminds you also of what matters, what is important, and what is inspiring. We hope a few of these pieces will leave you inspired.

“Letting Go.” This mixed media piece created by Denise is made from ceramic, glass vials, gauze, q-caps and glue. It tells the story of how she now feels like she is trying to put together the pieces of her life that have been shattered because of infertility. The materials used to make this installation are from previous failed fertility treatments.

“Letting Go” by Denise Callen.

Denise explains “Letting Go” as: From childhood,, we are brought up to believe in a traditional fairytale of how our lives will unfold: meet the handsome prince who steals the fair maiden’s heart, marry and have a beautiful family. It can be a rude awakening when life veers from that path. Every plan I made revolved around this traditional view of how life was to play out. I married a wonderful man; we bought the perfect house with room for the traditional 2.5 children, and then the dream took us down a very dark path we never anticipated. Years of trying, expensive treatments over and over and over and over again, took their toll. Just when we would get good news, our hopes would be dashed with miscarriages and no heartbeats. I reached a point when it was time to stop crying, injecting, treatment and pouring money into a dream that wasn’t to be. I needed to let go of the fantasy and find a new dream. I am now putting the pieces of my life together. Like this work, it is still beautiful and holds parts of the past, but it is very different from the original plan. No matter how hard I try to patch it together, it, and I, will never be the same. I am stronger. I am wiser. I am happy. I am sad. I am living child-free.

Failed IVF #1 (September 10, 2015 - October 9, 2015) by Sara Nelson. Mixed media. Part of the ART of IF permanent collection.

Failed IVF #1 (September 10, 2015 – October 9, 2015) by Sara Nelson.

Sara explains “Failed IVF#1 (September 10, 2015-October 9, 2015)” as: I often use my own body in my images. Molding it and adhering it to my canvas. Creating forms that are not perfect yet are perfect in their own right. In “Failed IVF#1 (September 10, 2015-October 9, 2015)”, I strive to bring the viewer into the overwhelming world that is infertility at its most extreme, the process of in vitro fertilization. It is an insanely overwhelming process, full of medications, needles, doctor visit, surgeries, extremely high highs, and often extremely devastatingly low lows. In this piece, I have used the needles I used throughout my entire IVF treatment. I have pierced them back into a cast of my own body; in the locations I put the initial injections, day in, day out, day in, day out, hoping to help my doctor to create a perfect, viable embryo to become my child. Unfortunately, the process resulted only in the picture you see; one tiny dot of an embryo that was probably not healthy, and did not make it to become a viable human being. I am still grieving that loss and that failure. After finishing the piece, with the help of my amazing and wonderful husband, I could not help but think, I have to do this again. I have to try again. I am not ready to give up. I WILL have an IVF#2, however emotionally and financially draining it is. Hopefully this will end in success.

“Infertility Armour" (Elizabeth Walker, artist). Amber and pearls are my go-to gems. While I was trying to conceive, I developed some superstitions. One was that I had to wear amber every day or it may change my energy and decrease my chances of getting pregnant. This was unusual for me because I strongly put my faith in science. However, while undergoing treatment for my infertility, science was letting me down.

“Infertility Armour” by Elizabeth Walker.

Elizabeth explains “Infertility Armour” as: Amber and pearls are my go-to gems. While I was trying to conceive, I developed some superstitions. One was that I had to wear amber every day or it may change my energy and decrease my chances of getting pregnant. This was unusual for me because I strongly put my faith in science. However, while undergoing treatment for my infertility, science was letting me down. I created this piece of infertility armorusing needles and syringes identical to the ones my husband used to give me progesterone in oil shots. The shots were one of the things I feared most about IVF but it turned out they weren’t as horrible as I imagined they might be. The amber, while a fashion staple for me, is also a nod to the amber teething necklaces for babies that became popular while I was trying to get pregnant. I felt slighted because amber was MY stone and everyone else was buying it for their babies when I couldn’t have one. The pearls are also the bead that I assigned to progesterone shots in previous projects. When cycling, progesterone keeps your uterine lining in check for your embryo to be able to implant and grow. I imagined this like the lining of mother of pearl inside a shell, or the protective layer that oysters form around a foreign object which becomes a pearl.

Infertility is the Worst – The Artwork of Kelly Zechmeister-Smith

A few weeks ago, Maria and I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Zechmeister-Smith at her home in Ann Arbor, MI. Kelly created a series of watercolors that represent real life experiences she had while trying to get pregnant.

This Friday, we’ll be displaying some of Kelly’s paintings, and the artwork and stories of others living with infertility in Michigan, at the Michigan Assisted Reproductive Technology Summit (MiART Summit) in Novi. The MiART Summit is being held by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services – Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology Section in collaboration with the Michigan Infertility Advisory Committee to bring together diverse stakeholders to learn about infertility and the use of ART in Michigan; explore the association between ART and the incidence of multiple birth, preterm birth, and low birth weight; and develop recommendations to improve ART access, practices, and outcomes in Michigan.

We’ll be sharing our interview with Kelly in a future post but wanted to share some of her artwork today.

Infertility is the Worst
Kelly Zechmeister-Smith
Medium – micron pen and watercolor paint

Artist’s Statement: 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.

Infertility is the Worst III by Kelly Zechmeister-Smith

Infertility is the Worst III by Kelly Zechmeister-Smith

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Infertility is the Worst I by Kelly Zechmeister-Smith

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Infertility is the Worst II by Kelly Zechmeister-Smith

Getting Swept Up in the Fertility Tornado

Today’s artwork is from Kristin Phasavath. We originally met Kristin at RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association’s, Southern California Walk of Hope in Long Beach in September of 2014 where we set up an appointment for her to be interviewed and photographed for the project. Kristin has a unique perspective because she was first a nurse at a fertility clinic and then, while working there, experienced secondary infertility and was a patient herself. Here, she shares her experience creating the oil painting, “Fertility Tornado”, which debuted at our pop-up exhibit in Calabasas during National Infertility Awareness Week in 2015 and has been traveling with us since. We’re preparing to send the painting back to Kristin and are grateful we’ve had so much time with it to share it with others. Below is a guest post that Kristin wrote for us and we originally shared in May of last year. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Kristin!

Elizabeth

Fertility Tornado

My inspiration for the fertility tornado came from my time as a fertility nurse and a fertility patient. When you are in the throws of anything fertility it feels like you are in a tornado, whether you are a patient or a nurse. As a fertility nurse there is so much to organize for each patient all day everyday. Appointments, procedures, schedules, medications, labs, forms, insurance, etc, etc, etc…the list goes on and on and on. As a patient you deal with a very similar list that encompasses every breath you take. It effects your health, marriage, intimacy, mental status, finances, schedule, family life, and this list goes on and on. There is not one corner of your life this fertility thing does not infiltrate. Keeping everything straight as a nurse or a patient is like a tornado.
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Fertility Tornado by Kristin Phasavath. Oil on canvas.

I wanted to create a visual concept of what this fertility tornado looked like to me. Once I sat down to paint, it really just painted itself. I think that I had lived with this statement and vision for so long it just poured out in an instant once I put brush to canvas. The process was amazingly fast. I think that the initial painting took less than an hour. It had wanted to come out for so long. It was very cathartic to me and I felt lighter when I was done. Like I had ironically enough given birth. Once I made up my mind to actually start the painting it flowed very easily, like it was what I was meant to do. No challenges in my way. It just felt good to finally let all my feelings out. There was a moment that I did get a little choked up because it felt a little like the end of an era. A little finality involved.

Kristin with her oil painting, “Fertility Tornado,” and her project portrait at the ART of Infertility pop-up exhibit in Calabasas, CA on April 25, 2015.

I was so proud to be able to share my painting at The ART of IF exhibit. I’m certain that I am not alone in feeling the way I do about this world of fertility. I hope to connect with many of my fellow fertility comrades thru this work of art. I thank Elizabeth for giving me an opportunity to be interviewed & photographed. She really inspired me to share my story and create this painting. The work she is doing is very important and I hope it has a long life. I’m not sure if I will create any more paintings but you never know. There is so much inspiration in connecting with others that share a similar story that it might spark my creative fertility juice again.
~Kristin Phasavath
*Fertility Nurse
*Fertility Patient
*Fertility Artist