My Four-Year Break from Infertility Treatments

by Elizabeth Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Works and Wonders: Art Inspired by the Journey of Infertility” Announces Calendar of Events

Contact: Elizabeth Walker                                FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Phone: 517.262.3662
Email: elizabeth@artofinfertility.org

Works and Wonders: Art Inspired by the Journey of Infertility” Announces Calendar of Events

International Infertility Organization Partners with Utah Infertility Resource Center to Raise Awareness Around Reproductive Loss

Ann Arbor, Mich. – Jan. 16, 2018 – The ART of Infertility, a national arts organization, announces its collaboration with the Utah Infertility Resource Center (UIRC) to present “Works and Wonders: Art Inspired by the Journey of Infertility”, which features a four-week long exhibit, Arches in Perspective: The ART of Infertility in Utah. This infertility-themed art exhibit will display original works created by Utahns, as well as national and international artists, at Art Access Gallery and Urban Arts Gallery in downtown Salt Lake City from February 16th through March 16th, 2018. The exhibit at both locations is free and open to the public.

Over 65,000 people in Utah are living with infertility. In Utah, Camille Hawkins, LCSW founder and executive director of the Utah Infertility Resource Center (UIRC), works to raise awareness and provide support to many diagnosed with the disease. “I learned about The ART of Infertility during a trip to Washington D.C. advocating for family-building legislation to congressional leaders on behalf of Utah’s infertility community. Like me, I was struck how they also drew from their personal experiences with infertility to create a non-profit organization providing support for reproductive loss around the world. Talking to them and learning how the organization travels around organizing and hosting infertility art exhibitions, I knew that my hometown needed to bring this international arts organization to Utah to build community awareness around this family-building health issue.”

In partnership with UIRC, The ART of Infertility is pairing professional artists with infertility patients to collaborate on artwork which will be displayed in Arches in Perspective and then auctioned off during UIRC’s Spring Fundraising Gala, Works and Wonders, on March 16th. The gala will include an art reception with select works, a three-course meal, and a silent auction to raise awareness and funds for infertility support in the greater Utah community.

The ART of Infertility is still accepting infertility-inspired pieces of art for display at the two galleries in downtown Salt Lake City. You do not need to be directly impacted by infertility or reproductive loss to be a contributing artist. Pieces that interpret, reflect, and/or meditate on the experience of challenges to fertility and family-building are welcomed. You can submit these pieces by filling out the form at http://bit.ly/ArtworkUT2018

The ART of Infertility and UIRC are welcoming sponsors and community partners for this event. Current partners include Utah Infertility Resource Center, The ART of Infertility, The Falls Event Center, Urban Arts Gallery, Salt Lake City Arts Council, Art Access, Utah Arts Alliance, EMD Serono, Fruitful Fertility, One More Shot, The Hope for Fertility Foundation, Reproductive Care Center, Utah Division of Arts & Museums, Utah Fertility Center, Baby Quest Foundation, and Waiting For Babies podcast. For more information, contact us at info@artofinfertility.org or call (517) 262-3662.

“Works and Wonders: Art Inspired by the Journey of Infertility” Calendar of Events.

“Art for Infertility Workshop”
Family Building Art Workshop led by professional Artist, Emily Bagley
January 20, 2018
An art therapy workshop where those who struggle with infertility can connect and heal through art, guided by local artist Emily Bagley. The workshop will be held at Art Access, last 4 hours, and include several project options: a mixed media collage, a memory box, or blackout poetry. Attendees will be able to contribute to a community project as well.
Register at: https://uirchealingthroughart.eventbrite.com

“One More Shot”
Film Screening and Panel on the Humanities and Infertility
February 15, 2018
This free event will be held at Urban Arts Gallery and will feature filmmakers Noah Moskin and Maya Grobel as well as others using the arts for infertility expression and awareness.
Reserve your seat at: http://bit.ly/onemoreshotutah

“Arches in Perspective: The ART of Infertility in Utah”
Opening Night Receptions during Salt Lake City Gallery Stroll
February 16, 2018
A free opening night reception will take place at both galleries as part of the Salt Lake City Gallery Stroll.
More information at: http://bit.ly/ArchesUTAH

“Works & Wonders of ART: Creating a Unique Masterpiece”
Closing Night Gala
March 16, 2018
Cocktail reception and artwork viewing hour, silent auction, three-course-meal, and emcee Frankie from 97.1 zht at the Falls Event Center. Tickets, tables, and sponsorships available for purchase at: http://bit.ly/worksandwonders

About The ART of Infertility

The ART of Infertility is a national arts organization. Founded in 2014, Elizabeth Walker and Maria Novotny, Ph.D. curate innovative and emotionally provoking art exhibits to portray the realities, pains and joys of living with IF. We also design engaging curriculums to host art and writing workshops. We plan educational, outreach events. We advocate for infertility rights. Most of all, we provide support for those living in the shadows of infertility. Through art, we break the silence around reproductive grief and push back against common misconceptions. We invite you to join us in our fight to make infertility visible. To learn more, visit http://www.artofinfertility.org/.

###

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.

251831000000025024_zc_v53_by_the_numbers

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. 

251831000000025024_zc_v53_maria_novotny_and_elizabeth_walker_art_of_infertility
With gratitude, 
 
Maria and Elizabeth
 

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

251831000000025024_zc_v58_banner2small

#startasking What about men and infertility?

Infertility is often looked at as a disease that only affects women. In reality, infertility is caused by female factor and male factor equally at 30% each. In the balance of cases, the infertility is the result of both partners or unexplained. Even when the disease is not a direct result of issues with a male partner, infertility has a huge impact on men. Unfortunately, men’s stories are not heard as frequently.

ART of Infertility is interested in telling diverse stories of infertility, and is always honored to share the stories of men. We’re very excited to have been invited by Dr. Paul Turek of The Turek Clinic in Beverly Hills and San Francisco, to hold a pop-up art exhibit in his clinic in San Francisco on Thursday June 16th from 7 – 9 pm, in honor of Men’s Health Week. We’ll be sharing the artwork and stories of men and their families along with food and art making stations. If you’re in the area, we hope you’ll attend. In the meantime, you can learn more about male fertility and infertility from Dr. Turek here and read and listen to the personal story of Bret, an ART of IF participant in Southern California, and his family below. Bret reflects on the experience of miscarriage and trying to decide whether to continue or end treatment.  This post does contain images of children and parenting.

– Elizabeth

Bret with his son Cole, who was conceived via Inter-uterine insemination, or IUI.

Bret with his son Cole, who was conceived via Inter-uterine insemination, or IUI.

“I knew the moment the doctor came in to do the ultrasound. I saw his actions and he didn’t even have to say anything. I’ve done enough ultrasounds with him before and I kind of knew how they went and he was triple checking everything and I knew, this was not good. She didn’t want to accept it the first time and it was difficult. I kind of knew the writing was on the wall. Maybe we also approached her second pregnancy in a different way. I didn’t want to tell anybody until the end of the process. She was just so happy being pregnant and I tried to advise her, this is nobody’s business but ours. It was tough because I had that in my mind that it wasn’t going well and she was so ecstatic being pregnant. We were in two very different places at the same time. I just tried to do what I could. There was also a lot of work stuff going on at the same time so I wasn’t here for the 3 weeks when this all happened. I was at work almost he whole time so it was not a good time, at all, for anyone.”

“The only thing I can do is support her. Be there for her, a shoulder to cry on. She needs to get these emotions out so that’s what I try to do. I’m not very good at it but I try.”

Bret_004_men-and-infertility“I guess I don’t have a support, I guess I don’t. I don’t really talk to anybody about it. I have my ways that I guess I try to let things out and deal with it but I don’t talk to anybody. I like to go out in the wilderness and I usually go with a group of friends and we go backpacking or go walk up a mountain or something cool and well, last July we had our family vacation. We did a little anniversary thing and got away and we came home and I just said, I’m leaving. I’m going. I just went and walked out in the mountains by myself for about 4 days. This was about 6 weeks after the miscarriage. It helped. It wasn’t the cure I was looking for but it was helpful and that’s it and then it was back to work and back to the grind and I really haven’t dealt with it, I just try to put it behind me.”

Bret, Erica, and Cole at their home in Southern California.

Bret, Erica, and Cole at their home in Southern California.

Click on the clip below to hear audio of Bret and his wife, Erica, discussing whether to continue or end treatment.

 

 

Oh the Places We Go (Like Houston, TX): Reflections on the Relatability of Art, Poetry & Medicine

Lots of our followers and contributors to this project have a personal connection to the ART of IF. Many of you have either faced your own infertility journey, suffered from infant loss and/or even perhaps miscarriage. We love sharing pieces of art with the vibrant infertility community that exists in the world. Yet, our mission at ART of Infertility is also very much about expanding audiences – beyond the infertility community – to raise awareness and understanding about infertility, infant loss and miscarriage to a more general public.

Art workshops, we find, are an accessible, low-stakes activity that can help facilitate conversations about these topics of loss with others who may have little or no experience with the topic. Our event in Houston, TX last week is one such example of how we use the project to raise general awareness about the reflective power of making art with medical objects.

We made connections between art, poetry and medicine more apparent by participating in a Feminist Action Hour hosted at the annual College Composition & Communication Conference. This conference attracts a wide array of professors and graduate students teaching and researching writing at the collegiate level. For many of these attendees, their research and teaching interests pertain to social justice and interdisciplinary issues – such as communication practices between physicians and patients, gendered communicative experiences of medicine, and even tensions of being a mother/father while working in the academy.

infertility-black-out-poetry

Participants and materials at the Feminist Action Hour workshop in Houston, TX.

Given these diverse interests, the Feminist Action Hour hosts pedagogical workshops to create space for engaging and teaching about these important topics with our students and our colleagues. Examples from last year can be found here: http://cwshrc.org/newwork2015/ 

As a Writing and Rhetoric graduate student, Maria Novotny’s (project partner with the ART of Infertility) research examines the ways in which infertile men and women make meaning and share this meaning making through art and writing. Given this, Maria invited the ART of Infertility to participate in the workshop by making pieces of blackout poetry with medical consent forms.

infertility-art-workshop-01

Maria instructing participants and answering questions at the blackout poetry workshop in Houston, TX.

Why medical consent forms and why blackout poetry?

This workshop was inspired by the artwork of Jo C., one of our ART of Infertility participants. Jo created this beautiful piece of black out poetry, titled My Consent which she gave to us to share through our permanent collection. To learn more about the piece, you can read about it on Jo’s blog.

My Consent by Jo C.

My Consent by Jo C.

Medical consent forms and treatment procedures serve as central technical documents, frequently studied as genres in professional and technical writing. Rhetorically these forms reinforce depersonalized medical practices and the greater public’s perceived objectivism of medicine/science.

Medical and feminist rhetoricians have increasingly called for shifting the object of study – beyond “how health and medical texts get produced” to inquiries examining “what embodied users bring to these encounters” as health artifacts (Scott, 2014; Bellwoar, 2012). This workshop serves as pedagogical moment attending to the embodied interactions between medical documents and the user/consumer of these documents.

What happened?

During the workshop participants were invited to select a consent form and a stencil. Consent form options included: a sperm donation form, a fertility treatment form, and a mental health form. Stencils included: a penis, a uterus, and a brain.

The ART of Infertility’s objective was to present the “trifecta” of infertility: mental health, men’s health and female health.

We then spent 15 minutes with groups making pieces of poetry. Many who participated described the activity as “meditative.” Some wanted to play with the idea of one consent form for one stencil – so they incorporated both a penis and uterus within a mental health consent form.

IMG_1801

“signs, process, normal, mass. abnormal, expected, normal, normal, normal, not perfect, normal, abnormal, selection, best, abnormally, accident, prevent”

IMG_1802

“attempt, understand, risk, arise, could be born, might also produce, agree, support, maintain, understand, Birth”

art-of-if-blackout-poetry-brain

Special protections, conversation, medical record. Diagnosis, prognosis, release, release. Disclosure, all information. Health Care.

art-of-infertility-black-out-poetry-penis

“special protections, documenting or analyzing, start, the, subject, allows, the patient, disclosure, invalidate, authorization, Address”

 

 

 

The workshop was well-received and allowed the ART of Infertility to talk about issues of infertility and loss to those who may not necessarily recognize the physical and mental weight such a diagnosis has on the body.

If you would like the ART of Infertility to host a blackout poetry workshop (or another art/writing workshop), you can contact us at: info@artofinfertility.org

 

 

2015 Year in Review

In January of 2014, I was gearing up for my final frozen embryo transfer and curating ART of Infertility’s first exhibit at Ella Sharp Museum in my hometown of Jackson, MI. A month later, my reproductive endocrinologist transferred a gorgeous, grade 5AA blastocyst into my uterus. Unfortunately, it didn’t implant and our final attempt at a pregnancy, at least one using our own biology, was unsuccessful.

At a time when I wanted to curl up on my couch and ignore the world outside my front door, I was forced to finish interviews, write exhibit labels, and coordinate artists dropping off artwork. I was both resentful and relieved to have something to do and had no idea then that it was just the start of a project that would bring so many amazing people into my life and save me time and again.

2015 was an amazing year for ART of Infertility. We wrapped up a large scale exhibit in Michigan in January and did 8 pop-up art exhibits across the country. We held 7 art and 3 writing workshops and presented at 3 national academic conferences. Events were held in Michigan, Iowa, New Jersey, California, Arizona, Illinois, and the District of Columbia.

Creating art at our event at Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C. in May.

Creating art at our event at Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C. in May.

The ART of Infertility blog was launched during National Infertility Awareness Week and Maria and I have used it to share our own reflections on infertility along with stories and artwork from the project. We also welcomed 16 guest bloggers.

We conducted 39 interviews of 45 people, lobbied for infertility legislation during Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, collaborated with Professional Writing students at Michigan State University, and hired our first intern!

Our team of Michigan delegates at Advocacy Day 2015. Left to right, Elizabeth's mother, Judy, Elizabeth, Maria, and Maria's husband, Kevin.

Our team of Michigan delegates at Advocacy Day 2015. Left to right, Elizabeth’s mother, Judy, Elizabeth, Maria, and Maria’s husband, Kevin.

35 new artists participated in the project, contributing 94 pieces of artwork, and we now have 122 pieces of art in our permanent collection.

The Smallest Things by Leanne Schuetz. First displayed at our pop-up in Arizona, this piece is now part of our permanent collection.

The Smallest Things by Leanne Schuetz. First displayed at our pop-up in Arizona, this piece is now part of our permanent collection.

We are incredibly grateful for those of you who have shared your stories through interviews and artwork and to our many volunteers and sponsors. The project would be impossible without you.

Infertility Objects by Lauree Schloss.

Infertility Objects by Lauree Schloss.

This year is already shaping up to be every bit as fulfilling and exciting. We have many possible projects and collaborations in the works but here are some of the items that are definitely on our calendar for 2016.

We’re working this month to digitize the art in our collection, making it more accessible to the public. We’re also getting our paperwork around and officially filing for our 501©(3) non-profit status. Next month, we’re teaming up with the University of Michigan Center for Reproductive Medicine, Author Robin Silbergleid, and the Ann Arbor District Library by holding a book reading and art and writing workshop.

We’ll be in Houston in early April to present an art workshop at an academic conference and collecting oral histories for the project while there. Of course, we will have something special planned for National Infertility Awareness Week. We are working on our schedule and hope to have an exciting line-up to share soon.

Our event in Calabasas, CA during National Infertility Awareness Week 2015.

Our event in Calabasas, CA during National Infertility Awareness Week 2015. Photo by Chrystal Starr Photography.

On May 11, we’ll once again be on Capitol Hill for Advocacy Day with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and, in October, we’ll travel to Salt Lake City for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Annual Conference and events with the Utah Infertility Resource Center.

Maria and I are excited to see what the third full year of the project brings and hope you’ll join us for the journey. We’d love to share your story through the project via your artwork or an interview. If you are interested in sharing your story, or in hosting an ART of IF exhibit or workshop in your community, please contact us. We’d love to work with you!

-Elizabeth

From Infertility to Fatherhood – My Journey So Far

This week’s blog is a guest post by Fred Harlan. We want to disclose a trigger warning, which is something we will do from here on out when we feel it’s needed, that this post does include images of a baby and of parenting. Fred and his wife Andrea are ART of Infertility project participants who we met in Southern California. They shared their story with us via an interview and also attended our pop-up art exhibit and workshops in Calabasas during National Infertility Awareness Week this year. Thanks, Fred, for sharing your family’s story!

From Infertility to Fatherhood – My Journey So Far

I am going to tell you something that I always hated to hear. At least, I used to at a point in time in my life. My wife and I were far along down that lonely path we were traveling in the midst of our infertility journey. The meandering road had become increasingly dark and dank. It was becoming more apparent that the chances of a successful IVF cycle using my wife’s eggs and my sperm was unlikely. Some people in our lives would say the obvious thought to them, and insensitive comment to us, that we could “always adopt.” Even the medical and therapeutic people that we sought out had begun to talk to us about “other options” to parenthood. I simply wasn’t ready to hear it, let alone think about it.

As time passed reality crept in. After many failed procedures, buckets of tears and a ton of soul searching, my wife and I eventually came to the realization that some how, some way, we really wanted to have a child. In order to make that happen we slowly began to look into other possible options. Now, after eight plus years of infertility and 10 months of fatherhood what I want to tell you is this: regardless of how long you have been battling or the reasons for your infertility, that if you are resolved in your desire to have a child no matter what, my message of hope is that there is a way. It may not be the way to parenthood that you envisioned but there are paths that can take you there. Not all roads are available to everyone for various reasons – emotional, cultural, religious or financial. But I know there is a potential path(s) available to everyone. You just have to be in a place along your own journey to be open to consider other possibilities.

fred_andrea_motorcycle_9547

Fred and Andrea during their ART of IF photo session.

Ten months ago my son, Gehrig, came into our lives. He was born of my wife’s womb, my sperm and a donor’s egg. Being his father is a joy that is incomparable to any other, a reality that I still almost cannot believe and an opportunity, considering the circumstances, which I long thought I never would consider. Like I was saying, my wife and I decided that parenthood was what we definitely wanted. However, with each failed IVF cycle the medical opinion increasing appeared evident that the quality of my wife’s eggs was our challenge. Knowing my wife’s heartache and my wanting to always tackle infertility as a team, I suggested to my wife that our future child should be either “both of ours or neither of ours” genetically.  Honestly, I couldn’t imagine how I would feel had the circumstances been that of our future child being biologically hers and not mine, so I didn’t want her to have to imagine it either.

Egg donation seemed so unnatural, so complicated and so not us. We didn’t want to be “one of those couples.” Besides, there were so many questions that came along with egg donation. Would my wife be able to completely accept and love a child that was not biologically her own? Would the donor want to be a part of his and our life? What if he doesn’t look like us, and then what would we say when asked, “whom does he look like?” What would we tell family and friends? And what if years down the road our son had a health issue and would benefit from knowing detailed medical history? And the really big question: what would we tell our son? Although we knew several people who had chosen the egg donor route and were very happy with their choice, it just didn’t feel like the right option for us. So we closed the door on this alternative and proceeded in educating ourselves on the different avenues of adoption, including that of embryo adoption. During this time my wife realized that the concept of being pregnant and carrying a child was extremely important to her, especially considering her doctors believed she would be able to carry a child. So it appeared that embryo adoption was the answer that life was steering us toward. At least that is what we thought until a comedy of errors (a story for another day) resulted in my wife’s sister volunteering to be a surrogate or give us her eggs or whatever we needed, led us to think about egg donation one more time. It was during this period that I realized that having a child who was biologically mine was more important than I had allowed myself to think. Another series of events led us to our eventual donor (another story for another day) and the rest as they say is history.

Looking back on everything we went through I have one more thing to say that someone struggling with infertility may not want to hear either, and I understand why – I was in your shoes. But now I need to say it, I have to say it, because it is my truth. I would not change a thing. At least not if it meant I wouldn’t have Gehrig today. If you told me ten years ago, “Fred, I have good news for you and I have bad news. The bad news is that you are going to go to hell and back again and again and again in your attempt to become a father. You are going to doubt yourself as a man, a person and as a husband. You and your wife are going to go through heartbreak after heartache, and you are going to have to be the rock that supports your wife all while you can barely stand on your own. You will doubt your dreams, your wife, your faith and life itself. You will sit in the depths of despair that appear to have no escape, no hope and no resolve. However, at the end you will be given an amazing little boy to love!” Knowing everything that I know today, I would sign up for that in a New York minute.

We have all heard some variation of the motivational phrase, “Life is not a destination, it’s a journey.” I always wanted to believe that was true but some how never found a way to make it work in my life. Stress and frustration seemed to win out more than I would have liked. Then one afternoon, after my wife and I participated in a vision board workshop – an activity hosted and encouraged by our infertility counselor – in order to assist us in visualizing the life for which we hoped, I realized my board was not complete. I had one picture with a saying to represent my life’s journey that simply was not ringing true for me. In fact, it was pretty lame. So decided to scour the Internet for an image that would adequately represent my life’s road. Beaches speak to me and as I scanned many coastal images I came across one. As soon as I saw it I know my vision board was complete. It was the picture of foam-crested waves gently meeting the sand in which were inscribed the following words: “The journey is the reward.” That rephrasing of all those old Successories/Sky Mall posters spoke to me differently somehow. I didn’t know it exactly at the time, but now I do. And as I look at that photo posted on my desk as I type, I can say that my journey is indeed my reward.

Fred shares a vision board that his wife, Andrea, made during their journey at the ART of IF pop up exhibit and workshops in Calabasas, CA during National Infertility Awareness Week in 2015. Photo by Chrystal Starr Photography.

Fred shares a vision board that his wife, Andrea, made during their journey at the ART of IF pop up exhibit and workshops in Calabasas, CA during National Infertility Awareness Week in 2015. Photo by Chrystal Starr Photography.

I often speak about infertility as a journey. Each couple, each person who is faced with the disease goes through similar experiences and yet at the same time a journey all her or his own. I did not realize it as I was going through it – how could I, it was just too emotional, too raw – but in retrospect, I realize that I was being prepared for what life had in store for me – not just to be a father, but to be a father to this little boy, here and now. I have always wanted to be a dad, and had I become one earlier in life I’m sure that I would have relished it and been a good one. However, becoming a parent at this point in my life I know that I am so much better prepared for fatherhood than I would have as a younger man. I am more grounded, more secure emotionally and less anxious. I am not missing as much time with Gehrig as I am sure that I would have years ago while building a previous business. I am home more and with Gehrig frequently despite building a new practice. I’m often the lone dad in the “Mommy and Me” new parent classes.

The dad I am today is not solely because of the length of time it took to become one, but also as a direct result from my infertility journey. For example, I am more patient and flexible than I used to be. This is a benefit to Gehrig but also to Andrea as we parent him together. Also, the perfectionist that I am has been able to let go of having to do things in a specific “right” way and being tied to specific outcomes. When Gehrig didn’t nurse right away I didn’t panic (don’t ask me about my wife), rather we sought help. He turned into a nursing machine. When Gehrig didn’t crawl when he should have we enjoyed what he was doing (rolling everywhere) and asked for advice. Now Gehrig is on the move. Had I been a parent years ago I would have been looking at the situation thinking: “what is wrong with my kid!”

Once we found out that Andrea’s pregnancy was viable I made up my mind that I would “take it all” – I would change every dirty diaper, listen to every cry, dry every tear and wipe up every spit up with a smile on my face. I laugh when I fly Gehrig over my head like Superman and he drools on my shirt, my glasses or even my mouth. I do not care. No, that is not true – actually I care a lot, in fact I love it. He is my son and I waited too long and tried too hard to have him to not enjoy every moment. And I have learned that some of the best moments are the simplest, such as at the end of the day when I am rocking him to sleep. His head lays on my shoulder and has he surrenders to sleep his neck gives way to the weight of his head which nestles into the nape of my neck. I continue to rock him for another ten minutes or so to ensure he is asleep, but mostly because that time is priceless to me. Each and every night I think to myself how life prepared me those moments, and I’m so grateful that I’m not missing a second of it by simply hurrying to get my son to bed.

Fred, Gehrig, and Andrea during their ART of IF photo session.

Fred, Gehrig, and Andrea during their ART of IF photo session.

 

You may be saying, “well, that is great for you Fred, you are one of the lucky ones, you were able to have a biological child. What about your wife? What about all the people who are not able to have a biological child?” My response is this: those are fair questions and it is reasonable to ask them. It is important to note that during the process of choosing egg donation, I grieved significantly for the child that I always thought Andrea and I would have together. In the end perhaps I am lucky – I am definitely fortunate – or perhaps we made our own luck to opening ourselves up to other possibilities to parenthood. This is not a commercial for egg donation or parenthood, rather it is intended to inspire hope in infertile couples who have definitely decided or are at least thinking they still want to be parents some how, some way. And as for my wife, she feels pretty fortunate herself. She will tell you, what I will tell you, that Gehrig is 100% hers. She carried him in her womb, feeds him from her breast and is a completely devoted mother in raising him and that is what is important to her. Likewise, I know many people who have adopted newborns, babies, children and even embryos, and all without fail will tell you that their child is indeed their child and was from the moment that child entered their lives. At the end of the day it is the emotional bond that matters, not the means by which the child arrived in your life.

a-message-in-the-sand-2

I wholeheartedly believe that Andrea and I were meant to be parents, and once we figured out that part, life opened new opportunities for us to become so. I also believe that my son was meant to be and meant to be in our lives at this moment in time. He didn’t come to us the way we thought he would, but that no longer is a concern. Years ago it was difficult to think about, let alone see, that life’s journey was preparing me, actually all three of us, not for the live we envisioned, but the life we were meant to live.1 That’s my journey – so far.

1A variation of a quote by Joseph Campbell.

Fred Harlan, MA2 is a resourceful Marriage and Family Therapist Intern who works with couples and individuals on relationship issues, and men and couples coping with infertility (theirs or their partner’s). Fred holds Master’s Degrees in Clinical Psychology and Speech Communication. Fred@FredHarlan.net.

My Spiritual Awakening: Thoughts from Renee Waggener of Xtraordinary Fertility

I’m constantly amazed by the opportunities for meeting those dealing with infertility, and helping them on their journey through art and story telling, that ART of IF is allowing me as the project grows. One upcoming opportunity is to present a prayer flag art workshop at the Revive Your Baby Making Mojo retreat in Ben Lomond, CA. Ben Lamond is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where the Redwoods meet the ocean. Sounds awesome, right?! It’s an incredible experience any time there’s an opportunity to get together with others living with infertility so I hope you’ll consider joining me in California to create some art around your infertility experience. There’s still room at the retreat and it’s an amazing value ($197 includes food, lodging, and all activities when you register by September 1st) with a great line up.  This event is being hosted by Renee Waggener of Xtraordinary Fertility October 2-4. Maria and I met Renee at RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association’s Advocacy Day this year and she is sharing as our guest blogger this week. Thanks, Renee, for inviting ART of IF to share through art making at your retreat and for sharing with us through your blog post this week!

Elizabeth

My Spiritual Awakening

I just got done listening to 13 speakers in the Meditation your way to Millions Master Class lead by one of my super hero’s Lisa Cherney.  It was awesome.  Each speaker gave away super cool tools and insight into what “spiritual Practice” has lead to their business success.  I found so many parallels in how you integrate your spiritual habits into building a business with how each of us builds a family.  This sooo doesn’t surprise me, because the same section or chakra of our bodies… the root chakra is all about “Creation”.  Whether it’s a creation of a business or we are creating a baby thru our bodies or adoption… we still need a spiritual “Practice” to help each of these succeed.

I’ve never really tooted my own spiritual horn because I really believe that we each need our freedom to choose for ourselves what works for each of us.  And one of the things that really hit me in the summit is that I need to start speaking more from my heart when it comes to spirit and the message that I’m spreading with Fertility.  I believe deeply that each of us is surrounded by a team of angels, guides, God, Universe, Mother Earth… and sometimes I call all of that “Spirit”. You call it what feels right for you.

My personal spiritual practice has gone in waves through the years.  Sometimes I do something and sometimes I don’t, which is when I’m hiding or scared to connect.

This past year, I’ve put into practice a journaling exercise that I’ve been consistent with and it has opened me up to more possibilities, new relationships and deeper growth on my own personal purpose path in helping all of you in the fertility community.

Now that I’ve listened to these awesome speakers and what they do; I’ve realized it’s time to step up my practice.  This is so much more than thinking positive, or prayer.  It’s building a life practice that will not only help me help you, but more than that it will deepen my connection to spirit, give me more confidence to “Let Go of the outcome” (harder to do) and Really Trust in the process so that I can reach more people and help them (YOU) have babies and ultimately live a Fertilicious Life well into parenthood.

With that I really want to give to you today’s tips:

Knowledge is Power. There are many treatment options available for your infertility, so the more you know about each procedure will help you to make an empowered decision for you and your partner.  There’s no one size fits all solution here. Don’t compare your decision based on what others do.  Also, when you do the research, you don’t have to make a decision right away. Let it sit and let your intuition guide you on your “next best” choice.

Tick-Tock. Determine how long you will try to conceive. Being on the same page as your partner is important and you should agree on this.  There is no right or wrong decision here.  Choose a reasonable length that is comfortable for you and your partner. Also, know that this can be subject to change at anytime.  Maybe even schedule in some breaks to where you are NOT thinking of your fertility.

Cha-Ching! Determine how much money you are willing to spend on treatment. As you may already know, fertility treatments can be costly.  It’s important for the health of your relationship to determine how much money you are willing to part with. Again, this number will be different for each couple. It has to work for you! Also, look at your relationship with money. Do you have some beliefs around money that inhibit you? (I.e. I’m broke all the time = I’m unworthy) Notice this, then call me because I can help with this at the Revive Your Baby Making Mojo Retreat October 2-4.

2-2

Register Here

I look forward to seeing if this touched you at all.  Please post a comment on FB if it did.

Facebook

With Peace and Light,

Renee

4

 

Naturopathic Medicine and Fertility

This week’s blog is from Dr. Aumatma, who I had the pleasure of meeting at her practice in Oakland, CA last month. She’s delightful, very passionate about what she does, and since I was interested in learning more about her work, I invited her to share a blog post with us. Dr. Aumatma will be at the Xtraordinary Fertility retreat in Ben Lomonde, CA October 2-4. I’ll also be there, leading a prayer flag art workshop. I’m looking forward to getting to know her better and hope some of you will take the opportunity to join us there. You can learn more here. Thanks, Dr. Aumatma, for sharing with us!

Elizabeth

What is Naturopathic Medicine and is it different from acupuncture when it comes to treatment for fertility?

Lots of people struggling with infertility know about acupuncture. There is lots of data. And, it’s pretty popular to be getting acupuncture while you’re optimizing your fertility so that you can start that family you dream of. What you may not know is that acupuncture is quite different from Naturopathic Medicine, though they have a similar philosophy of using nature to support the healing process. From this article, I hope to inspire you with something that you haven’t already tried or considered, and encourage you to reach out sooner if you are on this path—the sooner your reach out do a Naturopathic Fertility Specialist, the better… because this medicine really will help you fill the gap between your Western doctor and your acupuncturist. So, in a lot of ways, Naturopathic Doctors are truly integrative doctors, with an ability to understand both eastern and western thought.

Naturopathic Medicine has a few basic tenets that seem almost common sense. Use of natural substances (such as herbal medicine, nutrition, and homeopathy) to help rebalance the body and allow for the healing force to heal itself, is the ideal. Naturopathic Doctors are trained in 4-6 year medical programs that integrate eastern and western medicine. While Western Medicine is primarily focused on diagnosis, followed by “fixing” the problem, Naturopathic Medicine is focused on discovering the root cause. Many people consider Western Medicine to be a proficient band-aid. Western Medicine does have many advantages such as the advance of technology that allows doctors to help with things that even a hundred years ago may have appeared miraculous.

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, on the other hand, have gotten good results for helping women rebalance their bodies from stress, reverse the damage to ovaries and eggs, as well as tonify the body overall to be able to conceive. I know lots of women get great results with Acupuncture.

4513994959_13ecc500a7_o

Naturopathic Doctors fulfill a very different need, however. NDs consider it fundamentally important to understand the functions and pathways of the body and intimately understand hormones that can affect health and wellness. In addition to this foundation, however, Naturopathic Medicine also includes training in natural modalities for supporting the vital force of the body to heal. These therapies vary from Naturopathic doctor to doctor, as different practitioners may focus on different therapies. A majority of NDs do practice herbal medicine, functional medicine, nutrition, homeopathy, energy healing, and more.

Infertility is a complex diagnosis with many potential underlying causes. Naturopathic Doctors are particularly proficient in helping uncover a deep underlying cause that may not be obvious. Because Naturopathic Medicine views the body in a holistic way with a myriad of connections (that could be deemed otherwise unrelated), it is easy for NDs to recognize the deeper issues that may be contributing to a couple’s inability to conceive.

3960682558_a288e8cb9e_o

In my experience, Acupuncture is a great adjunct to Naturopathic Medicine & IVF/IUI. My recommendation is to go all out, with multiple approaches, because the complexity of infertility needs to be addressed on many levels. All of the different approaches fill very unique needs for the client, but there’s no one right answer. When we, as practitioners, collaborate fully, our clients get results faster. And, that’s what I am all about! When couples are ready to start a family and they are getting older and don’t have a lot of time, I think it’s ideal to use a multi-disciplinary approach. It breaks my heart when clients come to me after having tried acupuncture for 5 years… I wonder why they waited 5 years before trying something else or adding something else? Often, they come from referrals from their acupuncturist, but it’s only after they have fully exhausted their time with the acupuncturist. And, I have been able to help most of these couples– however, I just wonder if they wouldn’t have been saved anguish and disappointment if their work with me was started sooner, in collaboration with acupuncture.

So, overall, what I can offer clients is very different from acupuncture. Acupuncture can strengthen the body, help with stress, and re-balance the energetic body. I really like to work on the physical-mental-emotional from a different perspective. On the physical level, we want to detoxify and clear the channels of the body. Then, we are testing and rebalancing hormones (often undiagnosed abnormalities that Western Medicine missed). And lastly, we work on the mental – energetic layers. In short, using a mind-body approach to conceiving and birthing a healthy child is essential — and can happen easily when you have a team of practitioners caring for you and your partner’s health and well-being.

Remember they say, “it takes a village to raise a child?”…. these days, I say, it takes a village to conceive and birth a child. Who’s making up your healing village?

By Dr. Aumatma

prof_headshot blue

 

 

 

 

 

www.draumatma.com