Illustrating Infertility

Today’s guest post is from Christine McDonough, creator of Infertility Illustrated. Christine is one of the local artists featured in our Chicagoland exhibit, Challenging Conception. If you’re in the area, you can meet her, and some of our other artists, during our exhibit reception on Saturday, October 13th from 6 – 9 pm at Open Studio Project in Evanston. 

In September 2017, I was sitting at my desk feeling sad, lonely, and honestly angry that I was experiencing my third miscarriage.  And while I was by myself, my husband was off at a business school happy hour making new friends and having a great time.  The opposite ways in which we were managing this turn of events really struck me.  And then I realized it was déjà vu.  Two years prior, we had just moved to a new city, and my husband had just started a new job, and I was having my first miscarriage.  The fact that this was happening again was incredibly frustrating.

While it might not sound great to say that Infertility Illustrated was born out of this resentful moment, it’s the truth.  I needed an outlet for the compressed emotions inside me and so I drew a quick sketch and sent it to my sister asking her, What if I share this on Instagram?  She was skeptical, but I went ahead and created an account called Infertility Illustrated where I planned to share all facets of an infertility experience, drawing not just my experiences, but situations that everyone can understand.

While this wasn’t my introduction to sharing art on Instagram, I hadn’t been fully aware of the depth of the infertility community until then.  As I began to share my sketches, I started to realize there were a lot of people sharing the pain and sometimes the humor of infertility through this outlet.  The one way I wanted to stand out though was by creating my own drawings to illustrate infertile life.  I wanted to share infertility in all senses: both the highs and the lows.  Sure it’s easy to make jokes about how great your tax refund will be, but deep down you might be crying knowing you spent all that money and STILL couldn’t get pregnant.  So I wanted to show both sides of that emotion.

Putting my drawings on public display was incredibly scary.  First of all, I don’t take criticism very well.  I’m very protective of my work and like most artists view it as an extension of me.  Based on this rationale, if you don’t like my cartoons, you don’t like me.  Not great, I know.

Second, the internet can be a CRUEL place.  I’ve seen what Twitter will do to take someone down and I know trolls exist.  So I was nervous about how people might react to some of my angrier or sadder or more judgmental drawings.

Third, once you put something out there, it’s there forever.  I was afraid that by sharing my drawings on a public platform I was exposing too much of myself to the world.  I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be anonymous or not.  For a long time, I refrained from using my name or even sharing pictures of myself.  I think that’s normal though because, for many people, infertility is a very private, personal experience.  It’s easy to associate shame and embarrassment with infertility when you are incapable of doing the one thing required of your gender.  So it was hard at first to publicly put my name to my work because it meant acknowledging the embarrassment I felt at being incapable of procreation.

As time has gone on, I’m no longer embarrassed and I’m not scared of attaching my name, face, or anything to my work.  I’ve come to realize more and more how important it is for all of us to share our stories. To show the world how difficult it is to navigate infertility when for a lot of people, myself included, insurance does not cover these costs, the medications and procedures are invasive and sometimes painful, and you may have to go through many, many cycles of heartbreak before you find success, if you even find success at all.

Through four years of infertility, I am not the same person I was before…neither physically or mentally.  My body has changed quite a bit from all the hormones and my outlook on life or what I would consider “trivial problems” has been forever altered.  I think the greatest thing that sharing infertility cartoons with the world has done is that it has made me feel less alone.  And hopefully, it has made someone else feel less alone too.  It’s so easy to become isolated with your dark thoughts, but through Infertility Illustrated, I’ve come to learn that everyone has bad days and good days.  I’ve made some really good friends through Infertility Illustrated and I couldn’t be happier to know that I will always have someone who gets it to talk to.  My self-imposed island is suddenly a lot less lonely.

My hope is that you feel the same way…that through Infertility Illustrated, you are able to identify yourself and it either cheers you up a little or brings you a moment of peace wherever you are in your day.

XO – Christine

Announcing A New Project: The Infertile Post

 

Wow! Where has summer gone?

Here, at The ART of Infertility, we kicked off the bbq and beach season in Los Angeles. There, we worked with One More Shot and The Turek Clinics to host a Men’s Health Month exhibit “Reimagining Reproduction”.

Our poster for the Los Angeles exhibit, “Reimagining Reproduction”.

It was in LA that we came across one of these unique finds: a full size mailbox! We sent Elizabeth’s mom, Judy, to downtown LA to pick up the box and drive it back to the gallery in Venice. We had learned from the prior owner that the mailbox originally came from Wisconsin and was later driven out to LA. After using it in our LA exhibit, we decided to return it back to the midwest and ship it to Michigan.

That leaves us to an announcement. Inspired by the mailbox and wanting to incorporate it into the project, we are announcing a new sub-project with The ART of Infertility.

The Infertile Post is an infertility and reproductive loss community art space. The word “post” is a play on announcements we receive in the mail such as holiday cards featuring Norman Rockwell-esque portraits of families with children, perhaps celebrating a new addition to the family.  “Post” also recalls ideas of a newspaper or online posted space — the idea of sharing stories as a collective series of voices and perspectives.

The Infertile Post invites individuals to write posts – large or small – and send them to us (yes, snail mail!). We will then share your post with our fellow infertility community via art exhibitions and online gallery spaces. Our objective in this project is (a) to offer a space free of judgment for those dealing with infertility or reproductive loss where they can write and express themselves, and (b) showcase a collective series of viewpoints and experiences that are shaped by infertility and/or reproductive loss.

So send us your mail! Really!

Send us your “infertile post”!

A Few Q & As to Guide Your Participation

Do I need to sign my post?

No, individuals can choose to identify how they please. They may use their own name, a pseudonym, or simply not sign it all.

Where do I send my post?

The ART of Infertility

℅ The Infertile Post

P.O. 1110

Jackson, MI 49204

What are some example posts?

“A Letter to My Fertile Friend”

“A Letter to My Unborn Baby”

“Dear Period, you suck.”

“Dear Bank Account, I’m broke.”

“A Letter to Your Doctor”

“A Letter to Your Younger Self ‘Pre-Infertility'”

“A Letter to Your Legislator”

“A Letter to your Infertility Hero”

“A Letter from the Stirrups”

Etc.

Will my post be returned to me?

Unfortunately, no. We want to document and create an archive of these posts and plan to keep the physical versions for exhibition.

How long should my post be?

As long as you want! This is your post so it can be as long or as short as you want. The point for us is that the post serves as a place for you to express yourself and get your energy out! You do not have to be the most eloquent writer in the world, nor have the letter be grammatically correct. We just want to give you a space to think about an experience (good, bad, frustrating, happy, whatever) that documents living with infertility or reproductive loss.

Is this different than participating in The ART of Infertility?

Yes and no. This is a sub-project of The ART of Infertility. We expect to feature these posts in upcoming exhibits. We also want to feature online galleries of these posts, similar to a digital archive. In many ways, think of this project as an extension of what we, The ART of Infertility, already do — fuse creativity and experiences of reproductive loss together! Why? Because art and writing heal.

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.

Pain, Regret, and Blood: A Journey in Infertility

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

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

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

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

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

Pain, Regret, and Blood: A Journey in Infertility

By J. Clyde Wills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Aditya Romansa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Fine and Good – Jamie’s Story of Healing through Art

We’re still accepting entries for our upcoming exhibit, “Cradling Creativity: The ART of Infertility in Philadelphia” and we’d love to have your writing or visual or performance art. You can submit your art at http://bit.ly/PhillyArtEntry. One of the artists who will be featured in “Cradling Creativity” is Jamie Blicher. Today, Jamie shares how she’s used art to heal while dealing with infertility. Thank you, Jamie, for sharing your work and story with us!

I lived in New York City for 10 years, where I met the amazing Brian. We got married in May 2014. I’ve always worked very hard at my career (I’m a Retail Buyer) and have the most incredible friends. But to me, family has always come first. So, Brian and I moved home to Maryland to be near ours and start our own (so much for the planner in me!). We tried to get pregnant naturally for a year and when nothing was happening, I turned to Shady Grove Fertility in Rockville, Maryland. The first step was to try an IUI. After three consecutive failed IUI procedures, we moved to IVF. The first transfer worked but I miscarried identical twin boys at 8 weeks. We transferred the second embryo in April and the second transfer didn’t work.

I’ve always painted, scrapbooked, bedazzled and did every art project under the sun. Art (as well as singing and dancing) has always been a form of meditation for me–and what a better time to practice! After the second procedure failed, I was looking for a specific brush in my toolbox and saw that I had thrown some unused IVF needles in the toolbox so I put paint in a syringe and loved how it looked on my canvas. I started sharing my paintings on social media and knew that I wanted to help change the conversation about infertility by speaking about it publicly and explaining why I was painting so much!

In June, I shared my story on Facebook. It felt like I was finally cluing friends into my “dirty little secret” of infertility. I wasn’t at all expecting to get the reaction that I received. Thirty-seven (I counted) Facebook friends sent me private messages about how they are going through the same thing or just went through it.  I received texts and phone calls from old friends, coworkers and friends’ parents about their stories. I met countless others who have felt therapeutic by discussing their fertility challenges. Brian and I couldn’t believe it–if infertility is so common, why aren’t we talking about it? Why do I see commercials for restless leg syndrome and not IVF support groups and medicine?

After sharing my story publicly, I’ve continued to paint using the IVF needles and have found so much energy from this and the amazing infertility community I’ve found. Unfortunately, we had another miscarriage early last month at again 8 weeks, but my hopes are high and I’m painting and talking with other “TTC sisters” more than ever. Being open about this has helped me in many ways from my incredibly supportive work environment to the warmer smiles from acquaintances in the community. I always go back to the “be kind because you never know what someone is going through” quote I love.

I’m not great, but I’m fine and good. There are days when I randomly start crying in my car and there are days when I’m so positive and cheerful, it’s annoying. I like to joke about my situation using one of my favorite Seinfeld quotes, “That’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody can just take them. That’s exactly how I feel about my body right now. I can get pregnant but need to figure out how to hold the pregnancy. But through everything, the most important thing I’m learning is to stay open about the process. Other stories have helped me so much and I hope to help others. I don’t feel lonely anymore–I feel like a warrior in this struggle to achieve happiness. If I’m anything like my unbelievable mother (I am), I know I’ll be an amazing mom too one day–no matter how that happens.  But for now, I’m happy being me and using creativity and community to face adversity and win!

You can follow Jamie on Instagram @theglitterenthusiast 

Loss

Sadly, many of us have had friendships strained, or lost, as a result of our infertility. These secondary losses can be incredibly tough.

We received an art submission for our exhibit, SEA-ART-HEAL: The ART of Infertility in Seattle, that directly deals with this kind of loss. We’re sharing it in today’s post.

Have you lost a friendship as the result of your infertility? What was that experience like for you? Perhaps you would find it helpful to express those emotions through creating a piece of art, like this artist (who wishes to remain anonymous) did. If you do, we’d love for you to share it with us!

Loss
Anonymous
dress, paint

It is March. I have been bleeding more days this year than not.
My best friend, who gave me this dress, had unprotected sex
one time and got pregnant. When I also was pregnant, I could roll
my eyes at that. When I was not pregnant anymore I was
NOT OK.
I miscarried a baby that cost me thousands of dollars to get pregnant with.
“Two days ago I cried to (husband) and told him I hope I fucking miscarried so that you’d take me back.”
STOP (insert more abusive bullshit).
JUST STOP.

I lost my baby but I also lost my best friend.

Loss by Anonymous. dress, paint

 

 

Beautiful Pain

We love getting mail! A few months ago we received a letter from Kristen Fields, who wrote, “I was so inspired by your project that I ended up writing a poem this afternoon about my struggle with infertility this year. It was so therapeutic and I think will be a lot easier to share with friends and family because it’s a more wholistic way of expressing all of the complicated emotions this journey holds. So thank you for existing and showing up in my Google search, because it has seriously restored something inside me and made me feel less alone, and like I could contribute somehow! Please let me know if I can/ how to submit my poem. Thank you! Kristen”

We invited Kristen to submit her poem via one of our artwork submission forms, and she did. So, today we are happy to share Kristen’s poem with you. We hope that it will make you feel less alone, and that you will be inspired to contact us and share your own poetry and artwork with us.

Thank you, Kristen, for sharing your poetry!

Four Seasons in Japan by Masakazu Matsumoto

BEAUTIFUL PAIN

“Behind every beautiful thing there is some kind of pain.”
– Bob Dylan

There was some kind of pain
In Fall, our favorite season,
Unashamedly reveling in all that was still unshattered.
Making plans with closed eyes and open hearts
Naïve to the coming winter with long nights and a cold sun
Who bites at the things which we expose.
Attending appointments, sitting naked on a table,
Left waiting. Cold. Shivering. Bitten.

There was some kind of pain in Spring
With hope sown in new creation.
Earth poured out her showers
And let out roars from Heaven
Which fell echoed against the walls of this hollow room.
The rainbows dawdled behind rainclouds
But the colored beams always seemed to fade.
Surrounded by new and flourishing blooms,
Our tilled and nourished soil remained
Caked underneath our fingernails,
And in empty tear-soaked patches behind white picket fences.

There’s pain, I fear, in the
Summer’s sun with its warm and inviting glow
That shines of hope, a brighter outcome.
But I find myself after these three seasons lost
Burrowing,
To hold myself safe from getting pulled out into the tide.
Afraid to be crashed back onto the shore again,
Rejected by the Sea.
And then to face yet again our Brutus, Fall,
Whose cooler months might be the severest of them all.

__________________________________________________________

But it’s beautiful, you see,
To be surrounded by seasons,
To fall deeply in love with little souls you’ve never seen,
To think up their names and habits and traits and dreams
To peek inside the room that will hold their things
And pray that God would just give them to me…

——-

A note from Kristen,

“I wrote this in the wake of yet another negative pregnancy test. After being diagnosed with PCOS in the midst of us TTC our first baby, every month and every season has been harder than the last as the fear of the unknown, frustration with the wait, and multiplying insecurities grow with each negative test. I chose to write this poem the day I found out about this organization, as I wanted to be able to be a part of something bigger and hopefully resonate with other women going through these same beautifully painful seasons since this whole process can seem so lonely and isolating– that they might know they are not alone and find hope in the beauty that surrounds the pain.”

Waiting for Babies

Today’s guest post is from Steven Mavros, L.OM, the Founder of the Healing Arts Center of Philadelphia, and the producer of a new podcast called “Waiting for Babies.”

Maria and I met Steven when he came to check out our exhibit, SEA-ART-HEAL, in Seattle a couple of months ago. The three of us immediately connected over our shared desire to make infertility more visible by collecting and sharing oral histories. So, Maria and I were thrilled when he invited us to Philadelphia to partner on an art exhibit this fall. The exhibit will run November 3 – 28 at the Old City Jewish Arts Center.

We’re working hard to outline all the programming and the event dates and times, including a film screening and art and writing workshops. However, we’d love to start by introducing you to Steven. We’d also like to extend an invitation to you, to share your story of infertility through visual artwork and writing you have created. You can learn more by checking out our Philly event landing page.

Read Steven’s story of creating “Waiting for Babies” below. Then, give his podcast a listen. We’re particularly fond of his recent episode about Jessica (A).

Waiting for Babies
by Steven Mavros

15 years ago, when I first started practicing acupuncture, I never set out an intention to work with couples or individuals struggling to bring a child into their lives.  In my first month, a new patient brought me a study done in Germany detailing how using acupuncture before and after the embryo transfer of an IVF procedure raised its success rates.  She asked me to come to her fertility clinic and replicate what was in the study which I was happy to do.  When you’re first starting a practice you say yes to everything of course.  Thankfully, her physician was amenable and open minded enough to let us take up space in their office for something that was brand new in their world.

That study spread both among patients and the fertility doctors and suddenly I found patient after patient asking for this type of help as they’d heard I’d done it before.  Interestingly, there was also some evidence that acupuncture would be helpful for those who were just trying on their own or doing things that were less complicated than IVF like IUI or artificial insemination, so a lot of patients started coming in before they made it to IVF. Still, almost every week I would get a phone call (always the day before because they never got more than that amount of notice) and I would wake up earlier in the morning then I normally would and go to one of the fertility clinics and do some acupuncture.

Steven Mavros is an acupuncturist, founder of the Healing Arts Center of Philadelphia, and the creator of the new infertility podcast, “Waiting for Babies.”

Here’s how it would go: at the clinic I’d meet my patient and often their husband or partner.  The three of us would sit together in the waiting room until one of the nurses would come and tell us that they had space for us to do acupuncture and the woman and I would go back to do the treatment.  Afterward, I would sit in the waiting room for what could’ve been twenty minutes or could have been three hours for the procedure to be finished.  Then I would go back into the room to do a slightly different acupuncture again.  Needless to say I spent a lot of time waiting in clinics.  I often read both a book I brought and every magazine possible.  There was no handy internet in the pocket then.

This was such an intimate moment I was privy to. It was also extremely intense as the procedure they were about to have was in some ways the culmination of a lot of effort, time, money and emotion that they have been putting into trying to conceive.  At these treatments I would get a first-hand view as to what the couple’s relationship was like.  Some were what I’d consider healthier than others.  Sometimes they fought on the morning of and sometimes it was the most loving and caring thing I’ve ever seen. Sometimes there was no relationship because it was a single woman trying on her own or her partner didn’t show up or didn’t want to show up for reasons I didn’t always get to know.

To add pressure to everything the woman had to have a full bladder for this procedure. This always lead to a classic scenario.  I’d be sitting with my acupuncture case, the woman sitting next to me with her legs crossed three times around like eagle pose in yoga and the partner sitting next to her just twiddling their thumbs waiting for everything to be over. The nurse would come out and tell us that they were running a little bit behind and the woman would squeeze her legs together even tighter because she already had to pee and was both nervous and getting even more uncomfortable. Then, almost without fail, the partner would stand up and say “Ok, I’ll be back, I have to go to the bathroom.” To which the woman would always just roll her eyes and laugh and I would look incredulously at someone who clearly didn’t understand the concept of solidarity.

There are so many moments and so many little things that are both hilarious and heart wrenching sitting there with all of these patients and I realized that their stories are so intense and emotional and yet no one outside of that room knew what they were going through. So I thought the best idea would be to write a book and to try and tell their stories the best way I could.  I’d add along some anecdotes and things that had happened to me along the way.  But after hitting so many walls writing, I realized that I was trying to tell a story that wasn’t mine. I was trying to tell their story and that would never work because I didn’t have all the information. I don’t know what came before and what was to come afterwards. I didn’t always know how things turned out as sometimes I only got to see them in that one intimate moment and never even found out if the procedure worked.

So I decided the best place to hear that story was from the patients themselves. Waiting for Babies was born.

Pregnancy and miscarriage, IVF and artificial insemination are not actually new concepts to our American society, but given how little is talked about it you would think that it was. When it comes to medicine, we are so intensely private.  Did you know that in America there’s really no ritual or common healing practice for someone who’s had a miscarriage? Many other cultures have them to give you at least a playbook as to what to do when this happens but we miss that in America. And most of the time people bottle it up and keep it within the partnership which often doesn’t help either of them.  And it’s so much more common than you think as is this whole field. One in eight couples or individuals trying to get pregnant are having difficulties like this.  Most likely someone you know has either been through it or is going through it right now. I want to open that conversation and get all of this information out there to show just how human this whole process is and what some people are going through. I was to shed some light on how hard it is when something that for everyone else takes a very quick momentary interlude in life, but can take those struggling years and years.

It’s time someone shared their stories as there are so many more who are still waiting for their babies.

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/

Love’s Conception – Third Party Reproduction

Tomiko Fraser Hines – Photo by Guy Viau

Learning you will need to turn to third party reproduction in order to have a chance at experiencing a pregnancy is a hard thing to wrap your head around. Tomiko Fraser Hines used the art of poetry to find healing.

We first learned of her poem, “Love’s Conception…For My Boys,”  during our National Infertility Awareness Week event in Los Angeles in 2015. Then, the next month, she recited it for us during an Advocacy Day mini interview in D.C. You can #listenup by playing the audio, or reading the poem below. Thank you, Tomiko, for sharing your story! We look forward to seeing you in Los Angeles when we are there for our Men’s Health Month event in June!

“I wrote this poem in November of 2012 when I was about seven months pregnant with the boys. I was in the midst of all of the concerns that come with the way they were conceived, which was via an anonymous egg donor. And, basically, that they would not have (to my knowledge, I’m not a scientist) but to my knowledge they wouldn’t have any of my genetics. So, I had a lot of concerns about that and I needed to find a way to come to peace with it. I write, and words just kind of come through me. I sat down and I wrote this poem for them, but also for me, and it’s called, Love’s conception… For My Boys and it goes a somethin’ like this…”

You won’t have my eyes, but you will benefit from my vision.
You won’t have my mouth, but I will teach you how to use your voice.
You won’t have my ears, but your listening will be finely tuned.
You won’t have my DNA, but my blood will forever nourish you.
You were not my conception, but I will birth greatness in you.
We won’t reflect each other on a physical level, yet we will mirror each other in wondrous ways.
I will guide you.
I will shape you.
I will encourage you.
I will free you.
I will love you.
Hello! My name is Tomiko, and I am your mother.