News Round Up: All About Veterans

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CSPAN announcing HR 2577 passed.

This week’s News Round Up is all about veterans because a historic vote just took place and passed! The Mil-Con Bill, now named HR 2577, passed yesterday in the full United States Senate by a vote of 89 to 8, with Senators Corker, Crapo, Flake, Lankford, Lee, Paul, Risch, and Sessions voting against it and Senators Boxer, Cruz, and Sanders not voting. Confirmed: it *included* the Amendment providing funding for IVF for Veterans. It will now move forward to a conference committee to reconcile the bill and then go back to both the House and Senate for a vote.

Kuddos to all of you who called Congress this past week encouraging your local Senators to support this bill. Citizen advocacy does work!

Today, we localize the importance of this bill by sharing a recent news story of Michelle Wager, a MI veteran who has been facing her own infertility journey.

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Michelle Wager, a MI veteran facing infertility.

“A roadside bomb blew off one of Wager’s legs, badly damaged the other and broke her back. Doctors say she coded three times. Her recovery was long and painful. Military health benefits covered the cost to get Wager back on her feet, but there was another problem. Her menstrual cycles had completely stopped, doctors say her injuries threw her body into early menopause. She was just 31 years old and her chances of having a child were slim to none.”

You can read more of Michelle’s story here.

We invite you to learn more about the challenge veterans face when pursuing family-building options and to contact your federal representatives asking them to co-sponsor S 469, the Women Veterans and Family Health Services Act. Find your representatives here.

 

Let’s Remember Advocacy Day Is Just the Beginning

Empowering! Exhilarating! Amazing! Awe-Inspiring! 

Elizabeth and Maria at Advocacy Day's Welcome Reception located in the Russell Senate Building.

Elizabeth and Maria at Advocacy Day’s Welcome Reception located in the Russell Senate Building.

These are just a few words that can attempt to capture the overwhelming rush of energy you feel attending an Advocacy Day.

This year though was particularly invigorating given the day’s partnership with veterans and advocating for the VA to change their anti-family-building policies that provide no IVF care to veterans (click here to find out specifics of these policies). Taking on such an issue opened many doors, both on the right and the left, highlighting to staffers, legislative aides and the representatives themselves the injustice these VA policies have on family-building for military families.

At the opening reception, we were powerfully reminded by a military family the importance of advocating for sponsorship of these veterans bills. A military spouse remarked

“War has changed their family, it shouldn’t keep them from having one.”

Upon uttering these words, you could hear the gasps of emotion from the audience. Energy was filling our lungs.

And on Wednesday May 11th, we took that energy and got to work walking the hill as we wore our orange ribbons and #IVF4Vets buttons.Twitter blew up, Facebook pages blew up, even congressional reps and aids seemed a bit surprised.

Nearly 200 infertile advocates took over the hill on May 11th, changing the conversation.

Nearly 200 infertile advocates took over the hill on May 11th, changing the anticipated conversation.

But now, we are all back home. We have returned to our day-to-day, returned to hosting our support groups, returned to our own personal struggles with infertility. The question that we now need to focus on is no longer, how will I get my representatives to support better infertility coverage? We did that. We got their attention. We even made CNN.

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Jake Tapper of CNN covers our Advocacy Day and push to get #IVF4Vets.

The question is now, how can I continue to remind my representatives that #IFAdvocacy is not just a day – it is a movement for social change, a move towards family-building, a move towards reproductive social justice. How do we do this though? How do we bottle up all of that energizing spirit and tap into it on a consistent basis?

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Elizabeth, visiting Rep. Walhberg’s (R-MI) office for the third time to ask him to support #IFAdvocacy.

Think about it as a monthly bill that you have to pay (and doesn’t yet have automatic bill payment setup). Pick a date in your calandar. Perhaps it is the 11th since we met with our reps on the 11th. Give yourself a monthly alert on this date to connect once more with your represenatives. Send out an email, send a tweet. Take those business cards you received and email their aids. On Father’s Day, remind those our representatives of how hard this day can be for those looking to build their families. On Thanksgiving and Christmas, do the same. Be an advocate all year long. This takes work.

 

 

We know that it does. But if we want #IFAdvocacy and #IVF4Vets we need to hold ourselves and our representatives accountable. In the words of Rep. Tammy Duckworth, the hill is our house. Let’s be sure to demand to our representatives that infertility coverage is something we are putting in our house.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) speaking at the morning training session about her own personal story with infertility while serving in the military.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) speaking at the morning training session about her own personal story with infertility while serving in the military.

Getting Swept Up in the Fertility Tornado

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

Elizabeth

Fertility Tornado

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

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

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

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

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

Infertility is…

While we were in Washington, D.C. for RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association’s Advocacy Day and for our pop-up gallery and workshops at Busboys and Poets a couple of weeks ago, we asked those in attendance to fill out cards describing what “infertility is” to them. You’ll see some of them throughout this post, from Elizabeth. You can see more by viewing a slideshow at this link

infertility is a journey

When I think of infertility, I think of many things. How I view infertility and what it means to me has changed as I’ve traveled through my journey.

Infertility is… devastating.

Infertility is…feeling left behind.

Infertility is…an identity crisis.

 

I was pregnant once, as a result of a frozen embryo transfer, and only knew I was pregnant for a few days before learning that the pregnancy was ending in an early miscarriage. During those few days, I was excited, hopeful and cautiously optimistic, that after four years of timed intercourse, hormone injections, and 7 a.m. ultrasound appointments, I might finally become a parent. However, I was also experiencing some serious anxiety and a complete identity crisis.

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The early years of infertility were extremely difficult. However, once I was used to the fact that I had an infertility diagnosis (for the most part anyway), I settled in to my place as an infertile woman and RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association peer-led support group host. I read books on infertility, I knew which foods to eat to boost my egg quality (and incorporated excessive quantities of them into my diet), I had infertile friends, and was beginning to perfect my answers to the question, “Do you have kids?”, recite them with conviction, and be ready for any follow up questions that came my way.

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When I found out I was pregnant, though obviously happy, I was also confused about where I would fit in. What would happen to my relationships with my infertile friends who I would leave behind? What would my role within RESOLVE become? The first ART of Infertility exhibit was on the schedule at the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson and I remember being a bit upset that I had to stay in the world of infertility to work on it, instead of being able to enjoy my pregnancy.  I was terrified of moving into the world of someone who was pregnant after infertility. I was even feeling exhausted about the fact that, after watching my diet for years to GET pregnant, I’d need to watch my diet for another 9 months in order to make sure my baby was getting the nutrition it would need. It was a mix of thoughts and emotions. A complete identity crisis, over the course of less than 72 hours.

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I wish I would have gotten the chance to figure out how I would incorporate all of the thoughts and fears above into my new identity as a woman who was parenting after infertility. I haven’t gotten there yet and might even eventually choose to live child free. I’m still trying to navigate figuring out my identity a bit. However, through working on the ART of Infertility, I feel like I am really finding my footing. Because of this project, my view is now that

Infertility is…meeting amazing people, around the country and around the world, who understand how the disease impacts my life, because they’re living it too.

Infertility is…educating health care professionals about how they can better serve their patients.

Infertility is…hosting art and writing workshops to give others the creative outlet that I have found so helpful along the way.

Infertility is…visiting amazing cities and sharing the infertility stories of those who live there.

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Please share with us what “Infertility is” to you.

-Elizabeth

 

Fertility Tornado

Today’s guest post is from Kristin Phasavath. I met Kristin at RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association’s, Southern California Walk of Hope in Long Beach last September where we set up an appointment for her to be interviewed and photographed for the project. Kristin has a unique perspective because she was first a nurse at a fertility clinic and then, while working there, experienced secondary infertility and was a patient herself. Here, she shares her experience creating the oil painting, “Fertility Tornado”, which debuted at our pop-up exhibit in Calabasas and will be exhibited in Washington, D.C. next week. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Kristin!

Elizabeth

Fertility Tornado

My inspiration for the fertility tornado came from my time as a fertility nurse and a fertility patient. When you are in the throws of anything fertility it feels like you are in a tornado, whether you are a patient or a nurse. As a fertility nurse there is so much to organize for each patient all day everyday. Appointments, procedures, schedules, medications, labs, forms, insurance, etc, etc, etc…the list goes on and on and on. As a patient you deal with a very similar list that encompasses every breath you take. It effects your health, marriage, intimacy, mental status, finances, schedule, family life, and this list goes on and on. There is not one corner of your life this fertility thing does not infiltrate. Keeping everything straight as a nurse or a patient is like a tornado.
I wanted to create a visual concept of what this fertility tornado looked like to me. Once I sat down to paint, it really just painted itself. I think that I had lived with this statement and vision for so long it just poured out in an instant once I put brush to canvas. The process was amazingly fast. I think that the initial painting took less than an hour. It had wanted to come out for so long. It was very cathartic to me and I felt lighter when I was done. Like I had ironically enough given birth. Once I made up my mind to actually start the painting it flowed very easily, like it was what I was meant to do. No challenges in my way. It just felt good to finally let all my feelings out. There was a moment that I did get a little choked up because it felt a little like the end of an era. A little finality involved.

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

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

Kickstarter – Help us take the ART of IF to Washington, D.C.

As I began writing this, Maria was somewhere up in the sky or enjoying her layover in Minneapolis and I was about to board my flight to LAX. The past month has been a whirlwind prepping for our exhibit in Iowa City last weekend and Los Angeles County, this Saturday. I can only imagine that the next few weeks will fly by as well!

RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day is May 14th and Maria and I, along with Maria’s husband, Kevin, and my mother, Judy, will be on Capitol Hill in Washington, lobbying for legislation to help those with infertility build their families.

The ART of Infertility is heading to Washington, D.C. with a pop-up exhibit and workshops on May 15.

The ART of Infertility is heading to Washington, D.C. with a pop-up exhibit and workshops on May 15.

On Friday May 15th, we’re holding a pop-up art exhibit and writing and art workshops at Busboys and Poets at 5th and K in Washington, D.C. from 3 – 7 pm. The event is free and open to the public. We have artwork coming in from around the country (we’re still accepting art entries if you’d like yours included, click here.) and will be displaying local artwork, as well as a selection of the portraits and stories we’ve collected over the past year. Marissa McClure Sweeny will be teaching an art workshop and Jenny Rough, who you heard from on our blog yesterday, will lead a writing workshop. Registration is required for the workshops so please contact us if you’d like to attend. These community art events are powerful tools for raising awareness about infertility and building a network of support for those living with the disease.

The event in DC will be our 13th in a little over a year. (Is that possible? I had to check it 4 times to believe it was right!) We’ve been almost completely self-funded until very recently and, if the project is going to be sustainable and allow us to provide a creative outlet to more people in more cities, we know we can’t continue that trend. It’s been suggested by those who like what we are doing that we launch a Kickstarter campaign to allow people to easily contribute to the cause.

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A screen shot of the Kickstarter campaign we hope will help take the exhibit to Washington, D.C.

If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, here’s how it works. You have an opportunity to contribute to a project, in this case, our pop-up exhibit and workshops in D.C. and get a little something from the project in return.  We have some cool ART of IF swag featuring art from the project as rewards for contributing (ART of IF T-shirt, journal, or messenger bag, anyone?), as well as opportunities to get framed artwork from the show and a digital version of the exhibit we put together for D.C. We set a goal of $3500 and only receive money if our funding goal is reached. We don’t make it to $3500, we don’t get a thing. We only have 20 days to reach our goal! So, we’re asking for your help in funding this show in our nation’s capitol. Will you please join us in supporting the men and women with infertility in the DC area and those traveling in from around the country for Advocacy Day by contributing to our campaign? Here’s the link! ART of IF in DC Kickstarter Campaign.

Thank you!

Elizabeth

 

What is Your First Fertile Memory?

Today’s guest blogger is Jenny Rough. We’ve gotten to know Jenny a bit while working on our upcoming workshops and pop-up exhibit in Washington, D.C. and are looking forward to meeting her there next month!

Elizabeth

What is your first fertile memory?

A friend of mine asked me that question, and I spent a few moments in silence. I thought back as far as I could.

Sunflowers.

Sunflowers

The day I stood among the sunflowers in a garden by the side of our house. The sunflowers had grown even taller than me, just as my mom had said they would when we planted the tiny seeds. I was four years old.

It’s fascinating to me to hear how others answer that same question. Last month, I asked the women in the Living Childfree support group I host through RESOLVE. One woman recalled a summer night and a backyard full of fireflies. Another woman remembered a hike through a rainforest. Her family was an “indoor” family, so every twist and turn on the adventure brought a new surprise and engaged her senses.

On May 15, when the ART of IF’s pop-up exhibit is in Washington, D.C., I’ll be holding a workshop on journaling your fertility journey. One of the writing exercises will be to spend five minutes writing about fertile memories.

How about you? What is your first fertile memory? Please email me at jenny.rough [at] jennyrough.com, or post a comment here and share. I’d love to hear about it!

Jenny Rough is a writer who lives in Alexandria, Virginia. Every summer, she hikes out the sunflower fields near her home. Visit her on the web at jennyrough.com.

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