Six Secret Confessions of an Infertile

by Elizabeth Walker

A couple of weeks ago, my husband, Scott, and I were interviewed by Steven Mavros of Waiting for Babies. It was a sort of pre-interview for the launch party and live taping that Maria and I will do in Philadelphia next week. (If you’re in the area, please join Maria and me in Philadelphia on August 9th for the Waiting for Babies launch party. Tickets are only $8 and include hors d’oeuvres and an open bar!)

It was the first time the two of us have been interviewed together and it was really valuable to share our story as a couple and reflect on everything we’ve been through over the past 8.5 years. I feel like we both gained more insight on how infertility affected us both individually and as a family.

It also got me thinking about all the crazy thoughts I’ve had along the way.  At the risk of sounding like infertility made me completely lose my mind, I’m sharing some secret confessions with you today. I figured I’m not alone in having some crazy or embarrassing thoughts while dealing with infertility. Maybe hearing mine will help you realize you’re not alone :).

NUMBER 1. I fantasize about finding a baby in the bushes or in the manger of a nativity scene during the month of December. I once read about a man who found a baby in the subway and eventually got to adopt it. If it happened to him, why can’t it happen to me?

NUMBER 2. I have felt extreme jealousy about the ability of Sea Monkeys to procreate. We had an aquarium of them when my nieces lived with us and there were new babies every single day. Why is it so easy for them, and so hard for me?

NUMBER 3. Likewise, when two tomato seedlings started sprouting in a dishcloth in my kitchen, I was first protective of them and then, several days later, in a fit of rage, destroyed them. Why could my twins not survive in my womb but these two little plants could spring up out of a dishrag?

NUMBER 4. I’m jealous that my friends get to hire babysitters. When I myself was in high school and a babysitter, I would fantasize of one day being the grown up and parent. The one who comes home in a glamorous dress after a night out with her adoring husband and pays the babysitter, asking what they did for fun while we were gone.

NUMBER 5. I seriously have to fight the urge to buy a baby doll every time I find myself in the baby aisle at Toys R Us. I think this also goes back to childhood and nurturing my dolls and dreaming of nurturing my own baby one day. Except that never happened. Now, I see the dolls through the cellophane windows in their boxes and long to take them home with me, knowing that that would truly be crazy and may be dangerously close to being completely unhealthy. Still, I’m tempted.

NUMBER 6. Recently, when I was walking my dog, I saw a neighbor walking down the sidewalk holding a newborn. For just a moment, I considered asking him if he’d trade me his baby for my dog.

What are your secret confessions as an infertile?

Undeniable Proof of Infertility – Memorializing a Journey

Traveling with this project, Elizabeth and I have had the privilege to listen and learn about all of you and your infertility stories. More recently, a few of you have been kind enough to share your stories and art with me for my dissertation “The ART of Infertility: A Community Project Rhetorically Conceiving Failed Fertility.” This dissertation emerged out of my collaborative partnership with Elizabeth and The ART of Infertility.

Being moved by meeting all of you, I sought to write a dissertation that did not scandalize infertility. Rather, I wanted to write a dissertation that honored the difficult journey we all need to endure because of infertility.  Simply, I wanted to share your stories and remind others that infertility matters. It may not be well-understood, but art can be a method to make visible the stories our infertile bodies carry.

As I finished writing my dissertation a few weeks ago, my body began to feel drained. Writing your stories, reflecting on my own infertility, the dissertation itself felt as if I had just given birth. Even my husband was exhausted! It has been an act of mental, emotional and financial labor — something many of us in the infertility world can understand. To memorialize this sense of fatigue, I created “72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof.” It sums up the 72 periods that have come and gone in the process of writing this dissertation. I share the piece below as an homage to my infertility journey, as well as a thank you to all of you who have influenced not only this piece of scholarship but who have shaped who I am today: A Strong, Infertile, Woman — now with a PhD — because of all of you.

72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof
Maria Novotny
acrylic on canvas

72 Tears: Undeniable Proof

I was young, 24 years-old, when I first encountered difficulties conceiving. Not ready to face the facts that I may need to undergo fertility treatments if I ever wanted to carry a child on my own, I decided to go to graduate school. It was my escape where I quietly hoped and prayed that by some magic power I would naturally become pregnant. Yet, as time passed on, I had to slowly face the fact that magic nor graduate school would make me become pregnant.

“72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof” is a data-visualization of the six years, twelve months and 72 periods that serve as undeniable proof of my infertility. During the first few years, when I began my period tears would trickle down my face. I mourned the sadness that yet another month had passed without conception. However, as time passed and to hear the stories of others who have had to live with infertility, my own strength increased. No longer did every period begin with tears running down my face.

I made this piece shortly after I turned in my dissertation to my committee. It serves as an homage to the journey I have taken both professionally and personally as I work to make experiences of infertility better understood.

The ART of Infertility as a Research Project

by Maria Novotny

As Elizabeth mentioned in last week’s blog post, we have been a bit quiet this summer. And as you may have learned from reading her post, while we were quiet, we certainly were busy both personally and professionally.

This summer I spent the majority of my time working on my dissertation titled, The ART of Infertility: Conceiving a Participatory Health Intervention Community. As some of you may know, I am fourth year PhD student in Rhetoric & Writing at Michigan State University. My research then looks at how women navigate an infertility diagnosis and use art as method of personal reflection and activism (read more at my website).

This coming May I will graduate and hopefully take a job as an assistant professor of writing and rhetoric at a university somewhere in the United States. My responsibilities in this role would include teaching writing courses ranging from health and medical writing to rhetorical research methods and multimodal composition. But – to first receive a job offer – I need to have a completed dissertation. Hence, a summer of writing all about infertility.

Waking each morning knowing that I would once again be thinking and theorizing about infertility allowed me to really take time to process my own journey. I actually went back to graduate school when my husband and I were first having trouble getting pregnant. As an English major in college, I had always wanted to go and receive my master’s degree so that I could teach at the collegiate level. With no pregnancy on the horizon, and having just moved to a new state for Kevin’s job, I applied and was accepted into Michigan State’s Critical Studies in Literacy and Pedagogy Master’s program.

In this program, I spent two years taking graduate level composition and education courses as well as teaching sections first-year writing. All the while, I quietly continued to try and get pregnant naturally. Graduate school was simply another distraction, until I enrolled in a course titled “Queer Rhetorics.”

Reading Hennessy’s article made me think how much infertility is tied to the production of materiality – literally being capable of producing a child. What happens though when our bodies can’t make a baby?

This course shifted my entire professional identity. As I read books and articles for this class, I started to see my own struggle with feeling often – abnormal. Especially in the case of sex. Few, if anyone I knew, could understand how messed up my sex life was because of infertility. But in reading queer theory, I could begin to find traces of myself in the other stories shared with me.

I began to eventually write reflections on the connections I was making to infertility and began to feel energized in sharing my own struggles and finding a space for infertility in my studies. In fact, part of my final project of this course resulted in several pieces of creative writing. For example, “The House” is a short vignette that is part of The ART of Infertility’s exhibit. My engagement in this course led me to apply for a PhD in Rhetoric & Writing – and long story short — ended up once again at MSU.

For the past fours years now, I have been writing, researching and presenting on what I call “rhetorics of infertility” which examines the meaning-making process of navigating an infertility diagnosis. Partnering with The ART of Infertility allowed me to explore this topic further by looking at how multimodal composition, such as creating art, opens spaces for personal validation as well surfaces a desire to use art as a method of activism.

Facilitating a micro workshop in Houston with the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition

Facilitating a micro workshop in Houston with the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition

As I begin my last year in graduate school, I still am not pregnant nor am I in treatment. But I am part of a wonderful organization – The ART of Infertility. And look forward to continuing this research as a co-director with Elizabeth. Through this partnership, we look forward to building a digital archive to provide greater access to narratives and artwork we have collected for the infertility community as a resource for support groups.

As a project that uses art exhibitions as a method to translate embodied, and often invisible or unrecognized challenges of an infertility diagnosis, we hope to continue bringing the exhibit to a variety of audiences. This summer, we were fortunate enough to travel to The Turek Clinic and share this work with physicians, fertility specialists and therapists. And this fall, we are thrilled to announce that we will be traveling internationally to present the exhibition for Merck’s Patient Day in Switzerland on November 9th. The purpose of Patient Day is to help educate staff members about the experience of infertility, and the other diseases and conditions, treated by the pharmaceuticals made by Merck.

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We’ll be flying into Geneva and look forward to collecting infertility stories in the surrounding areas while in Europe.

We haven’t finalized our exact travel dates yet, but for those who follow us in Europe, we will be on your continent for the second week in November, give or take.  Please contact us at info@artofinfertilty.org if you would like to be interviewed for the project.

And thank you to all who have supported this project throughout its journey. Elizabeth and I are truly amazed at your continued enthusiasm for this organization.

Nesting

As I wrote in a blog post not long ago, Maria and I recently had a conversation about how our homes have taken on a different purpose and meaning due to our infertility and living in them as families of two. It got us thinking about nesting, which inspired me to create some artwork around that theme. I made one piece, my “Inhospitable Nest” around the memory a dream I had years ago.

Choosing the materials for that piece and setting aside time to create it was very calming. Weaving the wire in and out was a meditative process and, while I don’t always end up with a product that looks like it did in my head, this one did. Better even. It made me want to create more nests. I’ve since created two more that I’m sharing with you today.

The first was created around a painful experience I had while my sister was visiting with her two youngest children. My four youngest nieces and nephews were having a sleepover at my parents’ house. My mother bought them all matching pajamas and they were wearing them, sitting in a row on my parents’ couch. I was overwhelmed with sadness. I knew that if my twins, conceived after our first embryo transfer, had survived, they would be sitting in the middle of the line up.

Cousins by Elizabeth Walker. Mixed media - copper and aluminum wire, coral, moss.

Cousins by Elizabeth Walker. Mixed media – copper wire, coral, moss.

 

The second was inspired by a conversation I had with my husband, Scott. We have pet Zebra Finches at home. The birds laid five eggs. One was kicked from the nest, one never hatched. However, three baby birds were growing well. Sadly, they died one by one, the last just days from being ready to leave the nest. Scott mentioned that we shouldn’t let them have babies anymore because it was a lot of work for them without the babies even surviving, to which I responded, “They did better than we ever did.”

Five years, five Clomid with timed intercourse cycles, four IUI hybrid cycles, one IVF cyle resulting in the transfer of three embryos and the furthest we ever got was an early miscarriage. Still, I’m grateful for that brief time I was pregnant.

Better Than We Ever Did by Elizabeth Walker. Mixed media - copper and aluminum wire, pearls.

Better Than We Ever Did by Elizabeth Walker. Mixed media – copper and aluminum wire, pearls.

 

 

The Stories We Tell: Reflections from Northern California

This week has been another busy moment for The ART of Infertility. We are in Northern California, reaching out to local infertility support groups and meeting local infertility professionals to help us host an art exhibit in 2016. These meetings have been going well and we are excited about how the project has been received so far.

Maria got this great shot of the Golden Gate Bridge from the plane.

Maria got this great shot of the Golden Gate Bridge from the plane.

In preparing for this trip, we finally made a “FAQ” sheet. This sheet provides a bit more detail about the project, our history and future goals. We encourage you to download it and share it with those who may be interested. And if you are interested in having us come to your city to either interview you, host an art/writing workshop, or an exhibit, please reach out to us!

Some of the participants at our cigar box collage workshop busy at work.

Some of the participants at our cigar box collage workshop in Citrus Heights busy at work.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have been (yet again) reminded of how powerful all of our meetings can be during our travels. For example, this past week, we met @Brave_IVF_Mama. She shared with us a bit of her story. Talking to her, we were reminded of the continued need for infertile wo/men to be advocates and resources for each other. @Brave_IVF_Mama embraces her infertility identity and serves serving as a resource for those in the infertile community. We were particularly struck when she told us about a comprehensive book review she did on children’s books about egg donation. This blog post posted a complete list of relevant books on the topic but also — pretty honestly — examines their positives and negatives. We encourage you all to check out this blog and @brave_IVF_mama as a useful and relevant resource.

Most of all, in talking to @brave_IVF_mama, we were reminded of the importance of stories. Of how having your infertility story is important. But in finding your own individual “resolve”, there are multiple stories. Stories about how you frame your decision to your friends/family. And, perhaps most significantly, stories about how you talk to your future children about their own conception story.

We left leaving this meeting feeling empowered about the ways that The ART of Infertility continues to teach us – Elizabeth and Maria – the multiple ways our own infertility network can teach us and serve as resources for honoring our own stories. We leave this blog post asking all of you, how has your infertility story evolved and changed over the days/months/years and who now is a part of this story? For Elizabeth and I, our infertility story includes all of you – our loyal and supportive followers. Hearing and sharing your stories have helped us heal and cope with our own infertility stories. We are thankful and grateful for all of your sharing. We hope that we continue to learn and grow from these experiences throughout our years.

In gratitude,

Elizabeth & Maria

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Our first night in the area, in Nob Hill.