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.

Bringing The ART of Infertility to My Hometown in Utah

Today we hear from Camille Hawkins, Executive Director of the Utah Infertility Resource Center. We’re excited to be collaborating with Camille to bring The ART of Infertility to Utah next month for an exhibit and programming beginning mid-February and running through mid-March.Thanks, Camille, for sharing your story!

The first time I saw the positive line on a pregnancy test I was in disbelief. Five years of planning sex around ovulation, temperature taking, pills, my husband leaving semen samples in the awkward room at the clinic, injections, undressing from the waist down, putting my cold feet in stirrups, vaginal ultrasounds and suppositories, surgeries. Having grown up in the extremely family-oriented culture of Utah, there was nothing I wanted more than to have a baby and be a mom. We had finally made it. And then it ended.

One of the hardest things about miscarrying my beautiful embryo(s) was accepting that there was nothing more I could do to increase my chances of getting (and staying) pregnant again. All of the things I had the power to do had already been done. I saved my money religiously. I ate healthy. I followed the instructions for the daily cocktail of injections. I never put a laptop on my lap or got in a hot tub. I meditated and prayed. Lots.

Infertility sucks. That’s all there is to it. What’s more, people around me often didn’t understand the almost unbearable emotional pain I was dealing with. I tried sharing my story with others, but my thoughts, feelings, and experiences were frequently invalidated by well-meaning friends, family, and colleagues. I was so desperate, depressed, and isolated. Most days it felt that the only hope in life was the idea that maybe, just maybe, a miracle would happen that would finally allow me to be a mom. The day I went to work as a counselor and met with my client who had received an abortion at the same time I was miscarrying was the day I realized I could not do this alone anymore.

I needed real connection. I needed expression. I needed to know that I wasn’t alone. A black hole was pulling me in. I desperately needed someone or something to pull me out. I started to look and found nothing. I started painting and journaling to release and communicate the pain, but I still had no one on the outside to say, “Yes, this is awful. I know your pain. I went through it too. I was on that roller coaster.”

In March of 2014 I started a support group in my living room. That support group was the seed that led to the Utah Infertility Resource Center (UIRC), a nonprofit organization serving thousands of Utahns who are facing infertility. This is done through no and low-cost infertility counseling, in-person support groups, online support, infertility awareness, informational consultations, and educational events that bring our community together. The number of infertility community members that UIRC serves continues to grow, and in Spring 2018, we will offer yet another meaningful program called “Works and Wonders: Art Inspired by the Journey of Infertility.”

I met Elizabeth and Maria during a trip I took to Washington D.C. to advocate to congressional leaders on behalf of Utah’s infertility community. I learned about their personal stories and experiences with infertility and how they, like me, were using art and writing as creative expressions to make visible the pain of infertility. They told me how they too created a non-profit organization, The ART of Infertility. This organization collects art and writing reflective of infertility and reproductive loss and curates provoking and empowering exhibits about infertility so as to build community support and provide greater education and awareness. After talking to them, I knew that my hometown needed to host one of their exhibits.

I needed real connection. I needed expression. I needed to know that I wasn’t alone.

Two years later, URIC is partnering with The ART of Infertility to host a series of month-long programming, titled “Works and Wonders: Art Inspired by the Journey of Infertility”, running from Feb 16, 2018 – Mar 16, 2018. These innovative and emotionally powerful events will consist of:

  • Arches in Perspective: The ART of Infertility in Utah”, an infertility-themed art exhibit with original works at Art Access Gallery and Urban Arts Gallery in downtown Salt Lake City organized and curated by The ART of Infertility.
  • A series of community art therapy workshops, January 20 at Art Access with therapist Emily Bagley, and at each of our six monthly support groups throughout the state.
  • A film screening of the documentary, One More Shot, with a panel discussing using the humanities to cope with infertility on February 15 at Urban Arts Gallery.
  • An opening reception at each gallery on February 16 in conjunction with the SLC Gallery Stroll.
  • And, a closing night gala at The Falls Event Center on March 16 at 6 pm.

We have already held one art therapy workshop for our clients in preparation for the exhibit and the process and outcomes were heart wrenching, touching, and profound. One of the clients who attended said, “This workshop really brought out a lot of feelings I didn’t know I had. I was able to express those feelings in a productive way, and was able to have something to remind me.” I watched each person in this workshop, and learned all it takes to create art around infertility is a willingness to express and a medium to express with. The stories of each of our clients are already beautiful and healing. It just takes a willingness to transfer it from our brains and bodies to something outside ourselves.

I know there is nothing special about my own infertility story. In fact, as Executive Director of UIRC, I now hear the same story over and over again. All Day. Every day. The good news is that because of UIRC, no one in Utah ever has to go through this journey alone ever again. I, along with Maria and Elizabeth, hope “Works and Wonders” will provide even more opportunities for Utahns struggling with infertility to get the education, connections, and opportunities for expression that I know they so desperately need. I can’t wait for you to join us!

We are still accepting artwork for this exhibit. Enter yours at http://bit.ly/ArtworkUT2018.

Maria, Elizabeth, and Camille at Infertility Advocacy Day in 2016.

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

Pregnancy Loss Cards bring Healing

Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month is technically over but I hope that its effects are long lasting. During October, I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Jessica Zucker and calligrapher, Anne Robin, creators of a new line of pregnancy loss cards. The story of how art and writing has brought them healing, and how they hope their cards will bring healing to others, is below. Please be aware that the story does contain descriptions and themes of pregnancy loss.

Elizabeth

On a Thursday in October three years ago, Jessica Zucker was 16 weeks into her pregnancy when she began miscarrying at home. She was there alone and describes the experience as incredibly painful, intense, emotional, and horrifying. “I have these memories burned into my mind and my heart. Having her fall out, having to cut the cord, looking at her, putting her on a towel, and putting her in a bag.”

While her husband rushed home, Jessica was hemorrhaging. Fortunately, he made it in time to get her to the doctor but the amount of blood loss she was having made an un-medicated D&C necessary. That night, she drank wine and ate chocolate in bed. Jessica explains that grieving the loss of her daughter was made even more complicated by the fact that she herself also could have died. She wonders how she mustered the strength to make it through. “My grief would just come out. I would be driving somewhere and I would just start bawling or even screaming at the horror of how things happened,” Jessica said.

deeply-sorry-4

As a way to process her grief, Jessica, a clinical psychologist who specializes in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health in Los Angeles, began writing about loss. At first, she wrote about the politics of pregnancy loss and explored why we live in a culture where we can’t talk about the experience of miscarriage, where women somehow feel ashamed about their experiences. Then, last October, during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, Jessica initiated #ihadamiscarriage and went public with her own story in a piece she wrote for the New York Times. She explains that it’s helped so much because she’s connected with such wonderful women in the loss community around the world. “I feel my greatest way to honor my daughter, to honor our brief life together, our brief connection, has really been through my writing and I think that’s been the way that I’ve actually healed.”

“I feel my greatest way to honor my daughter, to honor our brief life together, our brief connection, has really been through my writing and I think that’s been the way that I’ve actually healed.”

Wanting to fill a void in the cultural conversation and in the marketplace surrounding pregnancy loss, Jessica decided to create a line of cards; to create something concrete and meaningful as a way to connect after a loss. Research shows that, after miscarriage, women are blaming themselves, feeling guilty, and feeling incredibly isolated. “My hope is that the cards convey messages that help women feel seen, feel validated in their experience, feel understood, and inevitably feel less alone because the card sender is thinking of them.” Jessica explains.

She also thought the cards could provide a sort of go-to guide for people who wonder what to say after someone they love experiences loss. They want to say the “right” thing, but many times don’t know what to say so they stumble.

love-you-5

Jessica knew which messages she wanted to convey through the cards but needed help designing them. She reached out to calligrapher, Anne Robin, who also has experience with pregnancy loss. “There were three (miscarriages) at different stages, all within the first trimester. One of them was at 12 weeks, one was at 11 weeks, and then two babies that we found out at 20 weeks had severe inter-cranial hemorrhage.” recalls Anne. “They realized there must have been some kind of genetic problem but they couldn’t find it.”

Anne was told by her geneticist to “just try again.” “That’s easier said than done, obviously, but I was pretty determined and felt like I needed to, like I couldn’t NOT try again, and again, and again, until it finally worked.” Anne recalls.

Eventually, it did work, and Anne now has a 4-month old son. As a way to memorialize her babies, she has a little box she keeps ultrasounds in, along with letters she’s written to them, and other mementos. “I still wanted something very physical so the one thing I did and I do really kind of cherish is had a new necklace made with a ‘C’ for my older son, that’s cut out of a circle, and then for the two babies that we lost much later, kind of the two that felt more real to me, I have these kind of empty rings. It’s something that I always have on me and it feels special and now my baby holds onto it a lot. He’ll have one of his fingers through the rings so that always feels really symbolic to me.” Anne explains.

grief-knows-5

Anne also used Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month last year to share her story publicly, creating a series of prints around the topic of pregnancy loss that were available for purchase, download, and use, on her website. She wanted to do something else this year and was looking for a project when Jessica approached her about doing the artwork for her pregnancy loss cards. “I finally had this baby in June and was interested in kind of coming full circle. Last year I was doing this all at seven weeks pregnant and totally terrified.” Anne explained, adding that, this year, she had a little bit more peace about her experiences and felt like she could really invest time and heart into the process.

I was pretty determined and felt like I needed to, like I couldn’t NOT try again, and again, and again, until it finally worked.”

To get started, Anne had Jessica look at her Instagram account to send her a list of fonts she liked and they brainstormed ideas. Realizing they both have an affinity for Mid-Century Modern design, Anne moved forward with shades of turquoise, mustardy yellow, and brick red, following a color scheme falling within that design aesthetic. “I didn’t want to make them super bright because I felt like they should be more muted because of the subject matter,” Anne explains.

Once a general design plan was in place, Jessica let Anne run with it.  “I love everything she does so it’s kind of ridiculous. I told her, you go for it, this part is all you,” she said.

What resulted was a series of pregnancy loss cards featuring honest messages, and gorgeous calligraphy. While some of the stronger language may not resonate with everyone, Jessica hopes that there’s a card in the series for everybody and wanted to convey a sense of consistency.

pregnancy-after-4

With messages including, I’m here for you always and I love you like crazy, Jessica explains, “I’m trying to underscore the point that I’m here for you right now because this happened and then next week we can hang out in this uncomfortable space together because this is part of life and where a lot of growth, unfortunately, happens.”

She adds that rushing grief doesn’t help anybody and ignoring it most definitely doesn’t either. “I think it’s incredibly important to try to resist judging one’s grief and that we should really shy away from comparing and contrasting grief or loss experiences.” The card stating grief has no timeline expands on this theme. “Women shouldn’t have to worry that they’re going to make somebody uncomfortable or that it’s inappropriate somehow to talk about their loss. That they should feel well within x amount of time,” Jessica says.

It was important to Jessica to have a card for pregnancy after loss, and she describes the baby loss/still birth announcement in the collection as stunning and so meaningful and important.

Both Jessica and Anne have been completely overwhelmed and excited by how well the cards have been received. “At first we were literally talking about printing 25 copies of each card. We had no idea the press we were going to get and the reaction that people would love them so much.” says Anne, adding how nice it’s been that people have been expressing gratitude that the cards are now available.

loss-announcement-4

Working on this line of cards has been an important part of Jessica and Anne working through emotions surrounding their own experiences with loss and it seems that the cards are definitely fulfilling Jessica’s goal of delivering honest and truthful messages, filling a gap in the marketplace, and sparking a discussion about pregnancy loss. She explains, “We have to embrace that this is part of trying to create life and women shouldn’t feel that they have to be quiet about it.”

Jessica’s hope is that future generations grow up in a landscape that is incredibly different when it comes to these important and normative issues, saying, “It can be like a rollercoaster ride. you can be laughing one day or one hour and, the next hour, screaming about your pain and that’s okay.”