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?

What IF?

Today, we’re sharing another piece from SEA-ART-HEAL: The ART of Infertility in Seattle. A huge thanks to Barrie Arliss and Dan Lane for submitting this piece and allowing us to keep it for our permanent collection! #artheals

What IF?
Barrie Arliss (with Dan Lane as illustrator)
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A page from “What IF” – A graphic novel by Barrie Arliss, illustrated by Dan Lane.

1.5 years of every hippie method possible, I successfully got pregnant with one IUI. He’s perfect, and now almost 4 years old. We thought trying for a sibling would be as easy as doing that IUI…and we were wrong. I’ve heard so many stories from friends or on TV or through doctors how eventually—either with time or the right amount of persistence with treatments, I’d get this magical baby we wanted. But we never did.

2 years, 3 failed IUIs, countless cancelled cycles, 1 retrieval, 1 really horrible allergic reaction, and 3 failed IVFs later all I had at the end was 1 miscarriage. I never thought I would come out of this with nothing. After all the money and hoping and acupuncture and cutting back on running and eating more liver and so on and so forth, I thought that science would win. I hadn’t heard of the stories where people aren’t successful. Where no surprise baby suddenly happens after a year of ending treatments. No one seemed to talk about those. So the next year I did some major self care, and this graphic novel has been my outlet for healing. I may never get over the fact that we don’t have the family we dreamed of, but we’re moving on and creating this book for others who might be going through what we went through is helping.

These two pages of What IF, the graphic novel, depict the first time I had to give myself a shot of hormones for my 1st upcoming transfer. My husband wasn’t around that evening, and I thought I could do it–because I’m strong and independent and all the typical feminist stuff…but there I was, in the kitchen completely frozen with fear. If you can relate, I’m sorry and also, hugs!

Apply for Grant to Join ART of Infertility at Advocacy Day

In May, we’re heading to Advocacy Day for our fourth year. We know that there are many in the infertility community who would also like to attend, but find it difficult when they are already paying out of pocket to try to build their families.

So, this year, we’re offering a grant to allow a first-time attendee from an under-represented state to make the trip to attend this event, hosted by RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association.

You can get all the details below. We hope that those of you eligible will apply, and that everyone will share the word with their online and in real life support groups, their clinics, families, and friends.

Details:

  • The grant will cover airfare and ground transportation, lodging, and a stipend for meals.
  • All eligible entries will be considered and staff from RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association will choose the awardee.
  • All information must be submitted by Tuesday, April 4th at 11:59pm EST and the grant recipient will be notified on, or before, April 12th.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • To be eligible, you must live in one of the following locations: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine,  Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
  • You must also be able to travel to Washington, D.C. on May 16th, 2017 and stay through the evening of May 18th, 2017.
  • Eligibility requires participation in all Advocacy Day activities, including physical assistance with a pop-up exhibit featuring Advocacy Day stories and artwork that will be curated by The ART of Infertility and on display during the welcome reception on Wednesday May 17th.

To Enter:

Please fill out the following form: http://bit.ly/ADGrant_2017

About The ART of Infertility:

In March 2014, the first exhibit “The ART of IF: Navigating the Journey of Infertility” debuted at the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, MI. Elizabeth Walker curated this exhibit which emerged from her own experiences with infertility. In an effort to make sense of her infertility diagnosis and surround herself with people who understood the difficulties of navigating infertility, she joined an infertility support group and realized the importance of sharing her journey with infertility. She also began creating artwork representing infertility and with others in her infertility support group collected artwork and stories for the Ella Sharp exhibit. Shortly after its exhibition, Maria Novotny met Elizabeth at Advocacy Day, an annual event hosted by RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, which lobbies Congress on access to care and other issues important to the infertility community. Both being from the state of Michigan, Elizabeth and Maria spent the day lobbying MI congressional representatives.

Spending time together, we shared how infertility was shaping not just our personal lives but professional ones as well. Maria explained that she was studying “rhetorics of infertility” as part of her PhD at Michigan State University. Elizabeth described how she was trying to bring the exhibit to other cities and collect more stories and artwork from around the country. We both shared a desire to become more involved in the infertility community and less concerned with becoming pregnant ourselves. We shared how we were finding our own healing in creative outlets and connecting with other infertile women and men. After the advocacy event, Maria sent Elizabeth some short non-fiction vignettes detailing the everyday struggles of being young, recently married and diagnosed with infertility. In turn, Elizabeth shared mixed media art pieces representing the pain, frustration and isolation of experiencing failed fertility treatments. Through this sharing, we both noted how central creativity was to our healing and, so, we decided to collaborate. Through this collaboration, we developed “The ART of Infertility” the national art, oral history and portraiture traveling exhibit.

Why Advocacy Day:

Advocacy Day holds a special place for The ART of Infertility. It is where Elizabeth and Maria first met and where the project really began to grow. Advocacy Day serves as a reminder of why we travel the world curating exhibits and raising infertility awareness. As two infertile women, however, we understand that affording Advocacy Day can be a challenge. This grant is aimed to provide support for an infertile person who would like to attend but could otherwise not afford to come. It is our hope to inspire another infertile person by granting them the opportunity to join hundreds of passionate women and men fighting for infertility justice.

Click here to learn more about Advocacy Day.

Questions can be directed to: info@artofinfertilty.org

 

The ART of Infertility – 2016 Year in Review

Men's Health Month Pop-Up Exhibit at The Turek Clinic, San Francisco

Men’s Health Month Pop-Up Exhibit at The Turek Clinic, San Francisco

A Holiday Thank You

Throughout this year, you supported The ART of Infertility. Perhaps you sponsored an art workshop, invited us to speak at an event, or attended an art exhibition. Whatever the form of your support, we thank you.

We have come a long way since the project began in 2014. Without your collaboration, The ART of Infertility would not be the success that it is today. We are honored to count you as s supporter of the project. As we move into 2017, please know that your desire to raise infertility awareness inspires our work.

Becoming a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit

To support the project’s growth, we are becoming a non-profit organization. We filed our articles of incorporation in June and are working with our attorney to wrap up the rest of our paperwork before the year’s end. We are excited about our soon-to-be non-profit status and invite you to consider The ART of Infertility in your end-of-year donations. 

Your financial support directly impacts the project. It helps us cover storage fees for the collected artwork, transcription of oral histories, and also supplements art workshop supplies. We welcome donations of in-kind services as well. You can make a donation to the ART of IF via our secure Square checkout.

New Artwork

A panel from Infertility is the Worst by Zechmeister-Smith

A panel from Infertility is the Worst by Zechmeister-Smith

We added 17 new pieces of artwork from 4 artists to our permanent collection in 2016. Have artwork you’d like exhibited? Learn how here! Included among these works is the series Infertility is the Worst by Kelly Zechmeister-Smith. Kelly created this piece using micron pen and watercolor paint and says, “This work began with an inexplicable creative urgency to represent my layered feelings surrounding my own unexplained infertility (UI)–a maddening diagnosis.  Creating small, cartoonish self portraits highlighting my daily experiences as a childless artist and teacher quickly became a therapeutic outlet for me.  My hope is that the viewer finds these pieces a playful yet raw glimpse into the life of someone struggling with UI.”

2016 Highlights

Joining Forces for Men’s Health

In June, Men’s Health Month (MHM), we teamed up with The Turek Clinic’s San Francisco office and Men’s Health Network to raise awareness about the unique challenges men face when dealing with infertility, as well as other barriers to men’s health care. We displayed artwork and stories from the project’s collection and attendees were invited to visit make and take art stations. Plans are underway for a MHM event in Los Angeles for 2017. Contact us if you’re interested in collaborating!  View event photos here.

Presenting at ASRM

In October, we visited Utah (one of two new states this year, the other Texas) to present the talk ART of Infertility: Curating Patient Centered Perspectives Via an Artifact Oral History Methodology at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’sAnnual Scientific Congress. We were excited to be both first time attendees and first time presenters.  It was fantastic to see members of our infertility family from around the nation and make new connections as we attended sessions and visited the expo hall.

ART of IF goes International

In November, the The ART of Infertility went international when we received an invitation to do a pop-up art exhibit for a staff education day for Merck KGaA Darmstadt, Germany (known as EMD Serono in the states). The event, held in Coinsins, Switzerland, also included a presentation during which we shared our own stories and stories from the oral history archive. We also participated in a Q&A for the medical deliverables team, which later continued with lively discussion around the water cooler.

Visit our website to learn about the other places we visited, exhibited, held workshops, and collected stories in 2016.

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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. 

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With gratitude, 
 
Maria and Elizabeth
 

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

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Giving Tuesday as a Not Quite Non-Profit

We are working with our attorney to finish up the last of our final paperwork for filing as a non-profit. We are excited about what this will mean for the sustainability of The ART of Infertility (ART of IF) and the work we do to educate about the experience of infertility and provide a creative outlet and community of support for those living with it. For those of you new to ART of IF, or who need a refresher, here’s a link where you can learn more about our mission and our team.

A participant works on a memory box at an art workshop in Ann Arbor, MI.

A participant works on a memory box at an art workshop in Ann Arbor, MI.

Our articles of incorporation were filed in June. This means that, considering that our final paperwork is accepted and non-profit status is granted (and we have no reason to believe it won’t be), any donations will be tax-deductible retroactively to the date they were filed. Long story short, you give, it will be a future tax deduction.

However, we have really been struggling with asking a population who has already sacrificed so much, to give more. Many of you have to pay out-of-pocket to even get testing to receive an infertility diagnosis, let alone have an attempt to build your family through treatment or through adoption.

You scrimp and save, give up the large and small luxuries in life, max out credit cards, take out home equity loans, just to have a chance to have what comes so easily and virtually free to most, a child.

So, if you’ve passed the point in your fertility journey where every penny counts, or have access to insurance that keeps your out-of-pocket costs low, then yes, by all means, we could definitely use some cash!

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Our current storage space shortly after we moved in. It’s now filled to the brim and we need an upgrade!

Thanks to those of you who have generously shared your artwork and stories with us, we have an urgent need for a bigger storage space for our artwork and art workshop supplies for 2017. Ideally, we’d like a space that also allows us prep area for exhibits and workshops. You can help us by giving to our general fund at this link. Any amount, large or small, is greatly appreciated. Seriously!

If not, we totally understand. Here are some free and low cost ways to contribute to ART of IF to and the work we do to benefit the infertility community.

  1. Ask friends and family you think would be interested in ART of IF to follow us on social media. We’re on Twitter and Instagram @artofif and on Facebook. You can learn how to ask your friends to like our page on Facebook by following these instructions.
  2. Share a favorite blog post from ART of IF on social media.
  3. Send us your infertility artwork, permanently or on loan, so that we can share it through our exhibits, blog, and website. You do not have to be a professional artist. We welcome any form of expression by those of any skill level.
  4. An image from the series, "Infertility is the Worst" by Kelly Zechmeister-Smith

    An image from the series, “Infertility is the Worst” by Kelly Zechmeister-Smith

    Schedule a time to share your story with us via an oral history interview. Interviews can be conducted in person or via phone or Skype.

    Maria conducts an oral history interview during Advocacy Day events in Washington, D.C.

    Maria conducts an oral history interview with project participant, Angela,  during Advocacy Day events in Washington, D.C.

We consider it an honor and a privilege to collect and share your infertility stories through our art exhibits and oral history project. None of what we do would be possible without your participation and we are grateful every day for what the gift of your stories allows us to do. Please help us continue our work by contributing to ART of IF now.

All the best,

Maria Novotny and Elizabeth Walker, Co-Directors of The ART of Infertility

We Are Strong Women

No matter who you voted for, waking up last Wednesday morning morning it was clear: the world has been changed. For Elizabeth and me, this took on particular meaning as we finalized our presentation for Merck KGaA’s As One For employee education day, an event devoted to Merck staff understanding the perspectives of patients using their products.

We made the trip to Switzerland with six suitcases and two backpacks full of art and supplies.

We made the trip to Switzerland with six suitcases and two backpacks full of art and supplies.

Sitting in our Coinsins, Switzerland L’Auberge Salon (aka – our small but quaint hotel room) – we decided to devote this presentation to all the infertile women who have had to struggle to fight for their dreams, fight for their passions, fight for a child. In honor of all of you who have graciously shared either your time, resources or both to The ART of Infertility – we dedicate this to you – the infertile but ever strong woman.

Here is a bit about our own personal stories and how we have found strength in our infertility.

-Maria

Elizabeth’s Story.

My husband Scott and I met on New Year’s Eve 1999, married in May of 2004, and five years later, decided to add to our family by having a baby.

I went off the birth control pill in March of 2009 and started charting my cycles. My chart was a mess. Definitely not what you want your chart to look like while trying to conceive. By fall, my chart was looking better but I was finding that the time between ovulating and starting my period wasn’t long enough to be optimal for implantation and to sustain a pregnancy.

My first chart off birth control.

My first chart off birth control.

Right around that time, Scott’s sister, Shelley, got sick. She was the recently divorced mom of three little girls. The girls began spending Shelley’s custody days with us. Suddenly we were thrown in to sleepovers, play dates, homework, and bath time. We were the ones to tuck them in at night, soothe them when they woke up from nightmares, and nurse them back to health when they were sick. The circumstances were terrible, but having them living with us was one of the very best experiences of my life. Sadly, Shelley died in January of 2010.

That March, their dad moved them to Minnesota. With the girls nearly 600 miles away, we were devastated. This was made even worse by the fact that it had been over a year since we started trying to conceive and we were officially dealing with infertility. I wondered if the time that the girls lived with us would be the only time we’d ever parent. We needed to see a doctor to get started with testing and treatment but took some time to heal first. Well meaning friends and family, not knowing we were trying to conceive and unsuccessful, suggested that having a child of our own might help us heal. While we wanted a baby, it was no replacement for the precious nieces that we were longing for.

By the end of the year, we were ready. At Thanksgiving, I was headed to testing and my sister she announced she was pregnant her second month of trying to conceive. We spent Christmas of 2010 with the girls in a hotel in Minneapolis. The entire trip, I was receiving test results and scheduling more appointments.

Between the end of 2010 and the end of 2012, I was diagnosed with Luteal Phase Defect, Endometriosis, and Diminished Ovarian Reserve. We endured five rounds of oral meds with timed intercourse, four intra-uterine inseminations with oral and injectable drugs, I had a diagnostic laparoscopy, and I joined a RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association support group and then became the group’s host.

What I personally found hardest about infertility was being stuck in limbo as my friends and family had children, all the decisions that infertility forces you to make, and the fact that it’s an invisible disease. In order to make my infertility visible, I started creating artwork.

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The first piece of artwork I made during my IF journey.

The first piece created out of my infertility journey, made while on medical leave after an exploratory laparoscopy to remove polyps and endometriosis.

I learned that others were also using artwork to deal with infertility and in fall of 2012, pitched an “infertility art exhibit” to the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, Michigan, where I live. The exhibit would provide educational info on infertility, display the environmental portraits, artwork and stories of those living with infertility, and offer an art workshop.  They said yes.

Early 2013 brought our one and only IVF cycle. My retrieval led to complications (internal bleeding and ovarian torsion) for which I needed emergency surgery. After I recovered, we transferred two of our three resulting grade 5AA blastocysts. I got pregnant, but miscarried twins early on. This all happened between the middle of February and June 1st and I needed a break after all we’d been through.

I spent the rest of the year working on the exhibit, compiling facts, making artwork, and photographing exhibit participants. I wanted to show them participating in activities other than infertility that defined them.

What I personally found hardest about infertility was being stuck in limbo as my friends and family had children, all the decisions that infertility forces you to make, and the fact that it’s an invisible disease. In order to make my infertility visible, I started creating artwork.

In February of 2014, we transferred our last embryo and I didn’t get pregnant. My husband and I had reached the end of our journey in attempting to have children that are genetically ours. We needed time to grieve and regroup with the idea that we may eventually move on to living child free or adopting from foster care. Two and a half years later, we’re still working on healing from all we dealt with. We need a bit more time to come to terms with what we’ve been through, and rebuild our relationship. However, I am starting to feel the pressure of time and the need to make a decision about how we will resolve our infertility. We are still considering living child free, especially since we have such a close relationship with the nieces we parented for a time. We are also considering using donor embryo, an option that I started considering after hearing the story of Noah and Maya, who I interviewed for the project.

In March of 2014, The ART of IF: Navigating the Journey of Infertility opened at the Ella Sharp Museum. Along with raising awareness about infertility through the art exhibit, I began lobbying for infertility legislation on Capitol Hill with my first trip to Advocacy Day in D.C. that May, where I met Maria Novotny.

Maria’s Story.

This is where my infertility story begins – at yes, believe it or not, the age of 15. I met Kevin, my now husband, at this age. Throughout high school and college, Kevin and I dated on and off. Ultimately, upon graduation we decided to get married. Both of us came from big families. In fact, my family was so large that my parents actually had my brother when I was 18. So the idea of being infertile NEVER crossed my mind. In fact, I was often warned that I would be “too” fertile. This was a joke at the time, but now is all too ironic.

Kevin and Maria with family on their wedding day.

Kevin and Maria with family on their wedding day.

After marrying at the age of 23, we moved to MI for Kevin’s job and bought a house. Soon we began nesting, adopting dogs and shortly after decided to “try”….

Months passed and nothing. No success. A year passed. And we knew something was wrong. I booked an appointment with my OB/GYN. Tests came back and it was suggested we go to our local fertility center.

We attended a consultation and left feeling completely overwhelmed. We were 24 and grappling not only with the numerous options available as well as financial cost – but also with the fact that we were trying to understand our new infertile identity. We felt paralyzed. We were living in a new state. We had no family near us. And we had few close friends. So, we decided to look for support…

But couldn’t find anything. Desperate just to meet someone else who was infertile, we turned to the internet and “came out” with our infertility. We shared our story on our local city’s newspaper and asked others if they too needed support. Slowly but surely, we began to connect with others looking for a safe space to deal with issues in a city that was rated by Forbes Magazine as “the #1 place to raise a family.”

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At this time, I found myself needing to document my infertility journey. I felt a deep desire to capture the complex and confusing feelings that I was experiencing. So I began to write. Doing so, I wrote several pieces. One of which is titled The House, a piece now in The ART of Infertility which reflects on the house my husband and I bought prior to learning about our infertility.

As I began to do more creative writing pieces, I felt an increasing connection to return to school. As a college student, I majored in English. Learning how writing could help with emotional and physical healing, I started a Master’s program focused on writing and the teaching of writing. Graduate school became a place where I could escape the pressures of not conceiving, of not becoming a mom.

We attended a consultation and left feeling completely overwhelmed. We were 24 and grappling not only with the numerous options available as well as financial cost – but also with the fact that we were trying to understand our new infertile identity. We felt paralyzed. We were living in a new state. We had no family near us. And we had little to few close friends. So, we decided to look for support…

Today, I am in the last year of my schooling – finishing my PhD in an area that I call “rhetorics of infertility” which explores how writing and art are composition practices communicating the challenges women and men face when diagnosed with infertility.

And so, while I currently am not in treatment, nor am I pregnant – I still am very much in limbo. Very much in a place of not knowing what my next move should be. I am 30 now. I have lived the past 6 years knowing that I am infertile. But the need to make a decision about what to do next is so overwhelming that I am secretly hoping it will work itself out, that my husband and I won’t have to make a decision. This hope is what we call “limbo” – the not knowing of infertility and the sheer exhaustion that comes with its disease.

***

While we both have decisions to make about further growing our families, through ART of IF, Elizabeth and I have found more happiness, and peace than either of us has had in years. The connections that we have made with other infertile individuals and families, the work that we do in helping them along their journeys, and the awareness about the patient experience that we are able to raise, has given us fulfillment. For both of us, this project turned organization has become the baby that neither one of us could have.

We shared these stories with Merck employees, followed by a Q & A. Upon doing so, our co-presenter, a fertility specialist in the UK, concluded the session. She reminded all of us that while infertility can be difficult to learn about – both in terms of its sadness and depressing nature – we need to remember that infertility can make those dealing with it stronger. She spoke to the fact that The ART of Infertility is a testament to this. That when women face adversity, they can create beautiful things. We – the infertile – are strong (and powerful) women. We were very touched by her words and the important reminder that is especially relevant in this post-election time that we are now living. Let us not forget that our challenges have the potential to make us stronger and, through the lives we live and the work we do, we have the ability to make a positive impact on our own lives and the lives of those around us.

How have you found strength in your infertility journey? We would love for you to share it with us.

After traveling all night, we arrive at Merck to drop off the exhibit supplies.

After traveling all night, we arrive at Merck to drop off the exhibit supplies.

 

 

 

The Intern’s Perspective

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Hello all, you don’t know me but I hope by the end of the year you will. My name is Jalen Smith, I will be working with Maria and Elizabeth this year as their Social Media and Communication Intern for The ART of Infertility. I am currently an undergraduate senior studying journalism at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan where I will graduate in May 2017. I come into this internship with a vast array of experience in communication/writing related positions. Here at MSU, I have worked with various campus media outlets including VOICE Magazine as their Vice President and Content Editor and The Black Sheep where I work currently as a Staff Writer. In addition to my experience in the media, I am also a member of the living learning community RISE (Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment) program where I served as a peer mentor and working towards a minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies in addition to my major. I am originally from Detroit, Michigan where I attended the award winning Cass Technical High School and served as a Public Affairs/Communication Officer for their Junior ROTC program

Enough about me though, I am super excited to be working with the project this year. This past weekend, I had my very first opportunity to see some of the artwork in person and truly get a feel of what this organization’s message is. The event took place at REACH Art Studio in Lansing, Michigan about a 10 minute drive from East Lansing. At first glance, the artwork was a lot to take in, I needed a moment of retreat to take in the context of the art I was seeing.

One of the many new pieces on display from Art of Infertility at the exhibit.

One of the many new pieces on display from Art of Infertility at the exhibit.

Having said that, the art was engaging, it was powerful and it was compelling. I particularly enjoyed certain key pieces that included Elizabeth’s own piece titled, “Crib with Medication Boxes.” It really spoke to me, the amount of trial and tribulations this disease has caused so many. It made me think about the families, the mothers, the fathers, that were heartbroken, made to feel “less than” because of their inability to conceive. It made me think about some of the small things in life some of us take for granted. “What comes easy for some does not come easy for others.”  A lesson in the realities of infertility for millions across this nation and quite frankly, across this planet was a hard pill to swallow. The art exhibit also had lots of other interesting pieces from many other artists and had a thought provoking outlook in the sector of cultural rhetorics.

Elizabeth Walker's piece titled, "Crib with Medication Boxes" Was one of the many featured in the show from Art of Infertility.

Elizabeth Walker’s piece titled, “Crib with Medication Boxes” Was one of the many featured in the show from ART of Infertility.

The concepts in which these rhetorics exist for me is still a confusing concept to grasp luckily Maria will be able to coach me through them this year. There are several different themes associated with the rhetorics of this event. For the Art of Infertility most of the artwork exist in three of those categories: activism, body, and unity. Activism is something that for me stands out as a core theme of this organization. The ability to spread awareness, start conversation and engage and bring together people of different backgrounds to discuss an issue that has long lasting physical, mental and emotional trauma. I’m so thankful that I have been given the opportunity to work with this team this year. To help create engaging content that will allow the voices of the voiceless to be heard. Looking forward to an academic year of purpose! Until next time! Hello again!

Maria Novotny and I discussing other artist's pieces during our visit to REACH Art Studio.

Maria Novotny and me discussing other artist’s pieces during our visit to REACH Studio Art Center.

The Transforming Power of Visual Art

We’re kicking off fall with a guest post from The Mindful Fertility Project’s Buffy Trupp, MA, LMFT, RCC. In this post, Buffy not only speaks to the transforming power of visual art, but invites you to participate in a virtual exhibit we are hosting this fall, using images from her new fertility coloring book, Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success. Read on to learn more.

The Transforming Power of Visual Art
Buffy Trupp

Infertility certainly presents like macabre art:  a genetic, physiological, hormonal condition that instantly obliterates our participation in the nature of things, the stream of time.

The attitudes and choices in how we each deal with infertility vary enormously, depending on age, gender, severity of diagnosis and many other personal factors.  But regardless of the medical treatments we decide on, we also choose to adopt a story of infertility: how we got it, how we live with it or through it, and what it means to us in the greater context of our lives.

Stories are essential for human beings.  The human psyche is hard-wired to make meaning.   Unbeknownst to us, and throughout our lives, the psyche connects the seemingly random events that mark and shape our reality and weaves them into a series of images or stories.

These images have great power.   They can make us or break us.  They can make the difference between intolerable suffering or amazing grace.  They can be medicine or poison.

We are born into some images, absorb them as children and live them out without ever knowing it.  They live deep within our cells, in our ovaries, our uterus, in our heart and inform our every move.  These stories can indeed be the most insidious.

But there are also healing images, healing stories; images that inspire and transform us, empower and renew us, restore and liberate us.

Apart from stirring our deepest, darkest fears of obliteration, is it possible that infertility also offers us a healing story?  A story that frees us to heal our lives and shed old, unhealthy beliefs?

Many infertile women believe the death of the embryo, sperm, egg or new born child indicates they are unhealthy.

Did you know it is the ability to surrender, to yield, and the willingness to die for the

greater good that differentiates a healthy cell from an unhealthy cell?

When we allow something to die within us, the formations of our old life, fierce guardians of habit and pattern, fall away, giving birth to a new way of inhabiting our body and mind and we heal.

Death is essential to life.

When did we forget this?

When loss is understood as an essential aspect of health,  women struggling to have children begin a healing story.

Healing stories transform even the most difficult of realities into affirmations of life.

Visual art captures this transformation.

The Mindful Fertility Project and The ART of Infertility believe that the art we create and the stories we tell while trying to conceive are central to our well-being.

We acknowledge both the necessity and benefit of art within the reproductive health field.

We are a move toward acknowledging creativity itself as healing.

And the result, while perhaps not quantifiable, can be measured by the quality of life and transformation experienced by all those who participate.

The images below are from a new fertility coloring book, Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success.

The colored images and the brief narratives that accompany them are inspirational, evoking both a sense of beauty and an immersion in the most elemental aspects of nature.  The words and visual images reveal that life can imitate art; that we can become the things that we see and imagine; that creation is established through our ongoing relationship with our body, with ourself.

“When I color, my body feels alive.”

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“When I color, my body feels beautiful.”

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“When I color, my body transforms.”

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Be the artist of a new narrative – a new series of images.  Let your canvas be the entirety of your embodied vulnerability, the tenderness of your heart, and the brilliance of your creativity. You can re-write your story, re-color your image, re-wire your nervous system, and find new meaning. No, this is not easy, and will take everything you have… and more.

But new life is already inside you.

While it may seem hopeless at times, you have capacities that you did not have as a child when the original stories, the original images were passed onto you: images of what it means to be a woman, how to metabolize unmet longing, what loss symbolizes, images of your place in the world.

Immerse yourself now in creativity. Choose a color and begin a new image, a new story. Feel a new pathway emerging. And allow it to come into consciousness  – through your art, lighting up your body, your nervous system, and fertilizing your heart with love.

You have not lost your chance.

THIS IS A CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS!

The Mindful Fertility Project & The ART of Infertility are publishing a virtual exhibit this fall.

Go to www.mindfulfertilityproject.com/art and immediately download 4 FREE images from our new adult coloring book, Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success.

Submit 1 colored image on or before December 15th to be featured in our virtual art exhibit AND for a chance to win 1 of 3 Mindful Fertility Journals valued at ($397) each.

The Mindful Fertility Journal is a virtual, mind-body fertility program that teaches you exactly how to optimize your fertile health naturally. It includes 28 unique mindfulness meditations, 14 easy-to-use self-acupressure videos, 12 easy-to-use yoga videos along with nutritional guidelines and meal plans. PLUS 6 incredible bonuses.

We will publish the virtual exhibit at the beginning of 2017; a compilation of all the colored images submitted.

Once the exhibit is published, we announce the winners of our Mindful Fertility Journal GIVEAWAY.

AGAIN, go to www.mindfulfertilityproject.com/art to immediately download 4 FREE images from Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success, to learn more about our virtual art exhibit AND to be eligible to win 1 of 3 FREE virtual mind-body programs to optimize your fertile health naturally.

I hope you’ll join us.

All my very best, always,

Buffy Trupp

Nature, Nurture and storytelling through the art of Jen Burdess

Awhile back, Maria and I came across a news story about an infertility art exhibit, One in Eight, that ran at the Ice Cube Gallery in Denver during National Infertility Awareness Week this year. So, naturally we had to reach out to the artists, Jen Burdess and Anne Hallam. We’re happy that Jen is our guest blogger today! Below, she shares how and why she created her artwork and what the experience of sharing it with others has been like for her. Thank you, Jen, for sharing your story!
-Elizabeth

A detail image of Nature, Nurture, by Jen Burdess. The piece was on display in the exhibit, One in Eight, in Denver in April and May, 2016.

A detail image of Nature, Nurture, by Jen Burdess. The piece was on display in the exhibit, One in Eight, in Denver in April and May, 2016.

The inspiration for Nature, Nurture came from the implications of the medical diagnosis of infertility I received three years ago. The diagnosis attacked my identity as a woman. In an effort to reconcile those feelings of loss, Nature, Nurture was created. Though my diagnosis will never change, this work has given me some sort of closure to a period in my life of uncertainty and anxiety. Nature, Nurture consists of three linoleum cuts that were inspired by the anatomy of the breast. They were then hand printed. Each lino cut was printed 136 times. This number corresponds to the rate of infertility in America. One in eight couples will suffer from infertility. 17 out the 136 prints is colored red to represent those with infertility. The lino cuts are printed on used breast pads. The breast pads were chosen as a representation of how far I have come. Without ART (assisted reproductive technology), I would not have had my beautiful son. It only seems right then to use art to record my journey.

The breast pads stretched over 30 feet of wall and was 12 feet high in some places. It was important to me that work was large. I wanted it feel large and imposing, something that could not be ignored. I chose to carve three different designs and printed each in their own color to represent that there isn’t just one cause of infertility or one type of person that it affects. There are many different reasons. Some women never find out the cause. I was diagnosed with stage IV endometriosis. Stage IV indicates that the endometriosis has affected your ovaries and has caused cysts on them. It had also ruined my Fallopian tubes and had caused adhesions and scarring throughout my pelvic cavity. While it was devastating to know the extent of the damage, it also gave me some closure. I had a very clear cut diagnosis. It was very cathartic to devote the time and patience it took to print over 400 breast pads. It was a meditative process and helped me to process the emotions that come along with the diagnosis of infertility.

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Nature, Nurture by Jen Burdess.

The response I received from the show was overwhelming. I wasn’t sure how everything was going to pan out. I knew I wanted to open up about my experience did not know what that really meant. How would I feel about talking with strangers about this? Could I handle criticism for my choices? I just wasn’t sure. We had a few events planned during the show. One was being part of a gallery tour. We had four groups of people cycle through the gallery. The gallery was split in two. My work on one side and some formalist artists on the other side. Their work was all about design and color. The contents couldn’t have been any more different. The tour groups went from chatty and happy to somber and silent as I started to tell my story. People thanked me for sharing something so personal and many women shared their stories with me. Simply by speaking up, perfect strangers told me their very personal stories of heartache and the many different ways they had built their families.

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Sharing my story was difficult to do but every time I told it, it became a little easier. Infertility is a lonely place. It is very isolating. It calls into question your identity as a woman. From a young age girls play at being mothers. Society expects women to take up this role. Those who choose not to have children can be judged very harshly. Women becoming mothers is an ingrained expectation. That expectation, coupled with a desire to become a mother, is a heavy burden for those struggling with infertility.

 

Picture Your Fertility: An Interactive Art Event for #MensHealth

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Chas’ story was featured in the exhibit on Thursday night at The Turek Clinic in San Francisco. Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

If you logged onto Facebook this past Sunday, you could not help but be reminded of two cultural events. One, the Warriors vs. Cavilers game. Two, the fact that it was Father’s Day. Both events though shared images and remembrances of healthy, strong men.

Yet, the reality is that in the American men are dying at epic numbers because of their reluctance to see the doctor and be screened for preventable disease (see Men’s Health Network). The suicide rate of men is nearly four times that of women (see AFSP). And, yet,  the United States still does not have a National Office for Men’s Health (see Men’s Health Magazine).

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Attendees at Picture Your Fertility transform specimen cups using duct tape and alphabet stickers. Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Last Thursday, the ART of Infertility took a moment to draw attention to this gap in American men’s attitudes towards health and medicine. “Picture Your Fertility: An Interactive Art Event for #MensHealth” featured stories and artwork created around issues of infertility and men’s health. Below you will find some of the pieces of art created at the event, as well as some of the stories that were featured at this unique event celebrating Men’s Health Month.

A special thanks to The Turek Clinic for hosting, our media partner, Men’s Health Network Reproductive Science Center for their sponsorship, Janet Reilly for wine, Rob Clyde for his Q&A of If I Could Tell You, and all those who donated to The ART of Infertility before, during, and after the event. We’ll be sharing more photographs from the event soon. See the photos below for a little sneak peek from Rebecca Wilkowski Photography.
Dr. Paul Turek welcomes guest to the clinic.

Dr. Paul Turek welcomes guest to the clinic. Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Guests could create their own comic strip. Photo by Maria Novotny.

Guests could create their own comic strip. Photo by Maria Novotny.

Rob Clyde talks about his film, If I Could Tell You.

Rob Clyde talks about his film, If I Could Tell You.

Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Artist Jamie Turri with her piece, What It Takes. Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Artist Jamie Turri with her piece, What It Takes. Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.