Sewing for Healing

The ultrasound photo from the embryo transfer that resulted in my one and only pregnancy has been hidden away for years. It’s been tucked inside a green folder from my clinic alongside other important papers and favorite books on the desk in my home office. I’ve thought about it from time to time. It’s one of the few mementos I have of the twins I lost to miscarriage. However, it’s not the kind of photo I want to frame and put on a shelf for daily viewing.  What exactly do you do with this kind of object? One that is sometimes a painful reminder but too important to discard.

Last weekend, I collected some materials and sat down to make some hearts for the HeArts for Baby Project Fiber Arts Workshop we’ll be holding with Art Therapist and Counselor Raina Cowan in Evanston, IL on September 30th. It was then that I knew what to do with my ultrasound photo. I’d sew it inside one of my fabric hearts and give it a resting place of sorts.

We’re inviting those who have been impacted by infertility, miscarriage, or pregnancy loss, and those who want to support those who have, to join us for a sewing circle of sorts at the Open Studio Project in Evanston on Sunday, September 30 from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. You don’t need prior sewing experience and this event is free and open to all. It’s an opportunity to join together with others and create a heart in remembrance of a baby lost. Those attending will also make a heart, or hearts, to be included in an art installation that will be included in our upcoming exhibit, Challenging Conception: The ART of Infertility in Chicago. The installation will include an antique baby carriage filled with hundreds of fabric hearts, those made at the workshop and those made by the community.  Visitors to the exhibit will be invited to choose a heart to honor their own experience of reproductive loss and take it home with them.

You can find more info about this community project, including the pattern and instructions to make your own, at Raina’s website. Visit Eventbrite to reserve your spot at the workshop. All the materials you need to make your hearts will be provided. However, you’re welcome to bring your own meaningful fabrics, embellishments, and, if you’d like, your own mementos for inclusion. We hope to see you there!

Elizabeth

Parallel Selves

#BarrenBesties M’Recia and Brooke collaborated to create the piece we’re sharing today, which we displayed in “Arches in Perspective” in Salt Lake City earlier this year. Be sure to click on the audio at the bottom to hear Brooke talk more about what went into creating the piece.

Parallel Selves
M’Recia Seegmiller and Brooke Walrath
mixed media – photography, graphic design, poetry

I wanted to use my idea of creating images that show what longing for a child feels like and I asked my friend and colleague Brooke to collaborate with me. I told her about my ideas and she shared a poem she wrote with me called I Envy Myselves. I immediately loved her poem and, together, we felt inspired to create a photography piece to go with her poem.

 


Connection

Leanne Schuetz was inspired by her #BarrenBesties to create this piece, which we first exhibited during “Cradling Creativity” in Philadelphia. Leanne’s piece, “Advanced Maternal Age”, is currently on display in our exhibit “Visualizing Voices of Reproductive Loss” at the University of Wisconsin Madison, now through the end of May.

“Connection”
Artist: Leanne Schuetz
Mixed Media on 9×12 Canvas board

I was inspired by the quote that says “When you can’t look on the bright side, I will sit with you in the dark”

This piece is a tribute to the dear infertility friends I have made through out my journey.  Women who never told me that I had to cheer up, or relax but allowed me to feel my disappointments and heartbreak and said, “Me too, you are not alone.”

Connection by Leanne Schuetz

 

 

 

 

Click below to hear Leanne recite her label.

Reflections on UURAF

by Juliette Givhan, The ART of Infertility’s Undergraduate Research Intern

This past Friday, the 13th of April, I was able to participate in Michigan State University’s 18th annual University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum. The forum, which was held at the student Union on State’s campus, was an opportunity for students to summarize the research they had conducted throughout the year and present it in front of a public audience in the format of a poster.

As I arrived at the Union to present a synopsis of the work I have done with The ART of Infertility Project I was prepared to be disappointed. UURAF, while an opportunity to present research, is also a competition… one that I was sure would be dominated by STEM majors who would expertly present posters chock full of graphs, data charts, and ground-breaking findings. I felt that my poster, which displayed art from the project and the reality of a human story that cannot be quantified in the same way that other research can, would be out of place. I didn’t know, as I was clipping my poster to the stock board I had been provided, that I would leave the room after an hour and a half of presenting my findings feeling a huge sense of accomplishment.

I left UURAF wishing I could have stayed longer. The forum provided a space where I could accomplish one of my main goals of working with this project: to spread word of the reality of infertility and to display that art can be used as a means of conveying complex emotions. The poster I presented was broken into five sections: a break down of The ART of Infertility Project and what my role within the project has been, a description of the workshop— Reproductive Writes— held on State’s campus, my own artistic response to the topic of infertility, and a small section for facts about infertility. The last and largest section of the poster was taken up by interviews I had conducted with Annie Kuo and Madge Harris-Rowland, two women of color whose stories built a commentary on representation within the world of infertility. My favorite part of participating in UURAF was being able to spread the narrative of these two women whose varied experiences presented a reality outside of the often-assumed norm of infertility solely affecting white women.

I also really enjoyed interacting with interested passerby as well as the judges who would determine the winner within my category (Humanities and Performing Arts.) Everyone that I spoke to was interested in the project and asked questions. Their eyes widened in alarm when presented with the financial reality of trying to treat infertility, of looking into adoption or egg freezing. I was sharing knowledge with people that they didn’t previously have, and that was really rewarding. I even gave my email to a woman who wanted to know if the project was still taking submissions.

Overall, I really appreciated being able to share the work not only I— but Elizabeth, Maria and Robin—had done on the project. Presenting at UURAF put my research into perspective, it let me see a reflection of the work I had done this semester—work that I am proud of and that I hope will impact those who were able to witness it and spread awareness of the reality of infertility.

We were all excited to learn that Juliette’s poster won first place in her division, Humanities and the Performing Arts. Congratulations, Juliette!

Perspectives on Reproductive Writes from Juliette Givhan

An intro to our Michigan State University (MSU) Undergraduate Research Intern, Juliette Givhan, and her take on our recent Reproductive Writes workshop at MSU. 

Hello,

My name is Juliette Givhan and I’m a new addition to The ART of Infertility team. I joined Elizabeth, Maria, and Robin with the goal of helping them organize, analyze, procure, and ultimately anthologize the creative materials surrounding infertility and reproductive rights generated for this project.

I study at Michigan State University where I’m near the end of the pursuit of an English degree with a concentration in creative writing and a minor in African American and African Studies. I’m a poet and I write from my individual experience as a Black American. My writing has been shaped by this focus and I’ve come to realize that this has often involved an erasure of my experiences as a woman. I find that where I am proud to be Black and have always felt a strong need to express my Blackness, I rarely uplift and take pride in my identity as a woman.

When I think of what it means to be a woman I think of the stereotypes of femininity sculpted by patriarchal influences: the mother of many children figure, the stay at home domestic goddess figure, etc. Since I have never fit into any of these roles I have rarely thought about or processed the reality of my own identity as a female, one defined by my own experiences. My goal with this project, then, is to embrace the fact that my actions- the daily experiences that collect as my identity- need to also have a stage on which to be addressed. I think working on The ART of Infertility Project is going to offer the space for my writing and thinking to take this first step.

Infertility as a topic of research is something that I am interested in learning more about because of how much I don’t know. I have had connections with IF before in the women on one side of my family, who have repeatedly experienced complications with pregnancies and conceiving, but I don’t know the facts or figures. I don’t know the emotional toll IF has on people, or how to accept that a reality might exist in my own life that means one day I might not be able to have the children that I don’t even know if I want.

I find how this project uses art to express these difficult, diverse, and complex issues to be extremely comforting. Art is the medium I have personally used to express myself, so I believe in its power of expression and healing. I’m looking forward to helping create an anthology of this projects work because a tangible and accessible collection could potentially connect so many people who could benefit from this community of support.

Participants at Reproductive Writes, February 28 at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI

The Reproductive Writes workshop that took place in the LookOut! Gallery on Michigan State University’s campus was the first time I’ve been to a workshop that addressed the issue of reproductive rights. When I started working on The ART of Infertility Project I knew very little about reproductive rights because it was not something that I ever heard talked about. Our society censors information about the human body, especially the female body, and this gap of information has largely left me ignorant to the issues that exist and affect the people of this country. I came to the event excited to deconstruct my own ignorance in these topics and nervous at admit to how much I didn’t know.

We started the evening with a question: what does reproductive rights mean to you? After having time to reflect those who chose were able to share their definitions. This moment was particularly interesting for me because no two definitions were the same, though parallels certainly existed. One woman defined reproductive rights as wanting to end the stigmatism she felt from outsiders who expected her to be pregnant because of her position as someone’s wife. Another’s definition was having the right to choose whether to have a child and letting that option belong to the individual it affected. My own definition of reproductive rights was having access to affordable healthcare to support a fetus and later a child. I realized that as a broke college student, my definition of reproductive rights was bound to be different than someone who was married or someone who was diagnosed as infertile.

Realizing that the definition of reproductive rights was fluid was as empowering as it was obvious… after I’d given it some thought. Though the room only held about fifteen people, several diverse backgrounds were represented. There were undergraduate students new to the conversation like myself, a graduate student, a nurse familiar with the medical side of working with IF, women from the MSU and Lansing community, even a man who used a penis shaped poem to portray his interpretation of reproductive rights. Each voice had its own story to tell and interpretation to make and I appreciated hearing all of them.

Having had some time to reflect on the workshop I think my main take away was that more spaces like these need to exist, where people from diverse backgrounds can come together and talk about the realities that exist for them. Being in a space to talk about these things and make poetry and have discussion was a relief after so many years of silence. I think more people need to have the chance of experiencing something like Reproductive Writes because spreading awareness of issues is the best way, in my opinion, to end ignorance.

Mingling (Infertility) Experience Research and Friendship

While curating Cradling Creativity in Philadelphia, we had the pleasure to virtually connect with Bethany Johnson, MPhil, MA and Margaret M. Quinlan, PhD, two professors at UNC Charlotte. They graciously shared with us their research on infertility and communication. What struck us even moreso was how they were personally touched by infertility – through friendship. We want to share their story as it sheds light on both the impact of infertility on scholarship and teaching but also on the importance of friendship and support.  — The ART of Infertility

By Bethany Johnson, MPhil, MA  and  Margaret M. Quinlan, PhD

Our research journey began in a hotel room on a research trip when I (Bethany) learned an IVF cycle might have failed (they were ultimately able to freeze two embryos). I was in my third year of failed treatments then. It was a horrible morning—they called while I was in the shower at 7:38 a.m. I remember the exact time because the embryologist left a message saying “I really don’t like to leave messages on people’s voicemail,” yet I was not informed when I could expect a call, and the office wouldn’t open until 9 a.m., so there was no one for me to call back. I felt powerless, devastated and angry.

Meanwhile, Maggie was so upset for me—she asked if I wanted to just go home instead of completing our research trip, but I was desperate for something else to concentrate on. Later she told me she spent the day pulling her sweater over her expanding belly, and avoiding eye contact just in case anyone asked her about her pregnancy. She also told me later she never could have stayed and worked—she would have gotten in her car to go home and grieve. I felt so out of control that the only thing that anchored me was focusing on something else. I was so thankful she was there with me and didn’t push for us to go home.

It wasn’t the first time she was there for me in my treatment journey. Previously, she brought me a beautiful baby blanket as a gift when we got a dog—a gift I never thought I’d have a reason to receive. Then when I needed an outpatient surgery and my husband was forced to be out of town, she picked me up and drove me to the clinic, waited through the procedure, drove me to a hotel and tucked me in with meds and treats afterward, since my house wasn’t habitable that day. (It was a rough season.) But the greatest gift she gave me was during that research trip. She listened while I cried and grieved, dove into the archive with me, dreamed up research conclusions, walked miles around Brooklyn while pregnant, and then, on the drive home, opened up our research future.

The magic words were these: “Well why don’t we do a study about this?”

That was four years ago. Since then, we’ve conducted three studies, published four articles, made a documentary with graduate students and worked with our participants, a graphic designer (Bo Rumley) and an artist (Alma R. Evans of Ursa Wild Design) to create treatment support cards for people in treatment. Maggie and Alma both told me they wished they had cards to give to their friends (like me), and I wished I had them to give to others. But many of our interviewees said the same thing during our first study, and that’s how we ended up reaching out to The ART of Infertility to share what emerged from our research.

Photo credit: Lynn Roberson, UNC Charlotte, Communications Director, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

These cards eventually appeared in The ART of Infertility exhibit, along with the work of other talented artists and activists. At the opening, the cards were placed in an open mailbox, challenging viewers to imagine receiving or sending these unique messages to friends and family walking the lonely road of waiting for conception, sometimes receiving a diagnosis, and even beginning treatment or treatments. Being a part of this exhibit felt, in some ways, like the culmination of our efforts to make a difference because of my experience and the experience of so many others in our community.

 

Alma’s card in mailbox, The ART of Infertility. Photo credit: Maria Novotny

Through it all, I could count on the steadfastness of Maggie’s friendship, as well as the support of people we met throughout our work, and kept up relationships with after our studies concluded (when it was appropriate to speak with them again of course). For us, friendship and research always did and always will, overlap, even as medical statuses and experiences continue to shift and change.

Our Research on Infertility

Graduate students in “COMM 6011: Visual Ethnography” course. Photocredit: Lynn Roberson, UNC Charlotte, Communications Director, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences 

The graduate students really dove into the experience and wrestled with their own ability to be allies and supporters of people diagnosed with infertility or undergoing infertility treatments. As Maddy Michalik recalled, “This was my first experience with producing a documentary, and I learned so much about artful research methodologies as well as how to better communicate with individuals walking the (in)fertility path. Initially, I was struck by the varying degree to which patients shared their journey with others — some were very open and regularly updated friends and family on social media while others only told those that needed to know. This taught me that as with any health experience, individuals will cope and seek support in different ways, and as allies, we need to be mindful of how we communicate and offer support without being invasive or insensitive.”

Nathan Pope relayed, “Our hope is that the use of an artistic medium allowed for a more immersive, emotional experience for the viewer. Seeing an individual express their feelings and hearing their spoken word may create a more reflective space for the viewer, just as interviews created a reflective space for participants and the entire project created a contemplative moment for researchers.” Witnessing students learn the process of conducting research and wrestle with these issues as they raised awareness about meaningful support has been one of the most incredible results from our projects.

Part of the documentary features infertility greeting cards that are on display in The ART of Infertility exhibits, The graduate student-produced documentary, 1 in 8: Communicating (In)fertility will also be included in the traveling art exhibit. The first draft of 1 in 8: Communicating (In)fertility https://youtu.be/7z9jfZjoS04. The film was produced by: UNC Charlotte Communication Studies Masters Students/Producers including:  Desiree Bataba, Shanice Cameron, Cameron Davis, Samantha Maine, Elizabeth Medlin, Maddy Michalik, Nathan Pope, Miranda Rouse, and Olivia Sadler, and UNC Charlotte Senior Researchers: Margaret M. Quinlan & Bethany Johnson. The impact of our draft film continues to reverberate throughout the local community and beyond.

A goal of our (Maggie, Bethany and UNC Charlotte graduate students) arts-based infertility research is to prompt future research which deepens our understanding of (in)fertility diagnosis, treatment, and support for patients. We are grateful to be included in The ART of Infertility exhibits and look forward to future collaboration.

More On Our Research on Infertility

Johnson, B., Quinlan, M. M., & Myers, J. (2017). Commerce, industry, and security: Biomedicalization theory and the use of metaphor to describe practitioner-patient communication within Fertility, Inc. Women’s Reproductive Health, 4, 89-105.

Johnson, B., Quinlan, M. M., & Evans, A. (2017).  Research based Infertility greeting cards in traveling art exhibit. The ART of Infertility- Infertility Art Exhibit, Art Therapy. http://www.artofinfertility.org/

Johnson, B., & Quinlan, M. M. (2017, Nov). Race, racism and infertility. Racism in Science [series]. Vital: On the Human Side of Health [Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities]. Retrieved from https://the-vital.com/2017/11/10/racism-infertility/           

Johnson, B., & Quinlan, M. M. (2017, Nov). Infertility: Resources for family, friends, and practitioners. Racism in Science [series]. Vital: On the Human Side of Health [Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities] Retrieved from https://the-vital.com/infertility-resources/

Johnson, B., & Quinlan, M. M. (2017). Insiders and outsiders and insider(s) again in the (in)fertility world. Health Communication32, 381-385.

Johnson, B., Quinlan, M. M., & Marsh, J. S. (2017). Telenursing and nurse-patient communication within Fertility, Inc. Journal of Holistic Nursing.

Johnson, B., & Quinlan, M. M. (2016). For her own good: The expert-woman dynamic and the body politics of REI treatment. Women & Language39, 127-131.

Infertility Symposium Features Perspectives of Reproductive Loss

A little over six months ago, we were asked by fertility acupuncturist, Steven Mavros, if we’d be interested in doing an exhibit in Philadelphia. Now, we’re under two weeks away from opening night. We’re thrilled with how the infertility community in Philadelphia has come together to make the exhibit, “Cradling Creativity”, and its accompanying programming possible. Today, we share our press release for the event. We hope you’ll join us as we make infertility visible in Philly. 

Contact: Elizabeth Walker                                FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Phone: 517.262.36
Email: elizabeth@artofinfertility.org

Cradling Creativity: The ART of Infertility in Philadelphia Announces Calendar of Events

Infertility Symposium Features Perspectives of Reproductive Loss

Ann Arbor, Mich. – Oct. 23, 2017 – The ART of Infertility, a national arts organization, announces a month-long symposium, Cradling Creativity: The ART of Infertility in Philadelphia at three locations to raise awareness about infertility through art and storytelling during November. The symposium includes a visual art exhibit, Cradling Creativity, a yoga creative writing workshop, a screening of a new documentary film One More Shot, performances of the play, Almost Pregnant by Lisa Grunberger and an academic round table at Temple University. These events will take place at Old City Jewish Arts Center, the Healing Arts Center of Philadelphia, and at Temple University at specified times from Nov. 3 – Dec. 1. Most events are free to the public.

Over 266,000 people in Pennsylvania are living with infertility. In Philadelphia, fertility acupuncturist, Steven Mavros, co-founder of the Healing Arts Center of Philadelphia, works to help many diagnosed with the disease. “I’ve walked along this path with my patients a thousand times, both in my office and in reproductive medicine clinics. It can be such a lonely, silent struggle and this artwork can bridge the gap between medicine and culture and create that dialogue that’s been missing both among my patients and with their friends and family.”

In her research Dr. Alice Domar, Executive Director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health, has found the stress of infertility is equal to that of the stress of dealing with cancer. However, those with infertility often suffer in silence.

“Infertility is a lonely, isolating experience. The ART of Infertility is communal and social – and for this reason it is extremely healing.  The ART of Infertility allows infertile individuals to transform their complex emotions into something that can be seen and shared – and this is always a radical thing, to translate suffering into something beautiful,” said Lisa Grunberger, an infertile patient, artist, and Temple University professor featured throughout the symposium.

Cradling Creativity: The Art of Infertility in Philadelphia Calendar.

The public is invited to attend all events.

The ART of Infertility Exhibit: Nov. 3 – Nov. 28 – The exhibit will premiere during First Friday from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Old City Jewish Arts Center, 6:00 – 9:00 pm.  November 4 – Opening reception with The ART of Infertility’s Elizabeth Walker and Maria Novotny, artists, and sponsors. Tickets available at http://bit.ly/ARTofIFCCReception.

The Yoga of Writing: A Heart-Opening Workshop: Nov. 5 – Healing Arts Center of Philadelphia, 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm. Tickets available at http://bit.ly/yogawriting

Theatrical Performances: Almost Pregnant: Nov. 11, 15, and 25 –  In Lisa Grunberger’s play Almost Pregnant you will meet Becca, a 40 something woman who has to creatively adapt to her condition of infertility.  Joined by her alter egos, Estrogen and Lucky, two live puppets, who serve as the chorus, wise fools, and comic relief, the play is full of stories, tragic and funny, about motherhood, fate, the transmission of identity, nature vs. nurture and God.   Almost Pregnant gives you an unexpurgated insider’s view of the art and science of, what’s been called, “sex without reproduction and reproduction without sex.” The play will run on November 11, 15, and 25th from 8:00 – 10:00 pm at the Old City Jewish Arts Center. Each performance will be followed by a Q&A with the playwright, director, and cast. Almost Pregnant is written by Lisa Grunberger, directed by Hamutal Posklinsky, and stars Claire Golden Drake, Kellie Cooper, and Marc C. Johnson. Tickets available at http://bit.ly/AlmostPregnant17

Film Screening: One More Shot: Nov. 18 – Private screening and Skype Q&A session of the film, One More Shot, from 8:00 pm – 11:00 pm at Old City Jewish Arts Center. Created by Noah Moskin and Maya Grobel Moskin, One More Shot follows the struggles they encountered when trying to have a baby. The Moskins explain, “Though we are both in our early 30’s and in good health, we have had to begin a quest to build our family through alternative means and medical intervention as we try to find our own personal answer to the age-old question ‘Where do babies come from?” Tickets available at http://bit.ly/OneMoreShotPhilly. The film will also be available on online outlets on November 4th and pre-order for iTunes begins October 25.

Barren Conceptions: December 1 – Barren Conceptions: Pondering Intersections of Religion, Medicine & IF, Temple University 10:00 am – 12:00 pm. What role ought religion and medicine — the clergy and doctors in particular – play in helping women make informed decisions about having babies? How are future OB-GYNs being trained in medical schools today to become more knowledgeable about infertility and to ask women difficult questions about family planning? Please join us for this informal reflection of these and other critical questions. This event is free and open to the public.  Tickets are available at http://bit.ly/BarrenConceptions

Sponsors for the Symposium are the Healing Arts Center of Philadelphia, RMA of Philadelphia, Main Line Fertility, Society Hill Reproductive Medicine, Embryo Options, Reproductive Associates of Delaware, Abington Reproductive, and the film One More Shot. Community Partners of the exhibit are Baby Quest Foundation, Yesh Tikva, Hasidah, Fertility for Colored Girls, and the Waiting for Babies Podcast.

 About The ART of Infertility

The ART of Infertility is a national arts organization. Founded in 2014, we curate innovative and emotionally provoking art exhibits to portray the realities, pains and joys of living with IF. We also design engaging curriculums to host art and writing workshops. We plan educational, outreach events. We advocate for infertility rights. Most of all, we provide support for those living in the shadows of infertility. Through art, we break the silence around reproductive grief and push back against common misconceptions. We invite you to join us in our fight to make infertility visible. To learn more, visit http://www.artofinfertility.org/.

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Rituals

Poetry from Kathy Wills. Thank you, Kathy, for sharing with us.

Rituals
Kathy Wills

They count beads the size of
ovaries into a clay jar.
Beams creak above them,
dust balls roll across the floor.
This is summer, the alive season
at this altitude.  They wait
just like those who wait
in the lowlands and cities,
those who proceed in their rituals
of fertility:  write a check,
mark off on the application form
what they can or cannot accept.

Will you accept a child of incest,
Or one with a port wine stain on his face,
Will you accept congenital heart murmurs,
Or a family history of felony,
Are you willing to meet the 13-year-old
mother in an office at a designated time,
smile and say,
“Hello, from your biography you sound so
interesting. We are so pleased to meet you”?


The couple on the mountain takes ashes,
covers each other’s naked body.
They face the sun together at dawn,
asking the goddess of grain,
moisture, and light for pity and
a continued place in earthly consciousness.

In her morning, she inserts a
basal thermometer under her tongue
while he sleeps.
Her pelvis churns, seems to hope
About this specious rite.

She dreams of celestial sprouting,
Not the common spawn.
They hope and turn to the sun.
They hope and turn to write another check.
They begin to accept
their specialness through this walking,
waking, bloodless crucifixion.

Burn the baby name book: no Christopher, Caitlin, John, or Joan.
Tie seven sticks into a bundle
Placing them between you for a month when you sleep.
Turn away from each other.
Become philosophy incarnate.
Woman, bury your unborn, unnamed,
Unbaptized child as she seems to punch
her way out of your belly.
Man, as he seems to punch his way out of your head.
Push away with your hand their faceless
forms and accept the death of Gods.
No questionnaires,
no amulets, mojos, or jujus will help
those who must bury their children alive.

Redefining Infertility Success Stories

Infertility art work

Infertility success stories. We’ve all heard them. We all want to be one.

No one would argue that a journey that includes a baby and parenting is a success story. However, we at The ART of Infertility (ART of IF) believe that it’s not the only definition of infertility success.  Sometimes we find success in unexpected and beautiful ways.

In an effort to challenge perceptions of successful infertility outcomes, we’re publishing the first of what we hope will be a long line of non-traditional infertility success stories.

Reflections on Infertility Success from The ART of IF’s Elizabeth and Maria

“A successful outcome of my own experience with infertility has been the ways in which it has advanced my career. At one time, I worried about how my morning monitoring appointments might negatively affect my work. The frequency of doctor visits and the on-demand scheduling made me feel completely flaky and unreliable.”

“However, coping with my infertility by using art and writing, I started The ART of Infertility project. Working on ART of IF, I’ve had the opportunity to gather and share stories internationally. I also gained the experience in communications that allowed me to be promoted from Biomedical Photographer to Communications Specialist at The University of Michigan Medical School. I love my teams at ART of IF and at U of M and the work that I do. I wouldn’t be where I am today professionally without infertility” – Elizabeth

“When I first enrolled in college, I wanted desperately to become a physician’s assistant. In fact during high school, I spent my summer’s working at my grandfather’s urology clinic – often times accepting semen donations – an ironic memory that continues to make me laugh. Yet, as my first semester in college progressed, I found myself anxious and stressed. My science classes, while interesting, were difficult. During this time, I was also enrolled in an English writing class. Writing seemed to come naturally to me and I found happiness (and thus) success with writing.

Today, as I finish the last semester of my PhD in Rhetoric & Writing, I find myself feeling as if my higher education journey has come full circle. Studying what I call “rhetorics of infertility” and situating The ART of Infertility as a research site, I find my initial interest in health and medicine come to fruition. Here, with as a Co-Director of this project, I use our research to make arguments for more patient-centered practices of care. This work is personal and meaningful. I believe this is my new definition of success, doing work that matters and everyday has deep personal meaning. I’m pretty sure that while my infertility led me to this point, I still lucked out.” – Maria

An Infertility Success Story from Our Archive

Leanne Schuetz was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome as a teenager. Even though she and her husband were in their early twenties when they began to try to conceive, it took five years, experiencing multiple miscarriages, and undergoing a series of intrauterine inseminations, before their daughter Olivia was born. While Leanne and her husband dreamed of having a lot of little ones, Olivia will be an only child.

Just over three years ago, Leanne first began creating artwork. Mixed media pieces of women who she calls “my girls”. Through this, she’s found a community outside of infertility and has truly become an artist. She’s found out first-hand how art heals. Listen to Leanne’s story, or read it, below and browse a mini gallery of her pieces to see how she’s progressed as an artist over time.

“It all started because I was really depressed because we weren’t going to do treatment again for infertility. Olivia’s going to be an only child, and I know that sounds really selfish. That we have her, you know. Like I should be so thankful that we finally had her and here I am depressed that we can’t have more kids. But I always imagined my life with lots of little ones for a really long time.”

“So, Olivia was in school full time and I still couldn’t go back to work because I wouldn’t make enough to cover the day care, even when she WAS in school. So I had all this time on my hands about what am I going to do with myself. And so, I just started doing the CitraSolv papers, which led to art journaling, which led to my girls.”

Leeanne Schuetz has used art to find out who she is outside of infertility.

“Their proportions aren’t always exactly right but that’s okay. It’s about celebrating their imperfections, and lately I’ve been thinking about, you know. I like the idea of courageous hearts – of facing where they’re at, who they are. I’m talking about them like they’re real but they’re real to me. And being okay with who they are and everything that makes them different, and special, and unique, and… Some of my girls are sad and some of them are happy. It just kind of depends on how I’m feeling that day and how they come out.”

“It’s not all about infertility. You know, some pieces definitely are because I certainly still have bad days where a pregnancy announcement will knock the wind out of me. Or the days that I remember my miscarriages and for me, I’m using art as a way to move on past infertility. It’s trying to really have a life beyond the fact that I’m infertile.”

“For so many years, I mean, years before Olivia was born, the years after Olivia was born, my whole life was revolved around infertility. So really, for me, I’m using art as a way to try to find out who I am apart from that and to discover what I like and what I don’t like.”

“I like doing mixed media, I love collage, I love acrylic paint, I love water color. I really love doing collage and I love layering. All my pieces have a lot of layers to them.”

“For the most part I never know what I’m going to make before I start. I know it’s probably going to be a girl of some sort but I don’t know who she is or what she looks like, So, just whatever I’m feeling, you know. Happier days tend to be brighter, more fun colors. I went through this phase with a lot of browns. You know, I was in a funk and I was really drawn to the browns. I love purple. Purple always ends up in my colors, I’m not really sure why.”

“I was inspired by some other artists who I met online who were really encouraging and they’ve really just been amazing. The artists online that I’m friends with, you know, because for a long time, ‘I’m not an artist, I’m not an artist,’ you know, ‘I can’t, I’m not creative, I’m not really an artist, it’s just a hobby.’”

“They’re the ones who just encouraged me saying, ‘No, you ARE an artist. This is a part of who you are and it’s okay to call yourself an artist. Even if no one ever sees your art, it’s okay to call yourself that and it’s okay to want to grow as an artist and to learn new techniques.’”

“I mean, I’m definitely a baby artist. I still have a lot to learn, but yes!”

“I’d love to be able to do some sort of workshop, teaching other women who think they can’t draw and have no skill. I’d love to be able to do something like that I’d love to, I don’t know. I have a little Etsy shop. I sell art once in a while but I know eventually I’d love to teach it to anyone who would want to learn. You know, especially I think I have a special place in my heart for people who think that they’re not artistic, for people who think they can’t do art. Because I always said I’m not artistic. My step-mom had to kind of drag me along in starting doing it and I’m really thankful for her for that because I would have never attempted it because, ‘I’m not creative’.”

“Everyone is creative. They just have to find what that is and what makes you happy, and what you like to create. And even if your art isn’t considered “good art” by anyone else, if you enjoy making it, then just keep making it.”

View more of Leanne’s work on Facebook. We’d love to hear the success, outside of becoming a parent, that has come from your own infertility journey. Share it with us and you could be featured in a future post. Help us bring inspiration and hope to others on their infertility journeys.

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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