Bringing The ART of Infertility to My Hometown in Utah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth – One round of IVF is all it takes to “beat” infertility. 

I was very reluctant to try IVF. Three and a half years into trying to conceive I had endured 5 rounds of Clomid and timed intercourse, 4 IUI hybrid cycles, a diagnostic laparoscopy, and six months of weekly therapy appointments to sort out how I felt about the prospect of using IVF to try to build my family. I had spent months doing research about the procedure, along with even more extensive research about adoption. After much consideration, my husband and I figured that IVF would be the cheapest, fastest, easiest path to parenthood, even though it isn’t any of those things. Assuming it worked.

One in eight couples in America have received a diagnosis of the disease of infertility. Like most Americans needing IVF, our health insurance wouldn’t cover the treatment. We’d have to pay out of pocket. Not only that, the emotional investment can be extremely expensive. We decided that, for us, the best plan would be to try one round of IVF, transfer any resulting embryos, and move on to other options.

I remember when I told my mother-in-law we had decided to give it a try. I was in the dollar aisle of a grocery store talking to her on my cell phone. “That’s good,” she replied. “We know IVF works.” However, while I appreciated her confidence and hoped that it WOULD work for us, I’d done the research and had insight that she didn’t have. Although IVF would give us the best odds we’d ever had of achieving a pregnancy, they were still against us. IVF working was definitely not a sure thing.

#IVFcrib

Crib with Medication Boxes by Elizabeth Walker. Mixed media with custom crib by Morgan Shores Woodworking.

As described in this December article from The New York Times, a study out of the University of Bristol and the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom found that “nearly two-thirds of women undergoing I.V.F. will have a child by the sixth attempt, suggesting that persistence can pay off.”  The out of pocket costs for those cycles? As explained in this article about the same study, published by the Los Angeles Times, “a rough calculation (assuming two attempts at embryo transfer per cycle) would cost up to $132,000”.

These are the remnants of approximately $10,000 worth of medications, needles and syringes I used while undergoing one IVF and two subsequent Frozen Embryo Transfers. What could have resulted in my child, or children, instead resulted in a pile of boxes, bottles and sharps containers that I find hard to discard because they help represent my treatment journey.

These are the remnants of approximately $10,000 worth of medications, needles and syringes I used while undergoing one IVF and two subsequent Frozen Embryo Transfers. What could have resulted in my child, or children, instead resulted in a pile of boxes, bottles and sharps containers that I find hard to discard because they help represent my treatment journey.

THIS is why it’s so important that we advocate for legislation that will help those with infertility build their families. Maria and I will be at Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. on May 11th, fighting for this cause and we invite you to join us! It’s an amazing, empowering experience, and a place where incredible friendships are made. In fact, Maria and I met at Advocacy Day in 2014.

If you want to learn more, check out this link from RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. Or feel free to contact us to chat about it at info@artofinfertility.org. If you can’t make the trip, check out this link to learn more about the federal legislation and for easy ways to contact your Senators and Members of Congress to show your support. Another easy way to make a difference is sharing messages about Advocacy Day on social media. You could share this video, for example. Together, we can raise awareness, busting the myth that one IVF treatment is all it takes, and working to improve the treatment coverage that will help those with infertility build their families.

Elizabeth

#IFadvocacy