Poetry from Kathy Wills. Thank you, Kathy, for sharing with us.
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 amulets, mojos, or jujus will help
those who must bury their children alive.
Learning you will need to turn to third party reproduction in order to have a chance at experiencing a pregnancy is a hard thing to wrap your head around. Tomiko Fraser Hines used the art of poetry to find healing.
We first learned of her poem, “Love’s Conception…For My Boys,” during our National Infertility Awareness Week event in Los Angeles in 2015. Then, the next month, she recited it for us during an Advocacy Day mini interview in D.C. You can #listenup by playing the audio, or reading the poem below. Thank you, Tomiko, for sharing your story! We look forward to seeing you in Los Angeles when we are there for our Men’s Health Month event in June!
“I wrote this poem in November of 2012 when I was about seven months pregnant with the boys. I was in the midst of all of the concerns that come with the way they were conceived, which was via an anonymous egg donor. And, basically, that they would not have (to my knowledge, I’m not a scientist) but to my knowledge they wouldn’t have any of my genetics. So, I had a lot of concerns about that and I needed to find a way to come to peace with it. I write, and words just kind of come through me. I sat down and I wrote this poem for them, but also for me, and it’s called, Love’s conception… For My Boys and it goes a somethin’ like this…”
You won’t have my eyes, but you will benefit from my vision.
You won’t have my mouth, but I will teach you how to use your voice.
You won’t have my ears, but your listening will be finely tuned.
You won’t have my DNA, but my blood will forever nourish you.
You were not my conception, but I will birth greatness in you.
We won’t reflect each other on a physical level, yet we will mirror each other in wondrous ways.
I will guide you.
I will shape you.
I will encourage you.
I will free you.
I will love you.
Hello! My name is Tomiko, and I am your mother.
This short reflection is a few years old. I wrote it after being recently diagnosed. The holiday season was fast approaching at this time, creating a lot of anxiety. Re-reading this reflection, I am quickly transported to a place of deep pain. The reflection seems like a distant memory, yet, also hauntingly familiar. Many of the feelings and thoughts are still there. The only difference is that they appear less frequently and not in the same velocity as they did when I first wrote this reflection. Today, I wonder, when did I stop fighting my infertility and begin to embrace it? And why did I choose surviving infertility over fighting for a family? – Maria
The Holiday Blues
The holidays have always been special to my husband and I. This is when we first met. When we first started dating. When we got engaged. When we told our families we were getting married. When we bought our first house. When we got our first puppy.
An image of our first puppy, Stella. We picked her up from the shelter on New Year’s Eve in 2010. She was symbolic of a new year, new life.
Lately though, we’ve been needing to rely on those memories in order to escape feeling the holiday blues. Now, as we find ourselves in this new place, this new understanding of what it means to be a married childless couple, we have needed to question what this means.
This year we decided to volunteer for Thanksgiving. To visit with the elderly. We thought this to be a great idea as it avoids feeling the constant reminder of this childless lack. And by volunteering we felt a great bond with Bob, Mary, and Ethel. All three did not have a family to visit them. They were very much on their own. Feeling many of the same emotions we felt. Not sadness, not loneliness. Just acceptance of this is how life was to be. Finding meaning and special joy in little things. Little things like having the café at the nursing home open and simply visiting with those who silently felt the same acceptance towards life.
But Christmas and Thanksgiving are two very different holidays. Thanksgiving is reflective and about the food and blessings that you have. Christmas is projective. It is very much about “another year.” And more often than not it is about children. Baby Jesus and manger scenes. Promoting a redemptive and celebratory message about the power of the baby.
It is also about kids and the “magical joy” of Christmas. Kids waking up Christmas morning and running to the tree. Screaming at the excitement at finding an Xbox or Easy Bake Oven – but more often simply screaming because Santa arrived and provided.
This has become clear to us over the years that we’ve been married. Each year, it seems harder for us to embrace the spirit of the holidays. We know this and often comment on it. “What are we going to do to make the holiday’s special for us?” we ask each other.
We come up with different ideas to make it special. Often times it is simply going for a drive to see the lights and reliving the memories of us doing this when we were younger, before we were married – when we looked to the future of family with hope and excitement.
Now though, it is more common than not to experience the holiday blues.
While we still find it difficult to celebrate the holidays, we make sure to send out a holiday card each year. This card is from this year. We make a point to stress that while we may not have children, we are a family.
In fact, the puppy that we got around the holidays is no longer with us. Five years have past since I last wrote this reflection. Her passing reminds us of how we could have our own 5-year-old at this point in our life. Our own child eagerly waiting to find presents under the tree. Instead though we are still trying to make sense of it all. Still trying to find joy in the little, non-traditional family we made.
When I hear “Blue Christmas” by Elvis on the radio, I am transported to the moment I wrote this reflection. Sometimes it is nice to be reminded that while the holidays can be a time of joy, they can also heighten personal pains.
Sharing poetry today from Jeffrey Tucker. This poem and other artwork and infertility stories of men and their families will be on display at our pop-up art exhibit on Thursday June 16 in San Francisco from 7 – 9 pm at The Turek Clinic. Free registration at our Eventbrite listing.
We’re excited to be partnering with The Turek Clinic and Men’s Health Network for this event in honor of Men’s Health Month which will feature art making stations, food, drinks, and a peek at the new film If I Could Tell You and a Q&A session with director, Rob Clyde. Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Please join us!
Jeffrey Tucker Artist’s Statement
I believe that writing – especially poetry – is an act of confession. Whether the thoughts expressed in art are joyous, sorrowful, or somewhere in-between (or both, in some instances), the act of comitting pen to paper builds a bridge between the reader and the writer’s psyche, often with an intimacy eschewed in normal conversation.
Which is the say that I tell secrets in my poetry. This poem, in particular, allowed me to express something I would never say out loud. It was both liberating and terrifying to write – an experience (in sentiment, if not in practice) that I have heard many people describe passing through in the journey of infertility: on one hand, you want to scream; on the other hand, you want to hide. Thus, this poem – whose writing process inspired the same feelings in me – in an apt form to convey my emotions.
“On Geography and Biology and the Meeting Thereof.”
(Excerpted from Kill February, forthcoming from Sage Hill Press)
– Jeffrey Tucker
My brother-in-law and his wife: gone,
off to cruise Mexico: siesta
or Fiesta, la Riviera Maya, salted latitudes
south. I picture the two white-footed Utahns
quick-stepping down a burning brown beach,
silver hawkers at hand. They have not heard the stories
I have, of endless squatting in jails
for a wrong U-turn, an unpaid bribe.
Yet I am unconcerned. It’s a cruise,
after all, staffed with smiling deckhands
so eager to pass out Turkish towels
or spray palms with alcohol. If they
died, my wife thinks aloud, they would not
leave our nieces – the four girls – to us.
Since we don’t live in Utah, I say,
and she nods. No family nearby,
not for two thousand miles. And I knew
that my body does not allow us pregnancy, morning
sickness, any of that
lovely fecund wreck. But I did not know that geography
conspired against us at the same time
(not that I ever wish for a death).
ART of IF’s Robin Silbergleid reflects on treatment after parenting.
Secondary Infertility, and Infertility a Second Time
by Robin Silbergleid
The summers of 2009 and 2010, my daughter was five (and then six), and I was in treatment to try to have a second child, the sibling she kept asking for. What I remember of those summers: too many Saturday morning ultrasounds, when we’d race back home for swimming lessons and I waited for a call from the nurse, calls that frequently came at ill-opportune times, like during a playdate at the park or in line at the grocery store.
It’s not that undergoing fertility treatment is really any harder when you have a child. Infertility treatment is always awful. But there are unique aspects to the situation—logistically, socially, and psychologically—that first time infertiles don’t generally encounter.
1. Sometimes you have to be that woman who brings her kid to the fertility clinic. I will confess now that when I was trying for my first, I really resented that woman, especially if she had both husband and child in tow. (Really…couldn’t the husband take the adorable kid somewhere else?!) But as I came to understand while trying for number two, the rest of life doesn’t always stop for infertility treatment, and sometimes the kid who exists in the world needs to come before the kid who isn’t conceived yet. Sometimes you’re racing from the fertility clinic to swimming lessons. Or, like me, you’re a single parent or parenting solo for the moment, and don’t really have much choice other than bring the kid or skip a cycle. And sometimes your RE, who has a child the same age, asks your kid about her plans for the weekend while waving an ultrasound wand between your legs. It’s complicated.
2. Sometimes you have to deal with the sibling question. It really sucks when you’re desperate to get pregnant, giving yourself daily injections in the midst of an IVF cycle, and your kid who really doesn’t know what you’re up to (other than you take a lot of medicine and go to the doctor a lot) keeps asking for a baby brother or sister. You find yourself having difficult conversations about how sometimes even when you want a baby brother or sister, you can’t always have one. Sometimes you need to explain diminished ovarian reserve or male-factor infertility in terms that a five-year-old can understand. It would be incredibly funny, if it weren’t also so painful.
3. It’s harder to avoid babies and pregnant women when you’re doing family-related activities with kids. When I was in the thick of treatment, it felt like everyone around me was pregnant or pushing a new baby in a stroller. While that might have been mostly perception, I’d also venture to say it’s hard to avoid new babies at preschool gatherings and zoos and swimming lessons and pediatricians’ offices and all the places you take little kids, and you can’t opt not to go, the way I avoided baby showers when I was trying for my first.
4. Perhaps the most paradoxical aspect of trying for a second child is that the longing is concrete rather than abstract. This statement is not to lessen the desires of patients struggling to conceive a first, but to point out it’s a different experience to imagine yourself parenting versus already knowing what it means for you individually to parent a child. And if you are part of an infertility community—either online as I was, or through peer-led support groups IRL—you might feel guilt for wanting another. You’ve already had your miracle…are you really asking for another? But the desire to build a family, and the sense that yours isn’t complete, is no less real if you’re trying for two (or three) or number one.
Now I have that much-coveted second child who is now the age his sister was when I first started trying. I think often about how much of her preschool and early elementary school years I missed, not because I wasn’t there, but because my head was often somewhere else…mulling over IVF success rates and donor profiles or in a progesterone-induced fog. Even when I look at photographs of that time, I know what the images don’t show.
My Daughter Asks for a Baby Sister from the Tooth Fairy
In the photograph, she wears a yellow dress with a bow
to her preschool graduation; she stands
with her classmates and teacher, smiling wide.
She lost her first tooth last week. I put it
in an envelope in my nightstand, where I keep
test results and baby socks, good luck charms.
I slipped a gold coin under her pillow while she slept.
Today I stand with the other mothers
with their babies in strollers, in slings, my uterus
a clenched fist. I will not be having a child
in January. I will not be having a child
before my daughter turns six. Yesterday
my doctor scrawled recurrent pregnancy loss,
sent me for a blood draw. This
is what I carry with me. What I want
is to smash glass. What I want is to drink myself
into oblivion. But I take her out for ice cream,
go to the bathroom, change my pad.
Robin Silbergleid is the author of the recently-released poetry collection The Baby Book and the memoir Texas Girl both of which address issues of infertility, pregnancy loss, and single parenting. She has also written two chapbooks Pas de Deux and Frida Kahlo, My Sister; her poems, essays, and scholarship can be found in a number of venues, online and in print. Born and raised in Illinois, she holds both a PhD in English and an MFA in Creative Writing from Indiana University. She is currently an associate professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Michigan State University. Robin frequently presents ART of Infertility writing workshops, conferences, and serves as a faculty advisor to interns. She lives in East Lansing, Michigan with her two children (and two cats).
There are many different forms of artwork that brings people comfort. While some enjoy painting or music, many enjoy poetry instead. Michelle Baranowski is one of those people who find comfort through writing poetry. Poetry is yet another way for people to vent out their frustrations and let the world know how they really feel in a creative way. It is a way to express the pain and sorrow that one is feeling and give people the chance to read and relate to it in a completely personal way. In her poem “The Middle Place”, she explains what it is like to be stuck in between utter happiness and devastating sorrow.
While other kids were saying they wanted to be an astronaut or a princess, Michelle always wanted to be a mom. She could have never guessed at that age that she would not be able to accomplish her lifelong dream of conceiving a child. As she grew up, her childhood innocence was shattered and she realized that it was never going to be as easy as she thought it would be.
When Michelle was a young adult she came out as a lesbian so she knew that there was going to be a less “organic” way for her to conceive. She just knew she was going to have to go about becoming a mother in a different way. Still, she believed that it would happen and couldn’t foresee the struggles that she was going to face in the future to accomplish her lifelong dream.
She is now 30 years old and, after years of trying, she has still not had the ability to get pregnant. It has been a long journey of pain and sorrow, as well as constantly getting her hopes up only to have them smashed by each negative result. She feels as if she is just coexisting in the middle place between pure joy and devastating pain, which is something that many people dealing with infertility can relate too. She decided to share her poem with others so that they can catch a glimpse of what she is feeling as she continues on this journey to having a child.
You can listen to Michelle read her poem, or read it yourself, below.
Michelle, right, with her wife Mandy on their wedding day.
The Middle Place
by Michelle Baranowski
I often talk about the middle place.
The waiting space.
It’s where I find myself most.
Weighted down by time, suffocated by hope.
Not moving forward, not falling behind.
Just walking in circles.
Convincing others “I’m fine”
Incarcerated by a love that burns through the skin and seeps out through weepy eyes.
Anchored by a financial hole I’ve fed, pleading the promised success isn’t a lie.
Like trying to fly a kite, teeming with bricks.
Like a bird, dreaming to fly, with it’s beautiful wings clipped.
Like trying to breathe underwater.
Only to learn you’ll survive.
drowning on the inside, yet seemingly alive.
When the house seems too big
but the accounts are too small
when we learn about families growing
with an anxious, happy call.
Like a bullet to the chest, but with my smile on tight.
My soul defeats and decides whether to fight or to flight.
Sometimes I can get out “I’m so happy for you”
And other times, a nod and a smile is all I am able to do.
The weight of sadness and worry follow me all of the time.
Fretting over savings accounts, credit cards and counting each dime.
Not knowing if our efforts will take flight or be in vain.
Its enough to make even the soundest person insane.
I wish that I was brave.
I wish it was easy to decide
Weather to move on from all of this
Pushing lifelong dreams aside.
I wish I knew for certain that one day I would hold in you in my arms and not just my heart.
It’s Endometriosis Awareness Month. Endometriosis is one of several factors contributing to my own infertility. Today, we’re sharing info on endometriosis via poetry by Jenny Rough and through scientific facts from Endo Warriors.
Endometriosis is a painful condition that occurs when tissue similar to the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) implants itself outside of the uterus. This results in the formation of cysts. scarring, and inflammation; all of which can cause chronic pain, infertility, adhesions, and bladder and bowel complications.
Endometriosis is most commonly found on the exterior of the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder, and pelvic floor. Endometriosis can also occur — although It is less common — on the bowel and sciatic region. In extremely rare cases endometriosis can be found growing on the liver, diaphragm, lungs, brain and central nervous system.
These were the first “academic” books that I found when I first became interested in studying infertility for graduate school I remember feeling excited that I could take all of the pain I was feeling by TTC and try to make arguments for changing the stigma that surrounds infertility. Today, as I write my dissertation on the rhetorics of infertility, I continue to rely on these authors and their arguments about the silence, shame and stigma surrounding infertility.
This book immediately takes me back to when I was first TTC. I had finally shared my struggle to get pregnant with my family. On a trip back to WI, my parents hosted a family dinner. At the dinner, my grandmother pulled me aside and gave me this book. She told me that a few of my relatives had also struggled to get pregnant and that this was a book that they highly recommended. I remembered feeling loved by my grandmother because of her thoughtfulness and I was reminded that it wasn’t just me that wanted to have a baby – my whole family did.
I first purchased this book about a year and a half into TTC. I was depressed, angry, and unhappy. I loved my husband but being in a marriage seemed like a constant reminder of something that we were missing out on – a baby, a family. I knew that my attitude and sadness had taken a toll on me and, importantly, my husband. I bought this book and gave it to him as an apology. He was trying to love me the best that he could, even though I didn’t know what I wanted or needed. Seeing this book today reminds me of all the trials and obstacles we faced throughout our 5 years of marriage. Today, I know that the deep love I have for my husband is due very much to ability to face infertility.
Although only one of the stories in this book deals specifically with infertility, reading it was essential to me beginning to process the grief around my own miscarriage. I had put off dealing with my emotions about losing my pregnancy because I was still dealing with the trauma from the emergency surgery that was required after complications from my egg retrieval caused ovarian torsion and internal bleeding. As I read the stories of other women through the essays in this book, I thought of my own story and how I could interpret my experience and make sense of what had happened to me.
There’s something just so incredibly powerful about the experience of infertility expressed through the format of poetry. For me, sitting down with this book creates a quiet space to reflect on my own journey, and it has helped me come to terms with my diagnosis and how it’s made me who I am today.
One of the themes that I’ve been interested in exploring through ART of Infertility is the many ways that we can contribute to our communities and leave legacies without having children. I love this book because it explores the ways that seven prominent women in history found creative outlets for their journeys, impacting the world we live in today.
While those of us with an infertility diagnosis all have our own unique stories, we experience the same kinds of emotions. I read this book quite early in my journey and felt I had truly found someone who understood me. Pamela was speaking my language! I wanted to make it required reading for all of my friends and family so they would understand what I was going through.
In January of 2014, I was gearing up for my final frozen embryo transfer and curating ART of Infertility’s first exhibit at Ella Sharp Museum in my hometown of Jackson, MI. A month later, my reproductive endocrinologist transferred a gorgeous, grade 5AA blastocyst into my uterus. Unfortunately, it didn’t implant and our final attempt at a pregnancy, at least one using our own biology, was unsuccessful.
At a time when I wanted to curl up on my couch and ignore the world outside my front door, I was forced to finish interviews, write exhibit labels, and coordinate artists dropping off artwork. I was both resentful and relieved to have something to do and had no idea then that it was just the start of a project that would bring so many amazing people into my life and save me time and again.
2015 was an amazing year for ART of Infertility. We wrapped up a large scale exhibit in Michigan in January and did 8 pop-up art exhibits across the country. We held 7 art and 3 writing workshops and presented at 3 national academic conferences. Events were held in Michigan, Iowa, New Jersey, California, Arizona, Illinois, and the District of Columbia.
Creating art at our event at Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C. in May.
The ART of Infertility blog was launched during National Infertility Awareness Week and Maria and I have used it to share our own reflections on infertility along with stories and artwork from the project. We also welcomed 16 guest bloggers.
We conducted 39 interviews of 45 people, lobbied for infertility legislation during Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, collaborated with Professional Writing students at Michigan State University, and hired our first intern!
Our team of Michigan delegates at Advocacy Day 2015. Left to right, Elizabeth’s mother, Judy, Elizabeth, Maria, and Maria’s husband, Kevin.
35 new artists participated in the project, contributing 94 pieces of artwork, and we now have 122 pieces of art in our permanent collection.
The Smallest Things by Leanne Schuetz. First displayed at our pop-up in Arizona, this piece is now part of our permanent collection.
We are incredibly grateful for those of you who have shared your stories through interviews and artwork and to our many volunteers and sponsors. The project would be impossible without you.
Infertility Objects by Lauree Schloss.
This year is already shaping up to be every bit as fulfilling and exciting. We have many possible projects and collaborations in the works but here are some of the items that are definitely on our calendar for 2016.
We’ll be in Houston in early April to present an art workshop at an academic conference and collecting oral histories for the project while there. Of course, we will have something special planned for National Infertility Awareness Week. We are working on our schedule and hope to have an exciting line-up to share soon.
Our event in Calabasas, CA during National Infertility Awareness Week 2015. Photo by Chrystal Starr Photography.
Maria and I are excited to see what the third full year of the project brings and hope you’ll join us for the journey. We’d love to share your story through the project via your artwork or an interview. If you are interested in sharing your story, or in hosting an ART of IF exhibit or workshop in your community, please contact us. We’d love to work with you!