Breastfeeding after IF – Natalie’s Story

August is National Breastfeeding Month. Breastfeeding may not be the first thing you think of when you hear the word infertility. However, there are a variety of ways that barriers to breastfeeding/breastmilk and the disease intersect. Throughout the month, we’ll spend some time exploring the topic. In today’s post, Natalie Higginbotham shares her experience with breastfeeding after infertility, including the challenges that she encountered due to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This post does contain a picture of a baby and parenting. Thanks, Natalie, for sharing your story! 

Breastfeeding After Infertility
by Natalie Higginbotham

Soon after my son Atticus was first born, I remember a flurry of nurses and medical staff trying to help him breastfeed while I was in the recovery room. I had just come out of a cesarean section, and was very loopy from the medicine I was given to help relax. A nurse held an oxygen mask to my face telling me to take deep breaths since my blood oxygen level was taking longer than normal to come back up. All I could focus on was my new baby boy, trying to make sure he had the opportunity to breastfeed. One of the biggest concerns I had going into my c-section was the possibility of it negatively affecting my ability to nurse.

After I settled into my private room, one of the first nurses to visit us was a lactation consultant. We’d met once before in the Breastfeeding and Baby Basics Class. She came in and congratulated us. She proceeded to say how she was just in another mother’s room who was in the same boat as me. Apparently, polycystic ovarian syndrome  (PCOS) and c-section births do not coincide with an easy breastfeeding journey. Due to hormonal imbalances, some women with PCOS have difficulties maintaining an adequate milk supply. With so little going in my favor it was important she visit often during my hospital stay to give me the help I needed. She instructed me to pump after every feeding, and to pump every couple of hours – even in the middle of the night.

Luckily, my body responded well to all that pumping. My milk supply came in after I got home, and I seemed to have no issues nursing. I have a few friends who needed to stop nursing early on, due to the pain or other problems. I was so happy that overall, I didn’t really have any excruciating pain or issues that kept me from nursing Atticus.

Natalie and Atticus - Breastfeeding after InfertilityFor me, breastfeeding was about so much more than just feeding my baby. After years of not ovulating and abnormally long cycles from PCOS that led to failed cycle after cycle; breastfeeding was my opportunity to let my body do something right for once. As it turns out, my body finally knew what to do and did it well. I found it very rewarding to be able to nurse and bond with my long-wished-for baby. His conception and birth didn’t go as planned, but at least I was able to provide him with nourishment like I hoped for. I went from being angry at my broken parts to proud and happy with my body’s ability to do something right for once.

Coming up on fifteen months of our breastfeeding journey, infertility’s influence is still present. I am trying to wean my reluctant toddler. Nutritionally speaking, it is perfectly fine and he doesn’t need to nurse. However, he still very much relies on it for comfort. In a way, so do I. Breastfeeding my long-fought-for baby has been such a reward. The bond we built breastfeeding provides solace and mends all the brokenness infertility caused.

We want to begin another frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycle in hopes of giving him a sibling. I am not allowed to breastfeed while on the many different injections the cycle requires. Understandably so, I don’t want him pumped up with residual in-vitro fertilization medicine any more than I want to feed them into my own body. The pressure is on now to wean him.

I enter the end of our breastfeeding journey with some uneasy feelings. I worry that we will wean and go on to do our FET only for it to fail and weaning be all for not. I worry that he is the only baby I’ll get and I’ll regret weaning him sooner than he was ready. In a way, I don’t want it to end, because that means my baby isn’t a baby anymore. Watching my baby grow up is a strange mix of pure joy and heartbreak. Joy in seeing him thrive and heartbreak in missing the tiny cuddly newborn that is grew up way too fast. I’m savoring these final moments of nursing and my baby wavering into full on toddlerhood. Either way, I know I’ll look back on our breastfeeding journey with joy, happiness, and comfort in all it has meant to me after a three year long battle with infertility.

Read more about Natalie’s story at http://www.ivf-mama.com

Do you have a story of breastfeeding and infertility that you would like to share? Please contact us at info@artofinfertility.org.

Rising Ever Upward

Today’s guest post, by Justine Brooks Froelker, is another example that there are all kinds of ways to find success after infertility. Thanks, Justine, for sharing your story!

Rising Ever Upward
by Justine Brooks Froelker

My alarm goes off at 4:14 am. I am one of those people, it must be set on a 4. Just one of my things I suppose. Admit it, you have at least one of those too.

I do the affirmations of my morning routine despite it being so early and my early flight looming. I figure I can read and meditate on the plane. My eyes feel heavy and my stomach is already growling, both quickly combining in me becoming one hangry person.

“You got everything?” my husband Chad asks as I am sitting on the floor getting as many puppy cuddles as I can before I leave for 5 nights on this first leg of the my tour.

“I think so,” I reply as tears fill my eyes.

4 am alarm.

Hungry.

Goodbyes.

A dream full of risk and knowing realized.

All making for me feeling all the feels.

I have been in the mental health field for 18 years, the last 10 of those spent in private practice. Just a few weeks ago, I all but closed my practice to head out on tour to 8 cities nationwide over the next two months offering my Rising Ever Upward workshops and intensives based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown, shame and vulnerability researcher.

I have been a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator (CWDF) for over 3 and half years, meaning I am one of only about 1500 CDWFs worldwide who are trained and allowed to do Dr. Brown’s curriculum. For the first two years of the work I guided my individual clients through the curriculum. For the last year I have held small group intensives in my office. And now, I am taking the work on the road in what many would call the biggest risk of my career. Risk or not, to me, it is my calling and an obedience to my truth, God’s plan, and the power of this work.

It is also only the beginning.

Justine Brooks Froelker

The work of Brené Brown is all about living, loving, leading and parenting in an authentic, brave, and wholehearted way. In other words, it is the engaged life we all yearn for but aren’t quite sure where to start. This work saved me five years ago after my own failed infertility journey of tens of thousands of dollars spent, three lost babies, and an ending no one wants, dreams of, plans or paid for. This work has given me the language and the skills to dig my way out of a darkness I never thought I’d see the light of day from. This work lives in me, has settled into my bones, and is in every cell – modeling it and teaching it to others is an honor, privilege, and something I simply cannot not do, especially in and for the infertility community.

Most of all though, this work is in honor of my story and of my three.

Last week, I kicked my tour off in St. Louis, and already, the ripples of people showing up, being seen, and living brave are changing the world. See for yourself in Michelle’s testimony:

IF you’ve ever struggled with feeling stuck, or on the cusp of something good or even great, but unable to take the next step, unsure of how to muster the courage to move forward;

IF you’ve struggled with shame or been frozen in place because of fear of what others will think, or fear of failure, or fear of rejection;

IF you’ve let your past define your present or limit your belief in your future;

IF you’ve ever played a tape in your head that says, “I’m not good enough, thin enough, smart enough, young enough, strong enough.

IF you want a new story for your life and you’d like to be the author of that story;

Then Justine Froelker’s Rising Strong Workshop is for you. It’s life-changing, transformative – the real deal.

Like millions of people, I’ve read Brene Brown’s work and listened to her renowned Ted Talks on shame, fear, courage, vulnerability and living a whole-hearted life. And each time I did, I thought: I would love a blueprint to implement those ideas and that research into my life. And then I quickly went back to my old ways of thinking

In this workshop, Justine takes Brene’s work and helps you apply it through a process that you can implement immediately to your own life, and then apply it over and over again. You literally write a new story.

Within days of finishing the workshop, I stepped out of my comfort zone and took action on my novel in progress. I pushed through the fear of what others will think and pulled the trigger on some things that will help me bring it to fruition. And I’ve implemented some simple (not easy, but simple) daily actions that are already changing how I interact with friends and family.

Those self-limiting tapes, that crap playing in my head, keeping me from chasing my dreams with all I’ve got and limiting my connection with others? They’re not completely silenced (yet), but now I know where the damn mute button is. 

~Michelle C.

If you are ready to live more wholeheartedly, love more deeply, be more engaged in your relationships, and more brave in your business, come see me on tour this summer, I still have 5 cities left.

And, make sure to follow at www.daringinstl.com and www.facebook.com/justinebfroelker for future St. Louis dates.

Waiting for Babies

Today’s guest post is from Steven Mavros, L.OM, the Founder of the Healing Arts Center of Philadelphia, and the producer of a new podcast called “Waiting for Babies.”

Maria and I met Steven when he came to check out our exhibit, SEA-ART-HEAL, in Seattle a couple of months ago. The three of us immediately connected over our shared desire to make infertility more visible by collecting and sharing oral histories. So, Maria and I were thrilled when he invited us to Philadelphia to partner on an art exhibit this fall. The exhibit will run November 3 – 28 at the Old City Jewish Arts Center.

We’re working hard to outline all the programming and the event dates and times, including a film screening and art and writing workshops. However, we’d love to start by introducing you to Steven. We’d also like to extend an invitation to you, to share your story of infertility through visual artwork and writing you have created. You can learn more by checking out our Philly event landing page.

Read Steven’s story of creating “Waiting for Babies” below. Then, give his podcast a listen. We’re particularly fond of his recent episode about Jessica (A).

Waiting for Babies
by Steven Mavros

15 years ago, when I first started practicing acupuncture, I never set out an intention to work with couples or individuals struggling to bring a child into their lives.  In my first month, a new patient brought me a study done in Germany detailing how using acupuncture before and after the embryo transfer of an IVF procedure raised its success rates.  She asked me to come to her fertility clinic and replicate what was in the study which I was happy to do.  When you’re first starting a practice you say yes to everything of course.  Thankfully, her physician was amenable and open minded enough to let us take up space in their office for something that was brand new in their world.

That study spread both among patients and the fertility doctors and suddenly I found patient after patient asking for this type of help as they’d heard I’d done it before.  Interestingly, there was also some evidence that acupuncture would be helpful for those who were just trying on their own or doing things that were less complicated than IVF like IUI or artificial insemination, so a lot of patients started coming in before they made it to IVF. Still, almost every week I would get a phone call (always the day before because they never got more than that amount of notice) and I would wake up earlier in the morning then I normally would and go to one of the fertility clinics and do some acupuncture.

Steven Mavros is an acupuncturist, founder of the Healing Arts Center of Philadelphia, and the creator of the new infertility podcast, “Waiting for Babies.”

Here’s how it would go: at the clinic I’d meet my patient and often their husband or partner.  The three of us would sit together in the waiting room until one of the nurses would come and tell us that they had space for us to do acupuncture and the woman and I would go back to do the treatment.  Afterward, I would sit in the waiting room for what could’ve been twenty minutes or could have been three hours for the procedure to be finished.  Then I would go back into the room to do a slightly different acupuncture again.  Needless to say I spent a lot of time waiting in clinics.  I often read both a book I brought and every magazine possible.  There was no handy internet in the pocket then.

This was such an intimate moment I was privy to. It was also extremely intense as the procedure they were about to have was in some ways the culmination of a lot of effort, time, money and emotion that they have been putting into trying to conceive.  At these treatments I would get a first-hand view as to what the couple’s relationship was like.  Some were what I’d consider healthier than others.  Sometimes they fought on the morning of and sometimes it was the most loving and caring thing I’ve ever seen. Sometimes there was no relationship because it was a single woman trying on her own or her partner didn’t show up or didn’t want to show up for reasons I didn’t always get to know.

To add pressure to everything the woman had to have a full bladder for this procedure. This always lead to a classic scenario.  I’d be sitting with my acupuncture case, the woman sitting next to me with her legs crossed three times around like eagle pose in yoga and the partner sitting next to her just twiddling their thumbs waiting for everything to be over. The nurse would come out and tell us that they were running a little bit behind and the woman would squeeze her legs together even tighter because she already had to pee and was both nervous and getting even more uncomfortable. Then, almost without fail, the partner would stand up and say “Ok, I’ll be back, I have to go to the bathroom.” To which the woman would always just roll her eyes and laugh and I would look incredulously at someone who clearly didn’t understand the concept of solidarity.

There are so many moments and so many little things that are both hilarious and heart wrenching sitting there with all of these patients and I realized that their stories are so intense and emotional and yet no one outside of that room knew what they were going through. So I thought the best idea would be to write a book and to try and tell their stories the best way I could.  I’d add along some anecdotes and things that had happened to me along the way.  But after hitting so many walls writing, I realized that I was trying to tell a story that wasn’t mine. I was trying to tell their story and that would never work because I didn’t have all the information. I don’t know what came before and what was to come afterwards. I didn’t always know how things turned out as sometimes I only got to see them in that one intimate moment and never even found out if the procedure worked.

So I decided the best place to hear that story was from the patients themselves. Waiting for Babies was born.

Pregnancy and miscarriage, IVF and artificial insemination are not actually new concepts to our American society, but given how little is talked about it you would think that it was. When it comes to medicine, we are so intensely private.  Did you know that in America there’s really no ritual or common healing practice for someone who’s had a miscarriage? Many other cultures have them to give you at least a playbook as to what to do when this happens but we miss that in America. And most of the time people bottle it up and keep it within the partnership which often doesn’t help either of them.  And it’s so much more common than you think as is this whole field. One in eight couples or individuals trying to get pregnant are having difficulties like this.  Most likely someone you know has either been through it or is going through it right now. I want to open that conversation and get all of this information out there to show just how human this whole process is and what some people are going through. I was to shed some light on how hard it is when something that for everyone else takes a very quick momentary interlude in life, but can take those struggling years and years.

It’s time someone shared their stories as there are so many more who are still waiting for their babies.

The Art of Balance: Loss and Love

Today’s post is from Maria’s Mother, Therese. Thank you, Therese, for sharing with us.

The Art of Balance: Loss and Love
by Therese Novotny

When Maria asked me to write a blog post for Mother’s Day, I gladly agreed, but the task was thornier than I thought. As her mother, it is difficult to talk about infertility because I never know what to say. My words get mixed with love, longing, and loss.

The day after Maria was born, her Aunt Joanne brought a small bouquet of Brown-eyed Susans to my room. Those yellow petals always remind me of Maria. Nearly 25 years later, she planted some in her back yard in Grand Rapids. When I helped her move from that house for Kevin’s new job, she left the flowers behind, but more seriously, she left behind a dream of raising children there. That dream had not been fulfilled, despite all their painful, heartfelt efforts. It was a loss.

Therese with Maria on her first birthday.

The art of balancing Maria’s trauma, supporting her needs against five other children, is difficult.

First, my background is full of big families. I embrace the interests of all of my children, their friends and spouses. Even though my life on the outside looks traditional in the extreme (suburban, white, Catholic, middle aged, mother, wife), I am very curious about how other people choose to live out their lives. I’m very open to other life choices and respect them – and it often gets me into trouble.

Maybe this is the wrong thing to say, but I don’t understand Maria and Kevin’s need to have a child of their own. I enjoyed feeling a baby kick inside my body and giving birth to a new tiny person, but there are other ways to give birth. You can give birth to an organization, or nurture a latent talent within yourself, or adopt a child who deserves loving parents. Many women who have birthed children have severely neglected themselves, their talents, or even others around them… and that is also a loss.

Finally, I feel helpless because I can’t help them change their infertility. I need to find new avenues of support. I can support them in their new home, their upcoming projects, their dogs, and their careers. I have been in situations where I can change some things, where I need to advocate and change and struggle. But some things I can’t change. I need to know the difference. I’ve learned to grow where I am planted, even if I can’t do very much.

After Easter, my father sent me a card of a famous Monet painting. I have always thought of Maria in that painting. She is the child standing in a lush field of flowers, so tiny, she blends among them. She is perfect. Why does she not see it?  She is part of a bouquet prepared for the world to enjoy.

Infertile couples are made to feel they are broken or incomplete. They feel cheated and scammed and misjudged. They are miserably misunderstood. They have a right to feel that way, but sometimes the broken, slashed parts of us are unavoidable.

At the risk of saying the wrong thing, I offer the well-known parable of the broken bucket.

In a small village in China, a man collected his water from the river, which was about a mile from his hut. Each morning, he attached two buckets over each side of a long pole, which balanced over his shoulder like a yolk. The bucket hanging from the left side retained all the water, but the one on the right was cracked and full of small holes.  When he returned home, the bucket on the left had not lost a single drop, but the bucket on the right had leaked half its contents, with half dripping through the cracks.

One day, the sturdy bucket taunted the cracked bucket jeering, “I am the real bucket here. I do what needs to be done, while you are a broken piece of junk. You just cause the man sorrow because you can barely bring back half the water, and still, you make the man carry you. You are mostly a burden to him. You are just a sorry excuse for a bucket. ”

The man overheard this one day, when he was eating his meal.

So the next day, he carried the broken bucket outside to clean it, and the bucket said, “Why do you keep me? You know I don’t carry all the water home. Am I worth all the effort?”

Touching the holes in the bucket’s side, the man said, “Every day when I carry you to the river, I take the same path. Sometimes the heat is unbearable. But, do you ever notice the flowers growing on the side of the path? They bring me such joy. I’ve always known you had leaks and holes. I always carried you on my the right side. That way, I knew you watered the flowers. In spring, the shoots to grow. Eventually, I see the leaves, and then the petals unfold; I smell the perfume of their scent, and I see beetles climb into the leaves for shade. The other pot – he only brings me water, but you – you bring me joy.”

Maria and Therese today.

My hope for my daughter, as she struggles with the raw sadness of infertility, and as she hears the voices of those who make her feel broken, is that she is perfect… she is my joy. She is a flourishing part of our vast family garden. Love has surrounded her for years, and will only continue to enfold her.

The Visual Minimal – Elisa’s Story

by Elisa Fox

Miscarriage – a word that was hardly part of my vocabulary. A word I never thought would apply to ME. That’s an “other” word. You know, those things that only happen to miscellaneous “other” people, like cancer, horrific car accidents, and house fires. An improbability, but now, part of my story.

I was 24, married for three years, and happily naïve. I found myself pregnant after a couple months of trying and we were thrilled! Though it seemed unreal, I continued onward with a secret and a grin and anxiously awaited my first ultrasound. I took a couple more pregnancy tests just to be sure, and those pretty pink lines reassured me every time.

Then, I started spotting. My heart sank. I frantically searched online for answers, something that would tell me this was normal. But somehow, I knew. I knew it was ending.

A few days later, I was no longer pregnant.

There was now no due date to anticipate.

An ultrasound appointment to cancel.

Announcement gifts to return… or hide… or throw away..

My grief was crippling and confusing. How could I feel this much grief over something so short?

I tried convincing myself that it was no big deal, we’ll try again in a couple weeks, and it was my own fault for getting excited so soon. I even tried to go to work the next morning.

The next few months (who am I kidding, the next year) were a blur of depression, isolation, and heartache. Was my pregnancy even real? Was it all just a dream? I had no morning sickness, no bump, no sonogram. I was in a fog and did not know how to comprehend what was happening. All I knew is that if I became pregnant again as quickly as possible, maybe I could forget this ever happened. I was obsessed with figuring out what was wrong with me, as if answers would heal my wounded heart. I started taking every vitamin I could find and demanded my doctor test me for multiple issues. It all came back fine, to my dismay. I just wanted an answer.

Everyone around me had no trouble getting and staying pregnant, why is this happening to me?

The isolation was suffocating. Not many people knew that I was pregnant, and if they did, it didn’t seem like they knew how to respond. “At least you were only six weeks”, or, my personal favorite, “at least you know you can get pregnant.” These statements were only obvious reminders that they have no idea what I’m going through. I stayed at home as much as possible because I was terrified of losing control of my emotions. I was so fragile. A pregnancy announcement or bump picture on Facebook would send me into a malfunction for the next several weeks. Well-meaning people could easily set me off into a tailspin of sadness without even realizing it.

The days passed and I did what I needed to do to function. I set niceties aside and focused on myself. Medication, unfollowing certain people on social media, seeing a counselor, and diving into art were all part of working through my grief. It took me a long time to accept that it was OK to grieve. I had nothing to show for my pregnancy, only memories. I felt like a fraud.

Over a year had passed since my miscarriage and I found the courage to attend a local support group for pregnancy & infant loss.

I shared my story when it was my turn and saying the story out loud from beginning to end was so therapeutic. I had replayed those dark days in my head over and over, but saying it out loud provided a type of release that I can’t explain. Seeing the other families there and knowing just by their presence that we had something in common was so comforting. Seeing mothers and fathers nodding their heads and shedding tears of empathy while I told my story was incredible and so validating. I’m not a fraud, I’m not alone, and I’m not the only one who has felt this way.

Mis-Conception

Around this time I opened an online shop for my art called The Visual Minimal. I am a full time graphic designer and began making artistic prints for my own home and memorial prints for the women I met in the support group. I made the Mis-Conception print to memorialize the loss of my pregnancy, a series of pink lines representing a pregnancy test that fades in and out. It served as a validating reminder that what I went through was real and profound. That print blossomed into an Infertility&Loss series that represents all spectrums of this journey. My hope is that these prints can serve as a beacon of hope that reminds you not only of your sweet baby, but that you’re not alone.

I created the Infertility&Loss series at The Visual Minimal as a reminder that the grief this journey can bring is overwhelming, but so is God’s promise that these dark days will pass. I believe art can speak to our souls in ways words simply cannot. I would love nothing more than to use the gifts God has given me to encourage other families going through the same trials that I have experienced.

Learn more about Elisa’s artwork at https://www.thevisualminimal.com and find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheVisualMinimal/

Undeniable Proof of Infertility – Memorializing a Journey

Traveling with this project, Elizabeth and I have had the privilege to listen and learn about all of you and your infertility stories. More recently, a few of you have been kind enough to share your stories and art with me for my dissertation “The ART of Infertility: A Community Project Rhetorically Conceiving Failed Fertility.” This dissertation emerged out of my collaborative partnership with Elizabeth and The ART of Infertility.

Being moved by meeting all of you, I sought to write a dissertation that did not scandalize infertility. Rather, I wanted to write a dissertation that honored the difficult journey we all need to endure because of infertility.  Simply, I wanted to share your stories and remind others that infertility matters. It may not be well-understood, but art can be a method to make visible the stories our infertile bodies carry.

As I finished writing my dissertation a few weeks ago, my body began to feel drained. Writing your stories, reflecting on my own infertility, the dissertation itself felt as if I had just given birth. Even my husband was exhausted! It has been an act of mental, emotional and financial labor — something many of us in the infertility world can understand. To memorialize this sense of fatigue, I created “72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof.” It sums up the 72 periods that have come and gone in the process of writing this dissertation. I share the piece below as an homage to my infertility journey, as well as a thank you to all of you who have influenced not only this piece of scholarship but who have shaped who I am today: A Strong, Infertile, Woman — now with a PhD — because of all of you.

72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof
Maria Novotny
acrylic on canvas

72 Tears: Undeniable Proof

I was young, 24 years-old, when I first encountered difficulties conceiving. Not ready to face the facts that I may need to undergo fertility treatments if I ever wanted to carry a child on my own, I decided to go to graduate school. It was my escape where I quietly hoped and prayed that by some magic power I would naturally become pregnant. Yet, as time passed on, I had to slowly face the fact that magic nor graduate school would make me become pregnant.

“72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof” is a data-visualization of the six years, twelve months and 72 periods that serve as undeniable proof of my infertility. During the first few years, when I began my period tears would trickle down my face. I mourned the sadness that yet another month had passed without conception. However, as time passed and to hear the stories of others who have had to live with infertility, my own strength increased. No longer did every period begin with tears running down my face.

I made this piece shortly after I turned in my dissertation to my committee. It serves as an homage to the journey I have taken both professionally and personally as I work to make experiences of infertility better understood.

The Poetry of Two Women in their Own Voices

It’s National Infertility Awareness Week (#niaw) and this year’s theme is #listenup. We’re kicking off the week with two poems from our archive. You can listen to the poetry below to hear perspectives from Tamsin and Michelle. Do you have a poem you’ve written about your experience? We’d love for you to record it and send it to us! #artspeaks #artheals

Tamsin Prasad
My Nightmare

Tamsin with her pup at their home in Northern California

“We don’t have insurance coverage for infertility. It’s added stress and guilt that my body is costing us so much money. We moved here with my husband’s work and I’m trying to get licensure as a marriage and family therapist so I’m doing unpaid hours at the moment. It just seems like my fault because my husband is working and his body is working as it should be. I feel like I take a lot of it on myself really.”

“I got my website up and running and did some photography and some poetry and just kind of surprised myself with all of the creativity that was coming out. My therapist kind of likened it to birthing my artistic self. It’s been quite a big thing. It’s been really helpful, I think. Even more so with the poetry. I’ve been writing not just about the infertility but stuff that’s happened in my life and my childhood and friends and I think it’s just brought up so much emotion that’s been cleared out that I didn’t even realize was there to be cleansed so that was really good.”

Michelle Baranowski
The Middle Place

Michelle, right, with her wife Mandy on their wedding day.

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.

A Man’s IF Holiday Perspective: It’s All Relative

Kevin shares his thoughts on dealing with infertility and the holidays. As a guy, he finds solace in dealing with infertility through his work – whether that is intellectual or hands-on. Read more about the inspiration Kevin took from deer hunting this past year.

This November, I went deer hunting for the first time. While sitting in the woods, patiently waiting for a deer to walk past my blind, I began to read Einstein’s biography.  The book discusses in detail Einstein’s two theories of relativity – general and special. His special theory of relativity is what challenged Newton’s long held traditional concept of absolute space and time. Through a series of mathematical equations and experiments, Einstein disproved Newton and instead demonstrated that space and time were relative to the observer – not an absolute concept. For example, someone moving inside of a train will have a different experience than someone standing on the side of the road watching the train go by.

Kevin, sitting in his blind, deer hunting.

Kevin, sitting in his blind, deer hunting.

Reading this in the woods, I couldn’t help but see how much of this theory also relates the experience of infertility.  My wife and I have were diagnosed with infertility 5 years ago. That moment was life altering and brought upon itself a host of questions we never imagined we would have to think about. Today, we often have to remind ourselves that there is no absolute right interpretation or method of dealing with infertility. Just like Einstein’s theory: infertility is relative to the observer. Every year around the holidays, this topic comes up for us as a couple. Often we may be experiencing things differently, and we may have different ways or methods to make the holidays work in our minds. Let’s face it, this holiday is all about the birth of a child and it’s a tough one for the infertility community.

For me, and I would imagine many other men out there, talking explicitly about infertility is not really our way of coping and channeling our energy into something positive. Personally, over this year I have focused a lot on work and have been afforded some unique experiences to travel and live my passion of being a medical physicist. I have also poured myself into renovating our house that we bought as a symbol of our love and what we share together, even if we never have children of our own. This is extremely important to me.

A garage entrance that Kevin remodeled into a living room.

A garage entrance that Kevin remodeled into a living room.

I do not think we should despair over having different ways to make these holidays doable, but we should rejoice in that we share in this experience together. There is somewhat of a beauty in thinking about Einstein’s theory and that there is no absolute correct way to interpret and cope with infertility. However, it is comforting to know that a common thread is that the infertility community all shares this experience together. I hope everyone else out there can use this as a bit of consolation and uplift as we head move into a new year.

Five Tips for Holiday Self Care

Embarking on the next couple of weeks of holiday celebrations, we offer you five tips that we find ourselves practicing as a method of surviving the celebration of a miraculous conception while dealing with infertility.

#5 Send a holiday card. Really! Tired of getting pictures of new babies and growing families in the mail? Send your own card! Remind others that you are a family! Maria does this frequently sending cards featuring herself, husband, and two puppies. For her, this is a form of infertility advocacy.christmasphoto_2016

#4 Treat Yo Self! Take time out and pamper yourself. Get a massage. Get your nails done. Make yourself feel good!

#3 Talk with your partner and ask, “What are we going to do to make the holiday special for us?” Maria recommends this especially as much of the holidays revolve around the excitement of nieces and nephews waiting for Santa to come. Maria tries to go out for a Christmas Eve brunch with her husband to block out a set time for just the two of them.

#2 Remember it’s okay to just say “no”. Not everything is going to be something that you are going to want to attend. Just like baby a baby shower, remember you don’t need to attend every holiday party or every family event. Sometimes you just need to say no. And that’s okay! Elizabeth said no to her extended family Christmas party this year and spent time with child free friends instead.

The lone decoration at Elizabeth’s house, which wasn’t put out until 3 days before Christmas.

#1 Try to step back and enjoy the simple things. To say infertility is complicated is an understatement. Balancing infertility with the holidays can sometimes increase anxieties. We suggest taking a night and escaping. Make a fire, turn on some holiday tree lights (or don’t if you’re on a decorating strike like Elizabeth), cozy-up with a cup of tea, blanket, and a good book to escape. Sometimes taking a moment to remove yourself from it all allows you to better process and handle the ups and downs that will no doubt come with your infertility diagnosis.

We hope some of the suggestions we have implemented over the years will help you navigate the holidays and new year. Most of all, we want you to know that you are not alone.

Wishing you peace this holiday season,

Elizabeth and Maria

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