Infertility Never Seems to Go Away

Infertility never really goes away. That’s one of the truths we’ve learned as we’ve collected stories over the past four and a half years. It can move below the surface for a time but it always comes back up. Some days and months are easier than others. When you’ve been dealing with infertility as long as we have, you can even go for years with everything being pretty okay. Then, the pain and anxiety come rushing in again.

While you’ve heard plenty about the events we’re hosting and the new projects we’re launching, it’s been quite some time since you’ve really heard from us, Maria and Elizabeth. In honor of learning that we’re receiving the 2018 RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association’s Hope Award for Innovation, which recognizes an “individual and/or organization/corporation who have demonstrated the creation and application of an innovative product, service, or medical procedure that has enhanced the lives of those diagnosed with infertility,” we’ve decided to speak the truth about what life with infertility is truly like for each of us these days. First up, Elizabeth. 

The ART of Infertility will receive the 2018 Hope Award for Innovation.

I see them as I round the corner. A group of children dashing across the lawn. Their presence and the long line of cars along the curb tell me that this get-together out our friends’ house isn’t the small affair I was led to believe it would be. Before I can make it to a parking spot, my twins cross my mind. That group playing on the grass should be larger by two. It would be if I hadn’t had a miscarriage. The tears come, as they often do these days. At least once, usually twice, sometimes three or more.

I’ve now been on a break from trying to conceive for nearly as long as the five years I tried.   I’ve been dealing with infertility almost a quarter of my life. After my diagnosis the first few years were the hardest. Then I began attending, and later hosting,  a RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association peer-led support group. I found my tribe. Life improved again when Maria and I developed The ART of Infertility.  I was no longer alone. I felt heard, seen. Seven years later, I’m feeling invisible again.

I think of what my children would be doing today at 4.5 years old if they’d survived. Milestones in the lives of my friends and family mean fresh wounds for me. Two of my best friends send their daughters off on the school bus together each morning. My sister mentions volunteering with them at school on popcorn day. Several of my last remaining friends without children are moving into parenthood now. I’m thrilled for them but I worry about what it will mean for me. How it will change our relationship.

I already avoid many social situations with parents and children I love. I’m afraid I’ll become further and further isolated. The space that I’ve occupied with my friends without children has been safe but now that safety is jeopardized.  I don’t want these things to hurt me the way they do. Each day is difficult in a way it hasn’t been in years. I don’t know how to work through these emotions when I feel like I already try so hard. I have many tools at my disposal. My art, my therapist, my work with the ART of IF. It scares me because I feel like I need more. What will it take? Or maybe I won’t ever feel better. Then what? Will I feel this way every day? Feel this stress, this heartache? Do I even truly want these feelings to go away? If they do, will it mean that I have lost the connection to the children that I wanted so badly and had for only a very brief time before they went away?

Elizabeth, curating Reimagining Reproduction, which debuted in LA during the month of June.

Working in the world of infertility has become my passion but I find that it’s now sometimes hard to personally relate and to feel relevant. I’m no longer in treatment but I’m not firmly in the camp of the childfree. This break I’m on has no end in sight. Maria and I work so hard and feel the work we do is so important but it’s hard to see so many others in the community move forward when we feel like we’re at a bit of a standstill in our own lives. I feel burnt out, exhausted, and many times I feel left behind. Receiving the 2018 RESOLVE Hope Award for Innovation comes at a time when I really need a boost. I need some wind in my sails.

Maria and I see the impact we make on others when our exhibits make them feel seen. Receiving the award from RESOLVE makes me feel seen at a time when I’ve really been struggling. The award is especially meaningful to us because RESOLVE brought us together when we met at Advocacy day in 2014. We’ve done so much in a short time but there is still an incredible amount of work to do. We hope that this recognition from RESOLVE will make more people aware of the work we are doing so we can continue to make experiences of infertility visible through art.

Maria (left) and Elizabeth (right) at Utah Infertility Resource Center’s gala, where ART of IF partnered to auction off pieces of patient-created art.

I ask that those of you who can relate to what I’m feeling, reach out. Let’s be there for each other. We don’t need to do this alone.

 

Announcing A New Project: The Infertile Post

 

Wow! Where has summer gone?

Here, at The ART of Infertility, we kicked off the bbq and beach season in Los Angeles. There, we worked with One More Shot and The Turek Clinics to host a Men’s Health Month exhibit “Reimagining Reproduction”.

Our poster for the Los Angeles exhibit, “Reimagining Reproduction”.

It was in LA that we came across one of these unique finds: a full size mailbox! We sent Elizabeth’s mom, Judy, to downtown LA to pick up the box and drive it back to the gallery in Venice. We had learned from the prior owner that the mailbox originally came from Wisconsin and was later driven out to LA. After using it in our LA exhibit, we decided to return it back to the midwest and ship it to Michigan.

That leaves us to an announcement. Inspired by the mailbox and wanting to incorporate it into the project, we are announcing a new sub-project with The ART of Infertility.

The Infertile Post is an infertility and reproductive loss community art space. The word “post” is a play on announcements we receive in the mail such as holiday cards featuring Norman Rockwell-esque portraits of families with children, perhaps celebrating a new addition to the family.  “Post” also recalls ideas of a newspaper or online posted space — the idea of sharing stories as a collective series of voices and perspectives.

The Infertile Post invites individuals to write posts – large or small – and send them to us (yes, snail mail!). We will then share your post with our fellow infertility community via art exhibitions and online gallery spaces. Our objective in this project is (a) to offer a space free of judgment for those dealing with infertility or reproductive loss where they can write and express themselves, and (b) showcase a collective series of viewpoints and experiences that are shaped by infertility and/or reproductive loss.

So send us your mail! Really!

Send us your “infertile post”!

A Few Q & As to Guide Your Participation

Do I need to sign my post?

No, individuals can choose to identify how they please. They may use their own name, a pseudonym, or simply not sign it all.

Where do I send my post?

The ART of Infertility

℅ The Infertile Post

P.O. 1110

Jackson, MI 49204

What are some example posts?

“A Letter to My Fertile Friend”

“A Letter to My Unborn Baby”

“Dear Period, you suck.”

“Dear Bank Account, I’m broke.”

“A Letter to Your Doctor”

“A Letter to Your Younger Self ‘Pre-Infertility'”

“A Letter to Your Legislator”

“A Letter to your Infertility Hero”

“A Letter from the Stirrups”

Etc.

Will my post be returned to me?

Unfortunately, no. We want to document and create an archive of these posts and plan to keep the physical versions for exhibition.

How long should my post be?

As long as you want! This is your post so it can be as long or as short as you want. The point for us is that the post serves as a place for you to express yourself and get your energy out! You do not have to be the most eloquent writer in the world, nor have the letter be grammatically correct. We just want to give you a space to think about an experience (good, bad, frustrating, happy, whatever) that documents living with infertility or reproductive loss.

Is this different than participating in The ART of Infertility?

Yes and no. This is a sub-project of The ART of Infertility. We expect to feature these posts in upcoming exhibits. We also want to feature online galleries of these posts, similar to a digital archive. In many ways, think of this project as an extension of what we, The ART of Infertility, already do — fuse creativity and experiences of reproductive loss together! Why? Because art and writing heal.

Sperm Stories: A New ART of Infertility Project

In honor of Men’s Health Month, we wanted to announce a new ART of Infertility affiliated project! We are thrilled to receive funding and support to investigate how men rely upon and use social media when experiencing infertility. This is a project that was co-designed by our social media undergraduate intern, Kristen Mahan. Kristen will be a senior this year at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh majoring in digital marketing. Back in the Fall of 2018, Kristen enrolled in a class taught by Maria where she expressed interest in working more as an intern with the ART of Infertility. We are thrilled to have Kristen on our team and helping us understand how we can better support men with infertility.

All of this means, we need your help! We want to know what guys want and need from social media when experiencing infertility. Much of the content out on the web is created by and for women. While this is great and starts the conversation, we need to #flipthescript and think about the other half that need support too.

Read more about the project, follow @sperm_stories on Instagram and Facebook. Message us or email at info@artofinfertility.org and participate at the end of June in a short survey that helps us understand the content that guys want. Below are a few Q&As to contextualize the project further.

“Sperman Adventures – Volume 1” a piece reflecting on male experiences of infertility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Q: Why focus on men, infertility, and social media?

Infertility is an issue that affects both women and men but is generally stigmatized as only women’s issue. Nonetheless, it is estimated that one-third of infertility cases are the result of male reproductive issues, one-third a result of female reproductive issues, and one-third either a combination of both sexes or unexplained (“How Common Is Male Infertility”, 2016). Yet, despite men representing a significant population of the infertility community, resources have been stagnant and research has found men with infertility lacking support networks and educational resources (Petok, 2015; Gannon, Glover & Abel, 2004). Such lack of targeted support and resources has led to an increase in a sense of stigma, isolation, depression, and stress in men experiencing infertility (Hanna & Gough, 2016).

This proposed study aims to intervene in the stigmatization of male infertility by creating and testing a social media campaign directed at infertile men during the month of June, which is nationally recognized as Men’s Health Month. Rationale for a social media campaign is rooted in a 2010 study that found media campaigns can greatly produce positive changes and prevent negative changes in health-related behaviors (Wakefield, Loken & Hornik, 2010). Their study advocates for additional research around health media campaigns to test the effectiveness of individualized, targeted campaigns. Given the proposed effectiveness of health media campaigns, particularly for stigmatized demographics, this study seeks to better understand the educational resources and support offered to men experiencing infertility.

Q: How do I participate?

Participation is easy and completely voluntary! If you do participate, you are eligible to receive a $10 Amazon gift card. To participate, please contact us at info@artofinfertility.org because we need you to sign a consent form. A consent form is needed because this is a project affiliated with a university. This means we will be talking and sharing our findings with other colleagues and infertility researchers. You can participate using a pseudonym or “fake name”, and we can talk more about how you may like to participate via email or a phone call. You must “sign up” to participate by July 10, 2018.

Q: Why is the ART of Infertility running this study?

The ART of Infertility does many things beyond hosting art exhibitions. Much of our mission is to learn from the stories and people we meet through our work hosting infertility art exhibitions and breaking the silence around infertility. To do this then, we work with universities to run research projects. This project is an opportunity for us to better reach men struggling to build their families. This means we welcome straight men, gay men, and single men to participate. Help us understand the content and community you need in online/social media spaces.

Also, as a study funded through an undergraduate research grant, your participation will help mentor Kristen, our intern, looking to run social media health campaigns once she graduates in 2019. This is a joint effort that seeks to benefit everyone involved!

The ART of IF / Sperm Stories team: Elizabeth (left), Kristen (center), and Maria (right).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: So when do I start?

Now! Really, posts and content have already been made “live” on both our Facebook and Instagram pages. While this research project technically lasts throughout the month of June, we will be continuing to populate and keep this account alive. We are committed to learning from our participants and building a community that talks and features male perspectives of family building. Help us continue the conversation by following these accounts today!

My Four-Year Break from Infertility Treatments

by Elizabeth Walker

Four years ago today, I put the final pieces of artwork on the wall and opened what became the first exhibit of The ART of Infertility.  There’s no way I could have imagined then, what this organization and the people I’ve met through it would become to me.

The remnants of my IVF retrieval and frozen embryo transfers, included in the piece, Crib with Medication Boxes.

I’d just completed my final treatment cycle, a frozen embryo transfer, which was unsuccessful. I didn’t know where I’d go next, but I knew I needed time and space to figure things out. The ART of Infertility has been that for me over these years. Even better, it has allowed me to give others their own time and space so that they may also use art as a source of healing.

In the past four years, my dear friend and co-director, Maria and I, along with a team of dedicated and passionate interns and volunteers, have traveled to 14 states and the District of Columbia (plus Switzerland) and held 22 exhibits and 23 workshops, and given 12 presentations. We’ve collected and shared hundreds of infertility stories through art.

I’m forever grateful to those of you who have supported this organization. To you who have spread the word, attended our events, allowed us to come into your homes to interview you, and have parted with your artwork so we can travel with it and share diverse stories of infertility, we thank you. To our exhibit hosts, partners, and sponsors, thank you for helping us amplify the voices and experiences of those with infertility. To our families; Scott, Kevin, and our pups­­, who miss us both when we’re home and when we’re gone, thank you for understanding what this work means to us.

We have exciting exhibits and programming this year. We just wrapped an amazing month in Salt Lake City, Utah and in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. In a matter of weeks, we’ll be in Madison, WI and we will spend the month of June in Los Angeles and the month of October in Chicago. We feel lucky every day that we get to do this work, even luckier when we’re jet-lagged and our muscles are sore from hauling suitcases, because it means we’re reaching further than we ever imagined.

I set out to be a parent, and co-parenting this organization with Maria has made every bit of my infertility journey worth it.

Check out our upcoming schedule, current calls for art, and find out how you can get involved at artofinfertility.org.

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.

Love, Hope, and Acceptance: A Family’s Transition

We are thankful for all of the wonderful people that The ART of Infertility has allowed us to cross paths with. Today, we have a guest post from CJ Carman, who we first met in July of 2015 at her home in Northern California. A memoir about CJ’s infertility, parenting after adoption, and how she and her family were transformed along the way was just released. She shares some of that story with us today. Thanks, CJ!

CJ with baby Nicole

Before my husband and I got engaged, we had discussions about having children.  At first, we thought we did not want children but after several years of marriage, decided we did, in fact, want children very much.  So we set out to get pregnant and soon discovered that we were infertile.  After many tests and discussions with our physician, we decided to try infertility procedures that proved both physically and emotionally painful and that would, alas, fail to get me pregnant.  So much goes on when you are in this place.  So many comments and unsolicited advice from people who mean well, but inadvertently added to the pain.  Guilt was also a huge part of this package.  But my husband and I pretended to make peace with the fact that we would never have children. And then, we were inspired to look into adoption.

Both of us are Caucasian, but being very open to any child who needed love, we adopted an African American baby.  Adopting our daughter, Nicole, was literally the best thing that ever happened to us.  It was also the start of a journey that inspired me to write Love, Hope, and Acceptance: A Family’s Transition.  Besides the “normal” parenting challenges and the realities that come with raising a child of color, there were other opportunities to expand my way of thinking of this world in a positive way.  Living in a very diverse area, through Nicole’s activities and relationships, I was exposed to many different cultures and family lifestyles.  Nicole’s life opened many doors for me and I feel has made me a better person.

Part of Nicole’s journey was realizing that she was lesbian.  At a very young age, Nicole was more attracted to females than males and also tended to identify more with stereotypical male behaviors and dress and was labeled a “stud” in her lesbian relationships.  And while my husband and I were concerned for Nicole’s welfare, we were accepting of how she identified and expressed herself.  Little did we know that her inner angst continued into high school. You see, Nicole felt deeply that she was not a female interested in other females, but actually a male interested in females.  In other words, Nicole knew she identified as male while everyone still saw her as female.  Nicole knew she was transgender and really wanted to make physical changes so his brain’s image of who he was matched his outer appearance.  Thus began the transition from Nicole to Cole. But it was a transition for the whole family.  One that has been mind blowing in that we experienced the power of Cole’s human spirit crying out for, and gaining control over, who he truly is.

Part of this journey included an extraordinary wish by Cole to retrieve and freeze his eggs before starting hormone therapy (at that time, he was one of the first female-to-male transgender persons in the country to undergo this procedure). Cole knew he wanted biological children someday.  Once Testosterone therapy begins, it is extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to produce viable eggs. This was not a decision we all took lightly but one that ultimately led to the success of preserving a part of Cole that will become a living, conscious part of him.  The process was both costly and physically painful but one well worth it.

Cole’s senior portrait

Two-and-a-half years later, Cole is a thriving college student who is secure and happy.  It is not lost on me the almost full circle gift that my husband and I lost, found through adoption, and now can give to Cole – a chance to be a parent.    Now days, those in the LGBT+ community can entertain options once closed to them. I have no residual pain or regret about not being able to have a biological child.  Though Cole did not come into this world from my body, he is, most definitely a part of me. My labor was different but just as mind blowing and wonderful.  It gives me great joy that my husband and I were not only able to help Cole become and openly express his true self, but to help instill hope for his future as a parent.  What greater gift could a parent possibly receive?

Love, Hope, and Acceptance: A Family’s Transition, is available at Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

 

 

 

 

Fine and Good – Jamie’s Story of Healing through Art

We’re still accepting entries for our upcoming exhibit, “Cradling Creativity: The ART of Infertility in Philadelphia” and we’d love to have your writing or visual or performance art. You can submit your art at http://bit.ly/PhillyArtEntry. One of the artists who will be featured in “Cradling Creativity” is Jamie Blicher. Today, Jamie shares how she’s used art to heal while dealing with infertility. Thank you, Jamie, for sharing your work and story with us!

I lived in New York City for 10 years, where I met the amazing Brian. We got married in May 2014. I’ve always worked very hard at my career (I’m a Retail Buyer) and have the most incredible friends. But to me, family has always come first. So, Brian and I moved home to Maryland to be near ours and start our own (so much for the planner in me!). We tried to get pregnant naturally for a year and when nothing was happening, I turned to Shady Grove Fertility in Rockville, Maryland. The first step was to try an IUI. After three consecutive failed IUI procedures, we moved to IVF. The first transfer worked but I miscarried identical twin boys at 8 weeks. We transferred the second embryo in April and the second transfer didn’t work.

I’ve always painted, scrapbooked, bedazzled and did every art project under the sun. Art (as well as singing and dancing) has always been a form of meditation for me–and what a better time to practice! After the second procedure failed, I was looking for a specific brush in my toolbox and saw that I had thrown some unused IVF needles in the toolbox so I put paint in a syringe and loved how it looked on my canvas. I started sharing my paintings on social media and knew that I wanted to help change the conversation about infertility by speaking about it publicly and explaining why I was painting so much!

In June, I shared my story on Facebook. It felt like I was finally cluing friends into my “dirty little secret” of infertility. I wasn’t at all expecting to get the reaction that I received. Thirty-seven (I counted) Facebook friends sent me private messages about how they are going through the same thing or just went through it.  I received texts and phone calls from old friends, coworkers and friends’ parents about their stories. I met countless others who have felt therapeutic by discussing their fertility challenges. Brian and I couldn’t believe it–if infertility is so common, why aren’t we talking about it? Why do I see commercials for restless leg syndrome and not IVF support groups and medicine?

After sharing my story publicly, I’ve continued to paint using the IVF needles and have found so much energy from this and the amazing infertility community I’ve found. Unfortunately, we had another miscarriage early last month at again 8 weeks, but my hopes are high and I’m painting and talking with other “TTC sisters” more than ever. Being open about this has helped me in many ways from my incredibly supportive work environment to the warmer smiles from acquaintances in the community. I always go back to the “be kind because you never know what someone is going through” quote I love.

I’m not great, but I’m fine and good. There are days when I randomly start crying in my car and there are days when I’m so positive and cheerful, it’s annoying. I like to joke about my situation using one of my favorite Seinfeld quotes, “That’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody can just take them. That’s exactly how I feel about my body right now. I can get pregnant but need to figure out how to hold the pregnancy. But through everything, the most important thing I’m learning is to stay open about the process. Other stories have helped me so much and I hope to help others. I don’t feel lonely anymore–I feel like a warrior in this struggle to achieve happiness. If I’m anything like my unbelievable mother (I am), I know I’ll be an amazing mom too one day–no matter how that happens.  But for now, I’m happy being me and using creativity and community to face adversity and win!

You can follow Jamie on Instagram @theglitterenthusiast 

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.

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.