Finding My Inner Warrior

Today’s guest post is from Taylin Beechey. Taylin says, “I found your website and found the idea of sharing pieces of our stories from our infertility experiences to be a beautiful idea. Along my journey I have kept a lot of writing about my experience as a young woman having been born with a rare birth defect leaving me unable to conceive with out IVF treatment. Four years later, I am pregant and I would love nothing more then the opportunity to share my story in hopes that someone, somewhere will find comfort in knowing they are understood, That they are not alone. I have attached my story in hopes you could read it. Thank you so very much in advance.”

So, we’re sharing Taylin’s story with you today.

Finding My Inner Warrior Through Infertility

Taylin Beechey

It took me a long time to decide if this was a story I ever wanted to share or not. For me, sharing wonderful beautiful things in my life has always been easy and I am sure it makes many assume I am a completely open book. Sharing the hard stuff though…that’s my real struggle.

The stuff that leads you to that dark place that we don’t like to talk about. For me, it’s mostly because of how uncomfortable it might make someone else feel. What if they don’t know what to say? What if they feel awkward around me after? No… I better keep it locked up to myself.

Taylin and her husband, Josh, in 2015. Photo by Devon C. Photography

That was then, this is now!!! I have come to realize that although there WILL always be people who it makes uncomfortable, maybe there will be one woman, one man, one couple that feels understood in a way that I didn’t. For me, that’s worth it.

There are some moments in life that we will always remember as vividly as the second they happened. For me this will always be the moment I was told I wouldn’t have children. Well the exact words were… “You have a rare birth defect and if you where my daughter and had XXXXX amount thousands of dollars I would do IVF today! Otherwise it would be advisable that you explore other means of starting a family.” Divine intervention must have taken over as I will never really understand how I even made it home that day. That 45 minute drive from my clinic is one I have no recollection of.

I can say for my 28 years I’ve lived and learned through my fair share of pain. I lost a parent, I’ve loved people who struggle with addiction, dealt with my fair share of mean girls, had more than enough heartbreak to last a lifetime.  Nothing on this planet has rocked me like those words coming out of the doctor’s mouth. The loss of a dream of a child you haven’t even met yet is a pain I cannot express to you on paper. It’s your whole life’s dreams wrapped up and tossed in a waste basket. A million thoughts go through your mind as a woman.

Wasn’t I born to do this? Am I not good enough to be a mother?
Is this punishment for something wrong I have done?
Maybe I could be that childless lady, the one with the really nice white furniture instead!
Why me? Why us? Will my husband still love me?

It is a spiral of thoughts, questions, and blame.  Trust me when I tell you that the level of CRAZY, we women are capable of, would scare most men ha ha. Nowhere else in life would a person be expected to experience this amount of pain and hide it. We mourn death, we rally around victims of disasters, we start interventions and support groups for addiction.  Infertility though, it’s in its own category. One that makes us feel we should be quiet. God forbid we make someone else uncomfortable due to our sadness.

Perhaps we keep it so quiet because the response to our pain can be so hurtful. I have lost count of the number of times I was told to stay calm. “STAY CALM IT WILL HAPPEN.”  CALM YOU SAY? How about I fire you from your job, rob your home, kick your car. “Now just stay calm.” How does it feel for you? Light or heavy? Those are all replaceable things. This child that I will never have and am mourning is NOT REPLACEABLE!!!!  So NO I will not be calm!

In fact, if your reading this do yourself a favor and be the complete opposite of calm. YELL! THROW A PILLOW AT THE WALL. USE A COUPLE OF WORDS YOUR MOTHER WILL DISAPPROVE OF! HA, HA, but really it’s true because I’ll tell you this pain, it’s deep and the only way to survive it is to let it all OUT! When you say this to us it’s actually insulting, and trust me when I say I know you meant it with so much love. I really do, and I’m thankful that you care enough to say anything at all. It’s not helpful though and it truly isn’t kind.

Taylin with her friend, Melissa Holman, at the cottage. Taylin says of Melissa, “My rock. A friend who spent weekly teas with me and was there for the years of finding out I was unable to have children and through all of my infertility treatments & later success.”

We don’t share our pain because we would hate to have it dampen your joy. We worry that maybe next week you won’t invite us to that baby shower, or Johnny’s first birthday. This also is not helpful. I do understand the logic and there were days when being near a child’s birthday would have done me in, but let me make that call. As there were also hundreds of days that my friends’ and family’s children were all that kept me going. I would look into their big glassy eyes and think, “I’m not giving up because this face is so worth everything I will have to do to get there.” So if you’re looking to do me a favor, do this. Let me hug your child a little longer, let me hold their hands when we all cross the street. Let me feel the magic that is a child who looks at you like you’re the coolest person they have ever met. I was blessed in this category by my friends and family who allowed me to love the hell out of their babies. I know you know who you are and am I soooo thankful. Your children saved me in ways I can never thank them for.

1 in 8 couples will experience infertility issues. This means someone you know right now is struggling. So please be kind don’t ask the newly married couple when they’re having babies. Don’t ask the partner who already has children if their spouse is the issue. Do not tell your friends how amazing it is that you just decided to try for the first time ever on Friday and BOOM had a positive test the following Monday. But do tell us your pregnant. Trust me, behind the pain we are so joyfully happy for you.

Do show us how much you love your children. it gives us something to keep fighting for. And, do as my friends did… hug me on bad days and celebrate with me when my day finally comes.

Infertility is a long and mostly dark road full of financial stress, needles upon needles upon needles, ultrasounds, and more doctors’ appointments than I can count. Sleepless nights of worry and prayer, tears, and breaks to catch your breath.

There is no right way to grieve a child that will never be. To mourn. To struggle and to face getting through each day. All I can say is feel every wave, the ones that have you unable to breath and the ones that allow you to float for a little while.

I don’t have the answer for why this is happening to you. I only know that the person who comes out on the other side will be the most bad-ass version of yourself you have ever seen. I know this because my biggest struggle as a mother came before my child had even been born.

You have a warrior inside of you that will blow your mind. I have done things in the past three years I would have never believed possible.  My husband and step-daughter look at me some days like I may be Wonder Woman and then I stop and think, “Hell, I kind of am!!”

Taylin, center, with husband Josh and step-daughter, Claudia.

I am 1 in 8. A soon-to-be mother, an IVF Warrior, a woman who will never be willing to take no for an answer. I’m surrounded by some bad-ass women and a wise step-daughter, a loving husband and some strong men, supportive family and one talented fertility doctor. And let’s not forget those above me, clearly sending down some love from the heavens!

I pray that if the moment ever comes and you’re in that doctor’s chair, that you know it’s ok to be weak. It’s ok to be scared. But, mostly importantly, it’s ok to let people in. This is where we find out what our relationships are really made of. At the end of your journey you’re going to want the people standing next to you to be the ones who weathered the storm with you. I have found my people through this pain and I have found some real beauty in this world along the way.

xox
Taylin

What IF?

Today, we’re sharing another piece from SEA-ART-HEAL: The ART of Infertility in Seattle. A huge thanks to Barrie Arliss and Dan Lane for submitting this piece and allowing us to keep it for our permanent collection! #artheals

What IF?
Barrie Arliss (with Dan Lane as illustrator)
graphic novel

A page from “What IF” – A graphic novel by Barrie Arliss, illustrated by Dan Lane.

1.5 years of every hippie method possible, I successfully got pregnant with one IUI. He’s perfect, and now almost 4 years old. We thought trying for a sibling would be as easy as doing that IUI…and we were wrong. I’ve heard so many stories from friends or on TV or through doctors how eventually—either with time or the right amount of persistence with treatments, I’d get this magical baby we wanted. But we never did.

2 years, 3 failed IUIs, countless cancelled cycles, 1 retrieval, 1 really horrible allergic reaction, and 3 failed IVFs later all I had at the end was 1 miscarriage. I never thought I would come out of this with nothing. After all the money and hoping and acupuncture and cutting back on running and eating more liver and so on and so forth, I thought that science would win. I hadn’t heard of the stories where people aren’t successful. Where no surprise baby suddenly happens after a year of ending treatments. No one seemed to talk about those. So the next year I did some major self care, and this graphic novel has been my outlet for healing. I may never get over the fact that we don’t have the family we dreamed of, but we’re moving on and creating this book for others who might be going through what we went through is helping.

These two pages of What IF, the graphic novel, depict the first time I had to give myself a shot of hormones for my 1st upcoming transfer. My husband wasn’t around that evening, and I thought I could do it–because I’m strong and independent and all the typical feminist stuff…but there I was, in the kitchen completely frozen with fear. If you can relate, I’m sorry and also, hugs!

Infertile Enough?

Today I am dedicating the blog to National Infertility Awareness Week and to the launch of Justine Brooks Froelker’s latest book The Mother of Second Chances, based on her blog Ever Upward releasing on April 17th. For five weeks 25 amazing women will share their stories of infertility and loss as part of this incredible blog tour, because together we can shatter the stigma. 

Yesterday Jody shared her story and tomorrow we will hear from Heather at Beat Infertility. We would love for you to participate by sharing these posts far and wide. We’d especially love to see your own broken silence by sharing your own infertility story using the hastags: #NIAW, #infertility and #EverUpward. 

When I first started trying to conceive, I was convinced I would get pregnant immediately. When I didn’t, I wasn’t too concerned. I’d been on hormonal birth control for over a decade and it can take some time for cycles to return to normal. However, as time passed, I was feeling more and more anxious and isolated.

Having turned to a support group after my sister-in-law died, I felt like I needed one for infertility. However, I didn’t feel like I had suffered enough. I hadn’t even started taking Clomid yet. Surely the support group would include members who had been through far more than I had. Would they feel like I was making a big deal out of nothing? Did I belong there?

After a year or so, I took the plunge and attended my first group. What I learned was, that, even though there were individuals in my group who had been dealing with infertility for much longer than I had, came from different backgrounds, and were at various stages of treatment, the emotions that we had were the same. They understood me in a way that others could not.

Still, in our pain, it was easy for us to judge each other and for us to compare stories. I was in the two-week-wait of my first intrauterine insemination (IUI) when I went to that first meeting. I had insurance coverage for IUI, so my husband and I decided that we would do 3 or 4 before considering moving on to IVF.  It didn’t take long and it was time to make that decision.

I didn’t want to do IVF. I mean, no one WANTS to but I was really struggling with it. It was a tough decision. One that took me seven months in therapy to make. I was resentful of all the decisions infertility was forcing me to make. The average person decides they want to have a baby, throws birth control out the window, and before they have a chance to second guess things, is pregnant. Infertility requires us to make decisions at every turn and gives us time to doubt each decision we make.

My husband and I decided that doing one cycle of IVF was the right choice for us. Here are the meds from the retrieval and two resulting frozen embryo transfers. On display at the A/NT Gallery in Seattle, April 1 – 30, 2017.

One of the things I was struggling with the most was how others might perceive my desire to be a parent if I wasn’t willing to go to any length to become one. If I never tried IVF, and moved on to adoption or living child free after my four unsuccessful IUIs, would that make me a less infertile infertile? It was something that I joked about with my fellow support group attendees to try to ease the tension but it really wasn’t that funny.

Through therapy, I was able to come to a point where I was comfortable making the decision that I felt was best for me and for my family, even if others may judge it. Dealing with infertility taught me that no one can truly know what they will do in a situation until they are faced with it. And, the right decision for one person, will be completely the opposite for the next, and that’s okay. Just because a person wasn’t willing to exhaust every financial, physical, and emotional resource, doesn’t mean that they didn’t want to be a parent badly enough. There’s no giving up. Just choosing a new goal, based on the hand that we’ve been dealt.

Eight years after I first started trying to conceive, I haven’t completely resolved my infertility. I’m not sure if my story will end as a parent, or as someone living child free. However, I’ve found peace, and my own infertility success story, through my work with The ART of Infertility.

I no longer judge myself based on what others would think of me and that’s part of why it’s so important to me to collect and distribute diverse stories of infertility through the ART of IF oral history project. I had a choice to pursue IVF or not. However, so many people deal with financial infertility and IVF is not even an option. We don’t hear those stories and they are important.

We often hear the stories that end with a baby. However, not every infertility story ends that way and the stories that don’t are important.

Infertility doesn’t discriminate. It affects people from all races. However, as one African American woman we interviewed said, “Infertility doesn’t look like me, and that can be lonely.” The infertility stories of men and women of color are important.

Your story, no matter where you are in your journey, is important. So, please, if you are debating whether you are “infertile enough” to attend an infertility support group, you are. If you are wondering whether you’re a less infertile infertile because you are choosing adoption over IVF or drawing the line at third party reproduction, you’re not. Don’t let what others may think keep you from finding support. We all have to make our own decisions and do better to respect the decisions that others make. We are all in this together.

Redefining Infertility Success Stories

Infertility art work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Infertility Success Story from Our Archive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Misconception: Chris and Candace Wohl

Our Misconception: The Story of Candace and Chris Wohl
by Jalen Smith

Earlier this year we had the pleasure to sit down with The Wohl Family as they shared their story and long journey to parenthood through gestational surrogacy.

Candace and Chris are a married couple living in Virginia that has struggled to conceive. Candace underwent 5 IVF cycles between a 2 year period, after 6 failed IUIs.

“Each bead represents a shot,” Candace told ART of Infertility’s Maria Novotny, when showcasing a piece of her artwork. The process of having a baby has been a process hard physically, emotionally and financially for the family.

Chris and Candace chose to string a bead for each shot Candace endured.

Chris and Candace chose to string a bead for each shot Candace endured.

“We were judged and told by family and friends to not fundraise, that this issue should have been kept private, we were even told to just adopt.” said Chris. The couple’s story is a popular one within the infertility community and was featured on an episode of MTV’s “True Life” in 2013.  “It was such a seesaw of emotions, from hope to despair from hope to despair,” said Candace. “There was point where we wouldn’t let ourselves get our hopes up just to be let down again.” MTV did a good job of capturing and telling the emotional heartache involved with infertility. “It was hard for us to watch as we had to relive our last failed IVF.”

The Wohl family eventually found hope in surrogacy. In March 2013 the couple began to start the process to pursue other means of child birth. After finding a surrogate in June 2013 the couple then began the contract signing process and had to wait an additional six months for pregnancy insurance clearance. “The waiting was hard for us, the not knowing if it would work out this time.” In October 2013, they transferred their two remaining embryos to their surrogate.  The following month, the couple received the news that they were pregnant, the beta was positive.

Candace wanted to tell her husband the good news that they were pregnant in the best way possible. She shared with us the story of the dusty onesie. “After my first IUI, I was confident and I went out to buy this onesie and card to share with my husband that we were pregnant.” Similar, to those other vulnerable yet monumental moments in life like marriage, she wanted this moment to be special. She wanted it to last. After 6 failed IUIs, Chris had still not seen the onesie, not until that celebratory day in November 2013. “It was one of those things that I held onto, I couldn’t let it go, I’m glad I didn’t because I was fortunately still able to share it with him.”

“It brought it all home to me that she really has endured so much” said Chris after hearing and seeing the dusty onesie story for the first time. The fact that she had kept it for so many years and had taken so many “beads” was a telling story of their struggle for him.

the-dusty-onesie_7280

Chris and Candace with the dusty onesie.

“What people don’t understand is we were trying to adopt, there were a lot of people that didn’t agree with surrogacy when it first came out,” said Candace. “We realized early that we had to get tough skin.” To share their story of surrogacy was at first difficult, while the Wohl family can be considered well known members of the community now, the option to choose this route to start their family was troublesome for them.

“If you would have asked me 7 years ago that we would be doing this, I would have not believed you,” said Candace. At the time the couple was in full belief that they would be able to carry a baby to term but years of surgery and failed treatments denied these hopeful parents time and time again.

When the parents to be accepted surrogacy it did come with lots of doubts and concerns for the future. For Candace is was like watching a quarterback play football and she was watching from the sideline. “You hope they can break the tackles, you hope nothing gets in their way on the game winning drive but all you can do is cheer them along.” Candace said. It was a very vulnerable place for her to be, in one in which all she could do is watch and place her hopes for motherhood in the hands of someone else. Chris and Candace were in the room with the surrogate while she was giving birth. Candace held her leg while she pushed and Chris cut the umbilical cord. While their daughter’s birth certificate did not initially feature either of their names, they immediately bonded with her.

Many forget to mention the struggles infertility have on men or many feel the struggles of infertility are not a man’s right to feel bad. The couple briefly talked about this in their sit down with us. After all, it was his wife’s body. But Chris during his sit down with us shared his thoughts on the process. “I was the parent too” Chris said. “My gender is a strong yet vulnerable one, I could never know her full pain but I was there for her the entire ride.” Chris felt that taking a back seat was not an option for him.

Ultimately the couple’s fears of lack of emotional connectivity, lack of compassion from doctors and guilt were lost once their daughter was born in 2014. “All of the worries I had were lost once she was here, I never felt closer to anyone,” Candace stated.

The Wohl family fought a lot on their journey to parenthood, it was never easy, but what they want to do now is educate others. Educate hospitals, doctors and lawyers so that the next couple does not have the complications they did. “It all starts with education,” Candace closed.

To learn more about the Chris and Candace’s story read their blog at ourmisconception.com

Nesting

As I wrote in a blog post not long ago, Maria and I recently had a conversation about how our homes have taken on a different purpose and meaning due to our infertility and living in them as families of two. It got us thinking about nesting, which inspired me to create some artwork around that theme. I made one piece, my “Inhospitable Nest” around the memory a dream I had years ago.

Choosing the materials for that piece and setting aside time to create it was very calming. Weaving the wire in and out was a meditative process and, while I don’t always end up with a product that looks like it did in my head, this one did. Better even. It made me want to create more nests. I’ve since created two more that I’m sharing with you today.

The first was created around a painful experience I had while my sister was visiting with her two youngest children. My four youngest nieces and nephews were having a sleepover at my parents’ house. My mother bought them all matching pajamas and they were wearing them, sitting in a row on my parents’ couch. I was overwhelmed with sadness. I knew that if my twins, conceived after our first embryo transfer, had survived, they would be sitting in the middle of the line up.

Cousins by Elizabeth Walker. Mixed media - copper and aluminum wire, coral, moss.

Cousins by Elizabeth Walker. Mixed media – copper wire, coral, moss.

 

The second was inspired by a conversation I had with my husband, Scott. We have pet Zebra Finches at home. The birds laid five eggs. One was kicked from the nest, one never hatched. However, three baby birds were growing well. Sadly, they died one by one, the last just days from being ready to leave the nest. Scott mentioned that we shouldn’t let them have babies anymore because it was a lot of work for them without the babies even surviving, to which I responded, “They did better than we ever did.”

Five years, five Clomid with timed intercourse cycles, four IUI hybrid cycles, one IVF cyle resulting in the transfer of three embryos and the furthest we ever got was an early miscarriage. Still, I’m grateful for that brief time I was pregnant.

Better Than We Ever Did by Elizabeth Walker. Mixed media - copper and aluminum wire, pearls.

Better Than We Ever Did by Elizabeth Walker. Mixed media – copper and aluminum wire, pearls.

 

 

The Aftermath of a Male Factor Infertility Diagnosis

While we have more men sharing their stories with us through artwork and interviews these days, they’re still underrepresented in our project and in the media as a whole. By participating in Men’s Health Month, we’re hoping to shed light on how infertility affects men and encourage more men to use art as a tool in coping with their disease.

In this post from the blog archives, originally posted in July of last year, we hear from ART of IF interview participant and artist, Chas. We’re sharing his artwork at our pop-up exhibit at The Turek Clinic in San Francisco next week, and I just confirmed that he and his wife, Audrey, will be attending as well! Please plan to join us to check out the show, create something of your own at our art making stations, and enjoy food, wine, and the company of others in the infertility community, like Chas. You can get your free tickets here.
– Elizabeth

 “We would have cute kids!”

That was the line I said to my wife while we were in college. Forward? Sure. Did I mean it? Yes. Did I know it would take 3 years and 7 IUI’s to finally have a child? Definitely not.

My wife and I wanted to do the things that we felt we had to do before we had kids. You know: get married, careers, buy a house, travel, etc. It wasn’t until my college roommates had their first child in May of 2012 that we sat down and said, “We want a child. We want to experience that kind of love.”

Flash forward 3-4 months of trying, we both felt something was wrong but due to our medical coverage we had to wait a full calendar year of trying to conceive before diagnostic tests could be run. In June of 2013 we were finally referred to our reproductive endocrinologist and the tests began. All of my wife’s tests came back with nothing wrong with her, but I was a different story.

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Low motility and low sperm count. That is what my semen analysis (SA) read. I was angry. How could this happen? I have never done illegal drugs, I can count on one hand the times I had smoked a cigar, I workout, eat well, take care of my body, What the hell? Did I do my fair share of the college bar scene? Sure, but it’s not like I drank a fifth of Jack Daniels a night. This had to be wrong. Then the next SA three weeks later had the same results. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Why me?

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I was diagnosed with unexplained male factor infertility.  When I was diagnosed with male factor infertility I truly did go though the 5 stages of grief. At first I wanted more SA’s because I was a red-blooded American male and nothing could be wrong with me. Denial. Then when all 5 those SA’s came back the same I was angry at myself, and my body for failing me, with my anger directed towards anyone who crossed my path. I would snap at the littlest things and pick fights just to fight. The anger really stayed for a long time. After that came the bargaining: if I take these infertility vitamins and change my diet that should do the trick. It worked for other people it had to work for me. When the vitamins and diet change didn’t work the depression set in. This is when things got pretty bad. I was truly numb to the world. I disconnected from my wife. She would ask me a question about my day and I would give one-word answers. I couldn’t find the joy in the things I use to love doing. I didn’t want to be around anyone, I just wanted to stay home in the dark. After our 6th IUI failed during National Infertility Awareness Week 2014the acceptance finally started. My wife had posted something on a social media site that she didn’t know other people could see, outed if you will, our struggle to have a child to our friends and family. The cat was out of the bag so to speak.  After that only love and support followed from our friends and family. With that love and support we did a picture for NIAW and we also made a team for the Northern California Walk of Hope.

Chas_NIAW Having to watch my wife take pills and get injections probably was one of the worst parts of the whole IUI process.  The pills gave her hot flashes and I handled that pretty well I think. I always had something to cool her down. The injections were hard to watch. I know IVF injections are more extensive but watching her give herself Menopur injections sucked. Watching her do the pain dance, as we called it, always got to me, but the bruises afterwards would bring tears to my eyes. I had to helplessly stand by and watch as my wife had to go through this for something my body was failing to do.

The infertility community as a whole has been so amazing. My wife and I have met so many amazing people going through the challenges of infertility. I don’t think I have ever met that many people that truly pull for you to succeed in that capacity. There is such a kinship in the community that you really do have to experience it and cannot be qualified into words.

If putting my story out there can change one man’s mind for the better about Male Factor Infertility I would feel I accomplished my goal for this blog. Unfortunately, there really isn’t research and support out there for MFI. Why is it on rise? Chemical age? Maybe, but there is no concrete proof. This is especially true for unexplained MFI. There is no need to feel ashamed and disconnected from your partner no matter the diagnosis you are in this together.

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Infertility has become my life’s work. – Heidi’s Story

Like many we meet through the project, Heidi Hayes’ career has been shaped by her journey with infertility. She shares that journey with us through this guest blog today. Thank you, Heidi, for sharing your story!
– Elizabeth

Infertility.

I never thought this little word could describe me.  For such a small word, it had the power to define my life and lead me to people I would never have otherwise met. It’s not a word that embraces you. It’s a word full of desperation, tears and unrealized dreams.

I was 32 when I first went to a fertility clinic and was diagnosed with unexplained infertility. Even the word diagnosed feels ironic next to unexplained! My husband of 4 years and I were not able to have a baby. We had been trying and each month I was full of hope, only to have it dashed.

We began our journey, like most couples, with IUIs and ultimately we moved on to IVF cycles. I produced lots of eggs and they made lots of embryos— which was great! But I really wish I had been wise enough to do some research on laboratory quality. On our first cycle, they froze our embryos on day 3, even though typically embryos frozen at the blastocyst stage perform better. With each frozen embryo transfer cycle, followed by more IVF cycles, my courage, resolve and spirit were depleted. All of my friends were announcing their pregnancies and month after month, I attended baby showers and new baby debuts.

I remember one day, sitting in my car in front of my best friend’s house. That day signified my loss and utter despair in the infertility process. I was her best friend; how could I miss her baby shower? But my red eyes when I arrived were all she needed to see to understand how painful the day was for me. I stayed for a short time and left before the baby gifts were opened. But I knew she understood that the real gift I brought was my willingness to be at the event in the first place.

How do you get through the pain of infertility? It’s hard not to shut down and crawl into a shell. My instinct was to insulate myself from all things baby. I had to continually fight against the bitterness and envy I felt. I found it difficult to surrender control.

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I survived infertility by using 3 coping mechanisms. First, I had to give up the notion that I could control the process. We cannot control our bodies, and by thinking we can, we only place unnecessary guilt and expectations on ourselves. Second, I persevered. I wanted to quit more often than not, but I pushed forward as if in a stupor, unwilling to consider the costs of stopping or even continuing. Third, I stopped telling. I confided in a few good friends, but otherwise I kept my monthly cycle to myself. I found it hard to have multiple people ask me about the outcome of a cycle. It was like reopening the wound over and over again.

After our unsuccessful IVF and IUI cycles, we moved on to adoption. Thankfully, we were successful in this process and brought home a 7 month old baby from Guatemala. Naively we went back for baby number two, 1 year before Guatemala closed its doors to adoption. We fought for our baby girl and traveled to visit her on several occasions. Nearly 6 years later, we were told by Homeland Security that our adoption would not be completed. The loss of a baby I had held and dreamed about was devastating.

Unwilling to be the victim of infertility, we pondered the thought of using an egg donor. Ultimately, we switched our fertility practice and started again. Our first cycle produced 2 very mediocre embryos. Our doctor prepared us for the failure we would inevitably experience. But God had other plans for us. Elated, we gave birth to twins!

As I look back on our infertility, I can still feel the devastation associated with the word. But what was once nothing but grey and black now has undertones of magenta, yellow and orange. My infertility is paying me back for all of the tears I have shed. I have fought the fight and come out victorious with three beautiful children. I wanted them desperately and have pushed aside a myriad of distractions to give them my undivided attention. Infertility has become my life’s work with Donor Egg Bank USA. heidi hayes donor egg bank usa postHelping others to experience the success of having a baby to hold and love is my mission. Would I have felt this way had I not walked as a close companion with infertility? Embracing my infertility has molded me for the best and has given me the serenity to help others achieve their peace as well.

heidi hayes photoBio: Heidi Hayes is the CEO of Donor Egg Bank USA, a nationwide registry of egg donors. She has more than 20 years of healthcare experience and has worked extensively in the field of reproductive endocrinology. Through her work, Heidi has helped thousands of couples realize their dream of having family.

Parenting After Infertility – Reflections from Chas

This week, we’re running perspectives on parenting after infertility from Chas and Audrey, whose daughter, Ella, was born after their seventh IUI. Chas has been a guest blogger for us in the past and we’ll also be sharing his story at our event at The Turek Clinic in San Francisco on June 16th. We hope you’ll join us! We’re sharing Chas’ perspective’s today. Look for Audrey’s on Thursday. This post does contain an image of a baby and parenting. 
– Elizabeth 

“Enjoy it, it goes by so quick! Wait till she is a teenager!” I nod my head and give a faint smile just like I would with all the “just relax it will happen in time” advice we would get when we were trying to start our family.

I feel like there is no “after” infertility. It really never leaves you after you have gone through it. Infertility becomes a part of who you are as a person, a couple, and as a family. It will always be part of Ella’s story. I remember the exact day my wife triggered November 1st, 2014 at a friend’s house warming/Halloween party. I feel most couples who haven’t struggled to have their own family wouldn’t know that kind of thing. I also know the exact day my daughter was conceived November 3rd 2014 at Kaiser Vacaville with my wife wearing her fuzzy Halloween socks, and Northern California Walk of Hope shirt on our 7th and last IUI.

My wife and I gave so much of ourselves in our struggle to have a child I feel we are giving as much if not more of ourselves to be the best parents we can be. We don’t want to be just good parents, but the absolute best for our daughter. Parenthood has been a lot harder than I would have thought, but also so much more rewarding. I will admit that waking up at every single cry was a little bit of a struggle for me. My wife would attest to this fact, but those moments where it was just me, and my daughter alone when only I could soothe her will be forever etched in my memory. Her coos are what kept me going on those sleepless nights where I had to go to work the next morning.

Chas with newborn Ella, who was conceived on their seventh and final IUI.

Chas with newborn Ella, who was conceived on their seventh and final IUI.

Going back to work was rough for me. I just wanted to be home with the daughter we tried so long to have. I didn’t want to have a family just to be constantly away from them. I was jealous my wife was able to take close to 6 months off when Ella was born. I felt I missed so much in the 10 hours I was gone, and Ella was already a completely different little human when I got back home. Thank goodness we live in a digital age because if it wasn’t for FaceTime, and picture sending it would have been a lot harder than it was.

FMLA is amazing. Those 6 weeks I was able to be at home with my daughter were just pure bliss (except for the whole sleep training part). Being there every minute of every day is something I wish every father could have. It made me appreciate everything my wife had done during her 6 months off. Seeing Ella smile when I woke her up for the day would make me melt. I like to think I’m a tough guy but around my daughter I’m just a teddy bear.

I am thankful everyday that I get to be a father. I really didn’t think it was going to happen for me. Now that Ella is almost 9 months everyone asks, “So when is the next one coming?” Part of me wants to say Ella took 3 years of heartbreak and 7 IUI’s! I just want to enjoy her and all her little milestones. The other part of me is starting to think Ella would be an awesome big sister, and as she gets older I start to miss her baby stages. I know it won’t be easy but maybe lightning in a bottle (or syringe) can happen twice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth

#IFadvocacy