Two College Students Connect Over IVF

by Kristen Mahan and Alaina Schepp

Kristen:

When I asked my roommate and friend since freshman year, Alaina, to come to Reproductive Writes – an ART of Infertility event – I had no idea how our friendship would change. Sitting at the workshop with other participants talking about their personal experiences with infertility, I suddenly found Alaina opening up. She shared with the group that she — herself — was created from IVF. Not only that, all of her siblings were also created using IVF.

Kristen, left, and Alaina, right

Sitting there, hearing her story, I was surprised that this had never come up before! Alaina had always been close to her family, she would frequently go home to help out or even just hang out with her siblings and parents. I never really understood why, until she talked about how hard it was for her parents to get pregnant.

Walking back from Reproductive Writes that evening, Alaina shared with me how her parents  decided to undergo IVF after her dad found out he was not able to have kids. Alaina was the first child to be born from their IVF cycle. Shortly after they had Alaina, and desiring a big family, they decided to go through another two rounds of IVF.

As Alaina opened up to me that night about her parents IVF story, our relationship changed for the better. We stayed up for 3+ hours chatting and crying from some of her most prominent childhood memories. Hearing her story explains it all. I cannot even imagine how hard Alaina’s childhood was and what her family went through, and is still going through. Hearing her story made me realize how strong Alaina is and I am so thankful to have such a loving, kind, and genuine friend like her.

Alaina:

Seeing the exhibit, Reflections of Reproductive Loss and Access to Care, during the Reproductive Writes event was an experience that touched very close to home. I have always been very thankful for IVF for basically giving me my entire life I have today. When my parents explained IVF to me throughout the years I never thought of it as not working, until I saw the exhibit. My understanding was that if you were infertile, most of the time IVF would work. However, seeing the artwork and the stories of others, I realize that is not the case. The process of IVF always amazed me – how it can work and how it did work for my family. However, after the exhibit I realized how thankful I am and how fortunate we were for this to work, not once but three times.

I knew going into the exhibit that I would be able to relate more to the artwork than some of the other people there.  I also felt like I could relate to the pain by seeing IVF put a financial, medical, and stressful toll on my own parents. Being as close as I am with my family, it is a dream of mine to have a big family. With my family having fertility issues and being told they would not have children, it’s a fear of mine that I could be told the exact same thing.

Baby Alaina

I thought I could turn to IVF in a worst-case scenario, but going to the exhibit and hearing everyone’s complications and deeply sad stories, makes my worries much greater.  Seeing others’ heartbreaking stories makes the fear that much more real. However, I believe everything happens for a reason and that I need to trust in the plan that is in store for me. I believe that my family is closer because of IVF. It made my parents value my life, and each of my siblings’ lives, so much more because they truly thought they would never have children of their own, and now they have three. I have IVF to thank for giving me my family and my own life. Without IVF, I wouldn’t have the people who matter most to me.

I thought the exhibit was a perfect time to open up to Kristen about being an IVF baby. IVF is not something that is talked about enough, and that was clearly verbalized throughout the conversation at the exhibit. I have always thought of Kristen as a great friend and someone I could really trust, but it just wasn’t a topic of conversation I knew how to bring up. Sharing at the exhibit that I was an IVF baby brought about more conversations afterward that really shared my feelings, my thoughts, and my journey into what made me. Kristen was the first friend I was able to deeply share that with. With Kristen interning for The ART of Infertility, I knew she was able to understand where I was coming from and could comprehend it more than any of my other friends.

Kristen, left, and Alaina, right, on the first day of their junior year at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Kristen and I have had many memories together. Being together the past two years, we have been there for each other during the highs and the lows. We are able to go through school together and spend late nights studying and cramming for exams. Kristen and I love having a good time and being able to spend basically everyday together.

Kristen:

I think my favorite memories of Alaina and I are just staying up late and talking about anything and everything. Alaina is extremely outgoing and talkative so our conversations are endless. She is all around the most bubbly person I know. Like with any college girl, there is usually “boy drama” which Lain and I have been each other’s rock for. We are always up front with each other and try to give our most honest input on certain situations.

1 in 8 – Finding Strength through Poetry

Today, Yevgeniya Przhebelskaya shares her poetry and story with us. Thank you, Yevgeniya!

1 in 8
by Yevgeniya Przhebelskaya

“​1 in 8”
(previously published at Anti-Heroin Chick)
I’m 1 in 8 –

appreciate the irony,

was afraid of babies

in my teens timidly dating,

in my twenties finally married and getting a Masters

in Elementary Education.

 

Now I’m over thirty, husband is over forty,

where is our child: our precious daughter, our son?

Our frozen chosen – in the fertility lab,

30% chance of success

– each time they tear out my body and soul?

In our unfinished adoption paperwork?

“Sorry to disappoint, but

as caregivers for a live in adult

you need a 3 bedroom house and 300% consent”.

 

I’m 1 in 8

The other seven couples on the block

are having their first, second and third.

Should I get a dog? Or a bird?

Are my poems my children, a consolation prize from the Lord?

 

When I married my best friend Jerry back in 2007, we never expected infertility and fertility treatments to be part of the happy ever after. At the time of the wedding, I was pursuing a part time Master’s Degree in Elementary Education with a full time internship at the end and working as a part time education assistant to get free graduate tuition. I was under a threat of losing my credits if I took a school break to build a family.  Jerry was also not ready to take on responsibility of a father. So in blissful ignorance we waited until my Master’s program was over, and a grueling teaching internship was successfully completed.  The internship indeed turned out to be a test for our family in its own right, with a long commute, a demanding schedule, and a very critical supervisor.

In 2011, with four years of married life behind our belt, and work-leisure-chores routine squared away, Jerry and I were ready to become parents. Two more years later it became obvious that we would not be able to make a child simply by being passionate in the bedroom. After another two years of inconclusive tests from my OBGYN, we sought a help of a reproductive endocrinologist in NYC.

I sought out a female doctor with a gentle manner, and Cary Dicken from Sher Institute fit the bill. However, the final diagnosis and prescription in 2013 was firm: male factor infertility with a recommendation for IVF. At that point, Jerry and I took a one and a half year break to attend to my dental issues, and also to look into adoption.

There are a lot of choices and pathways regarding adoption; domestic, international, infant or older child. I joined support groups on Facebook, read books from the library and spoke with adoption professionals. Jerry was open to the idea of adoption and was supporting my research. Unfortunately, his father Vincent was not. And because Vincent had moved in with us a few years earlier, he was considered a member of the household for the adoption process. Additionally, there were housing requirements for a multiple adult household that made adoption a more complicated choice at the time. At this stage, adoption was not to be.

Jerry and I went back to Dr. Dicken for infertility treatment.  First we did an IUI, which was negative and then we proceeded to Micro IVF (IVF with a low dose of injectable hormones).

After several delays, Micro IVF was in May of 2017. Five eggs were retrieved, with the help of ICSI three fertilized, one was transferred at three days, and two frozen for follow up FET. I was cautiously optimistic at that point. Unfortunately, two weeks later, the dreams of easy IVF were dashed with a negative result.  Moreover, I had a flare up of an autoimmune digestive disease which was subsequently diagnosed as ulcerative colitis. While colitis was successfully taken under control with prescription medicine, my mind though plunged into a deep depression out of which I did not see an easy escape.

My life went back to pre-IVF days, but I was no longer content. My friends were getting married and, soon after, pregnant.  I was no longer a stable happy person, but rather a hurt and hopeless one. I even joined a Facebook group for Bipolar Depression, even though I have not been officially diagnosed with that diagnosis. Over there, I sheepishly asked if there were any advantages of being overwhelmed and depressed as I was. The answer to that question has changed my life.

A fellow Facebook acquaintance, Kap Zan shared that he wrote poetry during periods of depression, and then after a prompting, shared several of his poems. It was as if a Universe exploded in my head. I remembered the times I wrote poetry while feeling isolated in high school, and the times I wrote about   my love life in shambles in college, and my poem The Song of Extraterrestrial which Jerry set to music, foreshadowing our own love story. The next day (Sunday) I wrote a simple short poem at the end of church service, barely waiting for the closing hymn to end. That same week I wrote seven more, staying up late, or pausing in the middle of conversations.

I have found an outlet for suffering and a new strength by writing poetry.  I write poems regularly, and now am looking for creative ways to share them. I started Art Page on the website of the Leonia United Methodist church where I work as administrative assistant. I founded and facilitate monthly Bergen Poetry Workshop in my hometown. I send out my poetry to literary magazines and websites.  My poems have appeared in Ancient Paths, Time of Singing, Anti Heroin Chick and The Penwood Review. My poem “Supergirl” will be a part of the exhibition called Poetry Leaves in  Waterford Township Public Library in May 2018. The topics of my poems extend beyond infertility treatment into issues of faith, political awareness, healthy living and self analysis. I still suffer (first FET was BFN!), but I am glad that people are responding to ups and downs of my life journey, and I am able to encourage some of them even if they are not planning to have kids! I also started working out, and I find it helpful to build up my strength.

On the baby front Jerry and I are getting ready for the second and final FET in August and are once again talking about adoption. The father in law requires more and more care and is beginning to resemble a baby himself. Caring for him is both frustrating and rewarding. And Jerry and I are still passionate about each other – and will continue to be!

Ocean

Ducking

under waves of depression,

Or gliding

on the waves of inspiration,

Embracing Divine Navigation,

A poet

is surfing

in the Ocean…

Pain, Regret, and Blood: A Journey in Infertility

Today’s blog post is from J. Clyde Wills. He recently visited our exhibit, “Reflections of Reproductive Loss & Access to Care,” at University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh and contacted us afterward to share some of his story with us.

While infertility affects men and women equally, we don’t as often hear the perspectives of men dealing with an infertility diagnosis. Our mission is to share stories, especially under-represented stories, through the creative expression of art and writing, making infertility visible. That’s why we invited J. Clyde to share his story with you today. It’s also why we feel it’s important to incorporate specific programming around men’s stories, and the ways that infertility impacts men’s health, during Men’s Health Month each June.

This year, we’re again partnering wiith Dr. Paul Turek of The Turek Clinics to present an art exhibit and programming in Los Angeles from June 9 – 30. We hope you’ll check out our event landing page for initial information on “Reimagining Reproduction: The ART of Infertility in Los Angeles” and submit your artwork for consideration via our call for art.

We will have a special focus on highlighting the artwork and stories of men, as well as single parents by choice, those in the LGBTQ+ community, and other under-represented individuals and groups who are dealing with infertility or must use assisted reproductive technologies to help them build their families.

These perspectives are so valuable. Thanks, J. Clyde Wills, for sharing yours with us today!

Pain, Regret, and Blood: A Journey in Infertility

By J. Clyde Wills

I can’t talk about it without crying: IUI, IVF and five failed adoptions. We were trying egg donation before our marriage fell apart. I suppose I am still crying.

Kate* and I started the old fashioned way, which is what all newly married couples do whether they want babies or not. But we did. No one told me making babies would be so hard. In fact, high school health class taught me the opposite. When I was younger I never considered not using protection because even a romantic gesture could cause pregnancy.

Our first stop in fertility was at the Yale Fertility Center. We were told was one of the best fertility centers in the country. The first round of IUI, intrauterine insemination, yielded no results, so we tried IVF for the next round. Insurance only covered the first one so this round of in vitro fertilization was on us. During the whole process my role felt so secondary. It was my job to go into a little room at the doctor’s office containing the most regressive pornography I had ever seen, make my contribution into a sterilized container, and then get out of the way. After that it was my job to administer the shots.

I felt so helpless. I wanted to do more but there was nothing else I could do but give support and love. So I did that. Truthfully Kate was strong enough to give herself the shots.

Our hopes soared as Kate’s blood tests came back positive. The news that we were pregnant was intoxicating which made Kate’s daily regimen of shots easier to bear. Everyday I administered injections into her tummy but the discomfort became worth it. We were having a baby.

Our hopes changed the day Kate received her first ultrasound. The doctor passed the wand over her uterus but there was nothing. It was not just that there was no heartbeat but nothing at all. Hormones levels clearly read pregnancy but her uterus was empty. The pregnancy was ectopic and needed to be ended. After months of injections Kate now had to be treated with methotrexate, a drug normally used in chemotherapy, to end the pregnancy we had dreamed of.

We took a long break after that. Ending the pregnancy was too devastating. So we decided to try adoption. I wish someone had told the cruel reality of domestic adoption. I don’t know what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting this. We chose Lutheran Social Ministries as our agency. I was making a career as a Lutheran minister so it made sense to us. The first two adoptions failed quickly. Our agency connected us to birth mothers and after the emotional journey of meeting them and filling out forms the birth mothers chose another couple. That is how the system works. Potential adoptive parents must woo and court birth mothers who have the option to accept or reject and can always later change their minds.

Then we got the call. A woman was giving birth on the other side of the state. She was choosing an adoption plan for her baby so I left work and we drove to the hospital stopping at Baby’s R’ Us along the way to fill the car with everything we needed. After a long day we came home with Jacob whom we named after my father. For five days it was the kind of bliss that comes with being a new parent. We lived in 24-hour shifts as we fed him, changed him and loved him. This is where I start crying.

Photo by Aditya Romansa

After the fifth day we got the call. Jacob’s birth mother had changed her mind and a social worker would be coming to our house to take him away. That is also how the system works. Until she signs the surrender documents a birth mother has 90 days to have a change of heart. We would later learn that birth mom had used the adoption process to manipulate her own parents into keeping the baby. Giving Jacob away on that day may have been the worst day of my life. It felt no less like a piece of me had been amputated.

After Jacob, Kate and I took matters into our own hands, abandoned Lutheran Social Ministries and pursued private adoption. There is a whole cottage industry of adoption attorneys and we found one in Jacksonville, FL. It is more expensive but the success rate is higher. This is when we met Andrea.

Andrea already had five successful pregnancies. Her first child was adopted by her brother and her other four babies were adopted by couples like us. This was number six. Andrea denied that she was selling her babies to fund her addiction to crack cocaine. But we didn’t care. We just wanted a child. After months of regular visits to Florida and writing lots of checks Andrea disappeared. She went off the radar for a long time with no one, including her family and the attorney, having any idea where she was.

Andrea re-emerged when it was time to give birth and informed us she was keeping the baby. It was her right. Kate and I had no claim to the child, even after it was admitted that Andrea never had any intention of giving up her child and only wanted someone to pay her bills while she was pregnant. The sad part is Andrea did not get to keep her daughter either. Because of her continued abuse of drugs Andrea’s little girl was placed with a family member. Kate and I were never considered.

One more failed adoption after that and Kate and I quit the adoption game for good. We decided to try egg donation. The process is much the same as IUI and IVF with it’s many visits to doctors and shots in the tummy with hormones. The only difference is the egg is donated through any one of a variety of organizations. We scrolled through profiles like it was an online dating site until we found a match that made sense with a price we could handle. A suitable donor was selected but before the process could start our marriage disintegrated.

The end of our marriage is its own tragedy. It could be best equated to a scene from the 1973 film the Long Goodbye where, in order to intimidate his enemies, a gangster smashes a Coke bottle across his own lover’s face right after saying to her, “You are the single most important person in my life.” In truth there was never any violence in our marriage but the end was no less painful. I died that day.

I look at The ART of Infertility exhibit and see my life unfolding before me. I see the many sculptures built from fertility medications and remember every puncture into Kate’s smooth, soft skin. The crib containing $12,000 of medications is specifically heartbreaking. I recognize all of them because it was the contents of our pantry for years. It also reminded me of the crib and stroller that collected dust in a room that was never used. I still have a red biohazard container holding an entire regimen of soiled needles. I should have gotten rid of it years ago but haven’t done it. It is a visceral reminder represented in pain, regret and blood. I can’t let it go.

There is no trace of kumbaya in this story. Not everyone gets a happy ending. Not everyone gets a child or a family, regardless of effort or money spent. Not all dreams come true.

But I won’t allow my story to end this way. It’s not fair to me or to you. I find healing seeing this story expressed through art. Their story is my story and it comforts me. It also reminds me that in grief it is healthy to give my soul a voice and the permission for it to cry and sing. As loss is released, my burdens grow wings and fly away leaving me on earth clutching tightly onto the last of joy. If I am allowed one last prayer it is to see that joy blossom into redemption.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Finding a Creative Outlet for Coping with Infertility

As part of our series on alternative success stories of infertility, we’re sharing a guest post from Elyse Ash. Elyse and her husband, Brad, pooled their talents to find a unique way to process the pain of infertility. Thanks, Elyse, for sharing your story!

Anyone who has gone through infertility knows how tough it can be on a marriage. And not “I-never-get-to-use-the-remote-control” tough…

It took my husband Brad and me two full years to get on the same page regarding our infertility diagnosis and course of action. But before that, there were two years of arguments about finances, crying after sex and discussing the positives and pitfalls of every medical option we faced.

And while we were still traveling, laughing, canoeing and hosting parties, the frenetic, fearful energy of our infertility was always right below the surface. At any given moment I could spontaneously burst into tears. We both lived in constant fear of pregnancy announcements from close friends…me, because I couldn’t hide my heartbreak anymore and Brad, because I couldn’t hide my heartbreak anymore and was prone to public sobbing.

We were stuck in this weird dance. I was mad at the world for not giving me what I wanted. Brad was mad at me for being “ungrateful” and dissatisfied with our already-undeniably-awesome life.

Kind of makes you miss the days of fighting over dirty dishes and taking out the trash.

But then things changed…and pretty quickly, too…

In fact, I can pinpoint the exact moment things started getting better between us…and it wasn’t when we saw a positive pregnancy test. It was when we decided to take the pain, anxiety and fear we were both experiencing individually and turn it into something productive and cathartic that we could do together. It was when we decided to combine our professional skills, collaborate and build something that could really help others. It was when we decided to launch Fruitful Fertility.

Photo by Aaron Lavinsky and Jerry Holt for the Star Tribune

I had the idea for Fruitful in the summer of 2016 after our first round of IVF failed. I was heartbroken, shocked and devastated…but I was also frustrated with how my dearest friends and family struggled to emotionally support me in a meaningful way. To be fair, they tried! Lord knows they tried. But the only people who made me feel better in any tangible way were friends who had BEEN THERE quite literally…who knew the rules of the IVF game and knew which questions to ask. It was then I realized that what I really wanted was a fertility mentor who understood what I was going through but who wasn’t trying to get pregnant anymore. Someone who was already on the other side and could offer me the perspective and wisdom I so desperately lacked.

Brad loved the concept, and as a web developer he got right to work helping me design the Fruitful website and matching process. We needed to create a platform to help best match fertility mentors with mentees based on a series of inputs: location, age, diagnosis, values, interests. We worked late. We pushed each other. We sketched out email flows. We registered for an LLC. We had no idea what we were doing, yet together we created this thing and poured all of our creativity and energy into it. We cared for it…nurtured it…loved it. It wasn’t just like a baby…but it also wasn’t NOT like a baby…

And now? Fruitful is growing! It’s been incredible to see our tiny user base flourish into a real community of fertility warriors; a mix of women and men who’ve been through this battle or are actively going through it. It’s been humbling and rewarding to watch, and it’s brought us together in a way that we never expected. Through this project, we could channel the anxiety and fear we felt around our own story and put it into something helpful and meaningful for others.

On a personal note, things have changed a lot us since we launched Fruitful in April 2017. We had our first Frozen Embryo Transfer in late June 2017, which was successful; we’re now due with our first kiddo in March 2018.

Our next challenge? Pursuing our full-time jobs while continuing to help others through Fruitful and taking care of a baby. And while I’m not quite sure how this will look logistically, I have complete faith that now Brad and I can get through anything.

 

 

 

Healing your HeA.R.T through Art

by Maya Grobel

Several years ago, Elizabeth Walker  (founder and co-director of The ART of Infertility) came to my house to interview my husband Noah and me for a project she was working on. After four plus years of a tumultuous journey to parenthood that involved every possible assisted reproductive technology in the book (clomid, laparoscopic surgery, IUIs, IVF, IVF with donor eggs), we were tentatively pregnant with a donated embryo that (thankfully) resulted in our daughter.

At the time, Noah and I were working on a project of our own. It was a documentary film about infertility, our own path to parenthood, and the making of modern families. None of us in the room knew that in our hearts we were actually pursuing a common goal— expressing our feelings about infertility through art, in order to process our experience, decrease stigma and shame around the disease of infertility, and normalize how different families are created.

Noah and Maya at home during their interview with Elizabeth in December of 2014.

Cut to four years later. Noah and I have an incredible daughter nearing three years-old, and a feature-length film called One More Shot that was recently released on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, and Vimeo on Demand. And Elizabeth, along with co-director Maria Novotny, has created a brilliant non-profit arts organization to support those struggling to create a family by showcasing artwork done by infertility patients. The exhibits by ART of IF aim to build awareness of infertility and educate the world about it, “portraying the realities, pains and joys of living with IF.”

When Elizabeth asked us to show our film at one of the ART of IF exhibits in Seattle, we were thrilled, and it became immediately evident that the collaboration between One More Shot and The ART of Infertility was a perfect match.

The screening in Seattle accompanied the exhibit SEA-ART-HEAL, held at the Seattle Center in April of 2017, and included a Q&A.

Our film was our entry into a world we knew nothing about. It chronicles our journey and explores the complex relational, emotional, physical, financial, medical, and ethical issues that accompany assisted reproduction. It’s a very personal glimpse into what infertility really looks like. In an attempt to find community around the shame and silence surrounding infertility, Noah and I interviewed others who had experienced similar struggles and found alternative ways to construct their families. This allowed us to meet and have in-depth conversations with people who shared what it was like to experience multiple pregnancy losses, let go of a genetic connection to their child, or watch someone else give birth to their child. It was eye opening for us, and also hopeful.  And when each baby-making intervention we tried failed, we knew that somehow, if we were open to all possibilities, and had high enough limits on our credit cards, we’d find a way to be parents.

As a psychotherapist now practicing in the realm of infertility, I can clearly see that this film, in a lot of ways, is our trauma narrative. Producing the film together, while stressful at times, allowed Noah and me to have a different creative focus when we were completely isolated and stranded on Infertility Island. While we couldn’t make a baby, we could make a movie. So we did. And through that we were able to analyze and understand our experiences, create something tangible and visual about it, and connect to this isolated but incredibly powerful and supportive community through a shared narrative. As Noah likes to say, we were able to make lemonade out of some sour-ass lemons. It was cathartic and I believe it also helped us heal our hearts at a time when they were very broken. Now we hope that it can help others heal too.

Our story really is a version of that of so many other people. And by sharing our story through our film, we know we can give a voice to this pain and connect to the hearts of so many people who struggle to make a baby. Sharing through visual story-telling was our medium. The ART of IF displays a variety of other artistic work that allows the viewer to see it from other personal points of view.  And through understanding, there is a sense of connection and hope.

So when Elizabeth asked us to join her and The ART of IF in Salt Lake City, Utah— well, it was a no-brainer. I just have to figure out where to trade in my California girl flip-flops for some snow boots.

A screening of the film One More Shot and panel discussion on using the humanities to cope with infertility will be held at Urban Arts Gallery in Salt Lake City at 6 pm MST on February 15th. This event, an extension of the exhibit, Arches in Perspective: The ART of Infertility in Utah, is free and open to the public. Reserve your space at http://bit.ly/onemoreshotutah.

Not near Salt Lake City? One More Shot is now available on Netflix, iTunes, Vimeo on Demand, and Amazon. The ART of Infertility will have events in Los Angeles, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Chicago later this year. Check out our full schedule for events near you.  

 

 

 

Bringing The ART of Infertility to My Hometown in Utah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 

Six Secret Confessions of an Infertile

by Elizabeth Walker

A couple of weeks ago, my husband, Scott, and I were interviewed by Steven Mavros of Waiting for Babies. It was a sort of pre-interview for the launch party and live taping that Maria and I will do in Philadelphia next week. (If you’re in the area, please join Maria and me in Philadelphia on August 9th for the Waiting for Babies launch party. Tickets are only $8 and include hors d’oeuvres and an open bar!)

It was the first time the two of us have been interviewed together and it was really valuable to share our story as a couple and reflect on everything we’ve been through over the past 8.5 years. I feel like we both gained more insight on how infertility affected us both individually and as a family.

It also got me thinking about all the crazy thoughts I’ve had along the way.  At the risk of sounding like infertility made me completely lose my mind, I’m sharing some secret confessions with you today. I figured I’m not alone in having some crazy or embarrassing thoughts while dealing with infertility. Maybe hearing mine will help you realize you’re not alone :).

NUMBER 1. I fantasize about finding a baby in the bushes or in the manger of a nativity scene during the month of December. I once read about a man who found a baby in the subway and eventually got to adopt it. If it happened to him, why can’t it happen to me?

NUMBER 2. I have felt extreme jealousy about the ability of Sea Monkeys to procreate. We had an aquarium of them when my nieces lived with us and there were new babies every single day. Why is it so easy for them, and so hard for me?

NUMBER 3. Likewise, when two tomato seedlings started sprouting in a dishcloth in my kitchen, I was first protective of them and then, several days later, in a fit of rage, destroyed them. Why could my twins not survive in my womb but these two little plants could spring up out of a dishrag?

NUMBER 4. I’m jealous that my friends get to hire babysitters. When I myself was in high school and a babysitter, I would fantasize of one day being the grown up and parent. The one who comes home in a glamorous dress after a night out with her adoring husband and pays the babysitter, asking what they did for fun while we were gone.

NUMBER 5. I seriously have to fight the urge to buy a baby doll every time I find myself in the baby aisle at Toys R Us. I think this also goes back to childhood and nurturing my dolls and dreaming of nurturing my own baby one day. Except that never happened. Now, I see the dolls through the cellophane windows in their boxes and long to take them home with me, knowing that that would truly be crazy and may be dangerously close to being completely unhealthy. Still, I’m tempted.

NUMBER 6. Recently, when I was walking my dog, I saw a neighbor walking down the sidewalk holding a newborn. For just a moment, I considered asking him if he’d trade me his baby for my dog.

What are your secret confessions as an infertile?

The Anchor

The Anchor
Jenny Cooke Malstrom
Poetry

Hope –

Like an anchor, they say.

Appointments. Blood tests. Ultrasounds.

Hope.

Steadfast.

Onward. Scheduling, timing, dosing.

Retrieve.

Retrieve,

Retrieve.

Transfer.

 

The anchor –

The symbol of hope.

How quickly the tides change.

Smooth seas begin to churn.

Rough, stormy red waters.

Saltwater tears; drowning.

This

anchor

feels

like

a

sinking

ship.

The waters darken, swirl, rage.

The waves crash, night after night.

Swells of tears.

 

A new day.

The sea calms.

Hope.

Still waters.

Steadfast.

Onward. Scheduling, timing, dosing, transferring, monitoring.

The anchor –

And still we hope.

A note from Jenny – We came through our diagnosis in an indirect manner, through learning about our family health history. Confirming a rare male-factor diagnosis of congenital absence of the vas deferens, we also learned of a female-factor uterine septum issue. It took over a year after our diagnosis to find providers we trusted and make a plan forward.

 

 

In the span of one calendar year, we endured:

  • A hysteroscopic surgery
  • Three rounds of IVF which included:
    • A failed IVF egg retrieval
    • A successful retrieval, using ICSI, freezing all
    • Another successful egg retrieval, using ICSI, culturing all
  • Successful fresh transfer of one embryo
  • Miscarriage at 6 weeks

 I love the symbol of the anchor, but have often thought about the paradoxical nature of it. How can something so heavy, so cumbersome, also signify something so light and enduring?

This work reflects my thoughts on our journey thus far.

 

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