Undeniable Proof of Infertility – Memorializing a Journey

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

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

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

72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof
Maria Novotny
acrylic on canvas

72 Tears: Undeniable Proof

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

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

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

The ART of Infertility as a Research Project

by Maria Novotny

As Elizabeth mentioned in last week’s blog post, we have been a bit quiet this summer. And as you may have learned from reading her post, while we were quiet, we certainly were busy both personally and professionally.

This summer I spent the majority of my time working on my dissertation titled, The ART of Infertility: Conceiving a Participatory Health Intervention Community. As some of you may know, I am fourth year PhD student in Rhetoric & Writing at Michigan State University. My research then looks at how women navigate an infertility diagnosis and use art as method of personal reflection and activism (read more at my website).

This coming May I will graduate and hopefully take a job as an assistant professor of writing and rhetoric at a university somewhere in the United States. My responsibilities in this role would include teaching writing courses ranging from health and medical writing to rhetorical research methods and multimodal composition. But – to first receive a job offer – I need to have a completed dissertation. Hence, a summer of writing all about infertility.

Waking each morning knowing that I would once again be thinking and theorizing about infertility allowed me to really take time to process my own journey. I actually went back to graduate school when my husband and I were first having trouble getting pregnant. As an English major in college, I had always wanted to go and receive my master’s degree so that I could teach at the collegiate level. With no pregnancy on the horizon, and having just moved to a new state for Kevin’s job, I applied and was accepted into Michigan State’s Critical Studies in Literacy and Pedagogy Master’s program.

In this program, I spent two years taking graduate level composition and education courses as well as teaching sections first-year writing. All the while, I quietly continued to try and get pregnant naturally. Graduate school was simply another distraction, until I enrolled in a course titled “Queer Rhetorics.”

Reading Hennessy’s article made me think how much infertility is tied to the production of materiality – literally being capable of producing a child. What happens though when our bodies can’t make a baby?

This course shifted my entire professional identity. As I read books and articles for this class, I started to see my own struggle with feeling often – abnormal. Especially in the case of sex. Few, if anyone I knew, could understand how messed up my sex life was because of infertility. But in reading queer theory, I could begin to find traces of myself in the other stories shared with me.

I began to eventually write reflections on the connections I was making to infertility and began to feel energized in sharing my own struggles and finding a space for infertility in my studies. In fact, part of my final project of this course resulted in several pieces of creative writing. For example, “The House” is a short vignette that is part of The ART of Infertility’s exhibit. My engagement in this course led me to apply for a PhD in Rhetoric & Writing – and long story short — ended up once again at MSU.

For the past fours years now, I have been writing, researching and presenting on what I call “rhetorics of infertility” which examines the meaning-making process of navigating an infertility diagnosis. Partnering with The ART of Infertility allowed me to explore this topic further by looking at how multimodal composition, such as creating art, opens spaces for personal validation as well surfaces a desire to use art as a method of activism.

Facilitating a micro workshop in Houston with the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition

Facilitating a micro workshop in Houston with the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition

As I begin my last year in graduate school, I still am not pregnant nor am I in treatment. But I am part of a wonderful organization – The ART of Infertility. And look forward to continuing this research as a co-director with Elizabeth. Through this partnership, we look forward to building a digital archive to provide greater access to narratives and artwork we have collected for the infertility community as a resource for support groups.

As a project that uses art exhibitions as a method to translate embodied, and often invisible or unrecognized challenges of an infertility diagnosis, we hope to continue bringing the exhibit to a variety of audiences. This summer, we were fortunate enough to travel to The Turek Clinic and share this work with physicians, fertility specialists and therapists. And this fall, we are thrilled to announce that we will be traveling internationally to present the exhibition for Merck’s Patient Day in Switzerland on November 9th. The purpose of Patient Day is to help educate staff members about the experience of infertility, and the other diseases and conditions, treated by the pharmaceuticals made by Merck.

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We’ll be flying into Geneva and look forward to collecting infertility stories in the surrounding areas while in Europe.

We haven’t finalized our exact travel dates yet, but for those who follow us in Europe, we will be on your continent for the second week in November, give or take.  Please contact us at info@artofinfertilty.org if you would like to be interviewed for the project.

And thank you to all who have supported this project throughout its journey. Elizabeth and I are truly amazed at your continued enthusiasm for this organization.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

How I Spent My Summer Vacation
A post by Elizabeth

You haven’t heard much from us this summer. We’ve taken a bit of a break from our regular social media posts to work behind the scenes. It’s been very busy.

After working as a photographer for the University of Michigan’s Department of Pathology for just over 16 years, I accepted the new position of Communications Specialist early this summer. I’ll be spending less time on imaging and more time managing the content for the department’s website as well as Inside Pathology magazine, and our annual report.

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Dressed for the morgue.

Within minutes of accepting my new roll, my partner unexpectedly announced his retirement. They don’t plan to back fill my old position and haven’t yet filled his, so I’ve been trying to manage it all since June 24th. This has meant that I’m on call for autopsy service every morning and get little else done!

A job to cover autopsy photography has finally been posted and closes on Friday. I’m hopeful that we can get someone in to relieve me soon and I can spend more time on the new job that I’m excited to dive into.

I worked with a delightful high school student this summer to get our artwork and supplies organized at our storage unit. It took us some time but everything is so much easier to find now. It looks like it might not be much longer before we need a bigger space. We’re all paid up through March but this will be one of our upcoming needs for sponsorship.

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Artwork and supplies in an orderly fashion.

We’re hard at work on our 501(c)(3) paperwork. Our articles of incorporation have been filed and it won’t be long until we’re a full-fledged non-profit. We’ve started assembling our board and are excited about what our non-profit status will mean for the sustainability of the project.

My sisters, my mom, and I went to see Dolly Parton in concert in August. Seeing Dolly was on my mom’s bucket list and attending the show induced tears of happiness. Dolly is an amazing performer and I view her as a great child free role model. It was great to spend an evening with Dolly and some of the nearest and dearest ladies in my life.

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Waiting for Dolly to take the stage.

My nieces came to Michigan for their annual summer visit. This year they stayed with us for 3 weeks. It’s never long enough. There were play dates, night time glow parties at my parents’ pool, and we tried our hand at our first batches of French macarons.

Our first attempt at macarons. Not too bad!

Our first attempt at macarons. Not too bad!

I have to admit that the macarons totally intimidated me. I only agreed because my middle niece really wanted to try making them. It ended up being a great project that we all enjoyed doing together and I learned that I shouldn’t be afraid to try things that scare me. Well, at least recipes that scare me ;).

I took a trip to the REACH Art Studio in Lansing where we’ll be showing some work from the permanent collection during the Cultural Rhetorics Conference at Michigan State University at the end of this month. Maria, Robin Silbergleid, and I will also be presenting at the conference. I hope you’ll come see the exhibit on Friday September 30th from 6 – 8 pm. 

We’re teaming up with the University of Michigan Center for Reproductive Medicine for a cigar box art workshop on October 10. We’ve also been prepping for a wind chime art workshop with the Utah Infertility Resource Center and the talk we’ll be presenting at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Scientific Congress in Salt Lake City on October 18. We have another exciting trip and exhibit coming up in November and we’ll be announcing the location once we have our travel finalized.

We'll have a variety of materials available to create wind chimes for pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day.

We’ll have a variety of materials available to create wind chimes for pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day.

This summer has brought some challenges for me in navigating my infertility. Mainly, how it’s affecting socializing with my fertile friends. I’m finding it hard to spend time with the families who have kids around the same age my twins would be had they survived. It’s made for some cancelled plans and afternoons in tears. Fortunately, my friends are willing to stick by while I try to figure out how to handle these situations.

Between this and the crazy work schedule, I’ve been utilizing all of my tools for self-care. Many days, on the way home from work in my vanpool, I color. I love the images in the Coloring Conception adult coloring book. Don’t forget that we’re going to be doing an online exhibit of images from the book this fall and you’re invited to participate. You can download the pages from a link in creator, Buffy Trupps’, blog post. Just scroll down past the video and enter your name and email address and the files will be mailed to you. Those who participate have the chance to win a Mindful Fertility Journal.

I recently finished coloring this page of Coloring Conceptions.

I recently finished coloring this page of Coloring Conceptions.

Finally, over the weekend, I took the first non-work vacation in, well, I can’t actually remember the last non-work trip I took. I met up with my friend Jo in Chicago. Our friendship is one of the many I have infertility to thank for. We spent time exploring the city, eating great food and getting inspired by exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago.

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With Jo in the Windy City.

Maria and I are in the process of hiring social media interns so we can get back to bringing you some great content every day of the week.

We’re always looking for those interested in sharing their stories through our blog as guest posters, those who would like to do an oral history interview, and those who would like to share their artwork through our exhibits. We invite you to learn more at our website. Feel free to contact me via email at elizabeth@artofinfertility.org or tweet us @artofif.

Elizabeth

 

 

 

5 Reasons Why Being Young and Infertile is Hard

by Maria Novotny

I met my husband when I was 15 at a “Thanksgiving Day” themed dance. We dated on and off in high school, but I always knew that I would end up marrying him. We would spend hours on the phone in high school, talking about what we wanted from life and how crazy it was that we wanted a lot of the same things. One of those things was a family.

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Maria and Kevin on their wedding day. Photo by Sarah Stephens Photography.

After a few more years of dating, he finally moved to the state where I was going to college. We soon got engaged, both graduated, and shortly after got married. Both of us were 23 and ready to start a family. We couldn’t wait. We both came from large families – he was the oldest of 4 and I was the oldest of 6. We moved states, bought a house and started making plans to nest.

But we soon realized these plans were all but a dream. After a year of trying to conceive (TTC), we finally received our infertility diagnosis. I was crushed. He was crushed. How could this be? We were both only 24!

The rest of our twenties were spent going to doctor appointments, researching adoption options, starting an infertility support group, beginning a research on “rhetoric of infertility,” partnering up with the ART of Infertility, and basically deciding that it is okay to wait on building that dream we talked about and hoped for at 23.

On the front stoop of their first home.

On the front stoop of their first home.

Today, as we both embark on entering our thirties, I can’t help but think through the struggle of being under 30 and infertile. Being so young, many people struggle to really comprehend the fact that you can be young, healthy and yet still have trouble conceiving.

Here are the 5 Reasons I think Being Young & Infertile Is Hard (in no particular order):

1. Doctors (& our culture at large) always said that TTC when you are young would only help your chances. Growing up, we are told that we need to protect our fertility. That we need to be careful not to “accidentally” get pregnant. So when you receive an infertility diagnosis, rage –  at the stories we’ve been told to “always use protection”  – can fill your body. “How could I have trouble getting pregnant? I thought I was doing the right thing by trying early?” This confusion, pain and frustration at the perceived “myth of fertility” frequently entered my consciousness when I was diagnosed at 24.

2. I was told that you could (& probably should) plan your pregnancies. I grew up with a bunch of sisters – all of whom are close in age to me. We are each other’s best friends. And so, when I decided to start a family, I wanted to have not just one child but many. I thought by starting young that I could replicate the same type of childhood experiences I shared with my sisters. I could have my first baby at 24 then have the next one at 26 and then the next at 28. A two year gap seemed to make sense to me. But once I realized that I would have trouble even having just one child, I had to completely rethink this plan. I was devastated that I would not have the same type of family unit that I had grown up in.

3. A lot of my girlfriends – were not married – let alone TTC. When we first were TTC, many of my girlfriends were not even in relationships. They were all trying to meet a guy while I was trying to have my ovaries meet some sperm. I felt completely distant and detached from these friends who a few years ago had stood up in my wedding. No one seemed to understand why I was emotional when I saw a mom walking her baby down the street. And they really didn’t understand why I was peeing on ovulation strips every morning. I felt like I wasn’t just losing my hopes for a family, but losing a lot of my close friends.

4. Being Newly Married & Infertile Sucks. When you are recently married, having trouble conceiving puts a lot of pressure on your marriage. Being newlyweds can be hard enough. Put infertility in the mix and it can rock the strong foundation you thought the two of you had. For one, infertility messes up your sex life! Instead of “having fun” with your man, you are creating “sex calendars” and synching your biological schedule to your work schedule. Sex sucks and that never helps any marriage – especially one that is just starting out.

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 5. “A baby will come, you just need to relax. You’re not even 30 yet.” Everyone tells you that you have time, to take a vacation, to just enjoy life. Here is the deal – when you want a baby, when you made a commitment in front of hundreds of people that you and your partner are going to have a family, you want that to happen when you want it to happen. You don’t want to wait. You don’t want to let “time” be in control. When you know that you want a family, you want a family – nothing is going to stop you. And so when you realize things beyond your control are impeding your dream, you feel mad, angry and just pissed-off at the world and everyone else who seems to just “magically” get pregnant. You feel like life isn’t fair, and eventually you come to realize that it actually just isn’t fair. Plain and simple – being young and infertile sucks.

I’m NOT an Artist: A Video Blog from Maria

Maria and I attended the Examined Life Conference at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in April of this year and were invited to have some work from ART of IF on display there. It was an inspiring few days and, on the drive home to Michigan, we had the idea to put together some art packs that we could hand out at Advocacy Day.  We figured if people had all the supplies they needed to create a piece around their experience with infertility, it would make it easy for them. We loaded envelopes with a mini canvas, paint, mod lodge, feathers, beads, anatomical drawings and more.

However, while everyone was very excited to receive their packs, it’s been a few months and we haven’t seen too many creations in our mailbox. We understand the process of creating art can be daunting, even when you have supplies on hand. It’s something that Maria has been struggling with and wanted to share her thoughts about here. Hopefully her words will resonate with those of you who still have art packs sitting around and explain how, even if you’re not feeling very artsy, the process of creating can still be beneficial in your journey. Click on the link below the picture to view the video that Maria has created.

Elizabeth

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I’m NOT an Artist