Masculinity & My Infertility Journey

 

A few years ago, Kevin wrote a blog post for RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association reflecting on the challenges of being a guy and dealing with infertility. Today, we are running an audio recording of his piece. In it, Kevin confronts a tough question for men dealing with infertility.

Men are expected to “grow up” and “take care of the family” but what happens when these traditional expectations cannot be reached?

Kevin with his wife.

Listen to him talk about coming to the realization that he may never see his wife pregnant, may never feel their baby kick inside of her.

You can read his full story here.

IVF Miracle Song – How a conversation with God led to writing a rap and finding community

Andre and Yolanda Tompkins have waited eight years to have a baby.

After a recent unsuccessful IVF cycle, Andre turned to prayer and music to cope. He created the IVF Miracle Song which you can listen to below.

Afterwards, watch our video interview to hear Andre tell the story behind his music.

This post does include images of babies and the topics of pregnancy and ultrasounds.

Thank you, Andre and Yolanda, for sharing your story with us! We’re thrilled to have it in our ART of Infertility oral history archive.

The Story Behind the Song

“Well, you know, I’m kind of passed the prime age to be pursuing a rap career so let me just throw that out there. I’m a military guy, I’ve been in for 22 years now so this is, that is my career proudly serving my country. But when I was younger, me and one of my best friends, he was actually the best man in our wedding, we used to try to get into the business so from doing that I kind of got pretty handy with the software, making instrumentals, and you know recording yourself.”

“It was thanksgiving week. We were coming off of the disappointing news that the first IVF cycle was unsuccessful. That first failure was so…it was devastating it literally was. I think both of us just sat in the house and we just really just wept all weekend.”

“You know I think going through something as painful as that, you’re obviously are going to have an external reaction but then there’s also that internal reaction that sometimes you just don’t know how to get out.”

“I just started writing. And I was like you know what I’m going to just go ahead and plug the microphone in and just start getting it out. “

“You probably heard how the chorus goes, you know, ‘we’re going to have a baby, we want to have a baby’, and that was really the conversation that I was having back and forth with God. You know, we are Christian. We are firm believers. We were both raised in the south in the Bible Belt and talking to God is something that we both do on a daily basis.”

“So this was almost out of a conversation like you know, ‘I know that I’m hearing you say, Lord, we’re going to have a baby but why did we just experience this?  Why is that?’. So I just couldn’t let that go. I refused to give up. I refused to say, well, this is the end. So it was almost like it was more of an edification for myself.  We’re going to have a baby, just keep telling myself, we’re going to have a baby. We’re going to have a baby.”

“When I originally heard it, it brought back you know the pain and the feelings that I had originally and it kind of made me feel like you know we’re definitely on the same page. We’re both like okay we knew that this is what we believe God had laid in front of us.”

“It brought hope for me and it became my, I say my theme song because I’m like okay we’re going to do this. I’m not going to give up on this process. So every time that I would listen to it I was like, okay. We’re going to have a baby, you know we want to have a baby, we’re going to have a baby, you know and I think it’s those positive affirmations that you know you tell yourself and eventually, I believe that if you talk yourself long enough, something’s going to happen.”

“So, I wanted to put it on You Tube because I saw that there were IVF playlists but when you would scroll through there was really nothing that would probably be considered urban. So I put it on You Tube and then after that I said, let me just go paste it on a few Facebook pages. I was pasting it on pages in Africa and in India and while I was reading a lot of these posts, I was like, wow, this is really something that a lot of communities just don’t talk about.”

“I can’t speak on behalf of the African American community but as an African American I can tell you that this is something that within our own community, we don’t really talk about a lot. So when you do have these times when you really want a baby but you can’t have one, you feel like you’re challenged in having one, who do you turn to? Who do you talk to? Who can you be transparent with? We tell people all the time, hey this is what I’m praying for but in these areas we don’t be as vocal as we should because we feel like people will judge us or see me as less as a man or maybe less as a female. And that’s not fair.”

“It’s almost like if you’re yelling out into a Grand Canyon, you’re like, ‘Hello out there,’ and you’re just hoping that someone yells back, ‘Hey, I hear you’ you know? And that’s kind of like it was to me. I just wanted to see if in this big open Grand Canyon of doubt and worry and frustration, is there anyone out there that can hear what we’re going through and they can relate and to get all of those responses back was just so positive and so comforting and just encouraging.”

“I actually started thinking maybe I should make a whole mix tape full of… but right now I’m just enjoying this time you know we’re 6 weeks 2 days pregnant today. Yesterday we saw the heartbeat, the little flickering on the ultrasound. My focus right now is just to take care of my beautiful wife, make sure she doesn’t have to lift a finger, and just prepare our family.”

“The fact that I was able to really open my eyes to this community that we’re in just thinking it’s just me and her in this by ourselves and in that moment of pain and in that moment of feeling lost, I found out that I was actually part of a family so to speak, that we’re all in this together and I think that’s just one of the beautiful things that has come out of this.”

“I know everyone is not religious and everyone has different religious preferences but if you can relate to what we’re saying, then don’t lose faith in that message. If that’s what you heard, push through the pain, push through the self-doubt. Push through the failed results, and just believe and trust and know that at the end of the day, God is going to be there for you and your family, and he will keep his promise. That’s the main thing I just want people to take away from it.”

Have you created music or put together an infertility playlist to help you on your journey? We’d love to hear about it! Learn how you can share your story with us. We always welcome your emails to info@artofinfertility.org and your phone calls. You can reach Elizabeth at (517) 262-3662.

 

 

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

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

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

Kevin, sitting in his blind, deer hunting.

Kevin, sitting in his blind, deer hunting.

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

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

A garage entrance that Kevin remodeled into a living room.

A garage entrance that Kevin remodeled into a living room.

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

Infertility and Him: Staying Mobile

June 13 – June 19 is Men’s Health Week. As a week that highlights the importance of men taking care of their health, we are focusing on male perspectives and infertility. Today, we share some of Kevin’s perspectives. Last week, Kevin shared this short piece with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. In this post, he talks a bit about how he has turned to running with his dog, Mason, as a routine that has not only helped him deal with infertility but has helped him take healthier steps towards his future. We invite you to read Kevin’s short story and remind you that if you will be in the San Francisco area this week, to join us, on Thursday June 16 from 7-9:00pm at The Turek Clinic for our capstone Men’s Health event. The event is free and you can register here: http://bit.ly/MHMRegArtSF

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Kevin, with his wife, Maria, and their two dogs: Gia (spaniel) and Mason (black lab). Stella (their first puppy) is not pictured as she passed away in January 2016.

As my wife and I delved into the IF journey about 5 years ago, one element that came to the forefront, and still remains, is health. Suddenly, we were critical of so many of our lifestyle choices: what we ate, how often we exercised…were we not respecting our bodies?

Understandably, I think it is easy to get obsessive when it comes to IF, but that is not the solution either. A healthy balance is what is needed. One avenue I explored, and still require in my routine, is running. I run off of my stress. When we first encountered IF, I just started running. I ran two half marathons and a full marathon in one year’s time…it might have been obsessive.

But it worked. I still use it for my mental & physical strength, and for other topics too: when we put our first canine, Stella, down. She was very symbolic of what our first child meant to me and I know very few will ever understand that truth. But I ran that off too, cherishing her memory in the miles I run, with her close friend and my canine boy, Mason.

Running has evolved to other hobbies, including woodworking and renovating a garage to living space since September 2015, when we purchased land to serve as a legacy. And I am in the process of finalizing the design of an art piece for The Art of IF.

When we began our support group search, in a conservative city for that matter, we found the existing groups to be more exclusive, and sometimes not even including men! We knew a group that included all IF backgrounds would be a necessity beyond our needs, but also benefit others struggling to find support. This is how we realized we had to start our own RESOLVE support group in Michigan, and we met good friends that we are still close with today, even outside the group.

The takeaway: I have always found it crucial to stay mobile in life; it will carry you through life’s hardest times and make you invaluable to those in need around you.

Kevin’s Recommended Links:

Expression through Poetry

Sharing poetry today from Jeffrey Tucker. This poem and other artwork and infertility stories of men and their families will be on display at our pop-up art exhibit on Thursday June 16 in San Francisco from 7 – 9 pm at The Turek Clinic. Free registration at our Eventbrite listing.

We’re excited to be partnering with The Turek Clinic and Men’s Health Network for this event in honor of Men’s Health Month which will feature art making stations, food, drinks, and a peek at the new film If I Could Tell You and a Q&A session with director, Rob Clyde. Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Email elizabeth@artofinfertility.org for more information. Please join us!

Jeffrey Tucker
Artist’s Statement

kill-february_Page_1I believe that writing – especially poetry – is an act of confession. Whether the thoughts expressed in art are joyous, sorrowful, or somewhere in-between (or both, in some instances), the act of comitting pen to paper builds a bridge between the reader and the writer’s psyche, often with an intimacy eschewed in normal conversation.

Which is the say that I tell secrets in my poetry. This poem, in particular, allowed me to express something I would never say out loud. It was both liberating and terrifying to write – an experience (in sentiment, if not in practice) that I have heard many people describe passing through in the journey of infertility: on one hand, you want to scream; on the other hand, you want to hide. Thus, this poem – whose writing process inspired the same feelings in me – in an apt form to convey my emotions.

“On Geography and Biology and the Meeting Thereof.”

(Excerpted from Kill February, forthcoming from Sage Hill Press)
– Jeffrey Tucker

My brother-in-law and his wife: gone,
off to cruise Mexico: siesta
or Fiesta, la Riviera Maya, salted latitudes
south. I picture the two white-footed Utahns
quick-stepping down a burning brown beach,
silver hawkers at hand. They have not heard the stories
I have, of endless squatting in jails
for a wrong U-turn, an unpaid bribe.
Yet I am unconcerned. It’s a cruise,
after all, staffed with smiling deckhands
so eager to pass out Turkish towels
or spray palms with alcohol. If they
died, my wife thinks aloud, they would not
leave our nieces – the four girls – to us.
Since we don’t live in Utah, I say,
and she nods. No family nearby,
not for two thousand miles. And I knew
that my body does not allow us pregnancy, morning
sickness, any of that
lovely fecund wreck. But I did not know that geography
conspired against us at the same time
(not that I ever wish for a death).

Teaming up with Hollywood for Men’s Health

By now, I hope you all know about our pop-up art exhibit next Thursday, June 16th from 7 – 9 pm at The Turek Clinic in San Francisco. Tickets are free but it’s important that you visit our Eventbrite listing to reserve your spot! We’ve been extra busy this week getting our artwork, portraits, labels, and supplies around and working out last minute details. I have some exciting news to share as there’s been a new development this week!

if i could tell you movie posterDr. Turek is the Executive Producer of a new film about infertility called If I Could Tell You. Earlier this week, I had a chance to speak with the film’s director, Robert Clyde, about how the film was inspired by his own experience with infertility. We bonded over our shared passion for the arts and using them as a creative outlet for dealing with our own emotions around being diagnosed with the disease. So, a decision was made that Rob would fly up to San Francisco from Los Angeles to share a preview of the film at our pop-up and host a Q&A session.

The Turek clinic, If I Could Tell You, and The ART of Infertility all intersect on the importance of creativity and healing re: infertility.


– It was because of their personal experiences with infertility that Rob and his cast made this film.

– Maria and I began creating art and writing around our own infertility diagnoses, which led to the creation of The ART of Infertility.

– Dr. Turek is passionate about both projects because of the creative expressions they represent and the opportunity for dialog that they invite.

I’m excited about this collaboration for creative expression, the awareness it has the potential to create, and the conversations it will start about infertility, particularly about Men’s Health. So, please join us at The Turek Clinic on the 16th (remember, you can get your tickets at our Eventbrite listing. We look forward to seeing you there!
-Elizabeth

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.

Chas_Preg

June is Men’s Health Month: Fertility is Not Just a Woman’s Issue

Today we join Men’s Health Network and kick off Men’s Health Month. The goal of this health advocacy campaign is to educate the public about the many preventable health problems that affect men and boys, and empower them and their loved ones to move towards a healthier, happier life.

The ART of Infertility views this campaign as a reminder that behind every baby is a male. Men’s health is a family issue. It affects wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters. Thinking about #MensHealth and encouraging our male partners to see a fertility specialist can often be a step towards building one’s family. 

Knowing this, today feature a guest blog post from Sean at Men’s Health Network who talks about the importance of having healthy dads. And remember to join us June 16 from 7:00-9:00 for an interactive art exhibit featuring stories and art about Men’s Health and their fertility at The Turek Clinic

Building healthy men means more healthy families

By Sean McCalley, Men’s Health Network

1994 was a rough year.

John Candy passed away. Someone attacked Nancy Kerrigan at the Olympics. Major League Baseball went on strike. The album of the year was the soundtrack to The Bodyguard.

It wasn’t all bad, though. The show Friends and the band Weezer debuted. So did the movie Forrest Gump. Jack Nicholson even used a golf club to show a car who’s boss.

More importantly, Congress also passed a bill declaring “National Men’s Health Week” to Men's Health Month Bannercoincide with Father’s Day and raise awareness for a global crisis. President Bill Clinton signed it into law; now, it’s an annual call to action for people around the world as part of Men’s Health Month.

Men die five years younger than women, on average. They also die at higher rates for nine of the top ten causes of death in the United States. That includes heart disease, cancer, suicide, accidents, etc. Men simply have a harder time staying healthy.

Part of the problem is cultural. We men are fighters who laugh in the face of danger. It’s partly genetic, as some racial demographics have a higher risk for certain diseases. Sometimes, it’s personal; like getting so mad you do something you might regret later.

Whatever the reason, men need all the help we can get to have long, healthy lives – even if we don’t want to admit it. That’s why Men’s Health Month is so important, and why it’s still going strong after 22 years. The campaign is centered on education and outreach than spans from the community level to Congress.

Governors and mayors issue proclamations for Men’s Health Week in their jurisdictions to promote and highlight Fathers Day. Private businesses host health screenings, as do government agencies, churches, fraternities, and many other organizations. People share their personal stories on social media.

The hope is to persuade us stubborn men to take at least one second (but preferably a MHM-no-date-dark-red-0415month) to look at our health situation, make inventory, and figure out how to make it better. Sometimes men just decide to make a family member happy and finally see a doctor for that mole; for others, it’s a question of maturity or finding financial flexibility.

Whatever the reason, the goal is to make us better men. Luckily, it’s worth the effort.

Here are some tips on how we can make this Men’s Health Month the best one yet:

  1. Fathers can set an example for their kids by making an appointment for a checkup. Healthy men make healthy families.
  2. Let someone know that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness or lack of ability. Men are just as likely as women to suffer from a mental health issue; however, they’re less likely to be diagnosed, and four times more likely to commit suicide.
  3. In the public health realm, make sure the connection is clear between a man’s health and the health of his family and community. Most people intuitively understand the role mothers play in supporting their children’s health. Too few however, understand that having a healthy father is just as important.
  4. Participate in the Men’s Health Month #ShowUsYourBlue day on Friday, June 17. Send in pictures of you and your friends wearing blue and post them on social media using #ShowUsYourBlue.

Take a Moment and Picture Your Fertility: A Guest Post from Dr. Paul Turek

Today we feature a guest blog post from Dr. Paul Turek of the Turek Clinic. An award-winning urologist and Men’s Health Advocate, Dr. Turek explains the importance of thinking about male fertility and how Men’s Health Month (in June) serves as an reminder of the particular challenges men face in regards to their fertility. We look forward to joining Dr. Turek on June 16, 2016 from 7:00 – 9:00pm at the Turek Clinic in San Francisco. This event is free and open to the public! You can reserve you spot here.

Read more about Dr. Turek’s commitment to male fertility and the way art can begin to express many of its challenges.

***

How do you solve tough problems? Maybe you pick at them until they’re gone. Maybe you dance around them until they’re contained. One thing I like to do is to step away and examine them as an outsider, from a completely different perspective. In other words, get out of the trees and look at the whole forest. It’s amazing what you can learn from taking a new angle.

Inconceivable by Aine Quimby. Oil on canvas. Part of the ART of IF collection.

Inconceivable by Aine Quimby. Oil on canvas. Part of the ART of IF collection.

Honing Heuristics

There are quite a few problems in the field of men’s health that need solving. To me, this is more than just trying my hardest to solve the infertility or sexual health problems of patients I see daily. There are other, equally important but more diffuse, issues with which I am also obsessed, including:

What better time to think about these issues than during Men’s Health Month, which is now upon us. And what better way to start off the month than by taking a completely different perspective on things.

Pop Up Art

For millennia, art has struck every emotionally charged chord in the composition that is life. Using caricature, satire and symbolism, it has dished vanity, excess, corruption, greed, and politics. At the same time, it has memorialized life, love, sex and everything else under the sun that holds human meaning. I admire what Pablo Picasso said about art: “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” It seems natural, then, to have a Pop-Up Art Show about men and fertility.

Elizabeth Walker is founder and curator of The ART of Infertility, a travelling infertility artwork, oral history and portraiture project. I attended a show she held in LA last year and was deeply moved by the emotional rawness and creative expression in art made by those affected by the scourge of infertility. Sculptures of beautiful flowers made from IVF needles and syringes; a lovely baby’s crib filled with empty fertility medication vials, bottles and boxes. If you don’t believe that the epidemic of infertility affects lives like cancer or the plague, you need hear these stories, told through art.

And now you can. Please join me for the next Art of Infertility Pop Up Art Show entitled Picture Your Fertility: An Interactive Art Event for #MensHealth to be held in my San Francisco office on June 16th. Be sure to reserve your space by registering here. Plan to be there as we share the infertility journeys of men and their families through artwork and stories. Partake of food and drink, and feel free to tell your own story at our art-making stations. Maybe, just maybe, in some small way, this brief evening-of-art will wash away the dust of daily life from your soul and thereby render it reachable and realizable.

The Art of Infertility, The Turek Clinic & Men’s Health Network present:
A Pop Up Art Show
“Picture Your Fertility: An Interactive Art Event for #MensHealth”
June 16, 2016 from 7:00pm to 9:00pm
The Turek Clinic San Francisco
55 Francisco St, Suite 300
San Francisco, CA 94133
Tax-deductible donations welcome!