The Visual Minimal – Elisa’s Story

by Elisa Fox

Miscarriage – a word that was hardly part of my vocabulary. A word I never thought would apply to ME. That’s an “other” word. You know, those things that only happen to miscellaneous “other” people, like cancer, horrific car accidents, and house fires. An improbability, but now, part of my story.

I was 24, married for three years, and happily naïve. I found myself pregnant after a couple months of trying and we were thrilled! Though it seemed unreal, I continued onward with a secret and a grin and anxiously awaited my first ultrasound. I took a couple more pregnancy tests just to be sure, and those pretty pink lines reassured me every time.

Then, I started spotting. My heart sank. I frantically searched online for answers, something that would tell me this was normal. But somehow, I knew. I knew it was ending.

A few days later, I was no longer pregnant.

There was now no due date to anticipate.

An ultrasound appointment to cancel.

Announcement gifts to return… or hide… or throw away..

My grief was crippling and confusing. How could I feel this much grief over something so short?

I tried convincing myself that it was no big deal, we’ll try again in a couple weeks, and it was my own fault for getting excited so soon. I even tried to go to work the next morning.

The next few months (who am I kidding, the next year) were a blur of depression, isolation, and heartache. Was my pregnancy even real? Was it all just a dream? I had no morning sickness, no bump, no sonogram. I was in a fog and did not know how to comprehend what was happening. All I knew is that if I became pregnant again as quickly as possible, maybe I could forget this ever happened. I was obsessed with figuring out what was wrong with me, as if answers would heal my wounded heart. I started taking every vitamin I could find and demanded my doctor test me for multiple issues. It all came back fine, to my dismay. I just wanted an answer.

Everyone around me had no trouble getting and staying pregnant, why is this happening to me?

The isolation was suffocating. Not many people knew that I was pregnant, and if they did, it didn’t seem like they knew how to respond. “At least you were only six weeks”, or, my personal favorite, “at least you know you can get pregnant.” These statements were only obvious reminders that they have no idea what I’m going through. I stayed at home as much as possible because I was terrified of losing control of my emotions. I was so fragile. A pregnancy announcement or bump picture on Facebook would send me into a malfunction for the next several weeks. Well-meaning people could easily set me off into a tailspin of sadness without even realizing it.

The days passed and I did what I needed to do to function. I set niceties aside and focused on myself. Medication, unfollowing certain people on social media, seeing a counselor, and diving into art were all part of working through my grief. It took me a long time to accept that it was OK to grieve. I had nothing to show for my pregnancy, only memories. I felt like a fraud.

Over a year had passed since my miscarriage and I found the courage to attend a local support group for pregnancy & infant loss.

I shared my story when it was my turn and saying the story out loud from beginning to end was so therapeutic. I had replayed those dark days in my head over and over, but saying it out loud provided a type of release that I can’t explain. Seeing the other families there and knowing just by their presence that we had something in common was so comforting. Seeing mothers and fathers nodding their heads and shedding tears of empathy while I told my story was incredible and so validating. I’m not a fraud, I’m not alone, and I’m not the only one who has felt this way.

Mis-Conception

Around this time I opened an online shop for my art called The Visual Minimal. I am a full time graphic designer and began making artistic prints for my own home and memorial prints for the women I met in the support group. I made the Mis-Conception print to memorialize the loss of my pregnancy, a series of pink lines representing a pregnancy test that fades in and out. It served as a validating reminder that what I went through was real and profound. That print blossomed into an Infertility&Loss series that represents all spectrums of this journey. My hope is that these prints can serve as a beacon of hope that reminds you not only of your sweet baby, but that you’re not alone.

I created the Infertility&Loss series at The Visual Minimal as a reminder that the grief this journey can bring is overwhelming, but so is God’s promise that these dark days will pass. I believe art can speak to our souls in ways words simply cannot. I would love nothing more than to use the gifts God has given me to encourage other families going through the same trials that I have experienced.

Learn more about Elisa’s artwork at https://www.thevisualminimal.com and find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheVisualMinimal/

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.

Infertile Enough?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature, Nurture and storytelling through the art of Jen Burdess

Awhile back, Maria and I came across a news story about an infertility art exhibit, One in Eight, that ran at the Ice Cube Gallery in Denver during National Infertility Awareness Week this year. So, naturally we had to reach out to the artists, Jen Burdess and Anne Hallam. We’re happy that Jen is our guest blogger today! Below, she shares how and why she created her artwork and what the experience of sharing it with others has been like for her. Thank you, Jen, for sharing your story!
-Elizabeth

A detail image of Nature, Nurture, by Jen Burdess. The piece was on display in the exhibit, One in Eight, in Denver in April and May, 2016.

A detail image of Nature, Nurture, by Jen Burdess. The piece was on display in the exhibit, One in Eight, in Denver in April and May, 2016.

The inspiration for Nature, Nurture came from the implications of the medical diagnosis of infertility I received three years ago. The diagnosis attacked my identity as a woman. In an effort to reconcile those feelings of loss, Nature, Nurture was created. Though my diagnosis will never change, this work has given me some sort of closure to a period in my life of uncertainty and anxiety. Nature, Nurture consists of three linoleum cuts that were inspired by the anatomy of the breast. They were then hand printed. Each lino cut was printed 136 times. This number corresponds to the rate of infertility in America. One in eight couples will suffer from infertility. 17 out the 136 prints is colored red to represent those with infertility. The lino cuts are printed on used breast pads. The breast pads were chosen as a representation of how far I have come. Without ART (assisted reproductive technology), I would not have had my beautiful son. It only seems right then to use art to record my journey.

The breast pads stretched over 30 feet of wall and was 12 feet high in some places. It was important to me that work was large. I wanted it feel large and imposing, something that could not be ignored. I chose to carve three different designs and printed each in their own color to represent that there isn’t just one cause of infertility or one type of person that it affects. There are many different reasons. Some women never find out the cause. I was diagnosed with stage IV endometriosis. Stage IV indicates that the endometriosis has affected your ovaries and has caused cysts on them. It had also ruined my Fallopian tubes and had caused adhesions and scarring throughout my pelvic cavity. While it was devastating to know the extent of the damage, it also gave me some closure. I had a very clear cut diagnosis. It was very cathartic to devote the time and patience it took to print over 400 breast pads. It was a meditative process and helped me to process the emotions that come along with the diagnosis of infertility.

one-in-8

Nature, Nurture by Jen Burdess.

The response I received from the show was overwhelming. I wasn’t sure how everything was going to pan out. I knew I wanted to open up about my experience did not know what that really meant. How would I feel about talking with strangers about this? Could I handle criticism for my choices? I just wasn’t sure. We had a few events planned during the show. One was being part of a gallery tour. We had four groups of people cycle through the gallery. The gallery was split in two. My work on one side and some formalist artists on the other side. Their work was all about design and color. The contents couldn’t have been any more different. The tour groups went from chatty and happy to somber and silent as I started to tell my story. People thanked me for sharing something so personal and many women shared their stories with me. Simply by speaking up, perfect strangers told me their very personal stories of heartache and the many different ways they had built their families.

one in eight show

Sharing my story was difficult to do but every time I told it, it became a little easier. Infertility is a lonely place. It is very isolating. It calls into question your identity as a woman. From a young age girls play at being mothers. Society expects women to take up this role. Those who choose not to have children can be judged very harshly. Women becoming mothers is an ingrained expectation. That expectation, coupled with a desire to become a mother, is a heavy burden for those struggling with infertility.

 

#startasking: How Infertility Prepared Me to Be a Mom – Camille’s Perspective

Camille Hawkins, MSW, LCSW is the Executive Director of Utah Infertility Resource Center. She reflects on her experience with infertility and shares 5 ways her infertility struggle taught her to be a great mom to her daughters. This post does contain images of babies and parenting. Thank you for sharing your insights, Camille!

I was recently part of a discussion in a “Pregnancy & Parenting after Infertility” Support group. The question was posed: Would you change the fact that you struggled with infertility?

How would life be different if I didn’t struggle with infertility? Even though this was the most difficult experience of my entire life, would I change it? It brought more heart ache, more tears, took more energy, and also more money than any other trial I’ve faced.

The consensus as each group member deeply reflected on this question was a resounding no. If you would have asked each of them in the heat of the struggle, the answer would have been different. But the common theme was that they had gained so much from their infertility journey, and there were still some very difficult parts about it, but they wouldn’t trade it.

IMG_2695

Camille pictured with her infant daughter.

My husband and I met at Utah State University in 2007. Once married, we waited a year to start trying to have a baby. We quickly learned it wouldn’t come easy. After 5 years of tracking monthly cycles, timed intercourse, surgery, fertility medications, injections, intra-uterine inseminations, in vitro fertilizations, a miscarriage, and being completely broken down emotionally, we became parents to two beautiful girls through the miracle of adoption. Becoming a mom was the best day of my entire life. I will never forget that feeling.

Even though my life is now consumed of changing diapers, making bottles, and rocking crying babies during the night, my infertility will always be a part of me. My diagnosis makes it so I will always be infertile. The wound of infertility may be healed in my heart, but the scar will always be there as a reminder of all I went through to get my girls. This journey has shaped my life more than anything else has. It helped me be the best mom I could be.

Here are 5 ways my infertility struggles taught me to be a great mom to my daughters.

  1. Peace – coming to accept my situation was difficult and took a lot of time and energy. I had to grieve every time I had a failed cycle, a failed treatment, grieve the death of my embryos, and the loss of my only pregnancy. I had to grieve having a biological child –the one I always dreamed of looking just like my darling husband. As a woman, I had to grieve not being able to experience pregnancy, child birth, breast feeding, and the things I was raised to most closely associate with womanhood. Through this process, frustration and resentment for my imperfect body eventually turned to peace and acceptance. I learned that things aren’t going to be perfect in life, but I can still be okay. I will teach my daughters their bodies are unique and special, and don’t have to be perfect in order to be beautiful. I will help them find peace and acceptance with the situations they find themselves in so they can look for the happiness and joy that surrounds them.
  1. Balance – I grew up in a culture that taught my most important and divine role would be that of a mother. Everything should revolve around that role, even my education, my career choices, everything. When I realized I was unable to conform to that norm, I was forced to either sit around and do nothing while the time passed, or do something productive with my time. I decided to get a master’s degree in social work and begin a career in counseling. I worked at a nonprofit community mental health center helping children heal from trauma. I volunteered with an organization running kids grief groups. I fell in love with my husband over and over again, traveled the world, and I became a dog mom, enjoying the beautiful outdoors hiking with my two retrievers. Infertility tends to consume you completely, like a black hole. The lows were the lowest I could ever imagine. Learning to keep balance in my life was crucial to surviving the black hole of infertility, and I’m learning that balance as a mom is crucial to being the best mom I can be to my daughters. I would like my daughters to have balance in their lives too, and to know it’s okay to be lots of things, do to lots of things, and most importantly to take care of themselves.
  1. Patience – Infertility makes you wait…….and wait……..and wait some more. It makes you cry night after night, feeling hopeless and that all is lost. False hope is sometimes the only thing you have left. I learned that things don’t work out necessarily in the way I expect, but it’s possible for them to work out in some way. My mom told me I was a very impatient child. I wanted things NOW! Patience is something I was forced into learning through my infertility journey. Now as a mother, patience is my saving grace. Motherhood is not easy; I never said it was going to be. Having patience shoved down my throat during infertility has allowed me to see things in motherhood through a different lens. I can make it through my baby’s crying spell. I can make it through my daughter refusing to sleep throughout the night. I can make it through two babies crying at once……Infertility helped me learn the patience for these moments.
  1. Appreciation – When you yearn for a child, you yearn for the good and the bad. Being a mother isn’t easy, but I realize I appreciate all the moments so much more than I would have because I worked so hard to get there. My girls will grow up knowing how much they were wanted, how much they were sought for, and how special they are. I know I am so lucky, so blessed, and so fortunate to be “Mamma” to my sweet baby girls. I have so much gratitude for their birth families for entrusting us to raise these little girls.

    IMG_6310

    Camille with her two girls and husband.

  1. Determination –I have met many women who struggle with infertility and I have found that these are some of the strongest women in the world. My husband and I experienced failure month after month, year after year, and still we pressed on. We did this because family is so important to us and we would not stop until we became parents. I learned I can do hard things, and my daughters will learn they can do hard things too. When I face failure and frustrations in motherhood, I remind myself of the obstacles I have overcome and rely on that strength to get me through hard times.

The journey of infertility is treacherous. No one deserves the pain that comes from an inability to get or remain pregnant when that is their deepest desire. The wound of infertility often runs deep. But there is hope. There is a lot we can learn. And we can have tremendous growth which can prepare us to be great parents when that glorious day finally comes.

 

 

 

#startasking How does infertility impact loved ones?

Infertility doesn’t just impact the patient but their entire family and social circle as well. Family relationships can be particularly difficult to navigate after an infertility diagnosis. I asked my mother, Judy Horn, to write a blog post reflecting on how it feels to have a loved one with infertility. She shares her thoughts below. Thanks, Mom, for sharing your story.

– Elizabeth

In the late 1980s, when my daughters were small, I watched a movie on television. The story line was of a family with four daughters. As the story unfolded three of the daughters were either pregnant or had children and it was apparent that the other daughter was struggling with infertility. It was a Lifetime movie, full of drama and at the conclusion had a typical happy ending. I can remember thinking of my girls and hoping that I never had to deal with that situation. For some reason, perhaps a vague premonition of events to come, I never forgot that movie. And so today, nearly thirty years later, I am sitting at my computer trying to find the adequate words to describe what it is like to have a loved one with infertility.

kinder

A Polaroid of Judy with Elizabeth at her kindergarten registration in the early 1980s.

When my daughter Elizabeth finally told me about her struggle with infertility she was a couple of years into it. I can remember immediately thinking that this would be an easy fix. She was working with a doctor and I was pretty confident that they would find a solution and before I knew it she would be pregnant. At the time I had no idea how complicated it would become and how low the success rate is. I can remember waiting for months for information. Because of the nature of this disease and because Elizabeth was like most women dealing with infertility, we didn’t talk much about the process, so, I began searching the internet for any information I could on the subject of infertility.  When I would see or talk to her I would look for any indication that she was or was not pregnant and as the months passed the assurance I had felt before about the “easy fix” began to evaporate. I became frustrated and just wanted to do something, anything that would help, but there was nothing I could really do. At one point I began to feel guilty and wonder if in some way this was my fault, that I had done something during my pregnancy that resulted in Elizabeth’s infertility.

I often worry about saying the wrong thing, about saying something unintentionally that will be hurtful or inappropriate. There is a list of words and phrases not to say to someone dealing with infertility, but sometimes it’s difficult to remember and I know I’ve said things without thinking. When that happens, I feel so bad and I get angry with myself for not getting it right. Once the words are out, there is nothing that can take them back and never the right words to express my regret for speaking them.

I began to feel guilty and wonder if in some way this was my fault.

Eventually, three years ago Elizabeth did become pregnant. We were going away together on a weekend trip and when I stopped by to pick her up, for some reason I had a good feeling she was pregnant. She said nothing about it, but when I had to give her an injection that evening, I was even surer that I was right. The next day we went shopping and I sat while she tried on clothing and enjoyed the fashion show. The good feeling grew as I noted the number of shorts and skirts that had elastic or drawstring waists. Sadly, the good feeling would not last more than a few more hours. Elizabeth had gone for blood work that morning and received a call as we were shopping that her numbers were down and the two little ones that had implanted after IVF were no longer living. We drove back to the hotel in silence, Liz crying quietly and me struggling to concentrate on my driving as the tears blurred my vision. I spent that afternoon watching her sleep, feeling helpless and useless, knowing there was nothing to do but just be there and that seemed incredibly insignificant.

Elizabeth and Judy at Antiques Roadshow in Detroit, the day after learning of Elizabeth's miscarriage.

Elizabeth and Judy at Antiques Roadshow in Detroit, the day after learning of Elizabeth’s miscarriage.

Several months later Elizabeth had her last embryo transfer. It was unsuccessful. I have five living grandchildren that give so much happiness. I am thankful for them every day. However, I will forever be reminded of Elizabeth’s children and mourn their loss. There is a list that will never end of things that I will miss with them. I will never give them a bath or have the joy of watching them grow, run my fingers through their soft hair, tell them how much I love them or hear their sweet voices. I will always long to know what they would have looked like and I will never forget them.

There are many words I could use to describe the past five years. Just of few of them are disappointment, guilt, worry, regret, loss, love and balance. Balance because I have to balance my feelings about all of this and remember to appreciate the good things and not dwell too much on the sadness. I have much to be thankful for.

Last and most importantly, I love her so much and I am proud. I am so proud of Elizabeth and how she has taken a personal tragedy and made it into something that will help others cope with their own heartaches. In just two years ART of Infertility, an exhibit she created, has helped others tell their stories and deal with their own infertility journeys. It has grown into an organization that educates, raises awareness and provides a creative outlet and a community of support for those experiencing the effects of their own infertility disease. I will never know how many people she has touched with her work or the effect that it will have on them and the lives of others, but I am confident that this legacy she is creating will be long-lasting and a catalyst for positive change for many years to come.

#startasking What about men and infertility?

Infertility is often looked at as a disease that only affects women. In reality, infertility is caused by female factor and male factor equally at 30% each. In the balance of cases, the infertility is the result of both partners or unexplained. Even when the disease is not a direct result of issues with a male partner, infertility has a huge impact on men. Unfortunately, men’s stories are not heard as frequently.

ART of Infertility is interested in telling diverse stories of infertility, and is always honored to share the stories of men. We’re very excited to have been invited by Dr. Paul Turek of The Turek Clinic in Beverly Hills and San Francisco, to hold a pop-up art exhibit in his clinic in San Francisco on Thursday June 16th from 7 – 9 pm, in honor of Men’s Health Week. We’ll be sharing the artwork and stories of men and their families along with food and art making stations. If you’re in the area, we hope you’ll attend. In the meantime, you can learn more about male fertility and infertility from Dr. Turek here and read and listen to the personal story of Bret, an ART of IF participant in Southern California, and his family below. Bret reflects on the experience of miscarriage and trying to decide whether to continue or end treatment.  This post does contain images of children and parenting.

– Elizabeth

Bret with his son Cole, who was conceived via Inter-uterine insemination, or IUI.

Bret with his son Cole, who was conceived via Inter-uterine insemination, or IUI.

“I knew the moment the doctor came in to do the ultrasound. I saw his actions and he didn’t even have to say anything. I’ve done enough ultrasounds with him before and I kind of knew how they went and he was triple checking everything and I knew, this was not good. She didn’t want to accept it the first time and it was difficult. I kind of knew the writing was on the wall. Maybe we also approached her second pregnancy in a different way. I didn’t want to tell anybody until the end of the process. She was just so happy being pregnant and I tried to advise her, this is nobody’s business but ours. It was tough because I had that in my mind that it wasn’t going well and she was so ecstatic being pregnant. We were in two very different places at the same time. I just tried to do what I could. There was also a lot of work stuff going on at the same time so I wasn’t here for the 3 weeks when this all happened. I was at work almost he whole time so it was not a good time, at all, for anyone.”

“The only thing I can do is support her. Be there for her, a shoulder to cry on. She needs to get these emotions out so that’s what I try to do. I’m not very good at it but I try.”

Bret_004_men-and-infertility“I guess I don’t have a support, I guess I don’t. I don’t really talk to anybody about it. I have my ways that I guess I try to let things out and deal with it but I don’t talk to anybody. I like to go out in the wilderness and I usually go with a group of friends and we go backpacking or go walk up a mountain or something cool and well, last July we had our family vacation. We did a little anniversary thing and got away and we came home and I just said, I’m leaving. I’m going. I just went and walked out in the mountains by myself for about 4 days. This was about 6 weeks after the miscarriage. It helped. It wasn’t the cure I was looking for but it was helpful and that’s it and then it was back to work and back to the grind and I really haven’t dealt with it, I just try to put it behind me.”

Bret, Erica, and Cole at their home in Southern California.

Bret, Erica, and Cole at their home in Southern California.

Click on the clip below to hear audio of Bret and his wife, Erica, discussing whether to continue or end treatment.

 

 

#StartAsking: What is #NIAW?

Over the course of this year, we, at the ART of Infertility have been busy generating new content to connect you with stories and artwork representative of infant loss, miscarriage and infertility advocacy. We have been grateful for how many of you have shared these stories on your social media pages and have engaged through commentary with this content.

This week, though, it may seem that we are a bit quieter than usual. And this is for a reason — we will be prepping stories for National Infertility Awareness Week (#NIAW).

NIAW-CMYK

Beginning April 24 – April 30 (#NIAW week), we will be featuring a host of stories asking the general public to #startasking about issues and topics related to infertility — a topic that often isn’t thought of until you find yourself going through it. Given how so many fail to really realize what infertility is until they are confronted with it in their own lives, our mission during this week be to reach out to those who often have very little contact with the topic of infertility.

While many of us in the infertility community frequently share our stories and try to make infertility more visible to the general public, we believe that #NIAW offers a unique moment to connect with those who often are not infertile and ask them to join us in becoming an infertility ally.

To provide a little preview we are sharing with you all a little more information about what #NIAW is and how to begin #startasking. We ask that you, too, share this across your networks and invite future allys to engage in the conversation!

Danielle, our social media college intern, provides some #NIAW info on how others (like herself who are not infertile) can join the conversation:

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Why #NIAW?  This week is all about spreading awareness of infertility issues to people who may not be sure of what it exactly it means. Not only is it a time for people to bond over their stories and situations, it is also a time to create a conversation that can educate people on all different aspects of infertility. Many people go through issues when trying to conceive and this is the week to spread the word. You can learn more about how support the infertility community here.

What does #NIAW talk about? One message that is important to spread to others during this week is that many people go through struggles when trying to create a family and that it is okay to talk about it. When I first joined this project, I was an outsider who did not realize how many people are affected with these issues. The amount shocked me and I wondered why I didn’t know it before. It seems that many people do not feel comfortable sharing their stories because they don’t want to admit to people that they are going through fertility treatments because it would make them feel judged or “less than”. This is completely understandable because when people don’t know anything about a topic they usually resort to myths and stereotypes that are not true. This is the week to challenge those stereotypes and to give people a better understanding of the reality of infertility.

How can I become an #NIAW ally?  Ultimately, this week is all about community. It is a time where many people connect with others and create lifelong bonds and friendships that they might be lacking in other aspects of their life. Going through infertility is something that many people can’t possibly understand or relate to because they have not gone through it themselves or are uneducated on the topic. This week allows people the opportunity to meet others who understand exactly what they are going through and can talk about their situations free of judgment. It is also creating a new community with family and friends who may not be aware of the anger, frustration, and many other emotions linked to fertility problems. By starting the conversation with them, they will have the ability to learn about the emotional rollercoaster and the medical terms and conditions that surround infertility. You can check out RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association’s website for a list of tips and resources for individuals to become better educated on the topic of infertility.

How Can We Keep the #NIAW Conversation Going? Once this week is done, it is important to not let the conversation about infertility die off until this time next year. By continuing to talk and raise awareness for the issue, many people are going to feel better about discussing their own issues, allowing the infertility community to grow and expand which will give people the courage and support that they might need. Taking the opportunity to talk about infertility in your daily life will help relieve the stigmas and bring attention to the important matter. And, remember, you can always #startasking!

We look forward to launching #NIAW with you on April 24th and invite you to always #startasking!

Getting Swept Up in the Fertility Tornado

Today’s artwork is from Kristin Phasavath. We originally met Kristin at RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association’s, Southern California Walk of Hope in Long Beach in September of 2014 where we set up an appointment for her to be interviewed and photographed for the project. Kristin has a unique perspective because she was first a nurse at a fertility clinic and then, while working there, experienced secondary infertility and was a patient herself. Here, she shares her experience creating the oil painting, “Fertility Tornado”, which debuted at our pop-up exhibit in Calabasas during National Infertility Awareness Week in 2015 and has been traveling with us since. We’re preparing to send the painting back to Kristin and are grateful we’ve had so much time with it to share it with others. Below is a guest post that Kristin wrote for us and we originally shared in May of last year. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Kristin!

Elizabeth

Fertility Tornado

My inspiration for the fertility tornado came from my time as a fertility nurse and a fertility patient. When you are in the throws of anything fertility it feels like you are in a tornado, whether you are a patient or a nurse. As a fertility nurse there is so much to organize for each patient all day everyday. Appointments, procedures, schedules, medications, labs, forms, insurance, etc, etc, etc…the list goes on and on and on. As a patient you deal with a very similar list that encompasses every breath you take. It effects your health, marriage, intimacy, mental status, finances, schedule, family life, and this list goes on and on. There is not one corner of your life this fertility thing does not infiltrate. Keeping everything straight as a nurse or a patient is like a tornado.
fertility-tornado_web

Fertility Tornado by Kristin Phasavath. Oil on canvas.

I wanted to create a visual concept of what this fertility tornado looked like to me. Once I sat down to paint, it really just painted itself. I think that I had lived with this statement and vision for so long it just poured out in an instant once I put brush to canvas. The process was amazingly fast. I think that the initial painting took less than an hour. It had wanted to come out for so long. It was very cathartic to me and I felt lighter when I was done. Like I had ironically enough given birth. Once I made up my mind to actually start the painting it flowed very easily, like it was what I was meant to do. No challenges in my way. It just felt good to finally let all my feelings out. There was a moment that I did get a little choked up because it felt a little like the end of an era. A little finality involved.

Kristin with her oil painting, “Fertility Tornado,” and her project portrait at the ART of Infertility pop-up exhibit in Calabasas, CA on April 25, 2015.

I was so proud to be able to share my painting at The ART of IF exhibit. I’m certain that I am not alone in feeling the way I do about this world of fertility. I hope to connect with many of my fellow fertility comrades thru this work of art. I thank Elizabeth for giving me an opportunity to be interviewed & photographed. She really inspired me to share my story and create this painting. The work she is doing is very important and I hope it has a long life. I’m not sure if I will create any more paintings but you never know. There is so much inspiration in connecting with others that share a similar story that it might spark my creative fertility juice again.
~Kristin Phasavath
*Fertility Nurse
*Fertility Patient
*Fertility Artist

2015 Year in Review

In January of 2014, I was gearing up for my final frozen embryo transfer and curating ART of Infertility’s first exhibit at Ella Sharp Museum in my hometown of Jackson, MI. A month later, my reproductive endocrinologist transferred a gorgeous, grade 5AA blastocyst into my uterus. Unfortunately, it didn’t implant and our final attempt at a pregnancy, at least one using our own biology, was unsuccessful.

At a time when I wanted to curl up on my couch and ignore the world outside my front door, I was forced to finish interviews, write exhibit labels, and coordinate artists dropping off artwork. I was both resentful and relieved to have something to do and had no idea then that it was just the start of a project that would bring so many amazing people into my life and save me time and again.

2015 was an amazing year for ART of Infertility. We wrapped up a large scale exhibit in Michigan in January and did 8 pop-up art exhibits across the country. We held 7 art and 3 writing workshops and presented at 3 national academic conferences. Events were held in Michigan, Iowa, New Jersey, California, Arizona, Illinois, and the District of Columbia.

Creating art at our event at Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C. in May.

Creating art at our event at Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C. in May.

The ART of Infertility blog was launched during National Infertility Awareness Week and Maria and I have used it to share our own reflections on infertility along with stories and artwork from the project. We also welcomed 16 guest bloggers.

We conducted 39 interviews of 45 people, lobbied for infertility legislation during Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, collaborated with Professional Writing students at Michigan State University, and hired our first intern!

Our team of Michigan delegates at Advocacy Day 2015. Left to right, Elizabeth's mother, Judy, Elizabeth, Maria, and Maria's husband, Kevin.

Our team of Michigan delegates at Advocacy Day 2015. Left to right, Elizabeth’s mother, Judy, Elizabeth, Maria, and Maria’s husband, Kevin.

35 new artists participated in the project, contributing 94 pieces of artwork, and we now have 122 pieces of art in our permanent collection.

The Smallest Things by Leanne Schuetz. First displayed at our pop-up in Arizona, this piece is now part of our permanent collection.

The Smallest Things by Leanne Schuetz. First displayed at our pop-up in Arizona, this piece is now part of our permanent collection.

We are incredibly grateful for those of you who have shared your stories through interviews and artwork and to our many volunteers and sponsors. The project would be impossible without you.

Infertility Objects by Lauree Schloss.

Infertility Objects by Lauree Schloss.

This year is already shaping up to be every bit as fulfilling and exciting. We have many possible projects and collaborations in the works but here are some of the items that are definitely on our calendar for 2016.

We’re working this month to digitize the art in our collection, making it more accessible to the public. We’re also getting our paperwork around and officially filing for our 501©(3) non-profit status. Next month, we’re teaming up with the University of Michigan Center for Reproductive Medicine, Author Robin Silbergleid, and the Ann Arbor District Library by holding a book reading and art and writing workshop.

We’ll be in Houston in early April to present an art workshop at an academic conference and collecting oral histories for the project while there. Of course, we will have something special planned for National Infertility Awareness Week. We are working on our schedule and hope to have an exciting line-up to share soon.

Our event in Calabasas, CA during National Infertility Awareness Week 2015.

Our event in Calabasas, CA during National Infertility Awareness Week 2015. Photo by Chrystal Starr Photography.

On May 11, we’ll once again be on Capitol Hill for Advocacy Day with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and, in October, we’ll travel to Salt Lake City for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Annual Conference and events with the Utah Infertility Resource Center.

Maria and I are excited to see what the third full year of the project brings and hope you’ll join us for the journey. We’d love to share your story through the project via your artwork or an interview. If you are interested in sharing your story, or in hosting an ART of IF exhibit or workshop in your community, please contact us. We’d love to work with you!

-Elizabeth