The Anchor

The Anchor
Jenny Cooke Malstrom
Poetry

Hope –

Like an anchor, they say.

Appointments. Blood tests. Ultrasounds.

Hope.

Steadfast.

Onward. Scheduling, timing, dosing.

Retrieve.

Retrieve,

Retrieve.

Transfer.

 

The anchor –

The symbol of hope.

How quickly the tides change.

Smooth seas begin to churn.

Rough, stormy red waters.

Saltwater tears; drowning.

This

anchor

feels

like

a

sinking

ship.

The waters darken, swirl, rage.

The waves crash, night after night.

Swells of tears.

 

A new day.

The sea calms.

Hope.

Still waters.

Steadfast.

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

The anchor –

And still we hope.

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

 

 

In the span of one calendar year, we endured:

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

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

This work reflects my thoughts on our journey thus far.

 

Beautiful Pain

We love getting mail! A few months ago we received a letter from Kristen Fields, who wrote, “I was so inspired by your project that I ended up writing a poem this afternoon about my struggle with infertility this year. It was so therapeutic and I think will be a lot easier to share with friends and family because it’s a more wholistic way of expressing all of the complicated emotions this journey holds. So thank you for existing and showing up in my Google search, because it has seriously restored something inside me and made me feel less alone, and like I could contribute somehow! Please let me know if I can/ how to submit my poem. Thank you! Kristen”

We invited Kristen to submit her poem via one of our artwork submission forms, and she did. So, today we are happy to share Kristen’s poem with you. We hope that it will make you feel less alone, and that you will be inspired to contact us and share your own poetry and artwork with us.

Thank you, Kristen, for sharing your poetry!

Four Seasons in Japan by Masakazu Matsumoto

BEAUTIFUL PAIN

“Behind every beautiful thing there is some kind of pain.”
– Bob Dylan

There was some kind of pain
In Fall, our favorite season,
Unashamedly reveling in all that was still unshattered.
Making plans with closed eyes and open hearts
Naïve to the coming winter with long nights and a cold sun
Who bites at the things which we expose.
Attending appointments, sitting naked on a table,
Left waiting. Cold. Shivering. Bitten.

There was some kind of pain in Spring
With hope sown in new creation.
Earth poured out her showers
And let out roars from Heaven
Which fell echoed against the walls of this hollow room.
The rainbows dawdled behind rainclouds
But the colored beams always seemed to fade.
Surrounded by new and flourishing blooms,
Our tilled and nourished soil remained
Caked underneath our fingernails,
And in empty tear-soaked patches behind white picket fences.

There’s pain, I fear, in the
Summer’s sun with its warm and inviting glow
That shines of hope, a brighter outcome.
But I find myself after these three seasons lost
Burrowing,
To hold myself safe from getting pulled out into the tide.
Afraid to be crashed back onto the shore again,
Rejected by the Sea.
And then to face yet again our Brutus, Fall,
Whose cooler months might be the severest of them all.

__________________________________________________________

But it’s beautiful, you see,
To be surrounded by seasons,
To fall deeply in love with little souls you’ve never seen,
To think up their names and habits and traits and dreams
To peek inside the room that will hold their things
And pray that God would just give them to me…

——-

A note from Kristen,

“I wrote this in the wake of yet another negative pregnancy test. After being diagnosed with PCOS in the midst of us TTC our first baby, every month and every season has been harder than the last as the fear of the unknown, frustration with the wait, and multiplying insecurities grow with each negative test. I chose to write this poem the day I found out about this organization, as I wanted to be able to be a part of something bigger and hopefully resonate with other women going through these same beautifully painful seasons since this whole process can seem so lonely and isolating– that they might know they are not alone and find hope in the beauty that surrounds the pain.”

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).

Oh the Places We Go (Like Houston, TX): Reflections on the Relatability of Art, Poetry & Medicine

Lots of our followers and contributors to this project have a personal connection to the ART of IF. Many of you have either faced your own infertility journey, suffered from infant loss and/or even perhaps miscarriage. We love sharing pieces of art with the vibrant infertility community that exists in the world. Yet, our mission at ART of Infertility is also very much about expanding audiences – beyond the infertility community – to raise awareness and understanding about infertility, infant loss and miscarriage to a more general public.

Art workshops, we find, are an accessible, low-stakes activity that can help facilitate conversations about these topics of loss with others who may have little or no experience with the topic. Our event in Houston, TX last week is one such example of how we use the project to raise general awareness about the reflective power of making art with medical objects.

We made connections between art, poetry and medicine more apparent by participating in a Feminist Action Hour hosted at the annual College Composition & Communication Conference. This conference attracts a wide array of professors and graduate students teaching and researching writing at the collegiate level. For many of these attendees, their research and teaching interests pertain to social justice and interdisciplinary issues – such as communication practices between physicians and patients, gendered communicative experiences of medicine, and even tensions of being a mother/father while working in the academy.

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Participants and materials at the Feminist Action Hour workshop in Houston, TX.

Given these diverse interests, the Feminist Action Hour hosts pedagogical workshops to create space for engaging and teaching about these important topics with our students and our colleagues. Examples from last year can be found here: http://cwshrc.org/newwork2015/ 

As a Writing and Rhetoric graduate student, Maria Novotny’s (project partner with the ART of Infertility) research examines the ways in which infertile men and women make meaning and share this meaning making through art and writing. Given this, Maria invited the ART of Infertility to participate in the workshop by making pieces of blackout poetry with medical consent forms.

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Maria instructing participants and answering questions at the blackout poetry workshop in Houston, TX.

Why medical consent forms and why blackout poetry?

This workshop was inspired by the artwork of Jo C., one of our ART of Infertility participants. Jo created this beautiful piece of black out poetry, titled My Consent which she gave to us to share through our permanent collection. To learn more about the piece, you can read about it on Jo’s blog.

My Consent by Jo C.

My Consent by Jo C.

Medical consent forms and treatment procedures serve as central technical documents, frequently studied as genres in professional and technical writing. Rhetorically these forms reinforce depersonalized medical practices and the greater public’s perceived objectivism of medicine/science.

Medical and feminist rhetoricians have increasingly called for shifting the object of study – beyond “how health and medical texts get produced” to inquiries examining “what embodied users bring to these encounters” as health artifacts (Scott, 2014; Bellwoar, 2012). This workshop serves as pedagogical moment attending to the embodied interactions between medical documents and the user/consumer of these documents.

What happened?

During the workshop participants were invited to select a consent form and a stencil. Consent form options included: a sperm donation form, a fertility treatment form, and a mental health form. Stencils included: a penis, a uterus, and a brain.

The ART of Infertility’s objective was to present the “trifecta” of infertility: mental health, men’s health and female health.

We then spent 15 minutes with groups making pieces of poetry. Many who participated described the activity as “meditative.” Some wanted to play with the idea of one consent form for one stencil – so they incorporated both a penis and uterus within a mental health consent form.

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“signs, process, normal, mass. abnormal, expected, normal, normal, normal, not perfect, normal, abnormal, selection, best, abnormally, accident, prevent”

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“attempt, understand, risk, arise, could be born, might also produce, agree, support, maintain, understand, Birth”

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Special protections, conversation, medical record. Diagnosis, prognosis, release, release. Disclosure, all information. Health Care.

art-of-infertility-black-out-poetry-penis

“special protections, documenting or analyzing, start, the, subject, allows, the patient, disclosure, invalidate, authorization, Address”

 

 

 

The workshop was well-received and allowed the ART of Infertility to talk about issues of infertility and loss to those who may not necessarily recognize the physical and mental weight such a diagnosis has on the body.

If you would like the ART of Infertility to host a blackout poetry workshop (or another art/writing workshop), you can contact us at: info@artofinfertility.org

 

 

Infertility Reminders in the Mailbox – Reframing through Art and Writing

Elizabeth Walker

The mailbox can be a dangerous place for those dealing with infertility. Receiving a baby shower invitation or a baby announcement can feel like a knife in the heart, or a punch in the gut. At least you usually have some idea they are headed your way. It’s the other random pieces of baby, child, and mom mail that give me the most trouble. One in particular.

mailbox_webI don’t have a problem with catalogs from Justice and American Girl or coupons from Babies R Us. I have 6 nieces an 2 nephews so those are places I shop. Every now and then I get an offer for life insurance from Gerber or an invitation to enroll my daughter in National American Miss pageants. I’m guessing that I just fit the demographic for Gerber and I imagine some of the stores I frequent with my nieces are responsible for the pageant requests. However, my blood pressure rises each time I open the mailbox to find an issue of Working Mother magazine.

If it weren’t for infertility, I would be a working mother now. When I pictured parenthood, I always saw myself balancing my children and my career. Sure, it would be a challenge but I was up for it. I get great pleasure from my work and envisioned my dedication to my career aspirations as a great model for my children and their future success, just as I feel my parents’ dedication to and love for their work influenced me. Working Mother magazine would be right up my alley. I’d likely read it cover to cover and check out any bonus content online.

I’m not sure how I got on their list. Again, maybe I’m just the right demographic, or maybe they are affiliated with one of the retail outlets I spend my money at. Maybe I even inadvertently signed up for it at some point when I neglected to read the fine print when I signed up to receive email notices. I tried for awhile to get off their list. An email to the publishing company, a comment on their Facebook Page. When that didn’t work I just started giving them to my working mother friends.

working-mother

Recently, I decided to reframe my relationship with the magazine by using it to make black out poetry. If you’re not familiar with the technique, you take a page of text and do a quick scan of it, circling any words or phrases that jump out at you. Then, you go back through and can narrow those down, and use them to create a poem, blacking out the rest of the text around those words. It felt great to cut a page out of the magazine and circle words with my pencil, later using black paint to isolate the words that would form my poetry. I decided to cut the page out in the form of a woman holding a baby and then decoupaged it onto canvas. Here’s the final result.

Working-Non-Mother_web

Committed, worthy, successful, non-mother.

Shouldn’t have to win acceptance.

My own positive impact.

Maria and I will be leading a workshop on black out poetry hosted by the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition (CWSHRC) at the 2016 Conference on College Composition and Communication (4C) in Houston, TX on April 6. If you’ll be attending, please consider coming to our session.

If you live in the Houston area and are interested in sharing your story with ART of Infertility via an interview while we are in town, email us at info@artofinfertility.org. We would love to hear from you.

Living and Writing in the Aftermath

Today we have a guest post from Robin Silbergleid. Thanks, Robin, for blogging for us this week! Robin is teaching a writing workshop, Women Write the Body, for us on June 14th in East Lansing, MI. Here’s a link to the workshop details. Please consider joining us! 

Living and Writing in the Aftermath

By Robin Silbergleid

This is how it goes. I’m at a school function for my eleven-year-old daughter. The auditorium clamors with families. A woman rushes by, tugging a toddler’s hand, an infant in a front carrier. On the stage, a teacher is visibly pregnant. My son, age three, draws a picture, asks when the show, which hasn’t started yet, is going to be over. Behind us, a baby fusses.

And somehow, I’m mentally spinning, back to the April four years ago when it looked certain that I would miscarry yet again.

It’s such an odd mix of emotions that hits me at these times: gratitude for having the children I do, and that old longing and fear. I won’t have another child. Won’t experience pregnancy again, the thrill of two pink lines on a home test, the faint rustle of a fetus at ten weeks.

I kiss the top of my son’s head. Watch my daughter rush past, holding a flag that says Texas, the state of her birth, so quickly I can’t snap a picture to preserve the moment.

*

I didn’t set out to make a career writing about infertility and pregnancy loss. But, as I’ve said in other contexts, I began my professional life the same time I started the journey (oh so innocently!) toward single motherhood via anonymous sperm donation. And I was so profoundly changed by those long months of blood draws, ultrasounds, and injections that for a long time I couldn’t write about anything else.

To borrow a phrase from poet Carolyn Forche, we all live in the aftermath of what has happened to us.

It’s been four years since I walked out of the clinic with a gritty ultrasound photo and a hug from my doctor. I am, all things considered, a “success” story. I have the second child I so desperately wanted. He’s now a chatty three-year-old obsessed with Elsa from Frozen, equally happy to wear blue fingernail polish or dig for worms on the playground.

And, to be fair, most of the time I’m so busy with the work of parenting and exhausted from chronic sleep deprivation that I don’t have much time to think about the failings of my ovaries or the uterus my ob/gyn described as ‘hostile’.

But all it takes is a certain song on the radio, or driving down I-96, or finding an alcohol wipe in my backpack, or heaven forbid a letter from the clinic, and I’m there. What if I’d started trying a few months earlier? What if I’d done IVF at a different clinic? What if I’d chosen to transfer one and not two? What if I’d waited one more month? What if.

It’s not so raw anymore, the way it was in those hormone-addled days of high risk pregnancy, breastfeeding, and new motherhood. But, as writer Melissa Ford has so rightly said, resolving childlessness is not the same as resolving infertility. And there’s no question: infertility has been a defining experience my adult life, both personally and professionally. I see it every time I look at my son, with the blue eyes and light hair he clearly did not inherit from me.

Writing has offered me a way to process those experiences, in all their complexity. My writing about infertility has gone from unprocessed scribbles written in a waiting room to poems with diagnostic codes, rants and thank yous. I’ve written now a memoir and a full-length collection of poems about infertility and loss, on top of numerous shorter essays. And while I do not think that writing is in and of itself therapeutic, over the long run writing has provided me with the language and narrative to make sense of what I’ve experienced, to reframe it and work through it. Beyond that, sharing my story, and reading and listening to the stories of other women with similar experiences, has led to enduring connections and relationships. We are reclaiming our bodies and our selves, one word at a time.

Robin Silbergleid is the author of the memoir Texas Girl and the chapbooks Pas de Deux and Frida Kahlo, My Sister. Her collection of about infertility treatment The Baby Book is forthcoming in November 2015 by CavanKerry Press. She lives, writes, teaches, and mothers in East Lansing, Michigan. You can find her online on Twitter @RSilbergleid or at robinsilbergleid.com.

Art Journaling to Cope with Infertility

I was very fortunate to wake up this morning in our nation’s capitol, where I will be advocating for legislation to help those with infertility. Sara Elliot, our guest blogger this week, was hoping to make the trip this year and was unable, but wanted to share her story with us via the ART of IF blog. Thank you, Sara for sharing your story with us!

Elizabeth

Art Journaling to Cope with Infertility

Many in the infertility community will be making their way to DC this week for Resolve’s Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill.

I can’t be there to advocate this year in person, but I still I wanted to help raise awareness about the 1 out of 8 couples who month-after-month, year-after-year are trying to build their family by any route available to them.

imageLet’s start with this. I never thought that I’d be a person who would “do” IVF. It’s taken a long time to come to terms with the loss of control over my body and my reproduction. With a diagnosis of PCOS and subclinical hypothyroidism, I am now both infertile – meaning we tried to get pregnant for over a year without assistance – and have experienced recurrent pregnancy loss. The combination is so difficult.

Around the time I first went to on OB/GYN to get testing, I found out that it took my grandparents 7 years to conceive my mother, so there is likely a genetic component to what I am going through. I remember my grandma saying, “Our children came along later” but I didn’t understand infertility might be the cause until I was faced with it myself.

For reasons we’re still trying to figure out with our doctor, we’ve conceived four times through assisted reproductive technology – 2 IUIS and 2 IVF cycles – and lost all 4 pregnancies. One was ectopic. One had a heartbeat we got to hear twice.

While going through this recent IVF cycle and loss, I turned to art journaling to process the emotions of this heart wrenching experience. I made a point to draw just a little bit every day, even if all I could muster was a few words in black pen. I’d often fill in the color on better days.

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The art journal is a record of what kept me going, including song lyrics and reminders to take care of myself.

At the start of the New Year, I pick a new word to focus on. This year the word I chose was “Become.” This song by Iron & Wine got stuck in my head for weeks, so “Become the rising sun” has become a phrase I focus on a lot.

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When we got an unexpected positive pregnancy test in February, I tried to remember to be happy in the moment. I was very anxious, given our history of loss. During this cycle, I saw the trailer for the documentary One More Shot by Noah Moskin and Maya Grobel Moskin. When Maya said, “In this moment, I am happy” I sobbed realizing how hard and necessary it is to grab a moment of happiness amidst all the bad news.

Fear of loss is a very typical response for women who have been through so much to get pregnant. Many infertile women talk quietly about the post-traumatic stress they experience. In the end, the only choice is to surrender, continue to persevere, and to figure out how to rebuild a life that includes more than just a few moments of happiness.

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***

In 2010, my husband and I moved back to our home state of Michigan to be near family as we tried to have children. As the years of trying to conceive and maintain a pregnancy unfolded, an added heartbreak was that if we’d stayed in Massachusetts, our IVF health care costs would have been covered by insurance because state law in Massachusetts mandates coverage for IVF. Michigan law does not. Federal law does not. Money that we’d intended for a retirement account or a child’s college fund was instead spent on medical bills that were uncovered by our health insurance.

And let’s be clear – female and male sterilization is covered by our insurance plan, yet the most effective treatment for infertility, IVF, is not covered. As far as I can tell, the only logic for this policy is cost savings for the insurance companies. No working reproductive systems means no babies which means no hospital births and no well-baby visits to pay for on family insurance plans.

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Despite all of our bad luck, we are lucky that we have some savings to spend on our health care needs. Many couples do not. And frankly, no one should have to spend five figures out of pocket to treat a diagnosed medical condition.

Only laws can change this situation.

Thank you to the women and men who are in DC advocating on our behalf this week.

 

Project Poetry – A visit with Tamsin

Back in December, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Tamsin in her home in Marin County, CA. The road to her house was a winding drive lined with moss covered trees. It had rained earlier and when I stepped out of my car to unload my camera equipment, I was overwhelmed with the warmth and humidity, the smell of the earth and the trees. It was a nice change from the bitter cold I had come from in Michigan.

Tamsin has been using poetry and photography to deal with some of the emotions surrounding her infertility and read a few of her poems for me. By the time she had finished the third, we were both overcome with emotion and the tissues had to be passed around. You can listen to the first poem she shared with me below, it’s titled, “Just Shut Up”.

Here’s some more of Tamsin’s story with portraits of her from our time together.

Elizabeth

Tamsin

“I got pregnant on the honeymoon. So, right from as soon as the baby thing could possible have started it started. I’ve had two tubal pregnancies. It just makes what should be a really personal joyous time into something that’s more about doctors and scientists and labs and money and worry and so it’s not really as romantic a start to marriage as it could have been.”

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“We don’t have insurance coverage for infertility. It’s added stress and guilt that my body is costing us so much money. We moved here with my husband’s work and I’m trying to get licensure as a marriage and family therapist so I’m doing unpaid hours at the moment. That’s a strain because we only have one income. That makes me feel bad that I’m 38 and not earning money. Then, on top of that, it’s my body that has the issues so that’s tens of thousands of dollars that we’re paying out. It just seems like my fault because my husband is working and his body is working as it should be. I feel like I take a lot of it on myself really.”

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“This year I had a lot of time off work so I got my website up and running and did some photography and some poetry and just kind of surprised myself with all of the creativity that was coming out. My therapist kind of likened it to birthing my artistic self. It’s been quite a big thing. It’s been really helpful, I think. Even more so with the poetry. I’ve been writing not just about the infertility but stuff that’s happened in my life and my childhood and friends and I think it’s just brought up so much emotion that’s been cleared out that I didn’t even realize was there to be cleansed so that was really good.”

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“We plan our lives so carefully but you can’t plan for this.”