Perspectives on Reproductive Writes from Juliette Givhan

An intro to our Michigan State University (MSU) Undergraduate Research Intern, Juliette Givhan, and her take on our recent Reproductive Writes workshop at MSU. 

Hello,

My name is Juliette Givhan and I’m a new addition to The ART of Infertility team. I joined Elizabeth, Maria, and Robin with the goal of helping them organize, analyze, procure, and ultimately anthologize the creative materials surrounding infertility and reproductive rights generated for this project.

I study at Michigan State University where I’m near the end of the pursuit of an English degree with a concentration in creative writing and a minor in African American and African Studies. I’m a poet and I write from my individual experience as a Black American. My writing has been shaped by this focus and I’ve come to realize that this has often involved an erasure of my experiences as a woman. I find that where I am proud to be Black and have always felt a strong need to express my Blackness, I rarely uplift and take pride in my identity as a woman.

When I think of what it means to be a woman I think of the stereotypes of femininity sculpted by patriarchal influences: the mother of many children figure, the stay at home domestic goddess figure, etc. Since I have never fit into any of these roles I have rarely thought about or processed the reality of my own identity as a female, one defined by my own experiences. My goal with this project, then, is to embrace the fact that my actions- the daily experiences that collect as my identity- need to also have a stage on which to be addressed. I think working on The ART of Infertility Project is going to offer the space for my writing and thinking to take this first step.

Infertility as a topic of research is something that I am interested in learning more about because of how much I don’t know. I have had connections with IF before in the women on one side of my family, who have repeatedly experienced complications with pregnancies and conceiving, but I don’t know the facts or figures. I don’t know the emotional toll IF has on people, or how to accept that a reality might exist in my own life that means one day I might not be able to have the children that I don’t even know if I want.

I find how this project uses art to express these difficult, diverse, and complex issues to be extremely comforting. Art is the medium I have personally used to express myself, so I believe in its power of expression and healing. I’m looking forward to helping create an anthology of this projects work because a tangible and accessible collection could potentially connect so many people who could benefit from this community of support.

Participants at Reproductive Writes, February 28 at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI

The Reproductive Writes workshop that took place in the LookOut! Gallery on Michigan State University’s campus was the first time I’ve been to a workshop that addressed the issue of reproductive rights. When I started working on The ART of Infertility Project I knew very little about reproductive rights because it was not something that I ever heard talked about. Our society censors information about the human body, especially the female body, and this gap of information has largely left me ignorant to the issues that exist and affect the people of this country. I came to the event excited to deconstruct my own ignorance in these topics and nervous at admit to how much I didn’t know.

We started the evening with a question: what does reproductive rights mean to you? After having time to reflect those who chose were able to share their definitions. This moment was particularly interesting for me because no two definitions were the same, though parallels certainly existed. One woman defined reproductive rights as wanting to end the stigmatism she felt from outsiders who expected her to be pregnant because of her position as someone’s wife. Another’s definition was having the right to choose whether to have a child and letting that option belong to the individual it affected. My own definition of reproductive rights was having access to affordable healthcare to support a fetus and later a child. I realized that as a broke college student, my definition of reproductive rights was bound to be different than someone who was married or someone who was diagnosed as infertile.

Realizing that the definition of reproductive rights was fluid was as empowering as it was obvious… after I’d given it some thought. Though the room only held about fifteen people, several diverse backgrounds were represented. There were undergraduate students new to the conversation like myself, a graduate student, a nurse familiar with the medical side of working with IF, women from the MSU and Lansing community, even a man who used a penis shaped poem to portray his interpretation of reproductive rights. Each voice had its own story to tell and interpretation to make and I appreciated hearing all of them.

Having had some time to reflect on the workshop I think my main take away was that more spaces like these need to exist, where people from diverse backgrounds can come together and talk about the realities that exist for them. Being in a space to talk about these things and make poetry and have discussion was a relief after so many years of silence. I think more people need to have the chance of experiencing something like Reproductive Writes because spreading awareness of issues is the best way, in my opinion, to end ignorance.

Reflections on Reproductive Writes

Last week, we held our Reproductive Writes workshop at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Our marketing and communications intern, Kristen Mahan, attended the event and shares a reflection on that experience with us today. On Wednesday, starting at 7 pm, we’ll hold our Reproductive Writes workshop at Michigan State University. We have some spots left and would love to see you there. You can find out more and reserve your seat at http://bit.ly/reprowritesmsu2018tickets

Reflections on Reproductive Writes
by Kristen Mahan

As a new ART of Infertility marketing intern, attending the Reproductive Writes workshop at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh was extremely eye-opening. I have been working with The ART of Infertility for over two months, but I was never able to see the nonprofit in action. Viewing and reading the captions of the artwork from infertility patients was saddening and it gave me a different perspective of eventually having kids. I brought my two roommates to the event and we all agreed this is something that has barely crossed our minds. We realized as young women, that we are so worried about taking the pill or getting an IUD and trying not to get pregnant, that in all reality there’s a high chance that when we finally do want kids, it may not happen.

Maria speaks to a group at Reproductive Writes, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh on February 21, 2018.

I consider myself to be someone who is fairly up-to-date on political issues going on in our country. However, I had barely considered the impact of the regulations regarding infertility. Listening to a male speak out at the event on his infertility journey of paying out of pocket for five failed IVF treatments was astonishing. For people suffering from infertility and then not being able to afford treatments with no help from the government is heartbreaking.

Attending The ART of Infertility’s Reproductive Writes event pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone and confirmed that my energy being put into this organization is for an amazing cause for an agonizing disability that can affect anyone.

Persistence in the Age of Resistance

Today, May 18, is Infertility Advocacy Day. This year, RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, is teaming up with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Nearly 250 constituents have gathered from around the country to fight for improvements for those living with infertility. Long-time advocate, Risa Levine, is among them and shares this message with us as today’s guest blogger.

To my fellow advocates,

We are at a strange place in our history for women of our generation.  After the dormancy of the post Viet Nam war era, we are finally seeing a reawakening of political consciousness, a resurgence of social activism in an era when most public engagement has been reserved for Super Bowl ticker tape parades. We are seeing people take to the streets outside government offices, we are seeing hundreds of thousands of women marching all over the country. And we are seeing crumbs of response. Bill O’Reilly is history. That’s something.

Most of us don’t remember the sixties, a time of anti war protests, suspicion of government, overthrowing of a well established social order. A time when “burn your bra” was not just a symbol or catchphrase, but a revolutionary, engaged act of actual resistance to social norms that far eclipsed the message attempted to be sent by wearing knitted pink pussy caps.

But for the most part, the resistance agenda has been reactionary, one of anger, fiery Roman candles in the night. An affirmative legislative agenda has not quite yet been identified and the methodology has been murky. This era of #resistance was triggered by one man, and the mistreatment of one woman. But there are myriad inequities that have been brewing for a long time. Occupy Wall Street reflected those divisions but failed to achieve meaningful change beyond sloganeering. Similarly, the signs at all of the recent marches range from reproductive rights to immigration to LGBT rights to guns – while all require respect for people, the only proposed solution, dump trump, doesn’t address the underlying problems.   “Resistance” alone, is not solutions-based.

Risa wth Gloria Steinem, her first role model, getting out the vote in PA

Anger – when properly directed – is good. Anger can be motivating. Anger can spur people to turn off the TV and take to the streets. But that “fight or flight” adrenaline response to anger without proper outlets, a cogent agenda and a clear end goal, can become unhealthy. And unrequited. The problem with resistance, like the mantra of the 60s, “never trust anyone over the age of 30,” is that it will, by definition, fail, as the aging process is scientific fact.

While our efforts to address the fundamental unfairness that is experienced by infertility patients should be – and because of some of our advocates’ efforts sometimes is – an issue for #resistance, it is more an exercise in Persistence. A diagnosis of infertility IS a pre-existing condition that could bar one from obtaining health insurance if the House legislation were to pass the Senate, but even the most liberal outlets neglect to include infertility on their comprehensive list of diseases that would bar infertility patients from coverage: we have much work to do to educate even our natural allies. Let’s not forget that.

However, when we hit Capitol Hill, we aren’t coming only from a place of adrenaline-producing anger. Anger at the unfairness, sure. But we aren’t acting merely in opposition to the current zeitgeist. We aren’t seeking confrontation. And we aren’t simply fighting a misogynist agenda. We are promoting education, family values, long term protection and science.  We are seeking to right a wrong practiced by both parties for decades. We are in it for the long game.  We are fighting for families. For traditional values reinforced by modern scientific advances. Love and Science, hand in hand. We must be above partisanship. We are above the divisions in this country. We personify Persistence.

Risa with Hillary Clinton in New York City: Discussing Matters of State.

Whatever your personal feelings about where we are at this very, very historical juncture, on May 18, stay focused on the positive. We are advocating FOR something. For more rights for ourselves and for our families. For future families.  For our military. For the safety and integrity of our bodies. We come in peace – we simply need to know that our health concerns are being addressed. We do and we will exercise our voting rights if we aren’t heard, but we come as constituents with problems that Congress can address. Ask them for their support. But don’t leave without their understanding.