Two College Students Connect Over IVF

by Kristen Mahan and Alaina Schepp

Kristen:

When I asked my roommate and friend since freshman year, Alaina, to come to Reproductive Writes – an ART of Infertility event – I had no idea how our friendship would change. Sitting at the workshop with other participants talking about their personal experiences with infertility, I suddenly found Alaina opening up. She shared with the group that she — herself — was created from IVF. Not only that, all of her siblings were also created using IVF.

Kristen, left, and Alaina, right

Sitting there, hearing her story, I was surprised that this had never come up before! Alaina had always been close to her family, she would frequently go home to help out or even just hang out with her siblings and parents. I never really understood why, until she talked about how hard it was for her parents to get pregnant.

Walking back from Reproductive Writes that evening, Alaina shared with me how her parents  decided to undergo IVF after her dad found out he was not able to have kids. Alaina was the first child to be born from their IVF cycle. Shortly after they had Alaina, and desiring a big family, they decided to go through another two rounds of IVF.

As Alaina opened up to me that night about her parents IVF story, our relationship changed for the better. We stayed up for 3+ hours chatting and crying from some of her most prominent childhood memories. Hearing her story explains it all. I cannot even imagine how hard Alaina’s childhood was and what her family went through, and is still going through. Hearing her story made me realize how strong Alaina is and I am so thankful to have such a loving, kind, and genuine friend like her.

Alaina:

Seeing the exhibit, Reflections of Reproductive Loss and Access to Care, during the Reproductive Writes event was an experience that touched very close to home. I have always been very thankful for IVF for basically giving me my entire life I have today. When my parents explained IVF to me throughout the years I never thought of it as not working, until I saw the exhibit. My understanding was that if you were infertile, most of the time IVF would work. However, seeing the artwork and the stories of others, I realize that is not the case. The process of IVF always amazed me – how it can work and how it did work for my family. However, after the exhibit I realized how thankful I am and how fortunate we were for this to work, not once but three times.

I knew going into the exhibit that I would be able to relate more to the artwork than some of the other people there.  I also felt like I could relate to the pain by seeing IVF put a financial, medical, and stressful toll on my own parents. Being as close as I am with my family, it is a dream of mine to have a big family. With my family having fertility issues and being told they would not have children, it’s a fear of mine that I could be told the exact same thing.

Baby Alaina

I thought I could turn to IVF in a worst-case scenario, but going to the exhibit and hearing everyone’s complications and deeply sad stories, makes my worries much greater.  Seeing others’ heartbreaking stories makes the fear that much more real. However, I believe everything happens for a reason and that I need to trust in the plan that is in store for me. I believe that my family is closer because of IVF. It made my parents value my life, and each of my siblings’ lives, so much more because they truly thought they would never have children of their own, and now they have three. I have IVF to thank for giving me my family and my own life. Without IVF, I wouldn’t have the people who matter most to me.

I thought the exhibit was a perfect time to open up to Kristen about being an IVF baby. IVF is not something that is talked about enough, and that was clearly verbalized throughout the conversation at the exhibit. I have always thought of Kristen as a great friend and someone I could really trust, but it just wasn’t a topic of conversation I knew how to bring up. Sharing at the exhibit that I was an IVF baby brought about more conversations afterward that really shared my feelings, my thoughts, and my journey into what made me. Kristen was the first friend I was able to deeply share that with. With Kristen interning for The ART of Infertility, I knew she was able to understand where I was coming from and could comprehend it more than any of my other friends.

Kristen, left, and Alaina, right, on the first day of their junior year at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Kristen and I have had many memories together. Being together the past two years, we have been there for each other during the highs and the lows. We are able to go through school together and spend late nights studying and cramming for exams. Kristen and I love having a good time and being able to spend basically everyday together.

Kristen:

I think my favorite memories of Alaina and I are just staying up late and talking about anything and everything. Alaina is extremely outgoing and talkative so our conversations are endless. She is all around the most bubbly person I know. Like with any college girl, there is usually “boy drama” which Lain and I have been each other’s rock for. We are always up front with each other and try to give our most honest input on certain situations.

Reflections on UURAF

by Juliette Givhan, The ART of Infertility’s Undergraduate Research Intern

This past Friday, the 13th of April, I was able to participate in Michigan State University’s 18th annual University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum. The forum, which was held at the student Union on State’s campus, was an opportunity for students to summarize the research they had conducted throughout the year and present it in front of a public audience in the format of a poster.

As I arrived at the Union to present a synopsis of the work I have done with The ART of Infertility Project I was prepared to be disappointed. UURAF, while an opportunity to present research, is also a competition… one that I was sure would be dominated by STEM majors who would expertly present posters chock full of graphs, data charts, and ground-breaking findings. I felt that my poster, which displayed art from the project and the reality of a human story that cannot be quantified in the same way that other research can, would be out of place. I didn’t know, as I was clipping my poster to the stock board I had been provided, that I would leave the room after an hour and a half of presenting my findings feeling a huge sense of accomplishment.

I left UURAF wishing I could have stayed longer. The forum provided a space where I could accomplish one of my main goals of working with this project: to spread word of the reality of infertility and to display that art can be used as a means of conveying complex emotions. The poster I presented was broken into five sections: a break down of The ART of Infertility Project and what my role within the project has been, a description of the workshop— Reproductive Writes— held on State’s campus, my own artistic response to the topic of infertility, and a small section for facts about infertility. The last and largest section of the poster was taken up by interviews I had conducted with Annie Kuo and Madge Harris-Rowland, two women of color whose stories built a commentary on representation within the world of infertility. My favorite part of participating in UURAF was being able to spread the narrative of these two women whose varied experiences presented a reality outside of the often-assumed norm of infertility solely affecting white women.

I also really enjoyed interacting with interested passerby as well as the judges who would determine the winner within my category (Humanities and Performing Arts.) Everyone that I spoke to was interested in the project and asked questions. Their eyes widened in alarm when presented with the financial reality of trying to treat infertility, of looking into adoption or egg freezing. I was sharing knowledge with people that they didn’t previously have, and that was really rewarding. I even gave my email to a woman who wanted to know if the project was still taking submissions.

Overall, I really appreciated being able to share the work not only I— but Elizabeth, Maria and Robin—had done on the project. Presenting at UURAF put my research into perspective, it let me see a reflection of the work I had done this semester—work that I am proud of and that I hope will impact those who were able to witness it and spread awareness of the reality of infertility.

We were all excited to learn that Juliette’s poster won first place in her division, Humanities and the Performing Arts. Congratulations, Juliette!

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.