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.

The One About the Sperm

by Robin Silbergleid

In the car, climbing across the car seats to look for his favorite Jim Gill CD, my son tells me he’s going to give his Father’s Day gift to Uncle Jesse, since he doesn’t have a dad. He says it casually, as if it’s something he’s explained before. Okay, I say—before I even ask what this particular school project is— or you can give it to me, or your sister, or Grandma, or anyone else, but sure, I think Uncle Jesse would like that.

As I have explained to him in various ways from the time he was old enough to listen, he doesn’t have a dad but a donor, who generously provided the sperm (or “magical seeds”) necessary for me to have him as a single mother. I’m glad it’s not a big deal for him today; other days the situation is more complicated and emotionally fraught, like when he was about three and concocted an involved fantasy about how his father was a construction worker who lived at a blue house that you could see from my bedroom window and let him drive his excavator at work sites; after that scenario, he claimed his dad was, interchangeably, Santa Claus and Batman. He told this tale to his preschool teacher who, I think, was more upset that my Jewish son had ruined other kids’ perceptions of Santa Claus than anything about his parentage. The construction worker fantasy worried me, as it seemed so real. I kept reminding him, you know you can’t get into a car with anyone other than mom or grandma or our friend A., right?

From what I can tell, now at five and a half, my son does not have deep longing for a father–nor does his sister, who had a similar imaginary dad fantasy around that age, hers involving a plane trip to Africa (a detail borrowed, no doubt, from her readings of Curious George). For a while, as an elementary-schooler, she liked the fact that the donor was Irish (like, first generation from Ireland) but mostly she hasn’t asked any questions or even to look at the profile, though I’d be happy to give it to her. It’s been years since I’ve read it myself.

Mostly, the fact of using a sperm donor to build our family is just not a big deal in our day-to-day lives, although it’s a huge deal in terms of my gratitude. My kids wouldn’t exist without his generosity even if, I know, he was compensated financially for his donation, and I’m reminded regularly that my children aren’t my clones but have features that could only have come from the donor—my daughter’s musical ability, my son’s interest in machines, the shape of their toes. Although neither one of my children has expressed a keen interest, I think at some point it would be nice to celebrate the donor on Father’s Day, although I understand that ‘holiday’ has more to do with social role than it does biological connection.

Before I had my children, I thought in a vague way of how I would talk to them about the donor. With my son, books have been helpful in opening conversations. We particularly like the picture book What Makes a Baby; I’d recommend it for anyone who has used donor gametes, surrogacy, adoption, or, really, anyone who wants to explain family building without needing to talk about sex or gender. Because babies, as fertility patients know all too well, don’t always come from sex. They come from desire, labor, egg, sperm, and uterus.

My son knows now that he came from a special sperm and a special egg and my uterus. He also knows he was born in the hospital operating room, where, I’ve assured him, the doctor gave me a lot of medicine and sewed me back up, and I was so in love with him I didn’t really feel a thing. Because he’s five, he also asked how I got the sperm, if the donor held it in his hands and gave it to me, like a present I might open on my birthday. No, I explained, trying very hard not to laugh, it came in a small jar called a vial. (I didn’t tell him my favorite detail, that the fluid the andrologist used was pink.) I know as he grows he will continue to ask, and I’ll continue to reframe the narrative of his conception, giving him more detail each time.

I don’t know if our sperm donor is also a dad, whose family will acknowledge him on Father’s Day. I do wonder about him sometimes, and wonder if and when he thinks about the families made possible by his generosity. Because of him, a child exists who has made a hand printed card in preschool and asked about how he came to be.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

How I Spent My Summer Vacation
A post by Elizabeth

You haven’t heard much from us this summer. We’ve taken a bit of a break from our regular social media posts to work behind the scenes. It’s been very busy.

After working as a photographer for the University of Michigan’s Department of Pathology for just over 16 years, I accepted the new position of Communications Specialist early this summer. I’ll be spending less time on imaging and more time managing the content for the department’s website as well as Inside Pathology magazine, and our annual report.

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Dressed for the morgue.

Within minutes of accepting my new roll, my partner unexpectedly announced his retirement. They don’t plan to back fill my old position and haven’t yet filled his, so I’ve been trying to manage it all since June 24th. This has meant that I’m on call for autopsy service every morning and get little else done!

A job to cover autopsy photography has finally been posted and closes on Friday. I’m hopeful that we can get someone in to relieve me soon and I can spend more time on the new job that I’m excited to dive into.

I worked with a delightful high school student this summer to get our artwork and supplies organized at our storage unit. It took us some time but everything is so much easier to find now. It looks like it might not be much longer before we need a bigger space. We’re all paid up through March but this will be one of our upcoming needs for sponsorship.

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Artwork and supplies in an orderly fashion.

We’re hard at work on our 501(c)(3) paperwork. Our articles of incorporation have been filed and it won’t be long until we’re a full-fledged non-profit. We’ve started assembling our board and are excited about what our non-profit status will mean for the sustainability of the project.

My sisters, my mom, and I went to see Dolly Parton in concert in August. Seeing Dolly was on my mom’s bucket list and attending the show induced tears of happiness. Dolly is an amazing performer and I view her as a great child free role model. It was great to spend an evening with Dolly and some of the nearest and dearest ladies in my life.

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Waiting for Dolly to take the stage.

My nieces came to Michigan for their annual summer visit. This year they stayed with us for 3 weeks. It’s never long enough. There were play dates, night time glow parties at my parents’ pool, and we tried our hand at our first batches of French macarons.

Our first attempt at macarons. Not too bad!

Our first attempt at macarons. Not too bad!

I have to admit that the macarons totally intimidated me. I only agreed because my middle niece really wanted to try making them. It ended up being a great project that we all enjoyed doing together and I learned that I shouldn’t be afraid to try things that scare me. Well, at least recipes that scare me ;).

I took a trip to the REACH Art Studio in Lansing where we’ll be showing some work from the permanent collection during the Cultural Rhetorics Conference at Michigan State University at the end of this month. Maria, Robin Silbergleid, and I will also be presenting at the conference. I hope you’ll come see the exhibit on Friday September 30th from 6 – 8 pm. 

We’re teaming up with the University of Michigan Center for Reproductive Medicine for a cigar box art workshop on October 10. We’ve also been prepping for a wind chime art workshop with the Utah Infertility Resource Center and the talk we’ll be presenting at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Scientific Congress in Salt Lake City on October 18. We have another exciting trip and exhibit coming up in November and we’ll be announcing the location once we have our travel finalized.

We'll have a variety of materials available to create wind chimes for pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day.

We’ll have a variety of materials available to create wind chimes for pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day.

This summer has brought some challenges for me in navigating my infertility. Mainly, how it’s affecting socializing with my fertile friends. I’m finding it hard to spend time with the families who have kids around the same age my twins would be had they survived. It’s made for some cancelled plans and afternoons in tears. Fortunately, my friends are willing to stick by while I try to figure out how to handle these situations.

Between this and the crazy work schedule, I’ve been utilizing all of my tools for self-care. Many days, on the way home from work in my vanpool, I color. I love the images in the Coloring Conception adult coloring book. Don’t forget that we’re going to be doing an online exhibit of images from the book this fall and you’re invited to participate. You can download the pages from a link in creator, Buffy Trupps’, blog post. Just scroll down past the video and enter your name and email address and the files will be mailed to you. Those who participate have the chance to win a Mindful Fertility Journal.

I recently finished coloring this page of Coloring Conceptions.

I recently finished coloring this page of Coloring Conceptions.

Finally, over the weekend, I took the first non-work vacation in, well, I can’t actually remember the last non-work trip I took. I met up with my friend Jo in Chicago. Our friendship is one of the many I have infertility to thank for. We spent time exploring the city, eating great food and getting inspired by exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago.

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With Jo in the Windy City.

Maria and I are in the process of hiring social media interns so we can get back to bringing you some great content every day of the week.

We’re always looking for those interested in sharing their stories through our blog as guest posters, those who would like to do an oral history interview, and those who would like to share their artwork through our exhibits. We invite you to learn more at our website. Feel free to contact me via email at elizabeth@artofinfertility.org or tweet us @artofif.

Elizabeth

 

 

 

Healing through Reading – Eight of our Favorite (In)fertility Books

Recently, Maria and I were reflecting on some of the books that have helped us at various stages in our journeys. We thought we’d share just a handful of them with you today.

Elizabeth

Maria’s Picks

empty cradle

 

Empty Cradle: Infertility in America From Colonial Times to the Present by Margaret Marsh and Wanda Ronner

Infertility around the Globe: New Thinking on Childlessness, Gender, and Reproductive Technologies edited by Marcia C. Inhorn and Frank Van Balen infertility around the globe

These were the first “academic” books that I found when I first became interested in studying infertility for graduate school I remember feeling excited that I could take all of the pain I was feeling by TTC and try to make arguments for changing the stigma that surrounds infertility. Today, as I write my dissertation on the rhetorics of infertility, I continue to rely on these authors and their arguments about the silence, shame and stigma surrounding infertility.

 

Taking Charge of your fertility

Taking Charge of Your Fertility, 10th Anniversary Edition: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health

This book immediately takes me back to when I was first TTC. I had finally shared my struggle to get pregnant with my family. On a trip back to WI, my parents hosted a family dinner. At the dinner, my grandmother pulled me aside and gave me this book. She told me that a few of my relatives had also struggled to get pregnant and that this was a book that they highly recommended. I remembered feeling loved by my grandmother because of her thoughtfulness and I was reminded that it wasn’t just me that wanted to have a baby – my whole family did.

 

what he can expect

What He Can Expect When She’s Not Expecting: How to Support Your Wife, Save Your Marriage, and Conquer Infertility!

I first purchased this book about a year and a half into TTC. I was depressed, angry, and unhappy. I loved my husband but being in a marriage seemed like a constant reminder of something that we were missing out on – a baby, a family. I knew that my attitude and sadness had taken a toll on me and, importantly, my husband. I bought this book and gave it to him as an apology. He was trying to love me the best that he could, even though I didn’t know what I wanted or needed. Seeing this book today reminds me of all the trials and obstacles we faced throughout our 5 years of marriage. Today, I know that the deep love I have for my husband is due very much to ability to face infertility.

 

Elizabeth’s Picks

About What Was Lost

About What Was Lost: 20 Writers on Miscarriage, Healing, and Hope Edited by Jessica Berger Gross

Although only one of the stories in this book deals specifically with infertility, reading it was essential to me beginning to process the grief around my own miscarriage. I had put off dealing with my emotions about losing my pregnancy because I was still dealing with the trauma from the emergency surgery that was required after complications from my egg retrieval caused ovarian torsion and internal bleeding. As I read the stories of other women through the essays in this book, I thought of my own story and how I could interpret my experience and make sense of what had happened to me.

 

The Baby Book

The Baby Book by Robin Silbergleid    

There’s something just so incredibly powerful about the experience of infertility expressed through the format of poetry. For me, sitting down with this book creates a quiet space to reflect on my own journey, and it has helped me come to terms with my diagnosis and how it’s made me who I am today.

 

 

 

 

Infertility and the Creative Spirit

Infertility and the Creative Spirit by Roxane Head Dinkin and Robert J. Dinkin

One of the themes that I’ve been interested in exploring through ART of Infertility is the many ways that we can contribute to our communities and leave legacies without having children.  I love this book because it explores the ways that seven prominent women in history found creative outlets for their journeys, impacting the world we live in today.

 

 

 

Silent Sorority

Silent Sorority: A (Barren) Woman Gets Busy, Angry, Lost and Found by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos

While those of us with an infertility diagnosis all have our own unique stories, we experience the same kinds of emotions. I read this book quite early in my journey and felt I had truly found someone who understood me. Pamela was speaking my language! I wanted to make it required reading for all of my friends and family so they would understand what I was going through.

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