The Gift of Infertility

Today’s guest post is from Sarah Ivy and Juli Westcott, DC. Sarah and Juli are Barren Besties turned founders of the non-profit, Braving Infertility Together. Thanks, Sarah and Juli, for sharing your story. 

“Thank you all for coming to dinner tonight. It was great getting to meet you. If any of you would like someone to pray with you before you leave, I’d be happy to do that.”

“Hi, my name is Juli. I could really use some prayers. I just found out that my IVF transfer worked and I am pregnant, but I’m so scared something will happen.”

“Hi, Juli, I’m Sarah. Let’s pray right now.”

And so it began. Two women from two different sides of the infertility spectrum, both desperately wanting to become mothers, and wanting to feel like they were not alone in this journey. So, how did things go from acquaintances at a dinner to a true, deep friendship?

Sarah:
A little while after Juli became pregnant with her daughter, my husband and I had the opportunity to do an IVF transfer with a pair of adopted embryos. We were thrilled to find out that we were also pregnant! But unfortunately, when we went in for our sonogram at week nine, there was no heartbeat.

Juli:
At that time,  I was 12 or 13 weeks pregnant, and heartbroken for my friend. I debated on what to do, because I figured the last thing you want to see when you have just lost your baby is a pregnant lady, but I knew I needed to see her. I put on a loose sundress, bought a beautiful orchid plant, and drove down to her house.

Sarah:
This was the turning point in our relationship. Her bravery in that moment, in being afraid to come but doing it anyway, and my vulnerability in loss sparked a deep, authentic friendship that has only continued to grow.

Sarah’s loss was the summer of 2015, and Juli’s daughter, Cady Joy, was born in December. A few weeks after her birth, we decided to get our husbands together for dinner at the same restaurant where we met back in April. When our husbands met, we realized how similar they are – both came from a construction background, and both were fiercely protective husbands that had longed to be fathers. There was an instant connection, and that night brought us all closer together.

Juli and Sarah with their families at their book release party

Juli:
A few short weeks after our first family dinner, I remember sitting on the couch one night breastfeeding Cady, and all of a sudden my phone rang — it was Sarah. Now if you know Sarah, she is much more more likely to message or text than call, so I thought it was a bit strange and answered.

Sarah:
I asked, “Hey, does Cady need a friend?”

Juli:
I thought it was a strange question so, I said, “Sure… you can be her friend?” Not having any idea what she was trying to say.

Sarah and her husband had miraculously become pregnant naturally! We were both beyond ecstatic for this new little life, and secretly hoped that maybe it could be a girl so that our daughters could be friends. By the grace of God, we found out a few weeks later that it WAS going to be a girl!

Juli:
One of my favorite pictures we have together is a candid photo of us at Sarah’s Gender Reveal party. We are sitting next to each other smiling, and I am holding Cady who has her hand on Sarah’s tummy and the biggest smile on her face! It was just a sign of the sweet relationship these two girls would soon share.

Left to right, Sarah, Cady, and Juli at Sarah’s gender reveal party

In June of 2016, we had an amazing opportunity to go to a writing conference and do something we had both always dreamed of doing — become published authors. Our plan was to write books to share the stories of our journeys to our daughters, but God had a different plan. By the end of the conference, not only did we know that we were supposed to write a book about our support group (which had continued to meet and grow since that first dinner), but we also felt very strongly that we needed to make the group “official” and file our paperwork to become a non-profit organization, Braving Infertility Together.

Where are we today? Our group has grown from 15 women who met for dinner to over 450 women and their families in the DFW area, as well as over 100 women worldwide in our online support groups. For us personally…

Sarah:
We are at a point where we are no longer seeking medical intervention to grow our family. We are praying and trusting that if God wants us to have more children, we will, and if not, we will treasure the precious gift he has already given us in Charlotte.

Juli:
For us, it has been an emotional road the past year. After much discussion, we decided to do another IVF transfer back in August of 2017, and were so excited to find that we were pregnant again. Unfortunately, a few short weeks later, we discovered that the pregnancy was ectopic, and we lost our sweet baby in an emergency surgery to remove the tube where it had implanted. It took me several months and countless tears and prayers to have the courage to go through another transfer, but in February of this year (with my mom, Sarah, and Ray sitting in the waiting room), we did. By the grace of God, we are expecting our sweet little miracle in October of this year.

Through our friendship and growing non-profit, we have really had the opportunity to live life together. We have brought people into our homes, encouraged people to love each other, and walked with others through some incredibly dark moments, while at the same time loving and encouraging each other.

Sarah:
Juli is the most beautiful friend inside and out. If I had to pick three things about her that I would want the world to know, I would have to start with her hugs. That may sound silly, but I swear her arms wrapped around me and her chin on my head (she is nearly a foot taller than me) give me strength and security, and remind me that I have a BRAVE sister with me in all of this. The look on her face when we asked them to be Charlotte’s Godparents was only rivaled by the look on her face when she held her for the first time. Her genuine love for my daughter is so special. She prays for, loves on, and watches after CC as if she were her own. Lastly, her love for the Lord and her constant encouragement for my relationship with God and reminders of His truths are the greatest gift.

Juli and Sarah at Sarah’s 80s themed, rollerskating 35th birthday party.

Juli:
It’s hard to pick only three things I love about Sarah! She is so creative — she can make something beautiful out of literally anything, and it’s effortless. She is also an incredible communicator. I have so much pride and joy getting to watch her do what she was born to do. She speaks and teaches with such grace and eloquence. I have never seen someone so comfortable in front of an audience! Most of all, I absolutely love her heart. Sarah is one of the most genuinely caring and compassionate people I have ever met. She cares deeply, ferociously, and completely for those she brings into her life, and will stop at nothing to help anyone she has the power to help. She is an incredible example to me and so many others.

How has sharing the journey of infertility changed our lives? In our deepest darkest moments, we always know that we are the only ones who truly get how the other feels. We have a relationship built on incredible trust and honesty, and we have supported each other through so many of life’s challenges, in infertility and beyond.

There have been a few times where we have discussed whether experiencing infertility has been a burden or a blessing, and without hesitation, we both agree that given the option of not going through it but having to give away everything we have gained, we would choose it again without hesitation. The life-long friendship we have developed because of this journey is truly a gift. As we look towards the future of not only our families, but our organization, living without each other is not an option.

We are BRAVE because of each other, and can now help others be BRAVE in their journeys. THIS is the truest gift of infertility.

For more information about Braving Infertility Together, visit www.bravingit.org or, find them on Facebook or Instagram @Braving Infertility Together.

Parallel Selves

#BarrenBesties M’Recia and Brooke collaborated to create the piece we’re sharing today, which we displayed in “Arches in Perspective” in Salt Lake City earlier this year. Be sure to click on the audio at the bottom to hear Brooke talk more about what went into creating the piece.

Parallel Selves
M’Recia Seegmiller and Brooke Walrath
mixed media – photography, graphic design, poetry

I wanted to use my idea of creating images that show what longing for a child feels like and I asked my friend and colleague Brooke to collaborate with me. I told her about my ideas and she shared a poem she wrote with me called I Envy Myselves. I immediately loved her poem and, together, we felt inspired to create a photography piece to go with her poem.

 


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!

How ART of IF Intern Kristen Mahan will #FlipTheScript this Men’s Health Month

As most of you already know, we The ART of Infertility will be in Los Angeles during the month of June for Men’s Health Month. We are thrilled to be collaborating with Dr. Paul Turek of The Turek Clinics and to have Men’s Health Network as a Media Sponsor. Throughout the next few weeks, we will have a series of announcements sharing specific programming we will be hosting in conjunction with the exhibit. Here is our first “mini announcement”: we got a grant!

Maria, left, with Kristen at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Throughout this year, The ART of Infertility has been working with Kristen, our undergraduate intern who is majoring in marketing at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Kristen worked with Maria to design a research project that studies how social media campaigns can be better targeted at men with experiences of infertility. This work represents a new direction The ART of IF is embracing — mentoring young students about infertility and engaging in small research projects to provide an educational experience that responds to real, world issues in the fertility world.

We will have a lot to learn in this process but are excited and hope that we can #FlipTheScript to learn how to better include men in conversations of reproductive loss. Read more about the research project and Kristen’s take on it.

What is this grant?

With the help of Maria Novotny, I have been awarded the 2018/2019 Undergraduate Student/Faculty Collaborative Research Program grant. The research grant through the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh will allow me to travel to Los Angeles with the project and learn about the challenges men face when experiencing infertility. As a young college student, I really do not know much about this experience. But working with the project for a few months, I have become more acutely aware that even if I’m not infertile — a friend or family member in the future most likely will share in this experience.

What is my research project?

Because The ART of Infertility tries to support marginalized populations experiencing infertility and that the Los Angeles event is held in conjunction with Men’s Health Month, my research project is focused on men.  Meaning, I am researching what educational resources men are in need of when experiencing infertility. We know one issue is a lack of male-focused infertility support. So, my research as a digital marketing student is interested in using social media as a way to foster a sense of support and community for infertile men. I plan to create a social media campaign, run that campaign after the opening of the LA exhibit, and then test the effectiveness of that campaign through a targeted survey. This means, that I need participants! So guys, this means I need you!

Why focus on social media?

A 2010 study found that media campaigns can greatly produce positive changes and prevent negative changes in health-related behaviors. I hope that my social media design and survey results will illuminate a series of findings and recommendations that describe methods of how to improve health-related resources for infertile men. Thus, reducing the isolating, stressful, emasculating, and stigmatized experience of male infertility.

What I’m looking forward to:

As a newer member to The ART of IF team, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity this grant from UW Oshkosh is allowing me to experience. Finally being able to see one of the exhibits that Maria and Liz put so much time and energy into will help me grow as a communications intern for ART of IF as well as a marketing/digital major in general. Throughout the first few months of interning with ART of IF, I have mostly seen women share their experiences with infertility. Having the chance to shift gears towards what males experience as well will be beneficial for my learning of the topic of infertility.

 

My Four-Year Break from Infertility Treatments

by Elizabeth Walker

Four years ago today, I put the final pieces of artwork on the wall and opened what became the first exhibit of The ART of Infertility.  There’s no way I could have imagined then, what this organization and the people I’ve met through it would become to me.

The remnants of my IVF retrieval and frozen embryo transfers, included in the piece, Crib with Medication Boxes.

I’d just completed my final treatment cycle, a frozen embryo transfer, which was unsuccessful. I didn’t know where I’d go next, but I knew I needed time and space to figure things out. The ART of Infertility has been that for me over these years. Even better, it has allowed me to give others their own time and space so that they may also use art as a source of healing.

In the past four years, my dear friend and co-director, Maria and I, along with a team of dedicated and passionate interns and volunteers, have traveled to 14 states and the District of Columbia (plus Switzerland) and held 22 exhibits and 23 workshops, and given 12 presentations. We’ve collected and shared hundreds of infertility stories through art.

I’m forever grateful to those of you who have supported this organization. To you who have spread the word, attended our events, allowed us to come into your homes to interview you, and have parted with your artwork so we can travel with it and share diverse stories of infertility, we thank you. To our exhibit hosts, partners, and sponsors, thank you for helping us amplify the voices and experiences of those with infertility. To our families; Scott, Kevin, and our pups­­, who miss us both when we’re home and when we’re gone, thank you for understanding what this work means to us.

We have exciting exhibits and programming this year. We just wrapped an amazing month in Salt Lake City, Utah and in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. In a matter of weeks, we’ll be in Madison, WI and we will spend the month of June in Los Angeles and the month of October in Chicago. We feel lucky every day that we get to do this work, even luckier when we’re jet-lagged and our muscles are sore from hauling suitcases, because it means we’re reaching further than we ever imagined.

I set out to be a parent, and co-parenting this organization with Maria has made every bit of my infertility journey worth it.

Check out our upcoming schedule, current calls for art, and find out how you can get involved at artofinfertility.org.

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.

Pain, Regret, and Blood: A Journey in Infertility

Today’s blog post is from J. Clyde Wills. He recently visited our exhibit, “Reflections of Reproductive Loss & Access to Care,” at University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh and contacted us afterward to share some of his story with us.

While infertility affects men and women equally, we don’t as often hear the perspectives of men dealing with an infertility diagnosis. Our mission is to share stories, especially under-represented stories, through the creative expression of art and writing, making infertility visible. That’s why we invited J. Clyde to share his story with you today. It’s also why we feel it’s important to incorporate specific programming around men’s stories, and the ways that infertility impacts men’s health, during Men’s Health Month each June.

This year, we’re again partnering wiith Dr. Paul Turek of The Turek Clinics to present an art exhibit and programming in Los Angeles from June 9 – 30. We hope you’ll check out our event landing page for initial information on “Reimagining Reproduction: The ART of Infertility in Los Angeles” and submit your artwork for consideration via our call for art.

We will have a special focus on highlighting the artwork and stories of men, as well as single parents by choice, those in the LGBTQ+ community, and other under-represented individuals and groups who are dealing with infertility or must use assisted reproductive technologies to help them build their families.

These perspectives are so valuable. Thanks, J. Clyde Wills, for sharing yours with us today!

Pain, Regret, and Blood: A Journey in Infertility

By J. Clyde Wills

I can’t talk about it without crying: IUI, IVF and five failed adoptions. We were trying egg donation before our marriage fell apart. I suppose I am still crying.

Kate* and I started the old fashioned way, which is what all newly married couples do whether they want babies or not. But we did. No one told me making babies would be so hard. In fact, high school health class taught me the opposite. When I was younger I never considered not using protection because even a romantic gesture could cause pregnancy.

Our first stop in fertility was at the Yale Fertility Center. We were told was one of the best fertility centers in the country. The first round of IUI, intrauterine insemination, yielded no results, so we tried IVF for the next round. Insurance only covered the first one so this round of in vitro fertilization was on us. During the whole process my role felt so secondary. It was my job to go into a little room at the doctor’s office containing the most regressive pornography I had ever seen, make my contribution into a sterilized container, and then get out of the way. After that it was my job to administer the shots.

I felt so helpless. I wanted to do more but there was nothing else I could do but give support and love. So I did that. Truthfully Kate was strong enough to give herself the shots.

Our hopes soared as Kate’s blood tests came back positive. The news that we were pregnant was intoxicating which made Kate’s daily regimen of shots easier to bear. Everyday I administered injections into her tummy but the discomfort became worth it. We were having a baby.

Our hopes changed the day Kate received her first ultrasound. The doctor passed the wand over her uterus but there was nothing. It was not just that there was no heartbeat but nothing at all. Hormones levels clearly read pregnancy but her uterus was empty. The pregnancy was ectopic and needed to be ended. After months of injections Kate now had to be treated with methotrexate, a drug normally used in chemotherapy, to end the pregnancy we had dreamed of.

We took a long break after that. Ending the pregnancy was too devastating. So we decided to try adoption. I wish someone had told the cruel reality of domestic adoption. I don’t know what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting this. We chose Lutheran Social Ministries as our agency. I was making a career as a Lutheran minister so it made sense to us. The first two adoptions failed quickly. Our agency connected us to birth mothers and after the emotional journey of meeting them and filling out forms the birth mothers chose another couple. That is how the system works. Potential adoptive parents must woo and court birth mothers who have the option to accept or reject and can always later change their minds.

Then we got the call. A woman was giving birth on the other side of the state. She was choosing an adoption plan for her baby so I left work and we drove to the hospital stopping at Baby’s R’ Us along the way to fill the car with everything we needed. After a long day we came home with Jacob whom we named after my father. For five days it was the kind of bliss that comes with being a new parent. We lived in 24-hour shifts as we fed him, changed him and loved him. This is where I start crying.

Photo by Aditya Romansa

After the fifth day we got the call. Jacob’s birth mother had changed her mind and a social worker would be coming to our house to take him away. That is also how the system works. Until she signs the surrender documents a birth mother has 90 days to have a change of heart. We would later learn that birth mom had used the adoption process to manipulate her own parents into keeping the baby. Giving Jacob away on that day may have been the worst day of my life. It felt no less like a piece of me had been amputated.

After Jacob, Kate and I took matters into our own hands, abandoned Lutheran Social Ministries and pursued private adoption. There is a whole cottage industry of adoption attorneys and we found one in Jacksonville, FL. It is more expensive but the success rate is higher. This is when we met Andrea.

Andrea already had five successful pregnancies. Her first child was adopted by her brother and her other four babies were adopted by couples like us. This was number six. Andrea denied that she was selling her babies to fund her addiction to crack cocaine. But we didn’t care. We just wanted a child. After months of regular visits to Florida and writing lots of checks Andrea disappeared. She went off the radar for a long time with no one, including her family and the attorney, having any idea where she was.

Andrea re-emerged when it was time to give birth and informed us she was keeping the baby. It was her right. Kate and I had no claim to the child, even after it was admitted that Andrea never had any intention of giving up her child and only wanted someone to pay her bills while she was pregnant. The sad part is Andrea did not get to keep her daughter either. Because of her continued abuse of drugs Andrea’s little girl was placed with a family member. Kate and I were never considered.

One more failed adoption after that and Kate and I quit the adoption game for good. We decided to try egg donation. The process is much the same as IUI and IVF with it’s many visits to doctors and shots in the tummy with hormones. The only difference is the egg is donated through any one of a variety of organizations. We scrolled through profiles like it was an online dating site until we found a match that made sense with a price we could handle. A suitable donor was selected but before the process could start our marriage disintegrated.

The end of our marriage is its own tragedy. It could be best equated to a scene from the 1973 film the Long Goodbye where, in order to intimidate his enemies, a gangster smashes a Coke bottle across his own lover’s face right after saying to her, “You are the single most important person in my life.” In truth there was never any violence in our marriage but the end was no less painful. I died that day.

I look at The ART of Infertility exhibit and see my life unfolding before me. I see the many sculptures built from fertility medications and remember every puncture into Kate’s smooth, soft skin. The crib containing $12,000 of medications is specifically heartbreaking. I recognize all of them because it was the contents of our pantry for years. It also reminded me of the crib and stroller that collected dust in a room that was never used. I still have a red biohazard container holding an entire regimen of soiled needles. I should have gotten rid of it years ago but haven’t done it. It is a visceral reminder represented in pain, regret and blood. I can’t let it go.

There is no trace of kumbaya in this story. Not everyone gets a happy ending. Not everyone gets a child or a family, regardless of effort or money spent. Not all dreams come true.

But I won’t allow my story to end this way. It’s not fair to me or to you. I find healing seeing this story expressed through art. Their story is my story and it comforts me. It also reminds me that in grief it is healthy to give my soul a voice and the permission for it to cry and sing. As loss is released, my burdens grow wings and fly away leaving me on earth clutching tightly onto the last of joy. If I am allowed one last prayer it is to see that joy blossom into redemption.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

“Works and Wonders: Art Inspired by the Journey of Infertility” Announces Calendar of Events

Contact: Elizabeth Walker                                FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Phone: 517.262.3662
Email: elizabeth@artofinfertility.org

Works and Wonders: Art Inspired by the Journey of Infertility” Announces Calendar of Events

International Infertility Organization Partners with Utah Infertility Resource Center to Raise Awareness Around Reproductive Loss

Ann Arbor, Mich. – Jan. 16, 2018 – The ART of Infertility, a national arts organization, announces its collaboration with the Utah Infertility Resource Center (UIRC) to present “Works and Wonders: Art Inspired by the Journey of Infertility”, which features a four-week long exhibit, Arches in Perspective: The ART of Infertility in Utah. This infertility-themed art exhibit will display original works created by Utahns, as well as national and international artists, at Art Access Gallery and Urban Arts Gallery in downtown Salt Lake City from February 16th through March 16th, 2018. The exhibit at both locations is free and open to the public.

Over 65,000 people in Utah are living with infertility. In Utah, Camille Hawkins, LCSW founder and executive director of the Utah Infertility Resource Center (UIRC), works to raise awareness and provide support to many diagnosed with the disease. “I learned about The ART of Infertility during a trip to Washington D.C. advocating for family-building legislation to congressional leaders on behalf of Utah’s infertility community. Like me, I was struck how they also drew from their personal experiences with infertility to create a non-profit organization providing support for reproductive loss around the world. Talking to them and learning how the organization travels around organizing and hosting infertility art exhibitions, I knew that my hometown needed to bring this international arts organization to Utah to build community awareness around this family-building health issue.”

In partnership with UIRC, The ART of Infertility is pairing professional artists with infertility patients to collaborate on artwork which will be displayed in Arches in Perspective and then auctioned off during UIRC’s Spring Fundraising Gala, Works and Wonders, on March 16th. The gala will include an art reception with select works, a three-course meal, and a silent auction to raise awareness and funds for infertility support in the greater Utah community.

The ART of Infertility is still accepting infertility-inspired pieces of art for display at the two galleries in downtown Salt Lake City. You do not need to be directly impacted by infertility or reproductive loss to be a contributing artist. Pieces that interpret, reflect, and/or meditate on the experience of challenges to fertility and family-building are welcomed. You can submit these pieces by filling out the form at http://bit.ly/ArtworkUT2018

The ART of Infertility and UIRC are welcoming sponsors and community partners for this event. Current partners include Utah Infertility Resource Center, The ART of Infertility, The Falls Event Center, Urban Arts Gallery, Salt Lake City Arts Council, Art Access, Utah Arts Alliance, EMD Serono, Fruitful Fertility, One More Shot, The Hope for Fertility Foundation, Reproductive Care Center, Utah Division of Arts & Museums, Utah Fertility Center, Baby Quest Foundation, and Waiting For Babies podcast. For more information, contact us at info@artofinfertility.org or call (517) 262-3662.

“Works and Wonders: Art Inspired by the Journey of Infertility” Calendar of Events.

“Art for Infertility Workshop”
Family Building Art Workshop led by professional Artist, Emily Bagley
January 20, 2018
An art therapy workshop where those who struggle with infertility can connect and heal through art, guided by local artist Emily Bagley. The workshop will be held at Art Access, last 4 hours, and include several project options: a mixed media collage, a memory box, or blackout poetry. Attendees will be able to contribute to a community project as well.
Register at: https://uirchealingthroughart.eventbrite.com

“One More Shot”
Film Screening and Panel on the Humanities and Infertility
February 15, 2018
This free event will be held at Urban Arts Gallery and will feature filmmakers Noah Moskin and Maya Grobel as well as others using the arts for infertility expression and awareness.
Reserve your seat at: http://bit.ly/onemoreshotutah

“Arches in Perspective: The ART of Infertility in Utah”
Opening Night Receptions during Salt Lake City Gallery Stroll
February 16, 2018
A free opening night reception will take place at both galleries as part of the Salt Lake City Gallery Stroll.
More information at: http://bit.ly/ArchesUTAH

“Works & Wonders of ART: Creating a Unique Masterpiece”
Closing Night Gala
March 16, 2018
Cocktail reception and artwork viewing hour, silent auction, three-course-meal, and emcee Frankie from 97.1 zht at the Falls Event Center. Tickets, tables, and sponsorships available for purchase at: http://bit.ly/worksandwonders

About The ART of Infertility

The ART of Infertility is a national arts organization. Founded in 2014, Elizabeth Walker and Maria Novotny, Ph.D. curate innovative and emotionally provoking art exhibits to portray the realities, pains and joys of living with IF. We also design engaging curriculums to host art and writing workshops. We plan educational, outreach events. We advocate for infertility rights. Most of all, we provide support for those living in the shadows of infertility. Through art, we break the silence around reproductive grief and push back against common misconceptions. We invite you to join us in our fight to make infertility visible. To learn more, visit http://www.artofinfertility.org/.

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Healing your HeA.R.T through Art

by Maya Grobel

Several years ago, Elizabeth Walker  (founder and co-director of The ART of Infertility) came to my house to interview my husband Noah and me for a project she was working on. After four plus years of a tumultuous journey to parenthood that involved every possible assisted reproductive technology in the book (clomid, laparoscopic surgery, IUIs, IVF, IVF with donor eggs), we were tentatively pregnant with a donated embryo that (thankfully) resulted in our daughter.

At the time, Noah and I were working on a project of our own. It was a documentary film about infertility, our own path to parenthood, and the making of modern families. None of us in the room knew that in our hearts we were actually pursuing a common goal— expressing our feelings about infertility through art, in order to process our experience, decrease stigma and shame around the disease of infertility, and normalize how different families are created.

Noah and Maya at home during their interview with Elizabeth in December of 2014.

Cut to four years later. Noah and I have an incredible daughter nearing three years-old, and a feature-length film called One More Shot that was recently released on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, and Vimeo on Demand. And Elizabeth, along with co-director Maria Novotny, has created a brilliant non-profit arts organization to support those struggling to create a family by showcasing artwork done by infertility patients. The exhibits by ART of IF aim to build awareness of infertility and educate the world about it, “portraying the realities, pains and joys of living with IF.”

When Elizabeth asked us to show our film at one of the ART of IF exhibits in Seattle, we were thrilled, and it became immediately evident that the collaboration between One More Shot and The ART of Infertility was a perfect match.

The screening in Seattle accompanied the exhibit SEA-ART-HEAL, held at the Seattle Center in April of 2017, and included a Q&A.

Our film was our entry into a world we knew nothing about. It chronicles our journey and explores the complex relational, emotional, physical, financial, medical, and ethical issues that accompany assisted reproduction. It’s a very personal glimpse into what infertility really looks like. In an attempt to find community around the shame and silence surrounding infertility, Noah and I interviewed others who had experienced similar struggles and found alternative ways to construct their families. This allowed us to meet and have in-depth conversations with people who shared what it was like to experience multiple pregnancy losses, let go of a genetic connection to their child, or watch someone else give birth to their child. It was eye opening for us, and also hopeful.  And when each baby-making intervention we tried failed, we knew that somehow, if we were open to all possibilities, and had high enough limits on our credit cards, we’d find a way to be parents.

As a psychotherapist now practicing in the realm of infertility, I can clearly see that this film, in a lot of ways, is our trauma narrative. Producing the film together, while stressful at times, allowed Noah and me to have a different creative focus when we were completely isolated and stranded on Infertility Island. While we couldn’t make a baby, we could make a movie. So we did. And through that we were able to analyze and understand our experiences, create something tangible and visual about it, and connect to this isolated but incredibly powerful and supportive community through a shared narrative. As Noah likes to say, we were able to make lemonade out of some sour-ass lemons. It was cathartic and I believe it also helped us heal our hearts at a time when they were very broken. Now we hope that it can help others heal too.

Our story really is a version of that of so many other people. And by sharing our story through our film, we know we can give a voice to this pain and connect to the hearts of so many people who struggle to make a baby. Sharing through visual story-telling was our medium. The ART of IF displays a variety of other artistic work that allows the viewer to see it from other personal points of view.  And through understanding, there is a sense of connection and hope.

So when Elizabeth asked us to join her and The ART of IF in Salt Lake City, Utah— well, it was a no-brainer. I just have to figure out where to trade in my California girl flip-flops for some snow boots.

A screening of the film One More Shot and panel discussion on using the humanities to cope with infertility will be held at Urban Arts Gallery in Salt Lake City at 6 pm MST on February 15th. This event, an extension of the exhibit, Arches in Perspective: The ART of Infertility in Utah, is free and open to the public. Reserve your space at http://bit.ly/onemoreshotutah.

Not near Salt Lake City? One More Shot is now available on Netflix, iTunes, Vimeo on Demand, and Amazon. The ART of Infertility will have events in Los Angeles, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Chicago later this year. Check out our full schedule for events near you.  

 

 

 

Bringing The ART of Infertility to My Hometown in Utah

Today we hear from Camille Hawkins, Executive Director of the Utah Infertility Resource Center. We’re excited to be collaborating with Camille to bring The ART of Infertility to Utah next month for an exhibit and programming beginning mid-February and running through mid-March.Thanks, Camille, for sharing your story!

The first time I saw the positive line on a pregnancy test I was in disbelief. Five years of planning sex around ovulation, temperature taking, pills, my husband leaving semen samples in the awkward room at the clinic, injections, undressing from the waist down, putting my cold feet in stirrups, vaginal ultrasounds and suppositories, surgeries. Having grown up in the extremely family-oriented culture of Utah, there was nothing I wanted more than to have a baby and be a mom. We had finally made it. And then it ended.

One of the hardest things about miscarrying my beautiful embryo(s) was accepting that there was nothing more I could do to increase my chances of getting (and staying) pregnant again. All of the things I had the power to do had already been done. I saved my money religiously. I ate healthy. I followed the instructions for the daily cocktail of injections. I never put a laptop on my lap or got in a hot tub. I meditated and prayed. Lots.

Infertility sucks. That’s all there is to it. What’s more, people around me often didn’t understand the almost unbearable emotional pain I was dealing with. I tried sharing my story with others, but my thoughts, feelings, and experiences were frequently invalidated by well-meaning friends, family, and colleagues. I was so desperate, depressed, and isolated. Most days it felt that the only hope in life was the idea that maybe, just maybe, a miracle would happen that would finally allow me to be a mom. The day I went to work as a counselor and met with my client who had received an abortion at the same time I was miscarrying was the day I realized I could not do this alone anymore.

I needed real connection. I needed expression. I needed to know that I wasn’t alone. A black hole was pulling me in. I desperately needed someone or something to pull me out. I started to look and found nothing. I started painting and journaling to release and communicate the pain, but I still had no one on the outside to say, “Yes, this is awful. I know your pain. I went through it too. I was on that roller coaster.”

In March of 2014 I started a support group in my living room. That support group was the seed that led to the Utah Infertility Resource Center (UIRC), a nonprofit organization serving thousands of Utahns who are facing infertility. This is done through no and low-cost infertility counseling, in-person support groups, online support, infertility awareness, informational consultations, and educational events that bring our community together. The number of infertility community members that UIRC serves continues to grow, and in Spring 2018, we will offer yet another meaningful program called “Works and Wonders: Art Inspired by the Journey of Infertility.”

I met Elizabeth and Maria during a trip I took to Washington D.C. to advocate to congressional leaders on behalf of Utah’s infertility community. I learned about their personal stories and experiences with infertility and how they, like me, were using art and writing as creative expressions to make visible the pain of infertility. They told me how they too created a non-profit organization, The ART of Infertility. This organization collects art and writing reflective of infertility and reproductive loss and curates provoking and empowering exhibits about infertility so as to build community support and provide greater education and awareness. After talking to them, I knew that my hometown needed to host one of their exhibits.

I needed real connection. I needed expression. I needed to know that I wasn’t alone.

Two years later, URIC is partnering with The ART of Infertility to host a series of month-long programming, titled “Works and Wonders: Art Inspired by the Journey of Infertility”, running from Feb 16, 2018 – Mar 16, 2018. These innovative and emotionally powerful events will consist of:

  • Arches in Perspective: The ART of Infertility in Utah”, an infertility-themed art exhibit with original works at Art Access Gallery and Urban Arts Gallery in downtown Salt Lake City organized and curated by The ART of Infertility.
  • A series of community art therapy workshops, January 20 at Art Access with therapist Emily Bagley, and at each of our six monthly support groups throughout the state.
  • A film screening of the documentary, One More Shot, with a panel discussing using the humanities to cope with infertility on February 15 at Urban Arts Gallery.
  • An opening reception at each gallery on February 16 in conjunction with the SLC Gallery Stroll.
  • And, a closing night gala at The Falls Event Center on March 16 at 6 pm.

We have already held one art therapy workshop for our clients in preparation for the exhibit and the process and outcomes were heart wrenching, touching, and profound. One of the clients who attended said, “This workshop really brought out a lot of feelings I didn’t know I had. I was able to express those feelings in a productive way, and was able to have something to remind me.” I watched each person in this workshop, and learned all it takes to create art around infertility is a willingness to express and a medium to express with. The stories of each of our clients are already beautiful and healing. It just takes a willingness to transfer it from our brains and bodies to something outside ourselves.

I know there is nothing special about my own infertility story. In fact, as Executive Director of UIRC, I now hear the same story over and over again. All Day. Every day. The good news is that because of UIRC, no one in Utah ever has to go through this journey alone ever again. I, along with Maria and Elizabeth, hope “Works and Wonders” will provide even more opportunities for Utahns struggling with infertility to get the education, connections, and opportunities for expression that I know they so desperately need. I can’t wait for you to join us!

We are still accepting artwork for this exhibit. Enter yours at http://bit.ly/ArtworkUT2018.

Maria, Elizabeth, and Camille at Infertility Advocacy Day in 2016.