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.

 

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.

Still in the Trenches on Father’s Day

Today, during Father’s Day and Men’s Health Month, we offer you the perspectives of three men whose path to fatherhood has been blocked by infertility. For resources on male factor infertility and men’s health, we encourage you to visit The Turek Clinics and Men’s Health Network.

Matt Quarterman

We lost a child almost before we knew we had one.

My partner had an ectopic pregnancy that ruptured. We had been trying to conceive for about six months, but the hospital was the first that we knew of it. She was bleeding internally. She lost parts of her body in surgery.

So our experience with infertility – tests and procedures, questions from friends and family, their baby showers and birth announcements – was colored by losing a child we didn’t know we had.

I’ve learned that every infertility journey is unique. The details might seem inconsequential to the outside observer, yet each of the specifics makes the story your own. I hope that by examining my own experience through these poems, some of my fuzzy logic or murky feeling might ring true for others.

Even when we’re alone, we are not alone.

Excerpt from Babyland
Matt Quarterman
poetry

It’s expensive enough that not everyone
can go. We know the time saved up
we know the long journey
We know returning empty-handed
is hardest. Trade a plastic cup
of tokens for tickets to earn the prize.
There’s the ultrasound screen,
there’s the wheel of pills,
there’s the calendar app, reminders and
still not enough. Not enough can be offered,
report card clean, but no-one here judges,
the problem is ours together to create,
to solve. Some get there unexpectedly,
an osprey dives through empty oxygen,
the force of the flower the green fuse drives,
fool’s gold, cruise boat, news reel,
the heat death of everything, passengers waving.
They’ve run out of options. They hope
for the best at the turnstiles,
the monorail speeding away,
always away. Forget it – it’s Baby Land.

Nathan Chan

“Sometimes on the way to your dream, you get lost and find a better one.”– Lisa Hammond

Nathan’s passion for the surrogacy and egg donation field started in 2009 as a young male when he pursued single parenthood. It was a complicated process which he found difficult. He had always been a source of assistance to his friends and he felt a calling to join. This calling led him to spend 2014-2016 working at another leading Canadian Surrogacy and Egg Donation consultancy, where he played a large role in many of the success stories.

Nathan has spent more than five years pursuing single parenthood in India and Canada. At one point in this journey, he was even lucky enough to use a known Egg Donor. His journey to parenthood is still in progress. He is empathetic to the Intended Parents’ journey to surrogacy because he personally understands the challenges.

Nathan takes great pride in supporting Intended Parent(s), including many single men who are now proud fathers using his surrogacy and egg donation services. Participating in this art exhibit has been very important for him as this process of sharing his infertility journey through art has been very empowering. Nathan lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada where he is the Managing Director of Proud Fertility, an inclusive surrogacy and egg donation consultancy. He is also an accomplished musician and visual artist, best known for his Aurora Borealis series.

Angst of an Infertile Caterpillar, 2010
Nathan Chan
painting on canvas

Angst of an Infertile Caterpillar, 2010 by Nathan Chan

This piece was created when I was feeling lost after my first early miscarriage. I questioned the steps that I have taken, the money I spent on IVF and surrogacy, and it was during a time in my life where I was resentful and hateful of myself and the choices I made for my desire to have a child.

Is there more to life? Have I moved too fast in life to spread my wings quicker than anyone else? Many days, I feel like a very beautiful monarch butterfly, but many other days I feel as though I’ve lost one of my wings.

I have a lot of re-energized moments where I feel I can start over again, but like the caterpillar, I see my past where I’ve flown as a butterfly with broken or missing wings. Or, I see that there are too many difficulties and challenges to overcome and it doesn’t help when I’m a caterpillar exposed to so many issues in the past and the many problems that I have seen so closely in my life.

They say there is little communication between the caterpillar and butterfly, but I wish that in my life, there could be a better relationship between the two. It would be tremendously amazing if I could see a symbiotic relationship between the two because I want my caterpillar and butterfly to see and learn from each other’s experiences and perspectives.

Memorializing My Losses, 2013
Nathan Chan
mixed media

Memorializing My Losses, 2013 by Nathan Chan

This piece was created when I came to a point where I wanted to memorialize my losses through surrogacy. I needed a way to honor those losses. Each figure represented an embryo transfer attempt in India and Canada. It was very important for me to contextualize everything and capture it onto a canvas. These losses make up who I am and what I have become. These losses were not small, and not to be minimized.

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side, 2013
Nathan Chan
mixed media

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side, 2013 by Nathan Chan

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” is a common phrase that everyone knows. It refers to the way we tend to look at other people’s lives and other things that we don’t have. All throughout my life, I compared myself to others. Whether so and so has a bigger house, so and so had a higher grade on their assignment, so and so visited XYZ country in the world, so and so has a higher paying job, and finally, so and so has a partner and children.

This painting is of two simple houses in the shape of an “N,” my first name initial and there is an inverted sunset. The inverted sunset represents the state of turmoil I am in. These two buildings are deliberately sitting on plots of grass that are of different shades of green. As I pondered over this common phrase, I have never really understood what “greener” means. What shade of green actually denotes “greener grass” As I thought more about this, I realized this shade is darker green.

Through my reflections, I have learned to be grateful for all my experiences, including my experiences of infertility – my experiences of pregnancy loss as a single male Intended Parent. As I rebuild my life I call “home,” I can only make two choices. I can either be resentful and miserable and loathe everyone else around me, or I can be grateful for the life I have led and will continue to live. I must acknowledge the growth I have experienced. I have a diverse set of skills and talents and I have family support in my endeavors.

“The grass is greener where you water,” is perhaps another idiom that has been overused. But I need to water my own lawn by simply focusing on the things I do have, and count my blessings. It’s either that, or I am going to drive myself miserable and upset with the things that what others “appear” to have that I don’t. I hate these clichés, so I want to come up with my own – “The Grass is Always Greener on My Side.”

Jeffrey Tucker

I believe that writing – especially poetry – is an act of confession. Whether the thoughts expressed in art are joyous, sorrowful, or somewhere in-between (or both, in some instances), the act of committing pen to paper builds a bridge between the reader and the writer’s psyche, often with an intimacy eschewed in normal conversation.

Which is the say that I tell secrets in my poetry. This poem, in particular, allowed me to express something I would never say out loud. It was both liberating and terrifying to write – an experience (in sentiment, if not in practice) that I have heard many people describe passing through in the journey of infertility: on one hand, you want to scream; on the other hand, you want to hide. Thus, this poem – whose writing process inspired the same feelings in me – in an apt form to convey my emotions.

On Geography and Biology and the Meeting Thereof
(Excerpted from Kill February, from Sage Hill Press)
Jeffrey Tucker
poetry

My brother-in-law and his wife: gone,
off to cruise Mexico: siesta
or Fiesta, la Riviera Maya, salted latitudes
south. I picture the two white-footed Utahans
quick-stepping down a burning brown beach,
silver hawkers at hand. They have not heard the stories
I have, of endless squatting in jails
for a wrong U-turn, an unpaid bribe.
Yet I am unconcerned. It’s a cruise,
after all, staffed with smiling deckhands
so eager to pass out Turkish towels
or spray palms with alcohol. If they
died, my wife thinks aloud, they would not
leave our nieces – the four girls – to us.
Since we don’t live in Utah, I say,
and she nods. No family nearby,
not for two thousand miles. And I knew
that my body does not allow us pregnancy, morning sickness, any of that
lovely fecund wreck. But I did not know that geography
conspired against us at the same time
(not that I ever wish for a death).