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.

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.  

 

 

 

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.

Launch Point

Ben Holladay-McCann shares some of the challenges he and his husband face as gay men building their family. Read how they decided which option was best for them and how creating art is playing a role in their quest to become parents. Thanks, Ben, for sharing your story!

Launch Point
by Ben Holladay-McCann

From a young age, I knew that fatherhood was something I aspired to. The fact that I’m gay never phased me or stood out as an obstacle to achieving that dream. Sure, I knew it would be a challenge — the scales are tipped in favor of heterosexual people – though I’ve always been of the mind that any journey worth dreaming about is a journey worth taking, no matter the odds.

Ben (right) with husband Erik. Photo by Kendra Stanley-Mills.

Erik, my husband, shares my dream of raising children together. At first, we had explored the idea of adoption, which, though an awesome and noble avenue to take, can prove hugely challenging for LGBT folks. Most countries outside the U.S. will not adopt to gay parents. In a strange twist of happenstance, the governor of Michigan signed legislation permitting faith-based adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBT parents not long before we relocated to Colorado. Our home state is not unique in that regard, as several other states allow the application of the petitioning couple to be denied based upon nothing more their sexual orientation.

Though adoption was quickly removed from the table, we uncovered a new and more fundamental truth that lived deep within us; holding a genetic relation to our child was of greater importance to us than we had first known. With that in mind, having a child through IVF via gestational carrier as the path to parenthood was the only logical option for us.

Making the decision to pursue that route was the easy part, though it is not without its own unique set of challenges. Like so many others, our biggest roadblock was attached to the price tag. I remember staring slack-jawed at the full sum once everything had been tallied up. The total cost of IVF treatments is positively eye-watering. Resources to lighten the load do exist, though the majority are geared towards heterosexual couples. Most applications for grants or financial assistance list “husband” and “wife” on the form, rather than “partner’s name”. Even “Parent 1” and “Parent 2” would work in a Suessical pinch.

To complicate matters further, information about LGBT-inclusive adoption agencies can be tricky to find. Surely you can understand our sheer joy when we found an aptly named organization that exclusively helps gay men who want to have a child through IVF – “Men Having Babies”. Using the tools on their website, we poured over all available information and researched many different organizations nationwide before selecting InVia Fertility, out of Chicago. With that important line crossed off, we could turn attention back to the elephant in the room: how make this happen financially. As money savvy as we fancy ourselves to be, our piggy banks wouldn’t provide enough of a springboard on their own. We had to broaden our sights to help make this dream real.

Ben and Erik, surrounded by loved ones. Photo by Kendra Stanley-Mills.

Education is an important component of any fundraising effort, and we are not unique in that regard. As a part of this process, we have sought to bring awareness and information to our friends and family. Try as we have, however, some have made the assumption that adoption, rather than IVF, is the end goal. On more than one occasion, well-intentioned people have asked “what country will you adopt your child from?” or “have you met the birthmother yet”? We are surrounded by people brimming with excitement for us to become fathers, though some may be unaware of the complicated nature this road holds for us. Launching a crowdfunding site hosted by YouCaring.com has provided an effective platform to keep our loved ones up-to-date on our journey while serving to dispel any mysteries surrounding IVF and what that looks like for us.

Ben’s passion for knitting is helping build his family. Photo by Erik Holladay-McCann.

More creative means of capital generation are also supplementing our crowdfunding efforts. I have been a knitting hobbyist for years, though this new adventure of ours provided me the push to begin selling finished works and patterns of my own design, under the brand “NoahNoa Crafts”. Though a seemingly unusual brand title, it was born from the love that my husband and I have held for the name, Noah, for years. When translated from its original Hebrew roots, it embodies “comfort”, while its feminine variant, Noa, signifies movement. It only seemed a natural fit, as those are two qualities I love most about knitting, and hope to model to the children we bring into the world. While getting a small start-up such as this off the ground can be time-consuming and occasionally stressful, it is ultimately rewarding, which is not entirely different from parenthood.

Follow Ben and Erik’s family building progress on You Caring and shop NoahNoa Crafts.

Love’s Conception – Third Party Reproduction

Tomiko Fraser Hines – Photo by Guy Viau

Learning you will need to turn to third party reproduction in order to have a chance at experiencing a pregnancy is a hard thing to wrap your head around. Tomiko Fraser Hines used the art of poetry to find healing.

We first learned of her poem, “Love’s Conception…For My Boys,”  during our National Infertility Awareness Week event in Los Angeles in 2015. Then, the next month, she recited it for us during an Advocacy Day mini interview in D.C. You can #listenup by playing the audio, or reading the poem below. Thank you, Tomiko, for sharing your story! We look forward to seeing you in Los Angeles when we are there for our Men’s Health Month event in June!

“I wrote this poem in November of 2012 when I was about seven months pregnant with the boys. I was in the midst of all of the concerns that come with the way they were conceived, which was via an anonymous egg donor. And, basically, that they would not have (to my knowledge, I’m not a scientist) but to my knowledge they wouldn’t have any of my genetics. So, I had a lot of concerns about that and I needed to find a way to come to peace with it. I write, and words just kind of come through me. I sat down and I wrote this poem for them, but also for me, and it’s called, Love’s conception… For My Boys and it goes a somethin’ like this…”

You won’t have my eyes, but you will benefit from my vision.
You won’t have my mouth, but I will teach you how to use your voice.
You won’t have my ears, but your listening will be finely tuned.
You won’t have my DNA, but my blood will forever nourish you.
You were not my conception, but I will birth greatness in you.
We won’t reflect each other on a physical level, yet we will mirror each other in wondrous ways.
I will guide you.
I will shape you.
I will encourage you.
I will free you.
I will love you.
Hello! My name is Tomiko, and I am your mother.

Our Misconception: Chris and Candace Wohl

Our Misconception: The Story of Candace and Chris Wohl
by Jalen Smith

Earlier this year we had the pleasure to sit down with The Wohl Family as they shared their story and long journey to parenthood through gestational surrogacy.

Candace and Chris are a married couple living in Virginia that has struggled to conceive. Candace underwent 5 IVF cycles between a 2 year period, after 6 failed IUIs.

“Each bead represents a shot,” Candace told ART of Infertility’s Maria Novotny, when showcasing a piece of her artwork. The process of having a baby has been a process hard physically, emotionally and financially for the family.

Chris and Candace chose to string a bead for each shot Candace endured.

Chris and Candace chose to string a bead for each shot Candace endured.

“We were judged and told by family and friends to not fundraise, that this issue should have been kept private, we were even told to just adopt.” said Chris. The couple’s story is a popular one within the infertility community and was featured on an episode of MTV’s “True Life” in 2013.  “It was such a seesaw of emotions, from hope to despair from hope to despair,” said Candace. “There was point where we wouldn’t let ourselves get our hopes up just to be let down again.” MTV did a good job of capturing and telling the emotional heartache involved with infertility. “It was hard for us to watch as we had to relive our last failed IVF.”

The Wohl family eventually found hope in surrogacy. In March 2013 the couple began to start the process to pursue other means of child birth. After finding a surrogate in June 2013 the couple then began the contract signing process and had to wait an additional six months for pregnancy insurance clearance. “The waiting was hard for us, the not knowing if it would work out this time.” In October 2013, they transferred their two remaining embryos to their surrogate.  The following month, the couple received the news that they were pregnant, the beta was positive.

Candace wanted to tell her husband the good news that they were pregnant in the best way possible. She shared with us the story of the dusty onesie. “After my first IUI, I was confident and I went out to buy this onesie and card to share with my husband that we were pregnant.” Similar, to those other vulnerable yet monumental moments in life like marriage, she wanted this moment to be special. She wanted it to last. After 6 failed IUIs, Chris had still not seen the onesie, not until that celebratory day in November 2013. “It was one of those things that I held onto, I couldn’t let it go, I’m glad I didn’t because I was fortunately still able to share it with him.”

“It brought it all home to me that she really has endured so much” said Chris after hearing and seeing the dusty onesie story for the first time. The fact that she had kept it for so many years and had taken so many “beads” was a telling story of their struggle for him.

the-dusty-onesie_7280

Chris and Candace with the dusty onesie.

“What people don’t understand is we were trying to adopt, there were a lot of people that didn’t agree with surrogacy when it first came out,” said Candace. “We realized early that we had to get tough skin.” To share their story of surrogacy was at first difficult, while the Wohl family can be considered well known members of the community now, the option to choose this route to start their family was troublesome for them.

“If you would have asked me 7 years ago that we would be doing this, I would have not believed you,” said Candace. At the time the couple was in full belief that they would be able to carry a baby to term but years of surgery and failed treatments denied these hopeful parents time and time again.

When the parents to be accepted surrogacy it did come with lots of doubts and concerns for the future. For Candace is was like watching a quarterback play football and she was watching from the sideline. “You hope they can break the tackles, you hope nothing gets in their way on the game winning drive but all you can do is cheer them along.” Candace said. It was a very vulnerable place for her to be, in one in which all she could do is watch and place her hopes for motherhood in the hands of someone else. Chris and Candace were in the room with the surrogate while she was giving birth. Candace held her leg while she pushed and Chris cut the umbilical cord. While their daughter’s birth certificate did not initially feature either of their names, they immediately bonded with her.

Many forget to mention the struggles infertility have on men or many feel the struggles of infertility are not a man’s right to feel bad. The couple briefly talked about this in their sit down with us. After all, it was his wife’s body. But Chris during his sit down with us shared his thoughts on the process. “I was the parent too” Chris said. “My gender is a strong yet vulnerable one, I could never know her full pain but I was there for her the entire ride.” Chris felt that taking a back seat was not an option for him.

Ultimately the couple’s fears of lack of emotional connectivity, lack of compassion from doctors and guilt were lost once their daughter was born in 2014. “All of the worries I had were lost once she was here, I never felt closer to anyone,” Candace stated.

The Wohl family fought a lot on their journey to parenthood, it was never easy, but what they want to do now is educate others. Educate hospitals, doctors and lawyers so that the next couple does not have the complications they did. “It all starts with education,” Candace closed.

To learn more about the Chris and Candace’s story read their blog at ourmisconception.com

#startasking About Parenting After Pregnancy Loss and Infertility – Lauren’s Perspective

Lauren of Rainbows & Unicorns, a site about parenting after pregnancy loss and infertility, reflects on mothering her daughter who was born after donor egg IVF. This story does include an image of parenting. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Lauren!

I scoop up my toddler and carry her upstairs to begin our bedtime routine. Diaper, pajamas, teeth, goodnight Daddy, books, and then — my favorite part — songs and cuddling.

She lies on my belly, her head against my chest. “Saaah!” When one song ends, she looks up and asks for another. And another. And another. Eventually my little ball of energy goes limp in my arms. I hold her for a few minutes, treasuring her chubby cheeks and the smell of her sweet, malty little head before kissing her goodnight until she wakes up to nurse at four in the morning.

Lauren with her daughter at bedtime.

Lauren with her daughter at bedtime.

Although singing the same limited repertoire until my throat hurts and not having more than a five-hour stretch of sleep for almost two years grate in different ways, I remember how it wasn’t always like this. In the tough moments — like trying to console a teething child having an hour-long exhaustion tantrum at 3 am — I somehow find inner strength. I get to do this.

I am a mother thanks to many people, including a younger mom who donated her eggs so that I could experience the same joy she felt when she held her son for the first time.

It wasn’t joy that I felt when I met my daughter. By then, I’d been through too much to let myself feel anything so big. After miscarriage, infertility, being told I would never have a healthy genetic child, and a high-risk pregnancy requiring me to deliver via planned cesarean, I couldn’t allow myself to believe that I was finally a mom. Not until I heard my daughter’s first cries. Not until I held her. Not until she was furiously suckling did it dawn on me that I was out of the trenches.

But am I really a regular parent now? Parenting after infertility is a strange place to be. As I like to describe it, “I’m no longer in the trenches, but I’m covered in mud.”

The grief of infertility is hard to remember. Like the face of someone you loved a long time ago, it’s hard to recollect its features in detail. That is, until a whiff of their perfume, or a pregnancy announcement, or an innocent remark from someone who has no idea why the question “When are you having another baby?” causes your heart to quietly crack a little.

“I’m no longer in the trenches, but I’m covered in mud.”

For many parents like me, we’ve left Infertility Island but we’re moored offshore somewhere else. Play dates with other parents — so many blissfully unaware of everything that can go wrong before, during, and after conception — can have moments that are hard to navigate. How do you relate to another parent who casually announces she plans to get pregnant in March so the baby is born before Christmas? What do you say when someone asks when you’re having another baby? How do you casually explain egg donation when asked where your daughter’s red hair comes from? In time, the answers come.

Don’t misunderstand; none of this is as hard as trying to have a baby. But when you’re a graduating member of a club you never wanted to join, you’re caught between two worlds: the one you had to leave once your child arrived; and the other everyone else assumes you’re in.

I have my “rainbow unicorn” (if a “rainbow” is a baby born after loss, I surmised one born after infertility would be a “unicorn”) and she fills my days with more joy than I thought possible. But joy and pain aren’t mutually exclusive. What a lot of people don’t realize is that having a baby resolves childlessness — not infertility.

You’re caught between two worlds: the one you had to leave once your child arrived; and the other everyone else assumes you’re in.

Even though we’re parents, we’re still infertile. Unless we fall into a small lucky statistic of spontaneously conceiving after infertility, if we want a second or third child we will have to submit to the invasive, sometimes painful, and always expensive tests and protocols we endured a few years before — this is equally true whether you do infertility treatment or adopt.

If we want a second child, we’re lucky to have eight chromosomally normal frozen embryos to choose from. All we have to do is pick a date for transfer. Most of my infertile comrades don’t have leftover embryos, either because they didn’t do IVF or, if they did, they didn’t have any embryos left over. It struck me the other week that some of my friends are going to have to go through the whole TTC thing all over again. They have my full support and admiration.

For me, parenting after infertility has given me some unexpected blessings. First and foremost, I have this amazing little girl in my life. She’s affectionate, smart, talkative, mischievous, and healthy. We might not share DNA, but we share a sense of humor, a love of Marmite, a dislike of tomatoes, and we’re both pretty tall with big feet. Most importantly, she’s here, and she couldn’t have been created any other way. My journey to motherhood was filled with more pain than I thought I could bear, but I’d do it all over again to have this sweet child that I get to call my daughter.

Eighteen months into this parenting gig, I am more or less at peace with a whole lot of stuff that I never thought I’d be able to accept.

I have a chromosome disorder which means genetic children aren’t possible, so I chose egg donation to build my family. I can say that openly and joyfully now that I’m a parent. I can be open about the way my daughter was conceived because the irrational shame of not being able to reproduce has dissipated.

Breastfeeding has been tremendously healing in this respect. I wasn’t expecting much, so I was surprised that it came to me so easily. Being able to feed my daughter they way I hoped has restored faith in my otherwise broken body. My body can’t make a baby that will live, but it’s pretty damn good at growing and feeding them!

Over the last year and a half, I’ve spent days looking into my nursing daughter’s beautiful eyes fixed on my face — the same eyes I admired in our donor. Not recognizing any of my family of origin’s features in my daughter was, at first, strange. Sometimes she looks like her dad, sometimes she looks like our donor. To my surprise, I like seeing our donor’s influence. It’s reassuring to see something of the special woman I chose to replace my DNA reflected in my daughter.

Eighteen months into this parenting gig, I am more or less at peace with a whole lot of stuff that I never thought I’d be able to accept.

You might say I had a crash course in comfort levels, though. My daughter’s hair is a deep red, and every time we’re out three people, on average, stop us to admiringly ask if red hair runs in my family. At first the question made me wince. I didn’t know how to answer the question without also sharing the circumstances of my kid’s conception. I’ve got good at saying, “Nope! But isn’t it beautiful?” When pressed, I explain, “Red hair is a recessive gene, which means both genetic parties have to carry it.” In this way, I’m able to acknowledge my daughter’s genetic origins while not divulging too much to a stranger if I don’t feel like it.

I guess that’s what parenthood is about: constantly being surprised and having to readjust expectations, all the while practicing patience, kindness, and even finding the funny side when something’s gone wrong.

And in that sense, my infertility journey prepared me well.

Lauren is a mother via egg donation, after miscarriage, infertility, and a massive postpartum hemorrhage. She is a writer, editor, and designer at Rainbows-Unicorns.com, a community blog for parenting after pregnancy loss and infertility. Originally from London, Lauren lives in San Diego with her husband and their toddler. Follow her on Twitter at @DEIVFmama.

 

Art through the Infertility Poetry of Michelle Baranowski

There are many different forms of artwork that brings people comfort. While some enjoy painting or music, many enjoy poetry instead. Michelle Baranowski is one of those people who find comfort through writing poetry. Poetry is yet another way for people to vent out their frustrations and let the world know how they really feel in a creative way.  It is a way to express the pain and sorrow that one is feeling and give people the chance to read and relate to it in a completely personal way. In her poem “The Middle Place”, she explains what it is like to be stuck in between utter happiness and devastating sorrow.

While other kids were saying they wanted to be an astronaut or a princess, Michelle always wanted to be a mom. She could have never guessed at that age that she would not be able to accomplish her lifelong dream of conceiving a child. As she grew up, her childhood innocence was shattered and she realized that it was never going to be as easy as she thought it would be.  

When Michelle was a young adult she came out as a lesbian so she knew that there was going to be a less “organic” way for her to conceive. She just knew she was going to have to go about becoming a mother in a different way. Still, she believed that it would happen and couldn’t foresee the struggles that she was going to face in the future to accomplish her lifelong dream.

She is now 30 years old and, after years of trying, she has still not had the ability to get pregnant. It has been a long journey of pain and sorrow, as well as constantly getting her hopes up only to have them smashed by each negative result. She feels as if she is just coexisting in the middle place between pure joy and devastating pain, which is something that many people dealing with infertility can relate too. She decided to share her poem with others so that they can catch a glimpse of what she is feeling as she continues on this journey to having a child.

You can listen to Michelle read her poem, or read it yourself, below.

– Danielle

Michelle, right, with her wife Mandy on their wedding day.

The Middle Place

by Michelle Baranowski

 

I often talk about the middle place.

The waiting space.

It’s where I find myself most.

Weighted down by time, suffocated by hope.

 

Not moving forward, not falling behind.

Just walking in circles.

Convincing others “I’m fine”

 

Incarcerated by a love that burns through the skin and seeps out through weepy eyes.

Anchored by a financial hole I’ve fed, pleading the promised success isn’t a lie.

 

Like trying to fly a kite, teeming with bricks.

Like a bird, dreaming to fly, with it’s beautiful wings clipped.

Like trying to breathe underwater.

Only to learn you’ll survive.

drowning on the inside, yet seemingly alive.

 

When the house seems too big

but the accounts are too small

when we learn about families growing

with an anxious, happy call.

 

Like a bullet to the chest, but with my smile on tight.

My soul defeats and decides whether to fight or to flight.

Sometimes I can get out “I’m so happy for you”

And other times, a nod and a smile is all I am able to do.

 

The weight of sadness and worry follow me all of the time.

Fretting over savings accounts, credit cards and counting each dime.

Not knowing if our efforts will take flight or be in vain.

Its enough to make even the soundest person insane.

 

I wish that I was brave.

I wish it was easy to decide

Weather to move on from all of this

Pushing lifelong dreams aside.

 

I wish I knew for certain that one day I would hold in you in my arms and not just my heart.

It would make the fight all worth it.

Knowing we would never be apart.

 

So the middle place is where we continue to be.

Waiting, and saving in painful hope.

Waiting for you to set us free.

 

 

 

Male Factor Infertility – Cindy, Paul, and Max’s Story

Today we’re sharing just a tiny bit of Cindy, Paul, and Max Flynn’s story. After three years of infertility, repeat semen analyses and a testicular biopsy, Cindy and Paul received a definitive answer that Paul had Azoospermia, or no sperm count. They made a decision to try using donor sperm to conceive and Max was born. Paul reflects on the experience below. The post does include images of a child and parenting. Thanks, Cindy, Paul, and Max, for sharing your story!

“I was thinking about donor sperm, adopting. I would have loved for the child we had to be biologically mine and Cindy’s together. I don’t have any feeling that the Flynn line should be extended. There’s no pressure there. We don’t need anymore generations of biological Flynns.”

“My biggest fear, honestly, and I felt this with Max, is that I want to be this child’s daddy. In my mind, I would never be the daddy unless it was biologically my child. I realize now that that’s not (the case). I wake up every morning and Max says, ‘Hey, Daddy’. I come home from work or on lunch and he exclaims, ‘Daddy!’ and it warms my heart.”

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“I thought somehow that I wouldn’t have that connection and that even scares me now. I’ve become a lot more comfortable. I’m so happy to have him and I just feel so blessed, but it’s the feeling that somehow he’s not going to consider me his dad. There are no words to describe that. This is kind of an irrational fear I have but that’s that. It’s not on my mind as much these days but it still is on my mind.”

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An LGBTQ Journey with Surrogacy

Here at ART of Infertility we strive to share a diverse community of stories including those that feature LGBTQ experiences. This past July, at a hotel in California, Maria and Elizabeth met with Rob and Scotty, a couple trying to conceive a child by using an egg donor and a gestational carrier. A gestational carrier, or gestational surrogate, is a woman who carries a baby created using a donor egg, not her own, while a traditional surrogate both provides the egg and the womb. Together for five years, Rob and Scotty have tried multiple times to conceive and are sharing their story in order to educate those about the journey and struggles that they have been through. We are proud to showcase Rob and Scotty’s journey to have children together. 

Lauren

Rob has always wanted children. He can remember being a member of the online community, “Surrogate Moms Online” for almost ten years, looking for egg donors and surrogates to carry his child. At this point, he doesn’t even remember how he found the group, it has just always been a resource to utilize.

Jump to October 2009, when Rob met Scotty and they began dating. At this point, Rob had already been trying to have children for quite a while with a traditional surrogate and Scotty was still a student trying to finish up his degree. Early in their relationship, when Rob was still in the process of working with a traditional surrogate, Scotty realized that he wanted to have children too.

Rob and Scotty 1

Scotty and Rob waiting in the lobby at the site of the egg donation.

“When we were dating, he was doing that process and in our relationship I didn’t feel that the kid was going to be mine if it did actually become successful, it would just be, I’m dating this person and that’s their kid.”

Scotty explained that that was the moment when he realized he wanted to have kids with Rob. He didn’t know when but he knew that eventually, that would be the right move. Because he was still in school, it wasn’t quite the perfect time but he pitched the idea to Rob and proposed that their kids be at least half-siblings by using an egg donor and a gestational carrier. Scotty confirms, “That’s how I always wanted to approach it and I was glad he was on board.”

Rob agreed and they did plenty of research. After going to a surrogate “get-together” in the area, Rob and Scotty realized that it would be perfect to use a gestational carrier in order for all of their children to have the same maternal DNA through an egg donor.

According to Rob, it made sense to utilize the same maternal DNA and then use a separate gestational carrier, “Because we’re having two or three kids” and a traditional surrogate might not want to undergo another pregnancy.

When the time was right, Rob and Scotty began trying to conceive with the help of Doctor Aimee, their reproductive endocrinologist. After securing both an egg donor and what Rob and Scotty call an “oven” they were ready to begin the process. When asked what an “oven” is, Rob laughs and explains that an oven is a gestational carrier who does not provide the eggs, she just acts as the carrier.

After plenty of blood tests and paperwork, both men provided sperm samples in order to have multiple embryos. When determining whose embryo would be transferred to the donor first, it was clear to Scotty that Rob had been waiting a long time to have a child. “I’m going to love our kid the same, it doesn’t matter, it’s the same. We’ve talked about having them one year a part.”

Rob and Scotty 2

Scotty fills out paperwork before one of their appointments with Doctor Aimee.

Rob and Scotty seem to have it all strategically planned out but they still have some concern for what the future might hold. They’re cautiously optimistic about their future children and take everything one step at a time.

“We don’t tell anybody where we are in the process. My parents are both passed but my sister knew we wanted kids.” Rob explains that it is difficult to update friends, Facebook acquaintances and everyone else on their quest to have a baby when their situation is so precarious. “It sucks but it sucks more when you have to start telling the world, ‘Oh yeah, that didn’t happen.’”

When it comes to Scotty’s family, things are a bit more difficult. His family isn’t even aware that they are trying and according to Rob, “We don’t know how she’s [Scotty’s mom] going to react either because of their Latin culture and he was brought up Mormon but his mom does accept me, she likes me.”

Scotty knows that he’s going to wait a bit to tell his family when the time comes. “I mean, my siblings know that I want to be a parent one day but like he said, they don’t even know where we are in that process.”

Rob and Scotty planted a tree on the day their embryos were created.

Rob and Scotty planted a tree on the day their embryos were created.

Despite the caution and waiting, Scotty already knows how he would tell his family of the news. He plans on testing out the news with his siblings while out to dinner, featuring an ultrasound image. After that, he’ll tell his parents. I want to have them come over for dinner. I want to make food that I cooked with my mom and my dad that they taught me. I could tell them ‘Hey you guys passed this down to me and I know how to cook this and that.’” Scotty’s idea is that he would pass those traditions on to his own children in order to honor his parents.

To some, it may seem like a lot of planning and strategy to tell the family something so exciting. For Rob and Scotty, it’s everything. They know that their situation isn’t necessarily traditional and that is why they exercise so much caution when it comes to the subject of growing their family. They’ve had some success but endured quite a bit of pain along the way and it is difficult to take a step back and admit that things didn’t work out.

It’s been a long road for Rob and Scotty–an even longer one for Rob. For now, they’ll continue to document their journey and share their story with others who are experiencing the same struggle. Rob excitedly showed Maria and Elizabeth some photos of their experience. As he flipped through the images, he explained each detail. “So this is in the car before we left to go do the egg donation. That’s Starbucks when we got the newspaper and then driving there. This is outside there. This is where the donation is. And then this is in the lobby area.”

Rob and Scotty 3

A cute little stress reliever while driving to an appointment.

The two are still working on the process and hope that something good will happen soon. Although it’s difficult to always be patient, they’re working toward their goal and they’ll remember every step of the way, thanks to modern technology. Hopefully one day, they’ll be able to share their pictures with their kids and enlighten other LGBT families with their experience. We here at ART of Infertility wish them all the best.