Two College Students Connect Over IVF

by Kristen Mahan and Alaina Schepp

Kristen:

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

Kristen, left, and Alaina, right

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

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

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

Alaina:

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

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

Baby Alaina

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

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

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

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

Kristen:

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

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.