Why Share Your Infertility Story?

When do you make the decision “to come out” with your infertility?

This is a difficult and risky decision that is never made lightly.

Reflecting back on my own grappling with this question, it has dawned on me that while I feel rather “out” with my infertile identity — I am still forced to think about this question on a daily basis.

Maria Novotny sharing her story at the Examined Life Conference in Iowa City.

Maria Novotny sharing her story at the Examined Life Conference in Iowa City.

In fact, I continually find myself in new situations where I need to quickly assess if, how, and when I share with others my infertile identity.

Common examples include:
• A student of mine notices that I’m married and asks, “Ms. NJ, do you have any kids of your own?”
• When a new neighbor moves in down the street and comments, “We love the idea of raising a family in this neighborhood. Do you guys have any kids?”

Over the years, I have tried to be more honest when asked such questions and invite a conversation with others about the realities, struggles, and even funny moments one experiences with infertility. But it is still hard to wear my infertility on my sleeve.

This brings me to why I love #NIAW. This is a week where not only am I reminded that I am not alone in these experiences but that there is power in sharing your story. When we share our stories of infertility, we disrupt commonly held beliefs that it is easy to get pregnant, that women can always control their fertility, and that infertility impacts many, many lives.

When we share our infertility stories with others, we increase general awareness and better inform the greater population about the realities of (in)fertility. In coming together as a community and telling our stories, we break the bubble on many commonly held assumptions. We ask others to no longer:

• Assume that our degree of femininity can be measured by our fertility;
• Assume that infertility can always be fixed through medical treatments and/or adoption;
• Assume that infertility only effects women ages 35+;
• Assume that infertility is only a white, middle-class issue;
• And (most importantly) assume that the decision to share your story is not a ploy to elicit pity but a decision made because infertility is an identity you deeply live everyday.

Moreover, while telling our stories can be difficult, it can bring healing and even laughter. And we can tell our stories in many different forms – through poetry, artwork, even a conversation at the grocery store. That is the wonderful fact about stories, they are accessible and can be communicated and represented in many different forms.

Take the image generated below.


This is one of the many ways that I tell my infertility story. Playing with the genre of the pregnancy announcement, I disrupt commonly held expectations about my body and my marriage. The image is intended to trigger feelings of disorientation to those who do not live with infertility on a daily-basis. And what I love most about this image, is that not only does it generate a message but it elicits an emotional response. It stops people. It makes people rethink the impact a pregnancy or baby announcement may have on an infertile woman. In many ways, it invites those who aren’t infertile to experience the disorientation, silence, and sadness often accompanied with infertility.

And so, as #NIAW comes to a close, I invite you to ponder how your infertility story can contribute to spreading awareness to others about the realities of infertility. And even if you do not feel comfortable or able to share your story with others, I invite you to take a moment this week and try to create a piece of art, a line of poetry, or a even a short story that documents your own infertility journey. Infertility can often be described as hopeless, isolating, and frustrating – but in crafting your story you can also find moments of laughter and moments of personal growth. By representing and reflecting on your infertility story, I hope you may find a path to healing and most of all a path to laughter.

Kickstarter – Help us take the ART of IF to Washington, D.C.

As I began writing this, Maria was somewhere up in the sky or enjoying her layover in Minneapolis and I was about to board my flight to LAX. The past month has been a whirlwind prepping for our exhibit in Iowa City last weekend and Los Angeles County, this Saturday. I can only imagine that the next few weeks will fly by as well!

RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day is May 14th and Maria and I, along with Maria’s husband, Kevin, and my mother, Judy, will be on Capitol Hill in Washington, lobbying for legislation to help those with infertility build their families.

The ART of Infertility is heading to Washington, D.C. with a pop-up exhibit and workshops on May 15.

The ART of Infertility is heading to Washington, D.C. with a pop-up exhibit and workshops on May 15.

On Friday May 15th, we’re holding a pop-up art exhibit and writing and art workshops at Busboys and Poets at 5th and K in Washington, D.C. from 3 – 7 pm. The event is free and open to the public. We have artwork coming in from around the country (we’re still accepting art entries if you’d like yours included, click here.) and will be displaying local artwork, as well as a selection of the portraits and stories we’ve collected over the past year. Marissa McClure Sweeny will be teaching an art workshop and Jenny Rough, who you heard from on our blog yesterday, will lead a writing workshop. Registration is required for the workshops so please contact us if you’d like to attend. These community art events are powerful tools for raising awareness about infertility and building a network of support for those living with the disease.

The event in DC will be our 13th in a little over a year. (Is that possible? I had to check it 4 times to believe it was right!) We’ve been almost completely self-funded until very recently and, if the project is going to be sustainable and allow us to provide a creative outlet to more people in more cities, we know we can’t continue that trend. It’s been suggested by those who like what we are doing that we launch a Kickstarter campaign to allow people to easily contribute to the cause.

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A screen shot of the Kickstarter campaign we hope will help take the exhibit to Washington, D.C.

If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, here’s how it works. You have an opportunity to contribute to a project, in this case, our pop-up exhibit and workshops in D.C. and get a little something from the project in return.  We have some cool ART of IF swag featuring art from the project as rewards for contributing (ART of IF T-shirt, journal, or messenger bag, anyone?), as well as opportunities to get framed artwork from the show and a digital version of the exhibit we put together for D.C. We set a goal of $3500 and only receive money if our funding goal is reached. We don’t make it to $3500, we don’t get a thing. We only have 20 days to reach our goal! So, we’re asking for your help in funding this show in our nation’s capitol. Will you please join us in supporting the men and women with infertility in the DC area and those traveling in from around the country for Advocacy Day by contributing to our campaign? Here’s the link! ART of IF in DC Kickstarter Campaign.

Thank you!



What is Your First Fertile Memory?

Today’s guest blogger is Jenny Rough. We’ve gotten to know Jenny a bit while working on our upcoming workshops and pop-up exhibit in Washington, D.C. and are looking forward to meeting her there next month!


What is your first fertile memory?

A friend of mine asked me that question, and I spent a few moments in silence. I thought back as far as I could.



The day I stood among the sunflowers in a garden by the side of our house. The sunflowers had grown even taller than me, just as my mom had said they would when we planted the tiny seeds. I was four years old.

It’s fascinating to me to hear how others answer that same question. Last month, I asked the women in the Living Childfree support group I host through RESOLVE. One woman recalled a summer night and a backyard full of fireflies. Another woman remembered a hike through a rainforest. Her family was an “indoor” family, so every twist and turn on the adventure brought a new surprise and engaged her senses.

On May 15, when the ART of IF’s pop-up exhibit is in Washington, D.C., I’ll be holding a workshop on journaling your fertility journey. One of the writing exercises will be to spend five minutes writing about fertile memories.

How about you? What is your first fertile memory? Please email me at jenny.rough [at] jennyrough.com, or post a comment here and share. I’d love to hear about it!

Jenny Rough is a writer who lives in Alexandria, Virginia. Every summer, she hikes out the sunflower fields near her home. Visit her on the web at jennyrough.com.


Project Poetry – A visit with Tamsin

Back in December, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Tamsin in her home in Marin County, CA. The road to her house was a winding drive lined with moss covered trees. It had rained earlier and when I stepped out of my car to unload my camera equipment, I was overwhelmed with the warmth and humidity, the smell of the earth and the trees. It was a nice change from the bitter cold I had come from in Michigan.

Tamsin has been using poetry and photography to deal with some of the emotions surrounding her infertility and read a few of her poems for me. By the time she had finished the third, we were both overcome with emotion and the tissues had to be passed around. You can listen to the first poem she shared with me below, it’s titled, “Just Shut Up”.

Here’s some more of Tamsin’s story with portraits of her from our time together.



“I got pregnant on the honeymoon. So, right from as soon as the baby thing could possible have started it started. I’ve had two tubal pregnancies. It just makes what should be a really personal joyous time into something that’s more about doctors and scientists and labs and money and worry and so it’s not really as romantic a start to marriage as it could have been.”


“We don’t have insurance coverage for infertility. It’s added stress and guilt that my body is costing us so much money. We moved here with my husband’s work and I’m trying to get licensure as a marriage and family therapist so I’m doing unpaid hours at the moment. That’s a strain because we only have one income. That makes me feel bad that I’m 38 and not earning money. Then, on top of that, it’s my body that has the issues so that’s tens of thousands of dollars that we’re paying out. It just seems like my fault because my husband is working and his body is working as it should be. I feel like I take a lot of it on myself really.”


“This year I had a lot of time off work so I got my website up and running and did some photography and some poetry and just kind of surprised myself with all of the creativity that was coming out. My therapist kind of likened it to birthing my artistic self. It’s been quite a big thing. It’s been really helpful, I think. Even more so with the poetry. I’ve been writing not just about the infertility but stuff that’s happened in my life and my childhood and friends and I think it’s just brought up so much emotion that’s been cleared out that I didn’t even realize was there to be cleansed so that was really good.”


“We plan our lives so carefully but you can’t plan for this.”


Introducing the ART of IF Blog

One year ago, I was just two months out from learning my final embryo transfer was unsuccessful. The reality of that hadn’t yet sunk in. My husband, Scott, and I had been trying to conceive for five years and had endured five rounds of Clomid with timed intercourse, 4 inter-uterine inseminations with hybrid cycles of both pills and injectable medications, and one IVF cycle that resulted in internal bleeding, ovarian torsion and emergency surgery in the middle of the night. There were other surgeries along the way too. Surgery to look for Endometriosis, surgery to remove polyps, and one to remove the remnants of my only pregnancy; the twins I miscarried after our first embryo transfer. Our treatment journey was over. I was both relieved and panicked.

The first pieces of art work I made in response to my infertility, created while recovering from surgery #1.

The first pieces of art work I made in response to my infertility, while recovering from surgery #1.

At that same time, the ART of Infertility’s first exhibit was just a few weeks in to its run at the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, MI. I didn’t set out to do more than one exhibit. I wanted a way to raise awareness in my community and figured that sharing the artwork I’d been creating as a way to cope with my infertility diagnosis, along with the artwork and stories of others, would be a way to do so. Working on that show was therapeutic for me and it was amazing to see how participating in the show was so helpful for others as well. It gave us a voice, helped our friends and family understand our disease, and expanded our community. I decided I couldn’t just stop at my hometown and took the show on the road.

The opening reception for our first exhibit, The ART of IF: Navigating the Journey of Infertility at the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, MI,

The opening reception for our first exhibit, The ART of IF: Navigating the Journey of Infertility at the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, MI. Photo by Sarah Gough

In May, I traveled to RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day to lobby on Capitol Hill for legislation to help improve the lives of those with infertility. While I was there, I met Maria Novotny, who is a fellow RESOLVE Peer-led Support Group host on the west side of the state in Grand Rapids. Maria was interested in the project and it wasn’t long before she was a part of the team. With Maria’s help and tremendous help from my parents, my husband, my acupuncturist extraordinaire, Krissy Clark Rock, and other amazing volunteers and supporters, I’ve collected over 50 interviews over the past year and had exhibits on display in three states. We’ve held art, writing and informational workshops and assisted people in building their families by connecting them to people and resources who can help them. We’ve also built an amazing network by putting men and women in touch with others with similar diagnoses and in similar situations so they don’t feel so alone in their journeys.

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Kevin Jordan, Maria Novotny, Sarah Powell, and me at RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day, May 2014.

As much as we’ve been able to do in the past year, there’s so much more to be done. There are so many people who want to share their stories and, in an effort to help give a platform to those we can’t meet in person quite yet, we’re starting this blog. We’ll be sharing stories and artwork from the project and invite guest bloggers to share their own perspectives. As always, we invite you to share your stories through your artwork and writing, your interviews, and now, our blog.

Sorting exhibit labels in our Sacramento hotel room before the Northern California Walk of Hope.

Sorting exhibit labels in our Sacramento hotel room before the Northern California Walk of Hope.

Working on this project has been incredible. Hearing the stories of others and sharing mine has helped me process the grief of my infertility. I’ve met amazing individuals and families along the way and am constantly amazed and honored by the ways are willing to share their lives with me, and in turn with you. This journey is just beginning. I’m so very excited to see what the future holds.

On a hike with project participant, Bee, in San Rafael, CA.

On a hike with project participant, Bee, in San Rafael, CA.