From Infertility to Fatherhood – My Journey So Far

This week’s blog is a guest post by Fred Harlan. We want to disclose a trigger warning, which is something we will do from here on out when we feel it’s needed, that this post does include images of a baby and of parenting. Fred and his wife Andrea are ART of Infertility project participants who we met in Southern California. They shared their story with us via an interview and also attended our pop-up art exhibit and workshops in Calabasas during National Infertility Awareness Week this year. Thanks, Fred, for sharing your family’s story!

From Infertility to Fatherhood – My Journey So Far

I am going to tell you something that I always hated to hear. At least, I used to at a point in time in my life. My wife and I were far along down that lonely path we were traveling in the midst of our infertility journey. The meandering road had become increasingly dark and dank. It was becoming more apparent that the chances of a successful IVF cycle using my wife’s eggs and my sperm was unlikely. Some people in our lives would say the obvious thought to them, and insensitive comment to us, that we could “always adopt.” Even the medical and therapeutic people that we sought out had begun to talk to us about “other options” to parenthood. I simply wasn’t ready to hear it, let alone think about it.

As time passed reality crept in. After many failed procedures, buckets of tears and a ton of soul searching, my wife and I eventually came to the realization that some how, some way, we really wanted to have a child. In order to make that happen we slowly began to look into other possible options. Now, after eight plus years of infertility and 10 months of fatherhood what I want to tell you is this: regardless of how long you have been battling or the reasons for your infertility, that if you are resolved in your desire to have a child no matter what, my message of hope is that there is a way. It may not be the way to parenthood that you envisioned but there are paths that can take you there. Not all roads are available to everyone for various reasons – emotional, cultural, religious or financial. But I know there is a potential path(s) available to everyone. You just have to be in a place along your own journey to be open to consider other possibilities.


Fred and Andrea during their ART of IF photo session.

Ten months ago my son, Gehrig, came into our lives. He was born of my wife’s womb, my sperm and a donor’s egg. Being his father is a joy that is incomparable to any other, a reality that I still almost cannot believe and an opportunity, considering the circumstances, which I long thought I never would consider. Like I was saying, my wife and I decided that parenthood was what we definitely wanted. However, with each failed IVF cycle the medical opinion increasing appeared evident that the quality of my wife’s eggs was our challenge. Knowing my wife’s heartache and my wanting to always tackle infertility as a team, I suggested to my wife that our future child should be either “both of ours or neither of ours” genetically.  Honestly, I couldn’t imagine how I would feel had the circumstances been that of our future child being biologically hers and not mine, so I didn’t want her to have to imagine it either.

Egg donation seemed so unnatural, so complicated and so not us. We didn’t want to be “one of those couples.” Besides, there were so many questions that came along with egg donation. Would my wife be able to completely accept and love a child that was not biologically her own? Would the donor want to be a part of his and our life? What if he doesn’t look like us, and then what would we say when asked, “whom does he look like?” What would we tell family and friends? And what if years down the road our son had a health issue and would benefit from knowing detailed medical history? And the really big question: what would we tell our son? Although we knew several people who had chosen the egg donor route and were very happy with their choice, it just didn’t feel like the right option for us. So we closed the door on this alternative and proceeded in educating ourselves on the different avenues of adoption, including that of embryo adoption. During this time my wife realized that the concept of being pregnant and carrying a child was extremely important to her, especially considering her doctors believed she would be able to carry a child. So it appeared that embryo adoption was the answer that life was steering us toward. At least that is what we thought until a comedy of errors (a story for another day) resulted in my wife’s sister volunteering to be a surrogate or give us her eggs or whatever we needed, led us to think about egg donation one more time. It was during this period that I realized that having a child who was biologically mine was more important than I had allowed myself to think. Another series of events led us to our eventual donor (another story for another day) and the rest as they say is history.

Looking back on everything we went through I have one more thing to say that someone struggling with infertility may not want to hear either, and I understand why – I was in your shoes. But now I need to say it, I have to say it, because it is my truth. I would not change a thing. At least not if it meant I wouldn’t have Gehrig today. If you told me ten years ago, “Fred, I have good news for you and I have bad news. The bad news is that you are going to go to hell and back again and again and again in your attempt to become a father. You are going to doubt yourself as a man, a person and as a husband. You and your wife are going to go through heartbreak after heartache, and you are going to have to be the rock that supports your wife all while you can barely stand on your own. You will doubt your dreams, your wife, your faith and life itself. You will sit in the depths of despair that appear to have no escape, no hope and no resolve. However, at the end you will be given an amazing little boy to love!” Knowing everything that I know today, I would sign up for that in a New York minute.

We have all heard some variation of the motivational phrase, “Life is not a destination, it’s a journey.” I always wanted to believe that was true but some how never found a way to make it work in my life. Stress and frustration seemed to win out more than I would have liked. Then one afternoon, after my wife and I participated in a vision board workshop – an activity hosted and encouraged by our infertility counselor – in order to assist us in visualizing the life for which we hoped, I realized my board was not complete. I had one picture with a saying to represent my life’s journey that simply was not ringing true for me. In fact, it was pretty lame. So decided to scour the Internet for an image that would adequately represent my life’s road. Beaches speak to me and as I scanned many coastal images I came across one. As soon as I saw it I know my vision board was complete. It was the picture of foam-crested waves gently meeting the sand in which were inscribed the following words: “The journey is the reward.” That rephrasing of all those old Successories/Sky Mall posters spoke to me differently somehow. I didn’t know it exactly at the time, but now I do. And as I look at that photo posted on my desk as I type, I can say that my journey is indeed my reward.

Fred shares a vision board that his wife, Andrea, made during their journey at the ART of IF pop up exhibit and workshops in Calabasas, CA during National Infertility Awareness Week in 2015. Photo by Chrystal Starr Photography.

Fred shares a vision board that his wife, Andrea, made during their journey at the ART of IF pop up exhibit and workshops in Calabasas, CA during National Infertility Awareness Week in 2015. Photo by Chrystal Starr Photography.

I often speak about infertility as a journey. Each couple, each person who is faced with the disease goes through similar experiences and yet at the same time a journey all her or his own. I did not realize it as I was going through it – how could I, it was just too emotional, too raw – but in retrospect, I realize that I was being prepared for what life had in store for me – not just to be a father, but to be a father to this little boy, here and now. I have always wanted to be a dad, and had I become one earlier in life I’m sure that I would have relished it and been a good one. However, becoming a parent at this point in my life I know that I am so much better prepared for fatherhood than I would have as a younger man. I am more grounded, more secure emotionally and less anxious. I am not missing as much time with Gehrig as I am sure that I would have years ago while building a previous business. I am home more and with Gehrig frequently despite building a new practice. I’m often the lone dad in the “Mommy and Me” new parent classes.

The dad I am today is not solely because of the length of time it took to become one, but also as a direct result from my infertility journey. For example, I am more patient and flexible than I used to be. This is a benefit to Gehrig but also to Andrea as we parent him together. Also, the perfectionist that I am has been able to let go of having to do things in a specific “right” way and being tied to specific outcomes. When Gehrig didn’t nurse right away I didn’t panic (don’t ask me about my wife), rather we sought help. He turned into a nursing machine. When Gehrig didn’t crawl when he should have we enjoyed what he was doing (rolling everywhere) and asked for advice. Now Gehrig is on the move. Had I been a parent years ago I would have been looking at the situation thinking: “what is wrong with my kid!”

Once we found out that Andrea’s pregnancy was viable I made up my mind that I would “take it all” – I would change every dirty diaper, listen to every cry, dry every tear and wipe up every spit up with a smile on my face. I laugh when I fly Gehrig over my head like Superman and he drools on my shirt, my glasses or even my mouth. I do not care. No, that is not true – actually I care a lot, in fact I love it. He is my son and I waited too long and tried too hard to have him to not enjoy every moment. And I have learned that some of the best moments are the simplest, such as at the end of the day when I am rocking him to sleep. His head lays on my shoulder and has he surrenders to sleep his neck gives way to the weight of his head which nestles into the nape of my neck. I continue to rock him for another ten minutes or so to ensure he is asleep, but mostly because that time is priceless to me. Each and every night I think to myself how life prepared me those moments, and I’m so grateful that I’m not missing a second of it by simply hurrying to get my son to bed.

Fred, Gehrig, and Andrea during their ART of IF photo session.

Fred, Gehrig, and Andrea during their ART of IF photo session.


You may be saying, “well, that is great for you Fred, you are one of the lucky ones, you were able to have a biological child. What about your wife? What about all the people who are not able to have a biological child?” My response is this: those are fair questions and it is reasonable to ask them. It is important to note that during the process of choosing egg donation, I grieved significantly for the child that I always thought Andrea and I would have together. In the end perhaps I am lucky – I am definitely fortunate – or perhaps we made our own luck to opening ourselves up to other possibilities to parenthood. This is not a commercial for egg donation or parenthood, rather it is intended to inspire hope in infertile couples who have definitely decided or are at least thinking they still want to be parents some how, some way. And as for my wife, she feels pretty fortunate herself. She will tell you, what I will tell you, that Gehrig is 100% hers. She carried him in her womb, feeds him from her breast and is a completely devoted mother in raising him and that is what is important to her. Likewise, I know many people who have adopted newborns, babies, children and even embryos, and all without fail will tell you that their child is indeed their child and was from the moment that child entered their lives. At the end of the day it is the emotional bond that matters, not the means by which the child arrived in your life.


I wholeheartedly believe that Andrea and I were meant to be parents, and once we figured out that part, life opened new opportunities for us to become so. I also believe that my son was meant to be and meant to be in our lives at this moment in time. He didn’t come to us the way we thought he would, but that no longer is a concern. Years ago it was difficult to think about, let alone see, that life’s journey was preparing me, actually all three of us, not for the live we envisioned, but the life we were meant to live.1 That’s my journey – so far.

1A variation of a quote by Joseph Campbell.

Fred Harlan, MA2 is a resourceful Marriage and Family Therapist Intern who works with couples and individuals on relationship issues, and men and couples coping with infertility (theirs or their partner’s). Fred holds Master’s Degrees in Clinical Psychology and Speech Communication.

Pope Francis, The Catholic Church & Infertility: An honest account of one woman’s Catholic confessions after facing infertility

Our blog this week features thoughts on faith and infertility in light of Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. The author has requested to post it anonymously, which I point out to remind you that you always have an option to participate in the project without your name and/or face attached. Different people have different comfort levels with being public about their disease at various stages of the journey, and we believe that’s important to honor and respect that. It’s also an important piece in educating other about the effects of the disease and, how some are an open book, while others never tell anyone they have an infertility diagnosis. Thank you, anonymous poster, for sharing your story!


Pope Francis, The Catholic Church & Infertility: An honest account of one woman’s Catholic confessions after facing infertility

I’ve grown up my entire life as a Catholic. I was sent to Catholic elementary school, high school and college. My parents took my family to weekly, sometimes daily Catholic mass. I remember the names of several nuns who taught me how to read. I received all of my sacraments (well – all except my last rites). Jesuit priests were (and still are) frequent visitors at my parent’s home. I even met my husband at a fall dance at the all-boys Catholic high school. We got married (in a Catholic Church) right out of college – ready, willing and wanting to start a family as soon as possible. So when we began to realize that we were having trouble conceiving, we immediately looked to the Catholic Church to help us through. We sought comfort at mass. We prayed daily novenas. We prayed to Saint Gerard, the patron saint of motherhood. We even reached out to our local parish to see if they could provide us with any resources or support to help us our infertility.


But sadly, as we continued to look to the Church to help us through our journey, we continued to feel more and more displaced from that community which first brought us and our desire for a family together. Attending mass felt more like a deep wound than a source of actual solace. At weekly mass we normally found ourselves witnessing an infant’s baptism or sitting directly behind a large young family. These constant reminders of family life at mass, left us leaving mass more angry and alone than peaceful and with community. We continued to talk about this throughout the next couple of years – struggling to cope with the Catholic Church’s privileging of families in the midst of us struggling, often silently, because there is not an outlet to talk about infertility in the Church.

This struggle with our identity as childless, infertile couple in the Church has increasingly re-entered my consciousness as American Catholics prepare to welcome Pope Francis. Many in the Church – and even those outside of the Church – praise Pope Francis as the “people’s pope” actively reaching out to the marginalized and recognizing the humanity in each individual. As he prepares for The World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, I hope that he considers the word family – I hope he ponders how that word has several meanings, several connotations – especially for the young Catholic couples who are having difficulty conceiving.


I should note at this point that the Catholic Church has come out and has stated that  “family” can include many different identities – single parents, divorcees, even those who never married. However, not explicitly mentioned are those who are infertile. My wish, my hope for Pope Francis as he meets American families is to think about the ways in which the Church continues to ignore those who are infertile. Those who deeply desire a child, a desire rooted in Catholic teaching – but who cannot naturally conceive.

What I hope that does not happen is that Pope Francis suggests how infertile couples can parent in “alternative” ways – as aunts and uncles or through religious mentorship. Yes, these are all ways to find a version of parenting in the everyday. But it does not resolve the reality that my husband and I continue to feel “othered” at mass and continue to feel a deep void in being unable to conceive our own child, our own family.

Further, it should be noted, that some reading this piece may assume that adoption is well-suited alternative to resolving this deep desire. Historically, organizations like Catholic Charities have been great allies in assisting couples to achieve family-building. Yet, today, the reality is that adoption is simply not as common nor as successful as it once was. No longer can a couple simply walk into a place like Catholic Charities, express a desire to adopt, and walk out with a child in their hands. This is a reality that the Catholic Church should begin to recognize and discuss during The World Meeting of Families.


I end this reflection then with a prayer. Pope Francis, I ask that as you prepare to discuss issues of concern to families across the world to remember those who cannot have a family easily. Pray that they may be able to find strength in the many other God has given them and that they may reach out and share their stories of struggling to have a family with all those who fail to understand the physical and emotional pain of infertility. Pray that the Catholic Church may better serve those who are infertile. In this I pray. Amen.

Infertility is…How I’ve Met Some of My Favorite People.

At the RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association Tri-State Walk of Hope last weekend in New Jersey, we brought out our “Infertility is…” cards again and asked those in attendance to share their thoughts. When I was looking through them this week, the first thing that popped into my head about my own experience with Infertility is how it’s brought so many amazing people into my life. We had a chance, after corresponding via phone and email with them over the past year or so, to finally meet some of those amazing people in person at the Walk.

infertility is robin and rosa

There are too many to count, and I don’t get to keep in touch with most as often as I would like. However, each of the people I have met along this journey mean so much to me. There are those who share their stories with the project, reminding me that I’m not alone in my journey.  There are late night exchanges of advice with support group friends via Facebook messenger and emails from people around the world sharing art they have created during their infertility journeys. There are the doctors and other infertility professionals who have opened their doors to us to learn more about the project and those sharing their time and talents with the ART of Infertility community by presenting art and writing workshops. I’ve found an amazing network of incredible people, passionate about their desires to build their families, and passionate about helping others do the same.

infertility is an inaccurate label for the journey

So, this week, I’m sharing some of the new cards from the walk with you and asking you, my infertility friends, to share with us what “Infertility is” to you. What makes the experience so hard? What are the silver linings? Is there anything surprising that has come out of your experience? One of my favorite, surprising, outcomes of the ART of Infertility project is having the opportunity to connect the friends I meet along the way to each other so they can build a bigger network of support.

infertility is exhausting

Is there anything else you feel you need extra help with or support for that we could help you with? Are there things you would like to see ART of Infertility offer that we don’t currently? We’d love to hear from you, our friends in infertility and art!

infertility is humling


My Infertility Wardrobe – Reflections from Elizabeth

My mother once told me that she was so excited when she was pregnant with me, in part, because it meant she got to buy new clothes. Her budget for clothing was tight but a changing body meant she’d have no choice but to expand her wardrobe. My relationship with clothing and fertility has been a little more complicated.

I knew, long before I started trying to conceive, or received my diagnosis of Luteal Phase Defect, Endometriosis, and Diminished Ovarian Reserve, that when I got pregnant, I was going to show off my growing belly. No flowing tops with empire-waists for me! I was going to wear form fitting dresses, showing off every curve.

Once I went off birth control, I was reluctant to buy new clothes. It was only a matter of time before I wouldn’t be able to fit into them, right? I needed to save my money for trips to Motherhood Maternity and shopping A Pea in the Pod, and the maternity line of stores like GAP online.

Months turned to years and my clothes were getting tattered and faded. It was a stand off of sorts. I refused to give in and buy something new. Eventually, just after beginning a treatment course of inter-uterine inseminations with a hybrid of oral and injectable hormones, I needed a new winter coat.

My mother-in-law, Beverly, and I took a trip to TJ Maxx on a Saturday afternoon. I picked out two. One was Calvin Klein. Long, black, full of down, with faux fur framing my face on the detachable hood. The other, an Anne Klein of bright red wool. Beverly, an excellent shopping partner because of her excitability over a fantastic find, gushed about how cute it was and asked, “Oh! Don’t you hope you don’t get pregnant right away so you can wear it a little while?”

I didn’t care. The coat would fit after my pregnancy, or it wouldn’t, but at least I’d have a baby in my arms.

In the red coat, surrounded by children on a hay ride on our friends' family farm.

In the red coat, surrounded by children on a hay ride on our friends’ family farm.

Around that time, I decided to readjust my perspective and started using clothes as my consolation prize for not being pregnant each month. With the arrival of each new cycle, the sure sign that treatment had once again been unsuccessful and the prospect of having to buy maternity clothes was delayed for another month, I would head off to the Limited, or scour the racks at Marshall’s after appointments with the reproductive endocrinologist. I bought sweaters, camisoles, tops, but never bottoms, still holding on to the possibility that it wouldn’t be long before I was pregnant and I would have difficulty zipping and buttoning them.

My dresser drawers started overflowing and I had no choice but to start moving clothes into the dresser in the guest room that was supposed to become a nursery.

At Advocacy Day in 2014 wearing clothes purchased specifically for the occasion.

At Advocacy Day in 2014 wearing clothes purchased specifically for the occasion.

In March of 2013, we moved on to IVF. I had originally hoped to do it in February, just before 35th birthday. I liked the idea of using 34 year-old eggs to create my embryos. Everyone knows things go downhill after 35, right? Unfortunately, since I now live in the world of infertility, I know that things can go downhill at any age.

Our IVF cycle resulted in three, grade 5AA blastocysts. They were high quality, hatched, and ready to implant and become my children. They were beautiful. We transferred two in May and waited to find out if they’d implanted meaning that I was finally, after four years of dealing with infertility, pregnant.

On the night before my beta, after we’d had dinner and I’d taken the dog for a walk, I tested. I seriously wasn’t expecting anything. The words, “It’s negative” were already coming out of my mouth when I realize it wasn’t. Positive. The line wasn’t very dark but it was there. My husband and I were all smiles and I made some comment about being his pregnant wife. Still, we were cautiously optimistic. We knew the blood test the next day would give us a better indication of what to expect.

The next morning, I saw a rainbow on my way to have my blood drawn. That had to be a good sign. The nurse called with my numbers a bit later. At 30, they weren’t where I wanted to be but I was indeed pregnant.  Suddenly, I didn’t hate the pregnant women I passed in the hall at work. I was one of them. It was exciting but also a complete identity crisis. I was fully immersed in the infertility world at that point and the thought of switching gears and becoming a parent were daunting. Still, I smiled when I thought of raising my child alongside my best friend’s daughter who would be just a bit older. Summers at the lake, sleepovers. After years of being left behind by friends as they moved into parenthood, I’d finally be moving forward and joining them.

On the day of beta number two, my mom and I were shopping in Metro Detroit. I needed some summer clothes and took care to choose items that, as my mother-in-law had said about the red coat, I’d be able to wear a little while. At Nordstrom, I fell in love with a light-weight tweed skirt that, unfortunately for me, a newly pregnant woman, fit perfectly. There was no give, meaning it wouldn’t fit long enough to make it to the “yes” hook in my fitting room.

I paid for my items, we had some lunch, and made our way to an antique store. It was in the parking lot there that I got the news. My beta had gone down. The pregnancy was not viable. I emailed my husband the message, “No more shots.”

I thought I could hold it together but I couldn’t, we hit the highway to head back to the hotel. All I could think was, “I should have bought the skirt”, like doing so would have guaranteed that my pregnancy would have continued. For a moment I panicked and my mom and I considered turning around and going back to Nordstrom. We didn’t.

With my husband on our "IVF didn't work so we're taking a vacation" trip. I bought the hat at the resort gift shop after forgetting mine at home.

With my husband on our “IVF didn’t work so we’re taking a vacation” trip. I bought the hat at the resort gift shop after forgetting mine at home.

After my early miscarriage, that skirt haunted me. I looked for it on repeat trips to the mall and it wasn’t there. Months passed and my husband, Beverly, and I were visiting my nieces in Minnesota for their birthdays. We’d been at the Mall of America for hours with a trip to the aquarium, amusement park, the movie theater, and more. The girls were anxious to get back to the hotel to play with their new birthday toys but I wanted to try to take advantage of Minnesota’s tax-free clothing. I said good bye and I’ll see you soon as the rest of my family boarded the elevator to find the shuttle back to our room. I didn’t have much time, but I headed into Nordstrom Rack.

There it was. The skirt. I needed some closure. I took it to the fitting room, this skirt that I hadn’t been able to get out of my mind since the day of my miscarriage. The skirt that I passed up because I was pregnant, then wasn’t. My heart was racing as I put it on and zipped it up. I looked at myself in the mirror and was surprised to see that it wasn’t as fantastic as I had remembered. Relief rushed over me.

Since then, we unsuccessfully transferred our last embryo. We’ve moved on to trying to regroup. To find ourselves after more than half a decade of the turmoil that comes along with an infertility diagnosis. In addition to regular therapy, I’ve indulged in a little too much retail therapy.  My recent splurge (a great deal at Nordstrom Rack, yet still not cheap), a Burberry dress. Not because it’s Burberry but because the fabric feels amazing and it’s in a style that I’ve always wanted, but I’ve never before been able to find in proportions that fit me right. It’s hanging in my closet, with the tags still on. I go back and forth between thinking I should return it and imagining myself wearing it to present about the ART of Infertility at an upcoming medical humanities conference.

The Burberry dress. It's nowhere near that short on me!

The Burberry dress. It’s nowhere near that short on me!

Click here to vote on whether I should return or keep the dress.

I’m not yet sure if my journey will take me to a life living child free or to parenthood. I imagine both scenarios and there’s a wardrobe that goes along with each. In one, there’s shopping without the worry of my newly purchased pants suddenly not fitting, neatly folding clothes and then doing my best to cram them into already over-filled suitcases for more travel with ART of IF, carefully chosen outfits for business meetings, a variety of shoes, belts, and jewelry for accessorizing.

In the other, there are also the shoulders of my sweaters soaked with baby drool, the hem of my skirt being tugged by the tiny hand of a son or daughter, urging my attention to his or her level. There’s me in the stands at a ball game in the rain, wearing a wind resistant parka and, eventually, a trip to a boutique to purchase a mother-of-the-bride, or groom, dress.

I don’t imagine that one wardrobe is better than the other. I believe I can be happy wearing either one. But will one make me happier? Feel more fulfilled? More at peace? I’m not sure yet. So, I’ll take this time to work on re-weaving the fabric of my life that’s been worn thin over the past six and a half years, hoping that I’ll eventually know how to cut it up and stitch it back together into something beautiful and new.

I’m NOT an Artist: A Video Blog from Maria

Maria and I attended the Examined Life Conference at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in April of this year and were invited to have some work from ART of IF on display there. It was an inspiring few days and, on the drive home to Michigan, we had the idea to put together some art packs that we could hand out at Advocacy Day.  We figured if people had all the supplies they needed to create a piece around their experience with infertility, it would make it easy for them. We loaded envelopes with a mini canvas, paint, mod lodge, feathers, beads, anatomical drawings and more.

However, while everyone was very excited to receive their packs, it’s been a few months and we haven’t seen too many creations in our mailbox. We understand the process of creating art can be daunting, even when you have supplies on hand. It’s something that Maria has been struggling with and wanted to share her thoughts about here. Hopefully her words will resonate with those of you who still have art packs sitting around and explain how, even if you’re not feeling very artsy, the process of creating can still be beneficial in your journey. Click on the link below the picture to view the video that Maria has created.


Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 9.15.52 AM

I’m NOT an Artist