“A Map to Us” – Stephanie McGregor

Today’s guest blog post is from Stephanie McGregor, a Canadian teacher and artist. Read her story and how she is using her art to help her deal with infertility.

blogpost6 My name is Stephanie McGregor. I’m an artist/teacher and have been struggling with infertility for two and a half years now. Until several months ago, my husband I kept quiet with our struggles, until I did a blog post called “The Monkey in the Room”. You can follow this link if you’d like to read it:

http://www.stephaniemcgregor.ca/blog-montauk/2016/1/3/the-year-of-2016

I knew that I wanted to start a project that I could turn to whenever I feel sad about not yet having a baby.

I bought a very large, blank canvas and hung it up in the room that I hope will one day be a nursery. It sat, white and untouched for a while, until an intriguing thought began to unfold.

I could make a map!

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A piece of Stephanie’s art work.

As  I started sketching out places that are important to me, a little story started forming and it speaks of all the places that our “lost” child can find us.

At first I began painting our little cedar bungalow and my childhood home (which is actually next door!) I added depth with colour of the trees and wildlife wandering across the canvas. Then, the memories started to come trickling in. Like the way my three sisters and I would run after my dad as he mowed the lawn and the pool parties we once had. My childhood dog still scouts around, a protective light glowing.  Our lost pink paddle boat chugs down the river, leading to the cottage where we spent every summer. The more I continue to work on this painting, the more saturated with memories my “map” will become.

As I’m painting, I also think of my mom and dad’s struggles. They tried for seven years to have children. Eventually, they had in vitro fertilization, which was successful and they had three five pound baby girls (including me). My younger sister came 15 months later, an unexpected, wonderful surprise!

A McGregor family portrait

A McGregor family portrait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cannot express how wonderful my childhood was and this is what I focus on as I’m painting. All I want is the chance to have a family of my own to create new memories with. I plead with my future child, saying that here there are:

Adventures unnamed

Creatures to befriend

Discoveries undiscovered

And possibilities to pretend….

 If only he/she could find us!

Some days I am feeling so overwhelmed with emotion that I aimlessly wander over the canvas, dabbing paint with no direction. What am I doing this for?

I’m sure anyone going through infertility can relate to some of these feelings.

Other days I feel hot anger and will brush an orange red sunset across the canvas. What is wrong with me?

 A lot of times, as if in meditation, I spread translucent layers of blue to form soft waves. I can accept this path I’m on. Then again, once in a blue moon, I feel hideous green envy. Why her and not me? I allow myself to paint without worry of ruining this piece.

Other times, I focus my attention to one small part of the map and then revel in the feeling of creating something beautiful. This feeling anchors me.

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Other days, I simply sink to floor, my worries weighing heavy and crowding my mind. It sometimes strikes me that this room is supposed to be a nursery, but it is filled with only paintings. I am hit again by fact that besides a paintbrush, my arms are empty.  The fact that I so badly want to make new memories with a family of my own and I don’t know when that will happen.  It’s been two and half years and how much longer do I have to go? Why does it feel so lonely? Does anyone really understand how I feel?

I am also struck by how this journey has changed me. I find that I’ve put myself at a distance from friends and family. I’m afraid to dream too big or wish too much.  Instead of bounding carefree down the road, I step cautiously, looking out for rain. I wonder where this road is going.

But then I glance up and I see what I am in the process of creating. This map is part of my story, one that I can share with my future child.  It really is beautiful. At the end of my story, I wrote to my little lost one:

I can’t map out a life for you that:

Leads you always the scenic route

Away from sadness and pain

I can’t promise you won’t have to walk

Through the dark forest even for a little while

 The very least I can do

Is make this Map to Us

And hope, wait, and dream

That it finds its way to you.

 So I stand up and keep on painting my map. I don’t know exactly where my road to becoming a mom is going yet, but I still have a lot of hope.

I have a few suggestions for anyone who is looking for a project to work on. Why not think of something big that will take a while for you to work on? You can plan out your idea and then whenever you feel like you just need to take your mind off of what you are going through, you can do a small part and not have to think about it very much.

I wish you well on your journey!

To read more about Stephanie’s story and to see more of her artwork, visit her website at; www.stephaniemcgregor.ca

 

 

The Intern’s Perspective

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Hello all, you don’t know me but I hope by the end of the year you will. My name is Jalen Smith, I will be working with Maria and Elizabeth this year as their Social Media and Communication Intern for The ART of Infertility. I am currently an undergraduate senior studying journalism at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan where I will graduate in May 2017. I come into this internship with a vast array of experience in communication/writing related positions. Here at MSU, I have worked with various campus media outlets including VOICE Magazine as their Vice President and Content Editor and The Black Sheep where I work currently as a Staff Writer. In addition to my experience in the media, I am also a member of the living learning community RISE (Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment) program where I served as a peer mentor and working towards a minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies in addition to my major. I am originally from Detroit, Michigan where I attended the award winning Cass Technical High School and served as a Public Affairs/Communication Officer for their Junior ROTC program

Enough about me though, I am super excited to be working with the project this year. This past weekend, I had my very first opportunity to see some of the artwork in person and truly get a feel of what this organization’s message is. The event took place at REACH Art Studio in Lansing, Michigan about a 10 minute drive from East Lansing. At first glance, the artwork was a lot to take in, I needed a moment of retreat to take in the context of the art I was seeing.

One of the many new pieces on display from Art of Infertility at the exhibit.

One of the many new pieces on display from Art of Infertility at the exhibit.

Having said that, the art was engaging, it was powerful and it was compelling. I particularly enjoyed certain key pieces that included Elizabeth’s own piece titled, “Crib with Medication Boxes.” It really spoke to me, the amount of trial and tribulations this disease has caused so many. It made me think about the families, the mothers, the fathers, that were heartbroken, made to feel “less than” because of their inability to conceive. It made me think about some of the small things in life some of us take for granted. “What comes easy for some does not come easy for others.”  A lesson in the realities of infertility for millions across this nation and quite frankly, across this planet was a hard pill to swallow. The art exhibit also had lots of other interesting pieces from many other artists and had a thought provoking outlook in the sector of cultural rhetorics.

Elizabeth Walker's piece titled, "Crib with Medication Boxes" Was one of the many featured in the show from Art of Infertility.

Elizabeth Walker’s piece titled, “Crib with Medication Boxes” Was one of the many featured in the show from ART of Infertility.

The concepts in which these rhetorics exist for me is still a confusing concept to grasp luckily Maria will be able to coach me through them this year. There are several different themes associated with the rhetorics of this event. For the Art of Infertility most of the artwork exist in three of those categories: activism, body, and unity. Activism is something that for me stands out as a core theme of this organization. The ability to spread awareness, start conversation and engage and bring together people of different backgrounds to discuss an issue that has long lasting physical, mental and emotional trauma. I’m so thankful that I have been given the opportunity to work with this team this year. To help create engaging content that will allow the voices of the voiceless to be heard. Looking forward to an academic year of purpose! Until next time! Hello again!

Maria Novotny and I discussing other artist's pieces during our visit to REACH Art Studio.

Maria Novotny and me discussing other artist’s pieces during our visit to REACH Studio Art Center.

Nature, Nurture and storytelling through the art of Jen Burdess

Awhile back, Maria and I came across a news story about an infertility art exhibit, One in Eight, that ran at the Ice Cube Gallery in Denver during National Infertility Awareness Week this year. So, naturally we had to reach out to the artists, Jen Burdess and Anne Hallam. We’re happy that Jen is our guest blogger today! Below, she shares how and why she created her artwork and what the experience of sharing it with others has been like for her. Thank you, Jen, for sharing your story!
-Elizabeth

A detail image of Nature, Nurture, by Jen Burdess. The piece was on display in the exhibit, One in Eight, in Denver in April and May, 2016.

A detail image of Nature, Nurture, by Jen Burdess. The piece was on display in the exhibit, One in Eight, in Denver in April and May, 2016.

The inspiration for Nature, Nurture came from the implications of the medical diagnosis of infertility I received three years ago. The diagnosis attacked my identity as a woman. In an effort to reconcile those feelings of loss, Nature, Nurture was created. Though my diagnosis will never change, this work has given me some sort of closure to a period in my life of uncertainty and anxiety. Nature, Nurture consists of three linoleum cuts that were inspired by the anatomy of the breast. They were then hand printed. Each lino cut was printed 136 times. This number corresponds to the rate of infertility in America. One in eight couples will suffer from infertility. 17 out the 136 prints is colored red to represent those with infertility. The lino cuts are printed on used breast pads. The breast pads were chosen as a representation of how far I have come. Without ART (assisted reproductive technology), I would not have had my beautiful son. It only seems right then to use art to record my journey.

The breast pads stretched over 30 feet of wall and was 12 feet high in some places. It was important to me that work was large. I wanted it feel large and imposing, something that could not be ignored. I chose to carve three different designs and printed each in their own color to represent that there isn’t just one cause of infertility or one type of person that it affects. There are many different reasons. Some women never find out the cause. I was diagnosed with stage IV endometriosis. Stage IV indicates that the endometriosis has affected your ovaries and has caused cysts on them. It had also ruined my Fallopian tubes and had caused adhesions and scarring throughout my pelvic cavity. While it was devastating to know the extent of the damage, it also gave me some closure. I had a very clear cut diagnosis. It was very cathartic to devote the time and patience it took to print over 400 breast pads. It was a meditative process and helped me to process the emotions that come along with the diagnosis of infertility.

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Nature, Nurture by Jen Burdess.

The response I received from the show was overwhelming. I wasn’t sure how everything was going to pan out. I knew I wanted to open up about my experience did not know what that really meant. How would I feel about talking with strangers about this? Could I handle criticism for my choices? I just wasn’t sure. We had a few events planned during the show. One was being part of a gallery tour. We had four groups of people cycle through the gallery. The gallery was split in two. My work on one side and some formalist artists on the other side. Their work was all about design and color. The contents couldn’t have been any more different. The tour groups went from chatty and happy to somber and silent as I started to tell my story. People thanked me for sharing something so personal and many women shared their stories with me. Simply by speaking up, perfect strangers told me their very personal stories of heartache and the many different ways they had built their families.

one in eight show

Sharing my story was difficult to do but every time I told it, it became a little easier. Infertility is a lonely place. It is very isolating. It calls into question your identity as a woman. From a young age girls play at being mothers. Society expects women to take up this role. Those who choose not to have children can be judged very harshly. Women becoming mothers is an ingrained expectation. That expectation, coupled with a desire to become a mother, is a heavy burden for those struggling with infertility.