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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
The ART of Infertility’s mission is to break the silence around the experiences of infertility, offering art and storytelling as therapeutic heuristics to capture and express the realities, pains, and joys of the experiences of infertility. This project recognizes the diverse voices and perspectives that represent infertility — ranging from those in a heterosexual relationship who receive an infertility diagnosis upon trying to conceive, those who identify as single-mothers-by-choice and undergoing fertility treatment to become pregnant, even those who identify as LGBTQ and encounter many of the same infertility decisions. In this way, the project attempts to speak back to dominant perceptions and assumptions of who is infertile. Our goal in doing so is to broaden the public’s understandings of infertility, making the claim that infertility impacts far more than just the older heterosexual couple attempting to conceive.
We understand in articulating such a mission that we may offend some in the infertility community. Our intention in adopting such a mission is not to offend and create divisions amongst the infertility community. Instead, we aspire to bridge the multiple and diverse experiences of those who face decisions of infertility. We believe that by honoring these diverse stories we may build stronger bonds and greater awareness about the multiple faces, stories and realities of infertility. We look forward to fulfilling this mission and today we begin by sharing one of the unique and humbling stories of infertility that rarely get told.
Meet Cole, once Nicole. He has made the decision during his transition from Female to Male to preserve his eggs so that one day he too can have a family that he so desires. Read the text and play the audio clips below to learn about Cole’s journey.
We met Cole, a recent high school graduate, at his home in the San Francisco Bay Area where he was recovering from top surgery. Top surgery, in Cole’s case, involved a mastectomy and chest reconstruction and is a procedure he underwent as part of transitioning from female to male. From an early age, Cole knew he was transgender, even though he didn’t know to call it by that name. Here, he shares what the experience was like for him growing up, how he made the decision to transition, and how he shared the news with his family.
When first visiting the doctor, Cole was shocked by what they told him he’d have to do in order to transition. “They gave me some type of information that we ended up not going by that horrified me. It said I had to live like a man (for a certain period of time) and I didn’t really know what that meant, what it means, to live like a man. As I said, I feel like a man so I’m living how I feel like a man should live. Is there a certain way? Do I need a rule book to live this way?”
Cole worked with a number of physicians and counselors before it was finally time for him to begin testosterone injections to begin transitioning. On the day he was to self-administer the first injection, he was sitting in the doctor’s office when he was handed a brochure about fertility preservation.
The testosterone Cole was prescribed to transition from female to male would negatively impact his fertility. Undergoing fertility treatments and having his eggs retrieved before he started testosterone would give him the best chance of having a biological connection to his future children. This, in part, is why sharing his story is so important to Cole. He wants others to know it’s possible, so they might have the same chance he will. Cole took one look at the info given to him and passed it to his mom.
“I told my mom and, if it was something I wanted to do and I thought about it and considered it, she supported it. But, financially, there was a conversation about how we’d pay for it because transitioning costs a lot too. As far as the support, she said, ‘if this is what you really want to do, we’ll do our best to make it happen for you.'”
“I’ve always wanted to have kids so it was a no-brainer. I didn’t really know the whole process but I knew I wanted to do it. My mom did some research and we met up with Dr. Aimee.”
While Cole was excited about the opportunity to freeze his eggs for future use, he was frustrated by having to delay starting his testosterone shots and putting transitioning on hold. Still, he didn’t let it deter him. Here, Cole describes what the experience of undergoing fertility treatment, which includes transvaginal ultrasounds, and the egg retrieval was like for him.
Cole has an impressive collection of athletic shoes.
Besides dealing with ultrasounds, there was another challenge in store for Cole. While taking medication to stimulate egg productions, physical exertion has to be limited because of the potential risk of ovarian torsion. For Cole, a former basketball player who has shifted gears to have more free time to work out and lift weights, the combination of surgeries he’s undergone recently have meant that exercise has been off limits for quite some time. He shared this with us.
With the egg retrieval behind him, it was time to start the transition from Nicole to Cole with his first testosterone shot.
Another reason Cole wanted to move away from playing basketball was to have more time to share his story.
“I think if I had anything to say is that the purpose of me sharing my story is not for me it’s for others. It’s to educate people about the infertility egg process and why people do it. Its also to educate people about what being transgender means. I do it to help people find themselves and not feel alone. To inspire people not only the LGBT community, but everybody to be themselves regardless of what society or anybody says. I’d rather take the hits about it than any other kid stressing about it.”
Cole has found a community with others, who are also in the process of transitioning, on Instagram. He’s had others ask him about his experience with fertility treatments.
“I don’t really want to live undercover or anything. Some people, when they transition, don’t tell anybody they are transgender. I wouldn’t want to do that because that’s who I am. You know, I want people to really know me and love me for me and not for somebody they think I am.”
“I wish everybody could just know so they could decide if they like me or not but I don’t really know how that’s going to work. It’s just kind of new. I’m just going to have to see when I get there I guess. The state I’m in right now, is just the beginning. Sometimes I’m he and sometimes I’m she. Sometimes I pass and sometimes I don’t, but after my top surgery I started to pass in public and a lot.”
While Cole rolls with the punches now, it hasn’t always been so easy. Along the way, he sometimes turned to art to help him process his emotions.
Cole created this piece during a free draw in his art class.
Cole shared his process in creating this image in his sketch pad.
It’s an exciting time of change for Cole and he’s looking forward to the future and, one day, using the eggs that were retrieved this spring.
Thank you, Cole, for sharing your story!
Cole’s reproductive endocrinologist, Dr. Aimee Eyvazzadeh, has set up a Go Fund Me account to help Cole pay for the storage fees it will take to keep his eggs waiting until he’s ready to use them. If you’d like to contribute to the fund, you can click here.