Today’s guest post is from Christine McDonough, creator of Infertility Illustrated. Christine is one of the local artists featured in our Chicagoland exhibit, Challenging Conception. If you’re in the area, you can meet her, and some of our other artists, during our exhibit reception on Saturday, October 13th from 6 – 9 pm at Open Studio Project in Evanston.
In September 2017, I was sitting at my desk feeling sad, lonely, and honestly angry that I was experiencing my third miscarriage. And while I was by myself, my husband was off at a business school happy hour making new friends and having a great time. The opposite ways in which we were managing this turn of events really struck me. And then I realized it was déjà vu. Two years prior, we had just moved to a new city, and my husband had just started a new job, and I was having my first miscarriage. The fact that this was happening again was incredibly frustrating.
While it might not sound great to say that Infertility Illustrated was born out of this resentful moment, it’s the truth. I needed an outlet for the compressed emotions inside me and so I drew a quick sketch and sent it to my sister asking her, What if I share this on Instagram? She was skeptical, but I went ahead and created an account called Infertility Illustrated where I planned to share all facets of an infertility experience, drawing not just my experiences, but situations that everyone can understand.
While this wasn’t my introduction to sharing art on Instagram, I hadn’t been fully aware of the depth of the infertility community until then. As I began to share my sketches, I started to realize there were a lot of people sharing the pain and sometimes the humor of infertility through this outlet. The one way I wanted to stand out though was by creating my own drawings to illustrate infertile life. I wanted to share infertility in all senses: both the highs and the lows. Sure it’s easy to make jokes about how great your tax refund will be, but deep down you might be crying knowing you spent all that money and STILL couldn’t get pregnant. So I wanted to show both sides of that emotion.
Putting my drawings on public display was incredibly scary. First of all, I don’t take criticism very well. I’m very protective of my work and like most artists view it as an extension of me. Based on this rationale, if you don’t like my cartoons, you don’t like me. Not great, I know.
Second, the internet can be a CRUEL place. I’ve seen what Twitter will do to take someone down and I know trolls exist. So I was nervous about how people might react to some of my angrier or sadder or more judgmental drawings.
Third, once you put something out there, it’s there forever. I was afraid that by sharing my drawings on a public platform I was exposing too much of myself to the world. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be anonymous or not. For a long time, I refrained from using my name or even sharing pictures of myself. I think that’s normal though because, for many people, infertility is a very private, personal experience. It’s easy to associate shame and embarrassment with infertility when you are incapable of doing the one thing required of your gender. So it was hard at first to publicly put my name to my work because it meant acknowledging the embarrassment I felt at being incapable of procreation.
As time has gone on, I’m no longer embarrassed and I’m not scared of attaching my name, face, or anything to my work. I’ve come to realize more and more how important it is for all of us to share our stories. To show the world how difficult it is to navigate infertility when for a lot of people, myself included, insurance does not cover these costs, the medications and procedures are invasive and sometimes painful, and you may have to go through many, many cycles of heartbreak before you find success, if you even find success at all.
Through four years of infertility, I am not the same person I was before…neither physically or mentally. My body has changed quite a bit from all the hormones and my outlook on life or what I would consider “trivial problems” has been forever altered. I think the greatest thing that sharing infertility cartoons with the world has done is that it has made me feel less alone. And hopefully, it has made someone else feel less alone too. It’s so easy to become isolated with your dark thoughts, but through Infertility Illustrated, I’ve come to learn that everyone has bad days and good days. I’ve made some really good friends through Infertility Illustrated and I couldn’t be happier to know that I will always have someone who gets it to talk to. My self-imposed island is suddenly a lot less lonely.
My hope is that you feel the same way…that through Infertility Illustrated, you are able to identify yourself and it either cheers you up a little or brings you a moment of peace wherever you are in your day.
XO – Christine