Redefining Infertility Success Stories

Infertility art work

Infertility success stories. We’ve all heard them. We all want to be one.

No one would argue that a journey that includes a baby and parenting is a success story. However, we at The ART of Infertility (ART of IF) believe that it’s not the only definition of infertility success.  Sometimes we find success in unexpected and beautiful ways.

In an effort to challenge perceptions of successful infertility outcomes, we’re publishing the first of what we hope will be a long line of non-traditional infertility success stories.

Reflections on Infertility Success from The ART of IF’s Elizabeth and Maria

“A successful outcome of my own experience with infertility has been the ways in which it has advanced my career. At one time, I worried about how my morning monitoring appointments might negatively affect my work. The frequency of doctor visits and the on-demand scheduling made me feel completely flaky and unreliable.”

“However, coping with my infertility by using art and writing, I started The ART of Infertility project. Working on ART of IF, I’ve had the opportunity to gather and share stories internationally. I also gained the experience in communications that allowed me to be promoted from Biomedical Photographer to Communications Specialist at The University of Michigan Medical School. I love my teams at ART of IF and at U of M and the work that I do. I wouldn’t be where I am today professionally without infertility” – Elizabeth

“When I first enrolled in college, I wanted desperately to become a physician’s assistant. In fact during high school, I spent my summer’s working at my grandfather’s urology clinic – often times accepting semen donations – an ironic memory that continues to make me laugh. Yet, as my first semester in college progressed, I found myself anxious and stressed. My science classes, while interesting, were difficult. During this time, I was also enrolled in an English writing class. Writing seemed to come naturally to me and I found happiness (and thus) success with writing.

Today, as I finish the last semester of my PhD in Rhetoric & Writing, I find myself feeling as if my higher education journey has come full circle. Studying what I call “rhetorics of infertility” and situating The ART of Infertility as a research site, I find my initial interest in health and medicine come to fruition. Here, with as a Co-Director of this project, I use our research to make arguments for more patient-centered practices of care. This work is personal and meaningful. I believe this is my new definition of success, doing work that matters and everyday has deep personal meaning. I’m pretty sure that while my infertility led me to this point, I still lucked out.” – Maria

An Infertility Success Story from Our Archive

Leanne Schuetz was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome as a teenager. Even though she and her husband were in their early twenties when they began to try to conceive, it took five years, experiencing multiple miscarriages, and undergoing a series of intrauterine inseminations, before their daughter Olivia was born. While Leanne and her husband dreamed of having a lot of little ones, Olivia will be an only child.

Just over three years ago, Leanne first began creating artwork. Mixed media pieces of women who she calls “my girls”. Through this, she’s found a community outside of infertility and has truly become an artist. She’s found out first-hand how art heals. Listen to Leanne’s story, or read it, below and browse a mini gallery of her pieces to see how she’s progressed as an artist over time.

“It all started because I was really depressed because we weren’t going to do treatment again for infertility. Olivia’s going to be an only child, and I know that sounds really selfish. That we have her, you know. Like I should be so thankful that we finally had her and here I am depressed that we can’t have more kids. But I always imagined my life with lots of little ones for a really long time.”

“So, Olivia was in school full time and I still couldn’t go back to work because I wouldn’t make enough to cover the day care, even when she WAS in school. So I had all this time on my hands about what am I going to do with myself. And so, I just started doing the CitraSolv papers, which led to art journaling, which led to my girls.”

Leeanne Schuetz has used art to find out who she is outside of infertility.

“Their proportions aren’t always exactly right but that’s okay. It’s about celebrating their imperfections, and lately I’ve been thinking about, you know. I like the idea of courageous hearts – of facing where they’re at, who they are. I’m talking about them like they’re real but they’re real to me. And being okay with who they are and everything that makes them different, and special, and unique, and… Some of my girls are sad and some of them are happy. It just kind of depends on how I’m feeling that day and how they come out.”

“It’s not all about infertility. You know, some pieces definitely are because I certainly still have bad days where a pregnancy announcement will knock the wind out of me. Or the days that I remember my miscarriages and for me, I’m using art as a way to move on past infertility. It’s trying to really have a life beyond the fact that I’m infertile.”

“For so many years, I mean, years before Olivia was born, the years after Olivia was born, my whole life was revolved around infertility. So really, for me, I’m using art as a way to try to find out who I am apart from that and to discover what I like and what I don’t like.”

“I like doing mixed media, I love collage, I love acrylic paint, I love water color. I really love doing collage and I love layering. All my pieces have a lot of layers to them.”

“For the most part I never know what I’m going to make before I start. I know it’s probably going to be a girl of some sort but I don’t know who she is or what she looks like, So, just whatever I’m feeling, you know. Happier days tend to be brighter, more fun colors. I went through this phase with a lot of browns. You know, I was in a funk and I was really drawn to the browns. I love purple. Purple always ends up in my colors, I’m not really sure why.”

“I was inspired by some other artists who I met online who were really encouraging and they’ve really just been amazing. The artists online that I’m friends with, you know, because for a long time, ‘I’m not an artist, I’m not an artist,’ you know, ‘I can’t, I’m not creative, I’m not really an artist, it’s just a hobby.’”

“They’re the ones who just encouraged me saying, ‘No, you ARE an artist. This is a part of who you are and it’s okay to call yourself an artist. Even if no one ever sees your art, it’s okay to call yourself that and it’s okay to want to grow as an artist and to learn new techniques.’”

“I mean, I’m definitely a baby artist. I still have a lot to learn, but yes!”

“I’d love to be able to do some sort of workshop, teaching other women who think they can’t draw and have no skill. I’d love to be able to do something like that I’d love to, I don’t know. I have a little Etsy shop. I sell art once in a while but I know eventually I’d love to teach it to anyone who would want to learn. You know, especially I think I have a special place in my heart for people who think that they’re not artistic, for people who think they can’t do art. Because I always said I’m not artistic. My step-mom had to kind of drag me along in starting doing it and I’m really thankful for her for that because I would have never attempted it because, ‘I’m not creative’.”

“Everyone is creative. They just have to find what that is and what makes you happy, and what you like to create. And even if your art isn’t considered “good art” by anyone else, if you enjoy making it, then just keep making it.”

View more of Leanne’s work on Facebook. We’d love to hear the success, outside of becoming a parent, that has come from your own infertility journey. Share it with us and you could be featured in a future post. Help us bring inspiration and hope to others on their infertility journeys.

Myth: You’re Alone in Your Infertility Journey

When I was first diagnosed with infertility, I felt like I was living on my own deserted island. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to tell people about how overwhelmed, sad, and lost that I was feeling. It was that I didn’t know who I could tell that would understand. I remember telling one of my good friends to which they responded, “Oh, don’t worry Maria. It will happen, you guys are young. You just have to give it time.”

I remember thinking, “No, you don’t understand. You don’t know how difficult it is for me to even get out of bed in the morning. You don’t know how upset I get when I see a pregnant woman pushing a cart in the grocery store. You don’t know how angry I get when I see a family taking a walk around my block. You just don’t know how deeply these little, everyday activities can trigger feelings of intense sadness.”

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Maria, with her husband Kevin, who have now lived most of their 5-year marriage with infertility.

For a while I didn’t think I would meet anyone who would understand how I was feeling. And so I started to isolate myself – from my family, friends, even partially from my husband. I felt that I didn’t have anything to worthy to contribute to conversations or events, so I just removed myself from them.

My feelings of wanting isolation, however, began to change when I made the decision to attend RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day in 2014. Tired of living on this so called “infertile desert island,” I convinced my husband to make the drive from Grand Rapids, MI to Washington, D.C. to maybe start doing something about my frustration and isolation rather than just complain about how I was feeling.

How one decision can change your life. Seriously.

While at Advocacy Day I began to feel like I was taking action to not just change my life but the life of thousands of other infertile men and women silently suffering with the disease, the most impactful takeaway were the friendships that I formed. Particularly, my friendship with Elizabeth Walker.

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Maria and Elizabeth in San Francisco, CA in July 2015 for the ART of Infertility.

For Elizabeth and me May 2014 was our first Advocacy Day. Both of us were representing the state of MI and so we spent most of the day together walking the halls of Congress handing out letters and asking our representatives to sponsor infertility related bills. Perhaps it was the experience of doing something totally out of your everyday that helped form such a strong bond. Or perhaps it was simply a friendship that was suppose to be. But whatever it was – Elizabeth and I both knew that we found another person who we could confide in and who simply got one another.

Since Advocacy Day in 2014, Elizabeth and I have worked together on the ART of Infertility. Traveling to numerous states, hosting art and writing workshops, dropping in at prominent fertility clinics to talk about the project, talking about infertility at academic conferences, and even mentoring young college interns about infertility. We are busy but being busy has also saved me – made me feel like I am being productive, no longer wallowing away on my infertility island.

I often think what my life would be like if I never met Elizabeth. Thinking about this, I get lost and overwhelmed. Our friendship has been integral to my healing, to my strength and to my commitment to always advocate on the behalf of those who are infertile. She has become not just my infertile sister, she’s simply Liz – my big sis.

And so while there are a million different reasons to consider attending Advocacy Day this year on May 11th, one of the most powerful reasons to attend is because it could quite literally change your life through the friendships you may form. If I never met Elizabeth that May 2014 during Advocacy Day, my life would not be what it is today. So, I encourage you all – if you are feeling alone, in despair, frustrated and ready to make a change – come to Advocacy Day where you will be greeted by hundreds of other infertile women and men who understand exactly how you are feeling. You will be amazed.

Advocacy Day isn’t just about coming together to advocate for infertility rights, it is also about coming together as a group that has been told their stories shouldn’t be told, their stories don’t count enough to be considered for legislative action. It is a coming together as a force of women and men who have become friends from across the U.S. to change how we think, talk, and support issues of infertility. Advocacy Day is powerful as it is a pure embodied display of how the coming together of friendships can make change.

Join us!

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Maria and Elizabeth outside the Capital Building during Advocacy Day 2015.

ART Roundup

Artwork is something that can help people during the healing process as they are dealing with infertility. It is a way for people to get their anger and frustration out and take control over something in their lives again. Below is some of the powerful and emotional artwork that we have posted throughout the weeks.

Fertility Tornado: By Kristin Phasavath. This fertility tornado is a representation of what it feels like when you are swept up in anything fertility related. This fertility nurse is surrounded by this tornado every day and painting this was a way for her to release her frustrations. After gong through fertility treatment herself, she hopes that this painting will help connect many of her fertility comrades.fertility-tornado_webMy Time’s Running Out: By Andrea Diamond. This work of art is really a mention of how infertility can make you feel, both on the inside and outside. Barbie, who is society’s representation of true feminine beauty is ageless, while we all change and grow. Andrea feels that as she grows older the decline of her internal organs is represented in her physical appearance as well. This Barbie doll was an outlet for Andrea’s anger as she went through secondary infertility.my time's running out.2jpg

Untitled: By Abigail Glass. Abigail was on her second round of IVF when she had an orientation for an adoption agency. It took 9 months before they brought their son from Guatemala home. This piece represents her story and about 100 needles used on her fertility journey, which happens to be a small amount compared to over the years.

Infertility Box: By Sarah Clark Davis. This box has been a massive comfort for Sarah over the years. It has say on her bureau for a long time to remind her not to let infertility take over her life. The inside of the box was a way for her to let out her rage over the fertility treatment process. The quote by Michael J. Fox has really spoken to her throughout her treatment and has stayed with her so she wanted to make it part of the box as well.infertility boxSon-flower: By Shaelene Clark. This painting is something Shaelene spent a lot of time and emotion trying to complete. The broken pot is a representation of how Shaelene feels, broken but still trying to hold itself together. Through her 8 years of infertility she has had multiple miscarriages, which is represented in the dying flowers. After many years of trying, she was finally able to get her beautiful son-flower and the triumph of having a child after a rough delivery.Son-flowerInconceivable: By Aine Quimby. Aine was in her mid-twenties when she was told she was infertile. Through fertility treatments and miscarriages her body felt completely vulnerable and exposed. She poured all of her isolation and grief into this painting. She has connected with many people over the years who have had similar experiences and that has helped her express her feelings with people who can better understand the struggles.Inconcievable

Reactions from an Intern

By Danielle Bucco

Version 2As a 21-year-old college student, I can say that all the different aspects of infertility had never occurred to me. It is not something that many people my age even hear about unless a friend or family member is going or has gone through it. If it hadn’t been for my communications internship with ART of Infertility, I would not have realized that it occurs to so many people and in so many different ways. Since I am not looking to start a family any time soon, I never really considered all the many different struggles that men and women sometimes have to go through to create a baby. It is even more shocking when people still cannot have their own children even with all the developments to science and technology, which only goes to show that there is so much more to discover.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest surprises was the amount of people who go through infertility issues. Besides learning all about E-News spokesperson, Giuliana Rancic as a teenager (I loved her show), I never thought that it was something that so many people, both men and women, had to deal with. However, that is one of the reasons that I am so thankful to have an internship with this organization. Since it is such a personal issue many people find solace and comfort in other people who have gone through similar situations. It is like having a large support group where people will always be there to listen to any anger, frustrations, or just to share stories to show that no one is alone. This type of support is inspiring, especially when it comes to certain organizations dedicated to helping people who are dealing with infertility. It is like having another layer of support and during such a time of pain and frustration, there can never be too many people cheering you on, or picking up the pieces if it doesn’t work out.

One of my favorite parts about being an intern is hearing all the amazing stories from members of the infertility community. There are so many people who take the pain that they are feeling and use it to inspire others and to show that it is possible to survive such an emotional and physical journey after such immense disappointment. Two stories that stand out to me particularly were the stories of Katie and Angela. Both women took their pain and used it towards helping others. It is hard for someone, like myself, who has not gone through this to truly understand what it is like but hearing people’s testimonies is incredibly helpful to get an idea of how stressful it must be to try to conceive but continue to come across complications. By hearing stories about this, people who have not dealt with this can begin to understand how sensitive of a topic it can be to bring up and how everyone handles their grief in different ways. One of the most important things I learned from listening to these stories was to let people grieve in their own way. Not everyone is going to grieve the exact same way and that’s okay. It is only important to let them know that they have support and to be whatever that person needs them to be.EHW_4856ART-of-Infertility_Angela_3667

One of the toughest things about being an intern for an infertility organization is the learning curve. As I write blog posts or social media posts, I am still looking up what certain words mean or what the correct way of phrasing a certain condition is. Even coming across other posts, I find myself looking up certain words because I am confused by what they mean. It can be overwhelming at first but eventually it does start to get easier and of course with the occasional slip-up at times, I am expanding my knowledge of all different aspects of infertility.

Overall this has been such an incredible experience for a young intern such as myself. It has given me so much knowledge on a whole subject that students never learn about but is something that so many people deal with. One of the many things that I hope to take away from this experience is to talk about this issue more openly with others who may not understand. Although no one who has never gone through it will ever truly understand, hopefully by talking about it with others more, it will create a better understanding of the issue and bring further awareness to more generations.

 

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!

Elizabeth