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!

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.


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.


News Roundup – April 15

A few stories that caught our eye this week. 


VETERANS: Murray Amendment to Cover Reproductive Services for Injured Veterans Passes Key Committee

“This amendment is about fulfilling our promise to the military families who we ask to sacrifice and serve our country on our behalf,” Senator Murray said. “I’m so proud to see Democrats and Republicans working together to move this forward, but I know this is just the first hurdle. I will be fighting to see this through to the end so this country can keep up its commitment to care for our veterans and their spouses who dream of having a family.”


More babies, fewer multiple births, are resulting from assisted reproduction

Los Angeles Times

Melissa Healy

“In 2014, between 22% and 31% of women undergoing infertility treatment were electing to have just a single embryo transferred, with women under 35 choosing that option at higher rates than women over 40. That rate of “elective single-embryo transfers,” however, remains much lower than physician groups have called for.”

Assisted reproduction is on the rise in the United States, resulting in the birth of 65,175 babies in 2014, says a new report. (Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)

Assisted reproduction is on the rise in the United States, resulting in the birth of 65,175 babies in 2014, says a new report. (Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)









Infertility issues take financial, emotional toll

The Tennessean

Hollie Deese

“We’re trying to find out about exactly how much all of this is going to cost,” she says. “I’m still paying on treatments that I did in 2010 with my ex-husband. We had to take out a loan for our treatment we did in November, and we’ll be paying on it for two years. We don’t want to put ourselves in a horrible financial situation.

“There are so many times that you just want to give up and say, ‘I’m done.’ Then, you think of the big picture, that you really want to be a parent, and you’ll do whatever it takes.”

Jessica Ray at her home in Gallatin. The 31-year-old Gallatin photographer still hopes to become a mom one day despite her infertility issues. (Photo: George Walker IV / The Tennessean)

Jessica Ray at her home in Gallatin. The 31-year-old Gallatin photographer still hopes to become a mom one day despite her infertility issues.
(Photo: George Walker IV / The Tennessean)



Water, the President, and Infertility

You’ve probably heard of the water crisis in Flint, MI. In case you haven’t, here’s the gist of it. While the city of Flint was under emergency management by order of Governor Rick Snyder in 2014, a decision was made to discontinue sourcing the city’s water from the city of Detroit.

As a cost saving measure, Flint’s water supply would instead come from the Flint River. The river water was so corrosive that it broke down the city’s lead pipes, leaching toxic levels into the Flint residents’ water. Lead poisoning in children can cause developmental delays, vomiting, hearing loss, and more. In adults, it can cause memory loss, high blood pressure, reduced sperm count, miscarriage, the list goes on. In addition to lead poisoning, an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease, which is possibly the result of the contaminated water supply, has killed 10 people. This is all completely horrific.

In October, Flint’s water supply was switched back and is once again sourced from Detroit. However, the damage to the pipes has been done and the water is still unsafe. It wasn’t until January 5th though, that Governor Snyder declared a State of Emergency and on January 16th, President Obama declared the situation in Flint a federal state of emergency. Obama was visiting Detroit yesterday and spoke about this disaster.

flint water crisis

Nearly seven years into my experience with infertility, it’s rare that I have those moments that anyone with an infertility diagnosis knows well. They come out of nowhere. The hit by a truck, breath knocked out of you, heart breaking into a hundred pieces moments when someone asks you if you have children, you see a young child reach for his father’s hand, or a pregnant woman lovingly rubs her belly. I’ve come a long way in dealing with the emotions that come along with this disease. However, listening to coverage of President Obama’s speech on my local NPR station, Michigan Radio, while sitting in traffic during my commute last night, I nearly burst into tears. The reporter quoted the president and then followed up with audio from his speech, reflecting on the crisis in Flint.

“I’m very proud of what I’ve done as president, but the only job that’s more important to me is the job of father. And, I know that if I was a parent up there, I would be beside myself that my kids’ health could be at risk. That’s why over the weekend, I declared a federal emergency in Flint to send more resources on top of the assistance that we’ve already put on the ground.”

Obama went on to say that he’s designated a federal coordinator to make sure the people in Flint get what they need from their country, that he’s met with Flint’s Mayor, Karen Weaver, and told her that he’s going to have her back, and all of the people of Flint’s back, as they work their way through this terrible tragedy.

My heart broke when I heard those words. My heart is racing now, after listening to Obama’s speech again to transcribe his sentiments. The President says he’s proudest of his role as a parent, a role that millions of Americans long for, yet are unable to achieve, because they have the disease of infertility.  The federal government has the city of Flint’s back, as it absolutely should, yet there is no federal mandate for health coverage for the diagnosis or treatment of infertility.

Most Americans don’t have infertility coverage and many have to pay completely out of pocket for their health expenses due to this disease, a disease that is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a public health concern. The federal government doesn’t even have the backs of veterans who are infertile as a direct result of injuries sustained in the line of duty. There is currently a Veterans Administration ban on coverage for in vitro fertilization, a procedure that could bring the dream of parenthood to thousands of veterans of war who can’t become mothers and fathers without it. Parenthood. The role which their commander in chief values above all.

The people of Flint are worried about their health, scared of what their futures might hold, or might not hold, as a result of the public health crisis of contaminated drinking water. People are outraged so they’re raising their voices and they’re being heard.

This is why I raise awareness through infertility art exhibits, art and writing workshops, and conference presentations with ART of Infertility. This is why I lobby on Capitol Hill each year on Advocacy Day for legislation that, if put into effect, will help those with the disease of infertility build their families through treatment or adoption.


Maria and me on Advocacy Day 2015.

My infertility diagnosis affects my health and well being and alters the possibilities for my future. It makes me outraged that my loved ones and I don’t have access to the care we need to treat our disease. So, I write my members of congress, meet with them on Capitol Hill, align myself with members of the infertility community so we can support each other. I shed light on the trials of infertility through portraits and interviews of those dealing with the disease and curate exhibits of artwork created by them so the public, our insurers, and legislators can better understand why it’s important that we gain the health coverage we need.

Like the president, I’m proud of the work I have done. However, my job won’t be finished until every person who wants to be a mother, or wants to be a father, has access to the resources they need to achieve their dream.


Advocacy Day is on May 11 this year. Please join me in Washington, D.C! Click here for more info.

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.

The Psychological Benefits of Support Groups and Mindfulness for Women Choosing ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology)

Ivy Margulies, PsyD is our guest blogger this week and shares some fascinating info on the benefits of support groups and what you can do if one if not available to you. Thanks so much for sharing with us, Ivy!

The Psychological Benefits of Support Groups and Mindfulness for Women Choosing ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology)

In reviewing existing research on the psychosocial factors associated with the use of in vitro fertilization (IVF), it is patently clear that strong social support is helpful in reducing the anxiety, stress and fear in women deciding to pursue this path.  To illustrate further, a recent study by the Mayo Clinic (2002) found women who attended group sessions prior to a cycle of IVF were significantly less anxious during the IVF treatment when compared to women who did not participate in a support group.


As a clinical psychologist and facilitator of infertility support groups, I have witnessed first-hand the psychological benefits associated with the reduction in stress and anxiety that takes place when women come together and share their intimate journey of infertility.  Moreover, when women allow themselves to feel emotionally vulnerable in a group they immediately feel heard and seen by others traveling the same uncertain journey. They are no longer invisible as they pursue having a much wanted baby.

In general however, most women going through infertility treatments keep it to themselves and are less likely to share or seek social support during this time in their lives.  Many couples don’t particularly want to tell people about it which compounds the embarrassment, shame and stigma they may be feeling.  Many women report feeling defective; not “normal” when compared to their peers who are able to conceive easily.  This compounds the common feeling of being socially isolated, particularly when research tells us social support is critical for women and their partners who are going through infertility.

Scientific evidence strongly confirms that emotional well being along with various forms of health benefits are in direct correlation to social support.  Women experience positive emotions when they have supportive interactions with other women who are going through the same experience.


However, positive results can also be achieved when women (and their partners) use mindfulness techniques.  Defined by Merriam-Webster as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, mindfulness allows for calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Further more, it can be used as a therapeutic technique to help people with any number of distressing feelings and situations as well as beneficial in the practice of meditation.

Mindfulness has myriad applications.  An interesting finding on the benefit of using mindfulness is that it can be used in place of a support group (or in conjunction with a support group) when there either is no support group in your area or if you personally prefer not to partake in a support group experience and can be implemented this way:  If you take the time to close your eyes for ten to twenty minutes, minimum per day, and imagine that you are receiving unconditional, loving support from your family and friends as it relates to your infertility, you can elicit a similar benefit of reducing symptoms of stress and anxiety as if you were participating in a group therapy process.  In addition, there is a reduction in feelings of distress and self-criticism, just as there is when you participate in a support group.


I am encouraged by this finding which confirms that continued practice in mindfulness based techniques can be used as a tool that you can implement simply by exercising the power of your mind which once trained, can be used in any number of other anxiety provoking situations in your life, not only those associated with IVF.

 Ivy Margulies, PsyD of Angels Born Still is a clinical psychologist in Santa Monica, California specializing in maternal mental health, including stillbirth, miscarriage, infertility, postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, and infant loss. Dr. Margulies brings mindfulness and awareness to the mind-body-spirit connection through meditation, visualization, and breath work.

In addition to Dr. Margulies’ clinical practice, she is a death midwife, assisting and helping educate the family on processes associated with the transition of life into death, at any age. The work Dr. Margulies does is designed to create a sacred space for parents who have experienced perinatal death for reasons that are unknown and make no sense.  She is dedicated to improving the care and information families need in the hospital.

Dr. Margulies is a member of the Los Angeles County Perinatal Mental Health Task Force, working to reduce the stigma and shame around maternal mental health issues while raising awareness of the #1 complication of pregnancy and childbirth.


She can be reached at or through her website

Art Journaling to Cope with Infertility

I was very fortunate to wake up this morning in our nation’s capitol, where I will be advocating for legislation to help those with infertility. Sara Elliot, our guest blogger this week, was hoping to make the trip this year and was unable, but wanted to share her story with us via the ART of IF blog. Thank you, Sara for sharing your story with us!


Art Journaling to Cope with Infertility

Many in the infertility community will be making their way to DC this week for Resolve’s Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill.

I can’t be there to advocate this year in person, but I still I wanted to help raise awareness about the 1 out of 8 couples who month-after-month, year-after-year are trying to build their family by any route available to them.

imageLet’s start with this. I never thought that I’d be a person who would “do” IVF. It’s taken a long time to come to terms with the loss of control over my body and my reproduction. With a diagnosis of PCOS and subclinical hypothyroidism, I am now both infertile – meaning we tried to get pregnant for over a year without assistance – and have experienced recurrent pregnancy loss. The combination is so difficult.

Around the time I first went to on OB/GYN to get testing, I found out that it took my grandparents 7 years to conceive my mother, so there is likely a genetic component to what I am going through. I remember my grandma saying, “Our children came along later” but I didn’t understand infertility might be the cause until I was faced with it myself.

For reasons we’re still trying to figure out with our doctor, we’ve conceived four times through assisted reproductive technology – 2 IUIS and 2 IVF cycles – and lost all 4 pregnancies. One was ectopic. One had a heartbeat we got to hear twice.

While going through this recent IVF cycle and loss, I turned to art journaling to process the emotions of this heart wrenching experience. I made a point to draw just a little bit every day, even if all I could muster was a few words in black pen. I’d often fill in the color on better days.


The art journal is a record of what kept me going, including song lyrics and reminders to take care of myself.

At the start of the New Year, I pick a new word to focus on. This year the word I chose was “Become.” This song by Iron & Wine got stuck in my head for weeks, so “Become the rising sun” has become a phrase I focus on a lot.


When we got an unexpected positive pregnancy test in February, I tried to remember to be happy in the moment. I was very anxious, given our history of loss. During this cycle, I saw the trailer for the documentary One More Shot by Noah Moskin and Maya Grobel Moskin. When Maya said, “In this moment, I am happy” I sobbed realizing how hard and necessary it is to grab a moment of happiness amidst all the bad news.

Fear of loss is a very typical response for women who have been through so much to get pregnant. Many infertile women talk quietly about the post-traumatic stress they experience. In the end, the only choice is to surrender, continue to persevere, and to figure out how to rebuild a life that includes more than just a few moments of happiness.




In 2010, my husband and I moved back to our home state of Michigan to be near family as we tried to have children. As the years of trying to conceive and maintain a pregnancy unfolded, an added heartbreak was that if we’d stayed in Massachusetts, our IVF health care costs would have been covered by insurance because state law in Massachusetts mandates coverage for IVF. Michigan law does not. Federal law does not. Money that we’d intended for a retirement account or a child’s college fund was instead spent on medical bills that were uncovered by our health insurance.

And let’s be clear – female and male sterilization is covered by our insurance plan, yet the most effective treatment for infertility, IVF, is not covered. As far as I can tell, the only logic for this policy is cost savings for the insurance companies. No working reproductive systems means no babies which means no hospital births and no well-baby visits to pay for on family insurance plans.


Despite all of our bad luck, we are lucky that we have some savings to spend on our health care needs. Many couples do not. And frankly, no one should have to spend five figures out of pocket to treat a diagnosed medical condition.

Only laws can change this situation.

Thank you to the women and men who are in DC advocating on our behalf this week.