The ART of Infertility – 2016 Year in Review

Men's Health Month Pop-Up Exhibit at The Turek Clinic, San Francisco

Men’s Health Month Pop-Up Exhibit at The Turek Clinic, San Francisco

A Holiday Thank You

Throughout this year, you supported The ART of Infertility. Perhaps you sponsored an art workshop, invited us to speak at an event, or attended an art exhibition. Whatever the form of your support, we thank you.

We have come a long way since the project began in 2014. Without your collaboration, The ART of Infertility would not be the success that it is today. We are honored to count you as s supporter of the project. As we move into 2017, please know that your desire to raise infertility awareness inspires our work.

Becoming a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit

To support the project’s growth, we are becoming a non-profit organization. We filed our articles of incorporation in June and are working with our attorney to wrap up the rest of our paperwork before the year’s end. We are excited about our soon-to-be non-profit status and invite you to consider The ART of Infertility in your end-of-year donations. 

Your financial support directly impacts the project. It helps us cover storage fees for the collected artwork, transcription of oral histories, and also supplements art workshop supplies. We welcome donations of in-kind services as well. You can make a donation to the ART of IF via our secure Square checkout.

New Artwork

A panel from Infertility is the Worst by Zechmeister-Smith

A panel from Infertility is the Worst by Zechmeister-Smith

We added 17 new pieces of artwork from 4 artists to our permanent collection in 2016. Have artwork you’d like exhibited? Learn how here! Included among these works is the series Infertility is the Worst by Kelly Zechmeister-Smith. Kelly created this piece using micron pen and watercolor paint and says, “This work began with an inexplicable creative urgency to represent my layered feelings surrounding my own unexplained infertility (UI)–a maddening diagnosis.  Creating small, cartoonish self portraits highlighting my daily experiences as a childless artist and teacher quickly became a therapeutic outlet for me.  My hope is that the viewer finds these pieces a playful yet raw glimpse into the life of someone struggling with UI.”

2016 Highlights

Joining Forces for Men’s Health

In June, Men’s Health Month (MHM), we teamed up with The Turek Clinic’s San Francisco office and Men’s Health Network to raise awareness about the unique challenges men face when dealing with infertility, as well as other barriers to men’s health care. We displayed artwork and stories from the project’s collection and attendees were invited to visit make and take art stations. Plans are underway for a MHM event in Los Angeles for 2017. Contact us if you’re interested in collaborating!  View event photos here.

Presenting at ASRM

In October, we visited Utah (one of two new states this year, the other Texas) to present the talk ART of Infertility: Curating Patient Centered Perspectives Via an Artifact Oral History Methodology at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’sAnnual Scientific Congress. We were excited to be both first time attendees and first time presenters.  It was fantastic to see members of our infertility family from around the nation and make new connections as we attended sessions and visited the expo hall.

ART of IF goes International

In November, the The ART of Infertility went international when we received an invitation to do a pop-up art exhibit for a staff education day for Merck KGaA Darmstadt, Germany (known as EMD Serono in the states). The event, held in Coinsins, Switzerland, also included a presentation during which we shared our own stories and stories from the oral history archive. We also participated in a Q&A for the medical deliverables team, which later continued with lively discussion around the water cooler.

Visit our website to learn about the other places we visited, exhibited, held workshops, and collected stories in 2016.

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Presentations, Publications, and Podcasts

Cultural Rhetorics Conference, Michigan State University

Cultural Rhetorics Conference, Michigan State University

– 7  Presentations

– 3 Forthcoming Publications

– 2 Podcasts
      Beat Infertility, January
     Imagine Otherwise, August

Looking Ahead to 2017 and Beyond

– We will continue raising infertility awareness and education with several events across the country that are in the planning stages. Details will soon be announced on our website. 

– We will continue our mission to collect and distribute diverse stories of infertility and the stories of those who use assisted reproductive technology to build their families.

– Due to the popularity of the ART of IF, we are also working on plans for 2018! However, there are still plenty of opportunities to bring the ART of IF to your city for an exhibit, workshop, presentation, or to collect oral histories in both 2017 and 2018. Please reach out to us if you’d like more information.

We look forward to your continued support of the project and encourage you to follow our work on our blog and The ART of Infertility’s social media pages. Wishing you much success in 2017 as we all work to advocate on the behalf of millions impacted by infertility. 

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With gratitude, 
 
Maria and Elizabeth
 

Interested in sharing your story through The ART of Infertility? Check our website to learn how to participate! 

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Giving Tuesday as a Not Quite Non-Profit

We are working with our attorney to finish up the last of our final paperwork for filing as a non-profit. We are excited about what this will mean for the sustainability of The ART of Infertility (ART of IF) and the work we do to educate about the experience of infertility and provide a creative outlet and community of support for those living with it. For those of you new to ART of IF, or who need a refresher, here’s a link where you can learn more about our mission and our team.

A participant works on a memory box at an art workshop in Ann Arbor, MI.

A participant works on a memory box at an art workshop in Ann Arbor, MI.

Our articles of incorporation were filed in June. This means that, considering that our final paperwork is accepted and non-profit status is granted (and we have no reason to believe it won’t be), any donations will be tax-deductible retroactively to the date they were filed. Long story short, you give, it will be a future tax deduction.

However, we have really been struggling with asking a population who has already sacrificed so much, to give more. Many of you have to pay out-of-pocket to even get testing to receive an infertility diagnosis, let alone have an attempt to build your family through treatment or through adoption.

You scrimp and save, give up the large and small luxuries in life, max out credit cards, take out home equity loans, just to have a chance to have what comes so easily and virtually free to most, a child.

So, if you’ve passed the point in your fertility journey where every penny counts, or have access to insurance that keeps your out-of-pocket costs low, then yes, by all means, we could definitely use some cash!

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Our current storage space shortly after we moved in. It’s now filled to the brim and we need an upgrade!

Thanks to those of you who have generously shared your artwork and stories with us, we have an urgent need for a bigger storage space for our artwork and art workshop supplies for 2017. Ideally, we’d like a space that also allows us prep area for exhibits and workshops. You can help us by giving to our general fund at this link. Any amount, large or small, is greatly appreciated. Seriously!

If not, we totally understand. Here are some free and low cost ways to contribute to ART of IF to and the work we do to benefit the infertility community.

  1. Ask friends and family you think would be interested in ART of IF to follow us on social media. We’re on Twitter and Instagram @artofif and on Facebook. You can learn how to ask your friends to like our page on Facebook by following these instructions.
  2. Share a favorite blog post from ART of IF on social media.
  3. Send us your infertility artwork, permanently or on loan, so that we can share it through our exhibits, blog, and website. You do not have to be a professional artist. We welcome any form of expression by those of any skill level.
  4. An image from the series, "Infertility is the Worst" by Kelly Zechmeister-Smith

    An image from the series, “Infertility is the Worst” by Kelly Zechmeister-Smith

    Schedule a time to share your story with us via an oral history interview. Interviews can be conducted in person or via phone or Skype.

    Maria conducts an oral history interview during Advocacy Day events in Washington, D.C.

    Maria conducts an oral history interview with project participant, Angela,  during Advocacy Day events in Washington, D.C.

We consider it an honor and a privilege to collect and share your infertility stories through our art exhibits and oral history project. None of what we do would be possible without your participation and we are grateful every day for what the gift of your stories allows us to do. Please help us continue our work by contributing to ART of IF now.

All the best,

Maria Novotny and Elizabeth Walker, Co-Directors of The ART of Infertility

We Are Strong Women

No matter who you voted for, waking up last Wednesday morning morning it was clear: the world has been changed. For Elizabeth and me, this took on particular meaning as we finalized our presentation for Merck KGaA’s As One For employee education day, an event devoted to Merck staff understanding the perspectives of patients using their products.

We made the trip to Switzerland with six suitcases and two backpacks full of art and supplies.

We made the trip to Switzerland with six suitcases and two backpacks full of art and supplies.

Sitting in our Coinsins, Switzerland L’Auberge Salon (aka – our small but quaint hotel room) – we decided to devote this presentation to all the infertile women who have had to struggle to fight for their dreams, fight for their passions, fight for a child. In honor of all of you who have graciously shared either your time, resources or both to The ART of Infertility – we dedicate this to you – the infertile but ever strong woman.

Here is a bit about our own personal stories and how we have found strength in our infertility.

-Maria

Elizabeth’s Story.

My husband Scott and I met on New Year’s Eve 1999, married in May of 2004, and five years later, decided to add to our family by having a baby.

I went off the birth control pill in March of 2009 and started charting my cycles. My chart was a mess. Definitely not what you want your chart to look like while trying to conceive. By fall, my chart was looking better but I was finding that the time between ovulating and starting my period wasn’t long enough to be optimal for implantation and to sustain a pregnancy.

My first chart off birth control.

My first chart off birth control.

Right around that time, Scott’s sister, Shelley, got sick. She was the recently divorced mom of three little girls. The girls began spending Shelley’s custody days with us. Suddenly we were thrown in to sleepovers, play dates, homework, and bath time. We were the ones to tuck them in at night, soothe them when they woke up from nightmares, and nurse them back to health when they were sick. The circumstances were terrible, but having them living with us was one of the very best experiences of my life. Sadly, Shelley died in January of 2010.

That March, their dad moved them to Minnesota. With the girls nearly 600 miles away, we were devastated. This was made even worse by the fact that it had been over a year since we started trying to conceive and we were officially dealing with infertility. I wondered if the time that the girls lived with us would be the only time we’d ever parent. We needed to see a doctor to get started with testing and treatment but took some time to heal first. Well meaning friends and family, not knowing we were trying to conceive and unsuccessful, suggested that having a child of our own might help us heal. While we wanted a baby, it was no replacement for the precious nieces that we were longing for.

By the end of the year, we were ready. At Thanksgiving, I was headed to testing and my sister she announced she was pregnant her second month of trying to conceive. We spent Christmas of 2010 with the girls in a hotel in Minneapolis. The entire trip, I was receiving test results and scheduling more appointments.

Between the end of 2010 and the end of 2012, I was diagnosed with Luteal Phase Defect, Endometriosis, and Diminished Ovarian Reserve. We endured five rounds of oral meds with timed intercourse, four intra-uterine inseminations with oral and injectable drugs, I had a diagnostic laparoscopy, and I joined a RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association support group and then became the group’s host.

What I personally found hardest about infertility was being stuck in limbo as my friends and family had children, all the decisions that infertility forces you to make, and the fact that it’s an invisible disease. In order to make my infertility visible, I started creating artwork.

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The first piece of artwork I made during my IF journey.

The first piece created out of my infertility journey, made while on medical leave after an exploratory laparoscopy to remove polyps and endometriosis.

I learned that others were also using artwork to deal with infertility and in fall of 2012, pitched an “infertility art exhibit” to the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, Michigan, where I live. The exhibit would provide educational info on infertility, display the environmental portraits, artwork and stories of those living with infertility, and offer an art workshop.  They said yes.

Early 2013 brought our one and only IVF cycle. My retrieval led to complications (internal bleeding and ovarian torsion) for which I needed emergency surgery. After I recovered, we transferred two of our three resulting grade 5AA blastocysts. I got pregnant, but miscarried twins early on. This all happened between the middle of February and June 1st and I needed a break after all we’d been through.

I spent the rest of the year working on the exhibit, compiling facts, making artwork, and photographing exhibit participants. I wanted to show them participating in activities other than infertility that defined them.

What I personally found hardest about infertility was being stuck in limbo as my friends and family had children, all the decisions that infertility forces you to make, and the fact that it’s an invisible disease. In order to make my infertility visible, I started creating artwork.

In February of 2014, we transferred our last embryo and I didn’t get pregnant. My husband and I had reached the end of our journey in attempting to have children that are genetically ours. We needed time to grieve and regroup with the idea that we may eventually move on to living child free or adopting from foster care. Two and a half years later, we’re still working on healing from all we dealt with. We need a bit more time to come to terms with what we’ve been through, and rebuild our relationship. However, I am starting to feel the pressure of time and the need to make a decision about how we will resolve our infertility. We are still considering living child free, especially since we have such a close relationship with the nieces we parented for a time. We are also considering using donor embryo, an option that I started considering after hearing the story of Noah and Maya, who I interviewed for the project.

In March of 2014, The ART of IF: Navigating the Journey of Infertility opened at the Ella Sharp Museum. Along with raising awareness about infertility through the art exhibit, I began lobbying for infertility legislation on Capitol Hill with my first trip to Advocacy Day in D.C. that May, where I met Maria Novotny.

Maria’s Story.

This is where my infertility story begins – at yes, believe it or not, the age of 15. I met Kevin, my now husband, at this age. Throughout high school and college, Kevin and I dated on and off. Ultimately, upon graduation we decided to get married. Both of us came from big families. In fact, my family was so large that my parents actually had my brother when I was 18. So the idea of being infertile NEVER crossed my mind. In fact, I was often warned that I would be “too” fertile. This was a joke at the time, but now is all too ironic.

Kevin and Maria with family on their wedding day.

Kevin and Maria with family on their wedding day.

After marrying at the age of 23, we moved to MI for Kevin’s job and bought a house. Soon we began nesting, adopting dogs and shortly after decided to “try”….

Months passed and nothing. No success. A year passed. And we knew something was wrong. I booked an appointment with my OB/GYN. Tests came back and it was suggested we go to our local fertility center.

We attended a consultation and left feeling completely overwhelmed. We were 24 and grappling not only with the numerous options available as well as financial cost – but also with the fact that we were trying to understand our new infertile identity. We felt paralyzed. We were living in a new state. We had no family near us. And we had few close friends. So, we decided to look for support…

But couldn’t find anything. Desperate just to meet someone else who was infertile, we turned to the internet and “came out” with our infertility. We shared our story on our local city’s newspaper and asked others if they too needed support. Slowly but surely, we began to connect with others looking for a safe space to deal with issues in a city that was rated by Forbes Magazine as “the #1 place to raise a family.”

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At this time, I found myself needing to document my infertility journey. I felt a deep desire to capture the complex and confusing feelings that I was experiencing. So I began to write. Doing so, I wrote several pieces. One of which is titled The House, a piece now in The ART of Infertility which reflects on the house my husband and I bought prior to learning about our infertility.

As I began to do more creative writing pieces, I felt an increasing connection to return to school. As a college student, I majored in English. Learning how writing could help with emotional and physical healing, I started a Master’s program focused on writing and the teaching of writing. Graduate school became a place where I could escape the pressures of not conceiving, of not becoming a mom.

We attended a consultation and left feeling completely overwhelmed. We were 24 and grappling not only with the numerous options available as well as financial cost – but also with the fact that we were trying to understand our new infertile identity. We felt paralyzed. We were living in a new state. We had no family near us. And we had little to few close friends. So, we decided to look for support…

Today, I am in the last year of my schooling – finishing my PhD in an area that I call “rhetorics of infertility” which explores how writing and art are composition practices communicating the challenges women and men face when diagnosed with infertility.

And so, while I currently am not in treatment, nor am I pregnant – I still am very much in limbo. Very much in a place of not knowing what my next move should be. I am 30 now. I have lived the past 6 years knowing that I am infertile. But the need to make a decision about what to do next is so overwhelming that I am secretly hoping it will work itself out, that my husband and I won’t have to make a decision. This hope is what we call “limbo” – the not knowing of infertility and the sheer exhaustion that comes with its disease.

***

While we both have decisions to make about further growing our families, through ART of IF, Elizabeth and I have found more happiness, and peace than either of us has had in years. The connections that we have made with other infertile individuals and families, the work that we do in helping them along their journeys, and the awareness about the patient experience that we are able to raise, has given us fulfillment. For both of us, this project turned organization has become the baby that neither one of us could have.

We shared these stories with Merck employees, followed by a Q & A. Upon doing so, our co-presenter, a fertility specialist in the UK, concluded the session. She reminded all of us that while infertility can be difficult to learn about – both in terms of its sadness and depressing nature – we need to remember that infertility can make those dealing with it stronger. She spoke to the fact that The ART of Infertility is a testament to this. That when women face adversity, they can create beautiful things. We – the infertile – are strong (and powerful) women. We were very touched by her words and the important reminder that is especially relevant in this post-election time that we are now living. Let us not forget that our challenges have the potential to make us stronger and, through the lives we live and the work we do, we have the ability to make a positive impact on our own lives and the lives of those around us.

How have you found strength in your infertility journey? We would love for you to share it with us.

After traveling all night, we arrive at Merck to drop off the exhibit supplies.

After traveling all night, we arrive at Merck to drop off the exhibit supplies.

 

 

 

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.

The Transforming Power of Visual Art

We’re kicking off fall with a guest post from The Mindful Fertility Project’s Buffy Trupp, MA, LMFT, RCC. In this post, Buffy not only speaks to the transforming power of visual art, but invites you to participate in a virtual exhibit we are hosting this fall, using images from her new fertility coloring book, Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success. Read on to learn more.

The Transforming Power of Visual Art
Buffy Trupp

Infertility certainly presents like macabre art:  a genetic, physiological, hormonal condition that instantly obliterates our participation in the nature of things, the stream of time.

The attitudes and choices in how we each deal with infertility vary enormously, depending on age, gender, severity of diagnosis and many other personal factors.  But regardless of the medical treatments we decide on, we also choose to adopt a story of infertility: how we got it, how we live with it or through it, and what it means to us in the greater context of our lives.

Stories are essential for human beings.  The human psyche is hard-wired to make meaning.   Unbeknownst to us, and throughout our lives, the psyche connects the seemingly random events that mark and shape our reality and weaves them into a series of images or stories.

These images have great power.   They can make us or break us.  They can make the difference between intolerable suffering or amazing grace.  They can be medicine or poison.

We are born into some images, absorb them as children and live them out without ever knowing it.  They live deep within our cells, in our ovaries, our uterus, in our heart and inform our every move.  These stories can indeed be the most insidious.

But there are also healing images, healing stories; images that inspire and transform us, empower and renew us, restore and liberate us.

Apart from stirring our deepest, darkest fears of obliteration, is it possible that infertility also offers us a healing story?  A story that frees us to heal our lives and shed old, unhealthy beliefs?

Many infertile women believe the death of the embryo, sperm, egg or new born child indicates they are unhealthy.

Did you know it is the ability to surrender, to yield, and the willingness to die for the

greater good that differentiates a healthy cell from an unhealthy cell?

When we allow something to die within us, the formations of our old life, fierce guardians of habit and pattern, fall away, giving birth to a new way of inhabiting our body and mind and we heal.

Death is essential to life.

When did we forget this?

When loss is understood as an essential aspect of health,  women struggling to have children begin a healing story.

Healing stories transform even the most difficult of realities into affirmations of life.

Visual art captures this transformation.

The Mindful Fertility Project and The ART of Infertility believe that the art we create and the stories we tell while trying to conceive are central to our well-being.

We acknowledge both the necessity and benefit of art within the reproductive health field.

We are a move toward acknowledging creativity itself as healing.

And the result, while perhaps not quantifiable, can be measured by the quality of life and transformation experienced by all those who participate.

The images below are from a new fertility coloring book, Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success.

The colored images and the brief narratives that accompany them are inspirational, evoking both a sense of beauty and an immersion in the most elemental aspects of nature.  The words and visual images reveal that life can imitate art; that we can become the things that we see and imagine; that creation is established through our ongoing relationship with our body, with ourself.

“When I color, my body feels alive.”

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“When I color, my body feels beautiful.”

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“When I color, my body transforms.”

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Be the artist of a new narrative – a new series of images.  Let your canvas be the entirety of your embodied vulnerability, the tenderness of your heart, and the brilliance of your creativity. You can re-write your story, re-color your image, re-wire your nervous system, and find new meaning. No, this is not easy, and will take everything you have… and more.

But new life is already inside you.

While it may seem hopeless at times, you have capacities that you did not have as a child when the original stories, the original images were passed onto you: images of what it means to be a woman, how to metabolize unmet longing, what loss symbolizes, images of your place in the world.

Immerse yourself now in creativity. Choose a color and begin a new image, a new story. Feel a new pathway emerging. And allow it to come into consciousness  – through your art, lighting up your body, your nervous system, and fertilizing your heart with love.

You have not lost your chance.

THIS IS A CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS!

The Mindful Fertility Project & The ART of Infertility are publishing a virtual exhibit this fall.

Go to www.mindfulfertilityproject.com/art and immediately download 4 FREE images from our new adult coloring book, Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success.

Submit 1 colored image on or before December 15th to be featured in our virtual art exhibit AND for a chance to win 1 of 3 Mindful Fertility Journals valued at ($397) each.

The Mindful Fertility Journal is a virtual, mind-body fertility program that teaches you exactly how to optimize your fertile health naturally. It includes 28 unique mindfulness meditations, 14 easy-to-use self-acupressure videos, 12 easy-to-use yoga videos along with nutritional guidelines and meal plans. PLUS 6 incredible bonuses.

We will publish the virtual exhibit at the beginning of 2017; a compilation of all the colored images submitted.

Once the exhibit is published, we announce the winners of our Mindful Fertility Journal GIVEAWAY.

AGAIN, go to www.mindfulfertilityproject.com/art to immediately download 4 FREE images from Coloring Conception: Stress Reduction for Fertility Success, to learn more about our virtual art exhibit AND to be eligible to win 1 of 3 FREE virtual mind-body programs to optimize your fertile health naturally.

I hope you’ll join us.

All my very best, always,

Buffy Trupp

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.

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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.

 

Picture Your Fertility: An Interactive Art Event for #MensHealth

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Chas’ story was featured in the exhibit on Thursday night at The Turek Clinic in San Francisco. Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

If you logged onto Facebook this past Sunday, you could not help but be reminded of two cultural events. One, the Warriors vs. Cavilers game. Two, the fact that it was Father’s Day. Both events though shared images and remembrances of healthy, strong men.

Yet, the reality is that in the American men are dying at epic numbers because of their reluctance to see the doctor and be screened for preventable disease (see Men’s Health Network). The suicide rate of men is nearly four times that of women (see AFSP). And, yet,  the United States still does not have a National Office for Men’s Health (see Men’s Health Magazine).

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Attendees at Picture Your Fertility transform specimen cups using duct tape and alphabet stickers. Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Last Thursday, the ART of Infertility took a moment to draw attention to this gap in American men’s attitudes towards health and medicine. “Picture Your Fertility: An Interactive Art Event for #MensHealth” featured stories and artwork created around issues of infertility and men’s health. Below you will find some of the pieces of art created at the event, as well as some of the stories that were featured at this unique event celebrating Men’s Health Month.

A special thanks to The Turek Clinic for hosting, our media partner, Men’s Health Network Reproductive Science Center for their sponsorship, Janet Reilly for wine, Rob Clyde for his Q&A of If I Could Tell You, and all those who donated to The ART of Infertility before, during, and after the event. We’ll be sharing more photographs from the event soon. See the photos below for a little sneak peek from Rebecca Wilkowski Photography.
Dr. Paul Turek welcomes guest to the clinic.

Dr. Paul Turek welcomes guest to the clinic. Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Guests could create their own comic strip. Photo by Maria Novotny.

Guests could create their own comic strip. Photo by Maria Novotny.

Rob Clyde talks about his film, If I Could Tell You.

Rob Clyde talks about his film, If I Could Tell You.

Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Artist Jamie Turri with her piece, What It Takes. Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Artist Jamie Turri with her piece, What It Takes. Photo by Rebecca Wilkowski.

Infertility and Him: Staying Mobile

June 13 – June 19 is Men’s Health Week. As a week that highlights the importance of men taking care of their health, we are focusing on male perspectives and infertility. Today, we share some of Kevin’s perspectives. Last week, Kevin shared this short piece with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. In this post, he talks a bit about how he has turned to running with his dog, Mason, as a routine that has not only helped him deal with infertility but has helped him take healthier steps towards his future. We invite you to read Kevin’s short story and remind you that if you will be in the San Francisco area this week, to join us, on Thursday June 16 from 7-9:00pm at The Turek Clinic for our capstone Men’s Health event. The event is free and you can register here: http://bit.ly/MHMRegArtSF

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Kevin, with his wife, Maria, and their two dogs: Gia (spaniel) and Mason (black lab). Stella (their first puppy) is not pictured as she passed away in January 2016.

As my wife and I delved into the IF journey about 5 years ago, one element that came to the forefront, and still remains, is health. Suddenly, we were critical of so many of our lifestyle choices: what we ate, how often we exercised…were we not respecting our bodies?

Understandably, I think it is easy to get obsessive when it comes to IF, but that is not the solution either. A healthy balance is what is needed. One avenue I explored, and still require in my routine, is running. I run off of my stress. When we first encountered IF, I just started running. I ran two half marathons and a full marathon in one year’s time…it might have been obsessive.

But it worked. I still use it for my mental & physical strength, and for other topics too: when we put our first canine, Stella, down. She was very symbolic of what our first child meant to me and I know very few will ever understand that truth. But I ran that off too, cherishing her memory in the miles I run, with her close friend and my canine boy, Mason.

Running has evolved to other hobbies, including woodworking and renovating a garage to living space since September 2015, when we purchased land to serve as a legacy. And I am in the process of finalizing the design of an art piece for The Art of IF.

When we began our support group search, in a conservative city for that matter, we found the existing groups to be more exclusive, and sometimes not even including men! We knew a group that included all IF backgrounds would be a necessity beyond our needs, but also benefit others struggling to find support. This is how we realized we had to start our own RESOLVE support group in Michigan, and we met good friends that we are still close with today, even outside the group.

The takeaway: I have always found it crucial to stay mobile in life; it will carry you through life’s hardest times and make you invaluable to those in need around you.

Kevin’s Recommended Links:

The Aftermath of a Male Factor Infertility Diagnosis

While we have more men sharing their stories with us through artwork and interviews these days, they’re still underrepresented in our project and in the media as a whole. By participating in Men’s Health Month, we’re hoping to shed light on how infertility affects men and encourage more men to use art as a tool in coping with their disease.

In this post from the blog archives, originally posted in July of last year, we hear from ART of IF interview participant and artist, Chas. We’re sharing his artwork at our pop-up exhibit at The Turek Clinic in San Francisco next week, and I just confirmed that he and his wife, Audrey, will be attending as well! Please plan to join us to check out the show, create something of your own at our art making stations, and enjoy food, wine, and the company of others in the infertility community, like Chas. You can get your free tickets here.
– Elizabeth

 “We would have cute kids!”

That was the line I said to my wife while we were in college. Forward? Sure. Did I mean it? Yes. Did I know it would take 3 years and 7 IUI’s to finally have a child? Definitely not.

My wife and I wanted to do the things that we felt we had to do before we had kids. You know: get married, careers, buy a house, travel, etc. It wasn’t until my college roommates had their first child in May of 2012 that we sat down and said, “We want a child. We want to experience that kind of love.”

Flash forward 3-4 months of trying, we both felt something was wrong but due to our medical coverage we had to wait a full calendar year of trying to conceive before diagnostic tests could be run. In June of 2013 we were finally referred to our reproductive endocrinologist and the tests began. All of my wife’s tests came back with nothing wrong with her, but I was a different story.

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Low motility and low sperm count. That is what my semen analysis (SA) read. I was angry. How could this happen? I have never done illegal drugs, I can count on one hand the times I had smoked a cigar, I workout, eat well, take care of my body, What the hell? Did I do my fair share of the college bar scene? Sure, but it’s not like I drank a fifth of Jack Daniels a night. This had to be wrong. Then the next SA three weeks later had the same results. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Why me?

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I was diagnosed with unexplained male factor infertility.  When I was diagnosed with male factor infertility I truly did go though the 5 stages of grief. At first I wanted more SA’s because I was a red-blooded American male and nothing could be wrong with me. Denial. Then when all 5 those SA’s came back the same I was angry at myself, and my body for failing me, with my anger directed towards anyone who crossed my path. I would snap at the littlest things and pick fights just to fight. The anger really stayed for a long time. After that came the bargaining: if I take these infertility vitamins and change my diet that should do the trick. It worked for other people it had to work for me. When the vitamins and diet change didn’t work the depression set in. This is when things got pretty bad. I was truly numb to the world. I disconnected from my wife. She would ask me a question about my day and I would give one-word answers. I couldn’t find the joy in the things I use to love doing. I didn’t want to be around anyone, I just wanted to stay home in the dark. After our 6th IUI failed during National Infertility Awareness Week 2014the acceptance finally started. My wife had posted something on a social media site that she didn’t know other people could see, outed if you will, our struggle to have a child to our friends and family. The cat was out of the bag so to speak.  After that only love and support followed from our friends and family. With that love and support we did a picture for NIAW and we also made a team for the Northern California Walk of Hope.

Chas_NIAW Having to watch my wife take pills and get injections probably was one of the worst parts of the whole IUI process.  The pills gave her hot flashes and I handled that pretty well I think. I always had something to cool her down. The injections were hard to watch. I know IVF injections are more extensive but watching her give herself Menopur injections sucked. Watching her do the pain dance, as we called it, always got to me, but the bruises afterwards would bring tears to my eyes. I had to helplessly stand by and watch as my wife had to go through this for something my body was failing to do.

The infertility community as a whole has been so amazing. My wife and I have met so many amazing people going through the challenges of infertility. I don’t think I have ever met that many people that truly pull for you to succeed in that capacity. There is such a kinship in the community that you really do have to experience it and cannot be qualified into words.

If putting my story out there can change one man’s mind for the better about Male Factor Infertility I would feel I accomplished my goal for this blog. Unfortunately, there really isn’t research and support out there for MFI. Why is it on rise? Chemical age? Maybe, but there is no concrete proof. This is especially true for unexplained MFI. There is no need to feel ashamed and disconnected from your partner no matter the diagnosis you are in this together.

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Take a Moment and Picture Your Fertility: A Guest Post from Dr. Paul Turek

Today we feature a guest blog post from Dr. Paul Turek of the Turek Clinic. An award-winning urologist and Men’s Health Advocate, Dr. Turek explains the importance of thinking about male fertility and how Men’s Health Month (in June) serves as an reminder of the particular challenges men face in regards to their fertility. We look forward to joining Dr. Turek on June 16, 2016 from 7:00 – 9:00pm at the Turek Clinic in San Francisco. This event is free and open to the public! You can reserve you spot here.

Read more about Dr. Turek’s commitment to male fertility and the way art can begin to express many of its challenges.

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How do you solve tough problems? Maybe you pick at them until they’re gone. Maybe you dance around them until they’re contained. One thing I like to do is to step away and examine them as an outsider, from a completely different perspective. In other words, get out of the trees and look at the whole forest. It’s amazing what you can learn from taking a new angle.

Inconceivable by Aine Quimby. Oil on canvas. Part of the ART of IF collection.

Inconceivable by Aine Quimby. Oil on canvas. Part of the ART of IF collection.

Honing Heuristics

There are quite a few problems in the field of men’s health that need solving. To me, this is more than just trying my hardest to solve the infertility or sexual health problems of patients I see daily. There are other, equally important but more diffuse, issues with which I am also obsessed, including:

What better time to think about these issues than during Men’s Health Month, which is now upon us. And what better way to start off the month than by taking a completely different perspective on things.

Pop Up Art

For millennia, art has struck every emotionally charged chord in the composition that is life. Using caricature, satire and symbolism, it has dished vanity, excess, corruption, greed, and politics. At the same time, it has memorialized life, love, sex and everything else under the sun that holds human meaning. I admire what Pablo Picasso said about art: “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” It seems natural, then, to have a Pop-Up Art Show about men and fertility.

Elizabeth Walker is founder and curator of The ART of Infertility, a travelling infertility artwork, oral history and portraiture project. I attended a show she held in LA last year and was deeply moved by the emotional rawness and creative expression in art made by those affected by the scourge of infertility. Sculptures of beautiful flowers made from IVF needles and syringes; a lovely baby’s crib filled with empty fertility medication vials, bottles and boxes. If you don’t believe that the epidemic of infertility affects lives like cancer or the plague, you need hear these stories, told through art.

And now you can. Please join me for the next Art of Infertility Pop Up Art Show entitled Picture Your Fertility: An Interactive Art Event for #MensHealth to be held in my San Francisco office on June 16th. Be sure to reserve your space by registering here. Plan to be there as we share the infertility journeys of men and their families through artwork and stories. Partake of food and drink, and feel free to tell your own story at our art-making stations. Maybe, just maybe, in some small way, this brief evening-of-art will wash away the dust of daily life from your soul and thereby render it reachable and realizable.

The Art of Infertility, The Turek Clinic & Men’s Health Network present:
A Pop Up Art Show
“Picture Your Fertility: An Interactive Art Event for #MensHealth”
June 16, 2016 from 7:00pm to 9:00pm
The Turek Clinic San Francisco
55 Francisco St, Suite 300
San Francisco, CA 94133
Tax-deductible donations welcome!