Expanding In/fertility: Our Mission and Cole’s Story

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The ART of Infertility’s mission is to break the silence around the experiences of infertility, offering art and storytelling as therapeutic heuristics to capture and express the realities, pains, and joys of the experiences of infertility. This project recognizes the diverse voices and perspectives that represent infertility — ranging from those in a heterosexual relationship who receive an infertility diagnosis upon trying to conceive, those who identify as single-mothers-by-choice and undergoing fertility treatment to become pregnant, even those who identify as LGBTQ and encounter many of the same infertility decisions. In this way, the project attempts to speak back to dominant perceptions and assumptions of who is infertile. Our goal in doing so is to broaden the public’s understandings of infertility, making the claim that infertility impacts far more than just the older heterosexual couple attempting to conceive.

We understand in articulating such a mission that we may offend some in the infertility community. Our intention in adopting such a mission is not to offend and create divisions amongst the infertility community. Instead, we aspire to bridge the multiple and diverse experiences of those who face decisions of infertility. We believe that by honoring these diverse stories we may build stronger bonds and greater awareness about the multiple faces, stories and realities of infertility. We look forward to fulfilling this mission and today we begin by sharing one of the unique and humbling stories of infertility that rarely get told.

Meet Cole, once Nicole. He has made the decision during his transition from Female to Male to preserve his eggs so that one day he too can have a family that he so desires. Read the text and play the audio clips below to learn about Cole’s journey.

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We met Cole, a recent high school graduate, at his home in the San Francisco Bay Area where he was recovering from top surgery. Top surgery, in Cole’s case, involved a mastectomy and chest reconstruction and is a procedure he underwent as part of transitioning from female to male. From an early age, Cole knew he was transgender, even though he didn’t know to call it by that name. Here, he shares what the experience was like for him growing up, how he made the decision to transition, and how he shared the news with his family.

 

When first visiting the doctor, Cole was shocked by what they told him he’d have to do in order to transition. “They gave me some type of information that we ended up not going by that horrified me. It said I had to live like a man (for a certain period of time) and I didn’t really know what that meant, what it means, to live like a man. As I said, I feel like a man so I’m living how I feel like a man should live. Is there a certain way? Do I need a rule book to live this way?”

Cole worked with a number of physicians and counselors before it was finally time for him to begin testosterone injections to begin transitioning. On the day he was to self-administer the first injection, he was sitting in the doctor’s office when he was handed a brochure about fertility preservation.

The testosterone Cole was prescribed to transition from female to male would negatively impact his fertility. Undergoing fertility treatments and having his eggs retrieved before he started testosterone would give him the best chance of having a biological connection to his future children. This, in part, is why sharing his story is so important to Cole. He wants others to know it’s possible, so they might have the same chance he will. Cole took one look at the info given to him and passed it to his mom.

“I told my mom and, if it was something I wanted to do and I thought about it and considered it, she supported it. But, financially, there was a conversation about how we’d pay for it because transitioning costs a lot too. As far as the support, she said, ‘if this is what you really want to do, we’ll do our best to make it happen for you.'”

“I’ve always wanted to have kids so it was a no-brainer. I didn’t really know the whole process but I knew I wanted to do it. My mom did some research and we met up with Dr. Aimee.”

While Cole was excited about the opportunity to freeze his eggs for future use, he was frustrated by having to delay starting his testosterone shots and putting transitioning on hold. Still, he didn’t let it deter him. Here, Cole describes what the experience of undergoing fertility treatment, which includes transvaginal ultrasounds, and the egg retrieval was like for him.

 

Cole has an impressive collection of athletic shoes.

Cole has an impressive collection of athletic shoes.

Besides dealing with ultrasounds, there was another challenge in store for Cole. While taking medication to stimulate egg productions, physical exertion has to be limited because of the potential risk of ovarian torsion. For Cole, a former basketball player who has shifted gears to have more free time to work out and lift weights, the combination of surgeries he’s undergone recently have meant that exercise has been off limits for quite some time. He shared this with us.

 

With the egg retrieval behind him, it was time to start the transition from Nicole to Cole with his first testosterone shot.

 

Another reason Cole wanted to move away from playing basketball was to have more time to share his story.

“I think if I had anything to say is that the purpose of me sharing my story is not for me it’s for others. It’s to educate people about the infertility egg process and why people do it. Its also to educate people about what being transgender means. I do it to help people find themselves and not feel alone. To inspire people not only the LGBT community, but everybody to be themselves regardless of what society or anybody says. I’d rather take the hits about it than any other kid stressing about it.”

Cole has found a community with others, who are also in the process of transitioning, on Instagram. He’s had others ask him about his experience with fertility treatments.

 

“I don’t really want to live undercover or anything. Some people, when they transition, don’t tell anybody they are transgender. I wouldn’t want to do that because that’s who I am. You know, I want people to really know me and love me for me and not for somebody they think I am.”

“I wish everybody could just know so they could decide if they like me or not but I don’t really know how that’s going to work. It’s just kind of new. I’m just going to have to see when I get there I guess. The state I’m in right now, is just the beginning. Sometimes I’m he and sometimes I’m she. Sometimes I pass and sometimes I don’t, but after my top surgery I started to pass in public and a lot.”

While Cole rolls with the punches now, it hasn’t always been so easy. Along the way, he sometimes turned to art to help him process his emotions.

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Cole created this piece during a free draw in his art class.

Cole shared his process in creating this image in his sketch pad.

 

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It’s an exciting time of change for Cole and he’s looking forward to the future and, one day,  using the eggs that were retrieved this spring.

 

Thank you, Cole, for sharing your story!

Cole’s reproductive endocrinologist, Dr. Aimee Eyvazzadeh, has set up a Go Fund Me account to help Cole pay for the storage fees it will take to keep his eggs waiting until he’s ready to use them. If you’d like to contribute to the fund, you can click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Stories We Tell: Reflections from Northern California

This week has been another busy moment for The ART of Infertility. We are in Northern California, reaching out to local infertility support groups and meeting local infertility professionals to help us host an art exhibit in 2016. These meetings have been going well and we are excited about how the project has been received so far.

Maria got this great shot of the Golden Gate Bridge from the plane.

Maria got this great shot of the Golden Gate Bridge from the plane.

In preparing for this trip, we finally made a “FAQ” sheet. This sheet provides a bit more detail about the project, our history and future goals. We encourage you to download it and share it with those who may be interested. And if you are interested in having us come to your city to either interview you, host an art/writing workshop, or an exhibit, please reach out to us!

Some of the participants at our cigar box collage workshop busy at work.

Some of the participants at our cigar box collage workshop in Citrus Heights busy at work.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have been (yet again) reminded of how powerful all of our meetings can be during our travels. For example, this past week, we met @Brave_IVF_Mama. She shared with us a bit of her story. Talking to her, we were reminded of the continued need for infertile wo/men to be advocates and resources for each other. @Brave_IVF_Mama embraces her infertility identity and serves serving as a resource for those in the infertile community. We were particularly struck when she told us about a comprehensive book review she did on children’s books about egg donation. This blog post posted a complete list of relevant books on the topic but also — pretty honestly — examines their positives and negatives. We encourage you all to check out this blog and @brave_IVF_mama as a useful and relevant resource.

Most of all, in talking to @brave_IVF_mama, we were reminded of the importance of stories. Of how having your infertility story is important. But in finding your own individual “resolve”, there are multiple stories. Stories about how you frame your decision to your friends/family. And, perhaps most significantly, stories about how you talk to your future children about their own conception story.

We left leaving this meeting feeling empowered about the ways that The ART of Infertility continues to teach us – Elizabeth and Maria – the multiple ways our own infertility network can teach us and serve as resources for honoring our own stories. We leave this blog post asking all of you, how has your infertility story evolved and changed over the days/months/years and who now is a part of this story? For Elizabeth and I, our infertility story includes all of you – our loyal and supportive followers. Hearing and sharing your stories have helped us heal and cope with our own infertility stories. We are thankful and grateful for all of your sharing. We hope that we continue to learn and grow from these experiences throughout our years.

In gratitude,

Elizabeth & Maria

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Our first night in the area, in Nob Hill.





Introducing the ART of IF Blog

One year ago, I was just two months out from learning my final embryo transfer was unsuccessful. The reality of that hadn’t yet sunk in. My husband, Scott, and I had been trying to conceive for five years and had endured five rounds of Clomid with timed intercourse, 4 inter-uterine inseminations with hybrid cycles of both pills and injectable medications, and one IVF cycle that resulted in internal bleeding, ovarian torsion and emergency surgery in the middle of the night. There were other surgeries along the way too. Surgery to look for Endometriosis, surgery to remove polyps, and one to remove the remnants of my only pregnancy; the twins I miscarried after our first embryo transfer. Our treatment journey was over. I was both relieved and panicked.

The first pieces of art work I made in response to my infertility, created while recovering from surgery #1.

The first pieces of art work I made in response to my infertility, while recovering from surgery #1.

At that same time, the ART of Infertility’s first exhibit was just a few weeks in to its run at the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, MI. I didn’t set out to do more than one exhibit. I wanted a way to raise awareness in my community and figured that sharing the artwork I’d been creating as a way to cope with my infertility diagnosis, along with the artwork and stories of others, would be a way to do so. Working on that show was therapeutic for me and it was amazing to see how participating in the show was so helpful for others as well. It gave us a voice, helped our friends and family understand our disease, and expanded our community. I decided I couldn’t just stop at my hometown and took the show on the road.

The opening reception for our first exhibit, The ART of IF: Navigating the Journey of Infertility at the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, MI,

The opening reception for our first exhibit, The ART of IF: Navigating the Journey of Infertility at the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, MI. Photo by Sarah Gough

In May, I traveled to RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day to lobby on Capitol Hill for legislation to help improve the lives of those with infertility. While I was there, I met Maria Novotny, who is a fellow RESOLVE Peer-led Support Group host on the west side of the state in Grand Rapids. Maria was interested in the project and it wasn’t long before she was a part of the team. With Maria’s help and tremendous help from my parents, my husband, my acupuncturist extraordinaire, Krissy Clark Rock, and other amazing volunteers and supporters, I’ve collected over 50 interviews over the past year and had exhibits on display in three states. We’ve held art, writing and informational workshops and assisted people in building their families by connecting them to people and resources who can help them. We’ve also built an amazing network by putting men and women in touch with others with similar diagnoses and in similar situations so they don’t feel so alone in their journeys.

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Kevin Jordan, Maria Novotny, Sarah Powell, and me at RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day, May 2014.

As much as we’ve been able to do in the past year, there’s so much more to be done. There are so many people who want to share their stories and, in an effort to help give a platform to those we can’t meet in person quite yet, we’re starting this blog. We’ll be sharing stories and artwork from the project and invite guest bloggers to share their own perspectives. As always, we invite you to share your stories through your artwork and writing, your interviews, and now, our blog.

Sorting exhibit labels in our Sacramento hotel room before the Northern California Walk of Hope.

Sorting exhibit labels in our Sacramento hotel room before the Northern California Walk of Hope.

Working on this project has been incredible. Hearing the stories of others and sharing mine has helped me process the grief of my infertility. I’ve met amazing individuals and families along the way and am constantly amazed and honored by the ways are willing to share their lives with me, and in turn with you. This journey is just beginning. I’m so very excited to see what the future holds.

On a hike with project participant, Bee, in San Rafael, CA.

On a hike with project participant, Bee, in San Rafael, CA.

Elizabeth