I’m so excited to introduce you to Christine of Infertility Illustrated. Currently working in corporate communications in Chicago, Il., Christine studied illustration in college and is using her talent to share what it’s like to deal with infertility. Drawing true-to-life, funny, and insightful representations of her experiences, anyone that has gone through infertility or is currently going through it will find her work relatable. Head to her Instagram page to find more amazing illustrations: Infertility Illustrated
You started Infertility Illustrated in August 2017. What motivated you to do so?
We'd been trying for a few years and I've been pretty ignorant about the greater fertility community out there. I was sitting at my desk and just thinking about how my husband was once again starting this exciting new chapter professionally and coincidentally I was having another miscarriage. And it was just the two things contrasted with each other that made me draw a quick little sketch and share it on instagram.
You surpassed 1,100 instagram followers in 5 months, what kind of feedback have you gotten regarding your posts?
It seems like a lot of the illustrations are really relatable and that's what I was hoping for! I really wasn't expecting much at all. My goal is to show "a day in the life of infertility" and what it's like to deal with all the stuff we deal with. So, I'm just really glad people are enjoying my pictures!
Is there an illustration that you’ve found resonates the most with people?
I don't know if there is one in particular that resonates with people the most, but overall, I think the illustrations that are the most relatable are the ones showing just those everyday thoughts and feelings where you're just silently praying to yourself that acupuncture will help you or you're just upset because someone's pregnant with their second child and you can't even have one.
In your first post you list your infertility “creds.” What has the medical process been like for you?
It's been really, really long. I'm so tired of it, you know? We're not ready to give up, but it's been really exhausting. The roller coaster really is the best way to put it. I've heard that analogy a lot and it's so true! Your emotions are constantly going up and down with each new cycle. I never would have thought we would have had to take this road as far as IVF and beyond. I guess maybe I was a little naive because even with IVF I was pretty convinced it would work on our first try. I think educating yourself is a slippery slope, or at least it was for me. When I started to read stories of people who had to do multiple rounds of IVF I sort of had that eye-opening, panicked feeling of "oh my gosh, this could potentially go on a lot longer."
Are you trying anything beyond medical interventions?
I've tried acupuncture in the past, but it started to get a little expensive. We have to pay out of pocket for all of our medical costs so it gets hard to afford everything you want to do. I've also incorporated maca powder into my diet and last year I gave up coffee and alcohol for most of the year in the hopes that maybe all those things would help. But this year I'm back on both coffee and alcohol, they help keep me sane!
What has been most helpful as you navigate your path?
It was really great having a doctor that I trusted and knew I could contact (and would get back to me immediately) about anything. I'm in Chicago now, so with a new doctor, but my doctor in Virginia was amazing. She got me through 2 ectopic pregnancies, IUIs, IVF, and FETs and she was the best! Having doctors and nurses who genuinely care about you is so important and makes everything a little bit easier to handle.
What has been hardest for you during this time?
The hardest thing this past year was going through IVF alone. My husband deployed (he was in the Navy) on the day I started IVF and after the IVF coordinator went through all the instructions for everything I just started bawling in her office because I was going to have to do it alone. So I was mixing my medications, administering my shots, and then dealing with the heartbreak of failure on my own and that was really hard. Infertility is a couples' issue and a lot of the time in the past year I was by myself. Granted, I chose to do it by myself, I could have postponed IVF until he came back from deployment, but when you've been at this for so long you don't want to have to keep putting it off.
How is your partner dealing with this process?
He has been really supportive and understanding. He hates that he hasn't been there for me as he should have this past year, it was pretty hard and frustrating for him. He's a guy that likes to "fix things" so when he can't fix this, he'll just go around and look for other things to fix around the house. I think it's his own way of dealing with the stress of all this.
We often field ridiculous things from people we know and love (and sometimes from complete strangers). What is the least helpful thing someone said to you?
Ugh I feel like there have been so many and I can't even pinpoint one now. When I had this last miscarriage, I went to a general OBGYN because I didn't have a doctor in Chicago yet and she said "you know you can stop"...as in you know you can stop doing fertility treatment. At the time I found it incredibly callous because I was literally in the middle of a miscarriage and so sad and here's this doctor telling me I should maybe give up. Not at all helpful.
What is the most helpful/supportive thing someone said to you or did for you?
My friends and family have all been really, crazy supportive so I hate to single any one situation out. When my husband was deployed, my mom drove 8 hours for the weekend to be with me when I had my IVF retrieval and my brother came down and waited on me when I had my first frozen embryo transfer. My amazing neighbor and friend brought me groceries and picked up my medicine when I had OHSS and could barely walk and she took out my trash for me, which was a small thing, but really sweet! My sister bought me a bracelet that says warrior. So, I've had a lot of support and I'm pretty lucky there!
What would you like others to know about your experience thus far?
I don't think there is any one thing I would want people to know about my experience. My biggest thing is to take care of yourself! Infertility sucks so you have to take time to do the things that make you happy!
What advice would you give to someone about to begin the process of infertility interventions (medical or otherwise)?
Brace yourself. It could be easy or it could be a really long road. Try to take everything in stride, one cycle at a time. And again, you do you! Don't let anyone pressure you into anything!
I want to introduce you to an amazing couple: Virginia and Tom Hanada. High school sweethearts from Portland, Oregon, Tom is a professional writer and Virginia is a professor of Child Development and published researcher. Beyond these accomplishments, they have also published a book, one that I encourage anyone going through infertility to read. And buy extra copies of so that you can hand it to people when they ask, “so when are you going to have kids?”
You can find the Hanadas on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram
Virginia has also recently started a website: https://angryladybits.blogspot.com
You wrote, Down the F’n Tubes: an ode to fertility futility. It’s a book that accomplishes many things: it gives those with no infertility experience insight into what it’s like; it gives those that have had experience a chance to feel understood and less alone; and it helps brings humor to a crappy situation. How did the book come about?
During our long, early morning drives to and from infertility appointments, we’d talk about my lady bits as though they were characters.
“Ugh, the endometriosis is like a tentacle monster, getting all up in there”.
“ANOTHER cyst? They're like sea monsters wedging their way into a bathtub.”
Imagining these obstacles as characters made it funny. Bearable. We started toying with the idea of turning our experiences into an illustrated humor book. We just didn’t know how.
And then we came across Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” There are moments in that book where he discusses “the waiting place” and “failure” and all these concepts that are so much more poignant to us now.
We realized that Seuss’ lyrical, imaginative style was the perfect format to tackle complex topics and emotions, and make a very individual experience universally relatable.
Ultimately, that was the goal – to make the world understand how infertility FEELS. Not to mention that it was fun to write a bunch of rhyming sex puns.
So often the partner’s voice is left out of the process. Down the F’n Tubes really captures what it’s likes for the both of you. Can you talk about how each of you has handled your infertility journey?
Regardless of whether infertility is male-factor, female-factor, or unexplained, women are burdened with most of physical aspects of infertility: blood tests, ultrasounds, medicine, injections, miscarriage, etc. However, the psychological anguish and frustration is a shared experience. We wanted to address that by including both perspectives.
Writing this book together helped us cope with infertility because it was something we could control. I’m as Type A as you can get! I pack at least 1 week before leaving for a trip and figure out vacation plans months in advance. Infertility stripped control from our lives because we couldn’t plan a day in advance, let alone a week. After a couple of years of this, I felt like a shell of the person I was before we started trying to conceive. Not being able to do something we are biologically programmed to do felt like the ultimate failure. It was also incredibly isolating and lonely for us. It seemed like everyone around us was super fertile. We weren’t sharing with a lot of people, so it hurt every time someone asked if we wanted kids or reminded us that we should start having kids because, you know, we’re getting old. Writing this book gave us an outlet to share our experience, and something to look forward to.
The book does a great job of using humor to normalize infertility. What else were you hoping to accomplish in writing it?
We want to raise awareness about infertility. A lot of people think infertility is uncommon. That it only happens to other couples. We wanted to capture what infertility felt like, from the beginning, so that everyone could relate to it. As others have eloquently written, people dealing with infertility grieve the family they might not have, but they grieve silently and in a vacuum.
The book is meant to validate the raw emotions people feel going through infertility, and to remind them that they are more than their infertility. We hope our book reaches people who are struggling with infertility, but more importantly, helps others understand why the people they love who are dealing with infertility feel so broken.
This book has also been a great conversation piece in professional settings. When colleagues ask the “When are you having kids?” question, instead of fumbling around with a “Oh, uh, we’re, uh, thinking about that…” we can confidently say, “We actually just published a book about infertility. And because you asked that question, you now have to buy it.” That little joke opens up conversation and awareness, and teaches people valuable lessons in tact (and they often end up buying the book out of guilt, so there’s that!).
Down the F’n Tubes is certainly helpful to others. What has been most helpful to you both while going through this process?
Honestly, writing this book saved our sanity. It was so hard to process the emotions we were feeling. We needed to vent. We needed to scream “FUCK SHAME” as loud as we could to as many people as we could.
Infertility had started consuming our lives and our self-image. But once we started working together on this story, we realized that we had found a way to define infertility instead of being defined by infertility.
And the conversations it has sparked have been incredible! After we started sharing the book, so many friends and family members began confiding their own infertility struggles to us. Some of these friends have Facebook pages filled with pictures of their children; we had no idea the pain and heartbreak they experienced to have these families. It’s a shame that no one talks about the struggle. It can be so demoralizing when everyone on Facebook has children with seemingly no effort.
Once we started to have these conversations with other people, it alleviated so much of our emotional burden. We realized we weren’t alone.
What has been the hardest?
The uncertainty and lack of control was really hard. Every ultrasound took 3 hours out of our day, and sometimes we wouldn’t know if we needed an ultrasound until the day before. One week we had to go FIVE TIMES. If we didn’t have flexible schedules and accommodating jobs, this would be impossible. Even so, we felt really guilty and unproductive in our careers, careers that we have worked towards our whole life.
A commonality among those going through infertility is fielding ridiculous comments from others. A near stranger told my husband to “just flip her over.” Your latest Instagram post says, “So the next time you tell someone to relax so they can get pregnant, STFU. Please and thank you.” Is that the most absurd thing you’ve heard or has someone said worse?
Funny enough, an early draft of the book had an entire section of bad advice that we unfortunately had to cut for space and story flow. But here are some of the rhymes that hit the cutting room floor:
Their family and friends couldn’t help but be nice,
With a whole fucking stork of unwanted advice.
“Smile! You can’t make strong eggs if forlorn.”
“Your sperm are more active if you watch gang-bang porn.”
“Don’t eat cheese, don’t eat fish.”
“How ‘bout coffee?”
“No laptops on balls.”
“Wait two days ‘tween each wad.”
“Don’t bike, you might fall.”
“Have you tried asking God?”
Those are all actual conversations… yes, even the gang-bang porn one.
To be fair, people can also be amazing and seem to know just what to say. What has been the most helpful or supportive thing someone has said to you?
“I’m sorry, that sucks” is the most supportive thing our friends have said to us. That’s because there’s no unsolicited advice, judgment, or pity. It also meant a lot when friends affirmed that we don’t need biological kids (or kids, for that matter), to be considered a family. We are a family.
At the end of Down the F’n Tubes, you write, “A life without trees can be happy and complete. Because sometimes it’s hard to get gametes to meet.” The most helpful thing my therapist ever said to me was that I’d have my family. Whether it was IVF, adoption, surrogacy, or not having kids, I’d create a family. I think what you’ve written there is a reflection of that and really hit home for me. Can you talk a little more about this?
I LOVE what your therapist said. There is so much truth to that statement, and it’s an important perspective to maintain. In fact, the field of child development defines family as two or more persons related by birth, marriage, adoption, or choice who have emotional ties and responsibilities to each other. Tom and I became a family once we made a commitment to each other. We just had the desire to expand it.
We all start with an idealized version of what our family will look like. But infertility is one of those things in life that just isn’t fair. It sucks. It’s frustrating. It upends all of our well-laid plans. But it’s not the end. How couples attack infertility is their choice, and all choices should be respected.
But it’s important to not lose yourself in the process. Always keep perspective and don’t lose sight of the things you have in life.
What would you want to tell someone who might be at the start of their infertility journey?
It’s easy to lose yourself in the day-to-day, cycle-to-cycle frustrations of infertility. We want to remind others that infertility does not define you, and it is not your fault. Don’t let it control your life or take away your joy or accomplishments. And be sure you have open, honest conversations with your partner about finances and expectations.
And most importantly, remember that you are not alone. No matter what your Facebook feed tells you, no matter what your mother-in-law tells you, no matter how it feels at 7am when you’re getting your third ultrasound for the week, always remember that you are not broken, you are not a failure, and YOU ARE NOT ALONE.