In the Fall of 2020, we worked with the UW-Milwaukee Center for Community-Based Learning, Leadership, and Research and put out a call for an ART of Infertility internship experience. The call was well received and we were lucky enough to be placed with two undergraduate students: Elena Castro and Kyra Connors. Both are juniors and social work majors who have their own interests in learning more about infertility. This Spring 2021 semester, we were able to continue working with Kyra and Elena through a university grant. Much of their work this semester is to help us identify and work with more diverse artists documenting their experiences with infertility and recurrent loss through art. All too often infertility education doesn’t happen until you actively begin trying to get pregnant. Much of our work is to begin that conversation earlier and often so as to “break the stigma” and normalize reproductive loss conversations. Hence, our reason to work and mentor undergraduate students. We invite you to know them and what they are learning in this post below. This is their take on #WhatIWantYouToKnow for #NIAW2021. Can you share a bit with readers about who you are?
Elena: My name is Elena Castro, and I am a junior at UW-Milwaukee working towards my Social Work degree along with my Psychology minor. I have a desire to make sure everyone is treated with care and love if I can help it. I am always open to learning opportunities that open my mind to a group or social issue I may not be familiar with.
Kyra: I am a third-year Social Work Major at UW Milwaukee. I am also getting a minor in Women and Gender Studies and an LGBTQ+ Studies certificate. I have a passion for Sex Therapy, and with that, comprehensive sex education for all. I enjoy cooking new foods, connecting with friends and family, and listening to a variety of music. Why were you first interested in working with the ART of Infertility back in the fall of 2020? Elena: Originally, I was interested in the ART of Infertility because it was an online choice for my Service-learning credit. The name also drew me in because I love art and people expressing themselves through it. Finally, I realized infertility is something I know truly little about but could affect myself or some of my clients one day and I would like to prepare myself for those interactions as best I can. Kyra: In our social work classes, we must do something called ‘service learning’, which is basically volunteering for a minimum number of hours for the semester and connecting it to the topics discussed throughout the class. You choose from a set list of locations, and I was immediately drawn to the ART of Infertility. I knew that infertility is something that I would come into contact within my professional life, and I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and be involved in art and learn about something I didn’t know much about. What did you know about infertility back then? Elena: The only things I knew about infertility were not true once I investigated them. I always thought infertility meant no matter what that person could not have children, and IVF was just a fancy and expensive way to pick the gender of your baby. Both are things I heard somewhere and did not think to check into until now, thank goodness. Kyra: Honestly, I knew nothing. I knew that I had some family members that experienced it, but it was never something we ever talked about. I was never taught about what causes it, and who is impacted by it. I had the same kind of beliefs as a lot of other people, it wasn’t something that I needed to know necessarily unless it impacted me in a personal manner. Though, I was fully aware that it would be something I would need to understand in my future in social work, surprisingly, it is not something that is commonly discussed in these classes. What type of research are you doing right now (for the ART of IF)? Elena & Kyra: We are investigating social media looking for artists who are of diverse backgrounds exploring their experiences with infertility through art. This is to raise up the voices of people who are experiencing infertility and share their art with others who can connect with them. What are you learning about infertility in doing this research? Elena: I am learning the basics of how much the journey of infertility affects people’s lives indirectly and directly. I have also learned about inequalities within the infertility community that disproportionally affect minorities. One especially important term I learned was social infertility, which is the inability to become pregnant because of social circumstances not physiological. Kyra: I have learned a variety of things throughout this research. Starting with the basics, some of the most shocking information that I have learned that infertility impacts about 1 in 8 couples. When I first learned that it was incredibly shocking. Because of the lack of discussion of infertility, I had assumed that it was an uncommon experience, this is far from the truth. I have also learned that infertility is not a topic that is universally discussed, and not too many people understand the pain, time, energy, money, and any other very real, valid experience. This only perpetuates the silence and shame that anyone who has experienced an infertility diagnosis goes through. Do you think there should be more education or public discussion about infertility with young adults or college students? Why or why not? Elena: Yes, I do believe more education and public discussion should be had on infertility to raise community's consciousness on the subject and create a safe and comforting place to those who are going through the journey of infertility. I believe there should be more conversation and material on the subject in social work courses and undergraduate research studies. Kyra: I believe that there should be a lot more discussion about infertility amongst young adults and college students. I have had so many conversations with my friends, and other people my age and so many of them know virtually nothing about it, which is totally normal. Being a social work major especially, you think that this topic would be explored past the concept that people experience it, and it is a challenge to go through. I think it’s important to be equipped with this information for a variety of reasons; to open the discussion regarding infertility and provide support for the people who need it. You are both doing a lot of work trying to help amplify more diverse experiences of infertility. Why are you passionate about this work? Elena: I am passionate about this work because infertility does not sound like fun, it sounds like a tough, lonely, and empty place most of the time. When I finally heard hopeful, and positive things coming from infertility I noticed it was mostly due to human connections and finding safe places where people could go and be understood. These safe places I have noticed are mostly online, but they are also mostly heteronormative white women and while it is a good start, there are far more identities affected by infertility than just heteronormative white women therefore it is important to amplify and notice other people's stories and experiences. Kyra: With a topic like this, it has a stigma attached to it. This makes the ability to talk about it openly incredibly challenging. Having a community to go to with shared experiences is imperative in the healing process. With that, there are a lot of spaces online that people can go to for support, however, there aren’t too many spaces for BIPOC or queer individuals to speak about their experiences. I think it is important to help raise up these voices to hopefully connect them to other people who can connect with their story and find support within that. What are some of your favorite artists or pieces that you are finding in doing this research? Elena: Beaded Vulva, Blu_hummingbird on instagram Kyra: Foz Foster: “Pain Will Not Have the Last Word”
Sally Butcher: “Infertile Platitudes of Embodied Emptiness” As two future social workers, how do you predict this research experience helping you in your careers? Elena: Knowing what infertility is and knowing that everyone experiences it differently already gives me the social awareness and ability to start these conversations with my clients and be of use in any way they may need. I also believe understanding how policy and things like insurance affect a person’s Infertility journey is important, particularly when trying to understand a client’s social ecological system and its pressure or power on an individual. Kyra: My career goal is to become a Sex Therapist, and the topic of infertility is one that could be very important throughout that time. Infertility impacts people in a variety of different ways, one of those being someone’s sexuality and sexual relationships. A big thing that I have gathered throughout my time with the ART of Infertility is that infertility can make the bedroom feel ‘sterile’, through adding doctors, medical procedures, timing, etc. (may omit). Overall, being aware of these experiences is important in providing comprehensive care to future clients, and allowing them to feel heard, and assist them through the process in whatever way they choose. Social workers should be more heavily involved throughout one’s infertility journey in whatever way someone feels is fit for them, in my opinion. Some of your research has involved reading stories about infertility. Are there any books or resources you’d recommend to those who want to be exposed to more diverse infertility or recurrent reproductive loss stories? Elena: You can look more into the social infertility topic by reading The Case for Redefining Infertility by Anna Louie Sussman with The New Yorker. Kyra: Some interesting things that I have encountered throughout my research are these pieces; two videos, and one general article. ASRM’s What is Infertility?, What it’s Like to Get Diagnosed with Infertility in your 20s, Donna Ogunnaike's Poem: Call Me By My Name And which artists would you recommend to follow on Instagram who are making interesting infertility art? Elena: Blu_hummingbird is one of my favorite artists in general, and montserrat_muntadas_artist on Instagram also has pretty glasswork art. Kyra: Cha Gutierrez (@chagutierrez), Sally Butcher (@sallybutcher),