As I (Sara) scrolled through Instagram the other day, I came across the most powerful images I have ever seen that depict the emotions I felt when I was struggling with infertility.
The images were sketches, by a very talented illustrator in Chicago who is using her talent to help her cope with the pain of her infertility. I was blown away by the rawness and honesty of these sketches and thought how wonderful it would have been to have had a book of them, or even a postcard, when I was going through my IVF. It would have helped me realise that I wasn’t alone in the darkness of infertility; that the feeling of being stabbed in your stomach when a friend tells you that she is pregnant is a common feeling. After going through every sketch I got in touch with the illustrator to find out more.
Hello! Thank you so much for talking to us. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your sketches?
We just moved to Chicago, IL a couple of months ago. I work in corporate communications by day, but I studied illustration in college and I’ve always been an illustrator at heart. My husband and I decided to start trying to get pregnant three years ago when we were living in California. We were 28 at the time. We tried on our own for a few months and then he deployed with the military to Afghanistan. When he came back we started trying again, but I’d been charting and my temperatures were all over the place…not following the pattern they were supposed to. I started reading books about fertility and doctors had suggested to me in the past that I probably had PCOS so I had a feeling I would need some medical intervention.
I finally saw a fertility doctor in February 2015, a year after we started trying. He made it seem so easy. He did a full work up, but ultimately described my case as textbook PCOS. I would just take some medicine (Letrozole) and boom; I’d ovulate and get pregnant. Sounded simple enough. After 2 unsuccessful cycles, my husband was transferred to Virginia so I had to start all over again with a new doctor. Again though, it seemed easy enough. And it was…sort of…I got pregnant on my first round of Letrozole in VA only to see it end in an emergency surgery for a ruptured tube due to ectopic pregnancy. It was shocking and devastating. I hadn’t anticipated that happening. No one warned me about things like that and ectopic pregnancy was one of those things you read about, but seemed so rare, you never thought it could happen to you. Two months later we tried again with Letrozole, and by some miracle we got pregnant again. I say miracle because I ovulated on the “tubeless” side, but somehow everything worked anyway. Sadly that pregnancy also was ectopic (or of unknown location as doctors prefer to put it…), but thankfully they were able to treat it with methotrexate.
After that I took a long break. I tried acupuncture and Chinese herbs, and then hopped back on the wagon doing two IUIs before turning to IVF. My IVF cycle was a disaster. I started it on the day my husband left on his 3rd deployment and went through it completely by myself…. it was awful. They ended up not being about to do the transfer because I got severe Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS). I looked like I was 6 months pregnant, which seemed like some sort of twisted joke. After that I did two cryo cycles and just experienced my 3rd miscarriage from what seemed like the perfect cycle.
Right now I’m taking another break, the hormones wreak such havoc on my body and mind. Postpartum depression gets so much attention, but no one really talks about the serious depression you experience as you’re coming off hormone treatment…especially if the cycle doesn’t work. It’s really dark. And it’s crazy what a slippery slope fertility treatment has been. I keep thinking about my first doctor who made it seem so simple, just take a pill and ovulate and you’ll get pregnant. I had no idea I’d have to go this far down the road and I really wish just one of those earlier cycles had worked.
Can you tell us about the moment you decided to put down your feelings in a sketch? Did you use the sketch as an outlet for the hurt, anger, pain and frustration that infertility brings?
By the end of all this I was finally aware of all the people sharing their stories across Instagram and on blogs. I’ve been super private about everything, but eventually you get tired of suffering in silence and feeling so alone. I was home one day and feeling sad and thinking about how my husband was starting this awesome new chapter of his life with graduate school and I felt like I was stuck in Groundhog Day reliving the same sh*tty chapter over and over again. When I was in high school I used to fill composition notebooks with illustrations so as I was thinking about the twist of fate that I was currently experiencing, I just grabbed a piece of computer paper and drew a quick sketch. And I felt better for doing it. I didn’t know of anyone else really illustrating the infertility process except for using memes or quotes so I decided why not add my voice out there as a way to capture how others might be feeling. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but hopefully always relatable; I prefer to think of it as real.
One of your sketches in particular really got me…the woman with a knife in her stomach, expressing the hurt every time someone tells you they are pregnant. Even though it’s been years since my infertility struggles, it made me cry, because it’s amazing to see that I wasn’t alone in my pain. How are you coping with this? Have you given yourself space from friends who seem to be getting pregnant in the blink of an eye? (I did!!)
I drew that about a week and a half after my miscarriage started (it took a while for my HCG numbers to go down) and my friend had just texted me to tell me she was pregnant. She is a really good friend and really supportive of everything I am going through and she’d really been hoping we could be pregnant together. I’d been having a “better” morning, but when I got her text I just crumbled and basically went catatonic for the entire day. I think the feeling was really “having the wind knocked out of you” where you can’t breathe, but it’s also a knife in the stomach…or uterus maybe haha. You sort of feel betrayed, “e tu brute?” in the words of Shakespeare. So I just wanted to draw how horrible I felt…and it made me feel a little better! And yes, I give myself space from pregnant friends (I have a lot)…but it’s also sad because by taking space you feel like you’re losing friends and you obviously don’t want that either. So what do you do when you can’t talk to someone about their pregnancy or be around them, but you don’t want to lose a friend? I honestly have no idea haha.
Have you thought about publishing a book, or producing cards? Your sketches are so comforting. They make you realise that you aren’t the only one going through the emotions of anger, grief, frustration, confusion, jealousy. Can you imagine receiving one of your sketches as a card, in the post from a friend who ‘gets it’? I can say with all honesty that one of your cards/sketches landing on my door mat would have been a breath of fresh air.
As an illustrator, it has always been my dream to publish a book, although I had never thought of doing it with infertility illustrations. I want to depict something that you can’t quite capture in a photograph…Instagram is such a glossy, “everything’s perfect” community, you don’t see many pictures of someone’s eyes rolling as their friend complains about gaining a couple of pounds or patiently waiting by the sink before your husband jabs a giant needle in your butt. So I really hope these illustrations are a breath of fresh air to some people and give them something to relate to!
Do you have other ways of coping with the emotional pain of infertility in addition to your incredible sketches?
My husband has been really amazing throughout all of this and we are truly in this together. I have a few close friends that have been really supportive and I’m so grateful that I can talk to them when I’m feeling down. Also, we have a wonderful dog who is always there for me; animals are the best at lending silent shoulders to cry on!
Thank you so much for talking to us. We wish you so much love and support.
Let us know what you think of these incredible sketches. Would you buy a book of them if they were published? Can you relate to them? Let us know your thoughts. Email email@example.com
To see the whole collection, head to Instagram and look for infertility_illustrated.