Mustering the emotional energy to try writing about one of the most challenging journeys of my life, I reflected on an idea that I encountered studying music in high school:
“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
The actual origins of this quote are unknown, but the point stands on its own, and it’s a sentiment I relate to as an artist. I use oil paint – color, texture, contrast, dimension – to explore ideas, experiences, and feelings more effectively and more creatively than I could with words. So why write about my art at all?
Art can be a medium of self-reflection and personal exploration; that was my intent to paint this collection. But it can also be a medium of social change. In the same way, art can challenge us personally and provoke thought. It can also challenge convention, push boundaries, and inspire dialogue, sometimes around subjects that are difficult to talk about. That’s ultimately my goal here in introducing this collection with words: not just to provide context, but to share my story, to encourage introspection, and finally inspire compassionate conversation around a topic of immense difficulty for me and many others too. I preferred to explore an issue through art, but which deserves more awareness and discussion in its own right. Whether you can relate to this journey of mine directly, or it simply mirrors a hardship in your own life, I hope these pieces serve as a reminder that you are not alone and that they help you find hope and healing as I have along the way.
The pieces in this collection represent moments in my fertility journey. Although the progression of the pieces and even some of the titles follow well-known stages of grief, I chose not to follow that line of thought too insistently since I didn’t want to misrepresent what was, ultimately, an overwhelmingly positive experience. Instead, the collection represents a prism, a symbolic lens through which the entire journey can be viewed, and lends a deliberate order to the color theme in each piece.
For those interested, the story of my fertility journey follows below.
Copyright © Art by Shalimar 2021
“I sat there in a state of complete shock hearing just a blur of words and phrases.” Oil on Canvas, 30 x 48”
It was a gray morning four years ago when I looked down to see two pink lines on a pregnancy test. Still, in my nightgown, I was sure my vision was just blurry from sleep. I was late for my cycle, but I reassured myself there was no way I could be pregnant. My hands trembled as I tried to put contacts in my eyes against a welling torrent of tears. I wasn’t ready to be a mother, I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to be a mother, and my heart was pounding. This couldn’t be happening. Slow breaths helped keep the panic at bay while I tried to process what I was seeing. Over the next few days, multiple tests corroborated the first, forcing me to picture my life in a new way. Though anxious, I became excited at the thought of motherhood. Maybe it was purely biological. Perhaps it was the gravity of the situation forcing me to reevaluate my life. But whatever it was, there was nothing I was more sure of than wanting to be a mother after all.
Which made my first OB visit a few weeks later that much worse. The tech was quiet and awkward during the ultrasound, her silence confirming everything I already knew. My doctor greeted me with sad eyes. “I’m so sorry, Shalimar. You’re no longer pregnant.” Before I could even process the injury, she shared the insult: I have unusual anatomy, specifically a ‘unicornuate’ uterus, which is half the size it should be, and I have only one Fallopian tube. “With such reduced space for implantation, it will be extremely difficult to conceive.” I sat there in a state of complete shock, hearing just a blur of words and phrases. “IVF is an option for some women… It is improbable you could carry a baby to term… The risk for complications is higher than with normal pregnancy… If you conceive twins, you will have to terminate… Surrogacy is a good option for some families….”
Rain pounded my windshield as I sobbed in the parking lot outside the clinic. Time stood still, and I probably sat in my car for hours. I felt confused, lost, like I somehow lost control of myself, of an intimate life decision over which I thought I had complete control. Like the budding dream of motherhood, I felt myself drifting away. I spent days in bed, weeks and months, obsessing over my chances of getting pregnant again. I spent hours and hours researching my condition, hoping to find some information to contradict my doctors’ assessment, but found myself feeling more hopeless with every new thing I read. I lost all motivation, all joy, all ability to paint or process or think. The most tangible emotion was this perpetual state of disbelief. I got pregnant once before without trying. How could it not happen again?
“The sun will rise tomorrow.” Oil on Canvas, 36 x 48”
Several months and several early miscarriages later, I found my way to a reproductive endocrinologist, where I soon lost count of the number of scans, needle sticks, and blood tests I experienced. Each visit was painful, emotionally and often physically, but it was life as I had come to accept it during that time. I worked as an ICU nurse with a large group of women of similar age, and I had nine coworkers who were pregnant simultaneously. Two of them conceived at the same time I did, and we enjoyed following each other’s parallel timelines. But joy gave way to despair when I lost yet another pregnancy. I celebrated milestones with them; I seemed incapable of reaching myself. I felt inadequate, like a failure. While my pregnant colleagues snuck off to ultrasound each other on their breaks, I retreated to the bathroom to be alone and surrender to the weight of my heartbreak. As the months of trying to conceive or sustain a pregnancy slowly turned to years, I grew pessimistic about my chances of ever carrying a baby to term. My pain gave way to numbness like a burn, but it was not the same as healing.
“I got pregnant once before without trying, how could it not happen again?”
Oil on Canvas, 30 x 48”
ICU nursing is emotionally taxing without the added burden of maintaining an appearance. But the reality was I had patients to save and families to speak to about their dying loved ones, which meant I had to fake strength even with a broken heart, even when I felt like I was dying myself. I allowed my nursing to consume me since this was one area where I felt like I still had some control but being constantly “on” is exhausting, and I became utterly unplugged at home. I just wanted myself back. I wanted control over my life again. More than anything, I wanted freedom from the depths of my depression; I wanted a reprieve from constantly obsessing. I wanted relief from the growing distance in my marriage. I felt utterly drained. My husband hated seeing me with so much pain and sadness, and I felt awful for never feeling fully present with him since the only thing I could think about was having a baby. I began to imagine myself childless, and although it hurt, I felt like steps toward certainty – even if it were not the outcome I wanted – were preferable to the constant fear of the unknown. I worked with my fertility doctor and tried a last-ditch medication that offered some promise, but after two more months of trying to no effect, I finally decided I was done. I felt defeated but resigned to the reality of my future. The sun will rise tomorrow. Onward, I told myself. Like tiny buds emerging from a tree so severely scorched, it seems undoubtedly dead; it was time to start over.
“A part of me wanted to celebrate, but another wanted to maintain emotional distance. I couldn’t bear the thought of yet another disappointment.” Oil on Canvas, 36 x 48”
And then, two months later, without even trying, I became pregnant again. At this point, I felt neutral. I was already anticipating another miscarriage and had a serious discussion with my husband about getting a vasectomy, as I could not bear the thought of this emotional roller coaster again. I had finally been ready for this chapter of my life to be over and resented that I was being pulled back. Weeks progressed, several healthy ultrasounds later, and I was somehow still pregnant. Caught in a state of emotional limbo, a part of me wanted to celebrate each developmental milestone, but another felt it would make the inevitable disappointment that much more unbearable. As the weeks progressed, I’ve heard some describe it as ‘magical,’ I felt no joy in my pregnancy but instead a guardedness and guilt for my detachment. I did not want to think about it. I did not want to look at the ultrasounds of this tiny human that I just knew would never be a part of my life. Because of my high risk for loss and preterm birth, I was closely monitored. With every appointment closer to my third trimester, I couldn’t believe how far into the pregnancy I’d come.
“I told myself. Like tiny buds emerging from a tree so badly scorched it seems surely dead, it was time to start over.” Oil on Canvas, 36 x 48”
“Like the nascent dream of motherhood, I felt myself drifting away.” Oil on Canvas, 48 x 48”
In fertility circles, a “rainbow baby” refers to the blessing of a child born after the tragedy of a miscarriage, much like the rainbow after a storm. As I counted down the weeks to my due date, I reflected on my journey and wondered, is there a chance I might have this baby? Would I decorate her room with rainbows, I wondered? In that hazy dream state between sleeping and wakefulness, I would see colors and dream about how my future might be. Would I regret feeling so disconnected from this pregnancy? Can I finally allow myself to feel?
“I just wanted myself back. I wanted control over my life again. More than anything, I wanted out of the depths of my depression, I wanted a reprieve from constantly obsessing.” Oil on Canvas. 48 x 48”
“…which meant I had to feign positivity even with a broken heart and felt like I was dying myself.” Oil on Canvas, 36 x 48”
“…A part of me wanted to celebrate the possibility of having my rainbow baby, but another part of me wanted to maintain emotional distance since I couldn’t bear the thought of yet another disappointment.” Oil on Canvas, 48 x 60”
By some miracle, I made it to 37 weeks and one day. The morning of a routine ultrasound, my OB surprised me, saying, “we will see you at the hospital at 2 pm; you’ll need to have to have this baby today.” Being high-risk, breech, with low amniotic fluid and reduced fetal movement, they scheduled the procedure the same day. I knew from the beginning that my chances of having a c-section were likely, but the thought of making it to term and then losing my baby in emergency childbirth was terrifying. The mix of emotions was agonizing.
“Although my life at times felt shattered in a million pieces, my journey taught me strength, resilience, and instilled me with a deeper connection to humanity and greater appreciation for the fragility of life. With those broken pieces, I’ve been able to rebuild something beautiful.”
Oil on Canvas, 48 x 60”
But that afternoon, on September 18th, 2021, at 5 pm, my perfect, healthy daughter, Rowan Bennett, was born.
Some dream of a childfree life and disappointment over never having kids must seem as foreign as disappointment over a life without Brussels sprouts (it certainly was for me for many years). For those who dream of parenthood, though, infertility is as painful as any unfulfilled dream. And while hard work and determination can help some dreams be realized, infertility is a hopeless reality for many. I never appreciated the profound, emotional toll this can take on one’s psyche, as well as the impact it can have on a relationship.
Rowan Bennett 9/17/2021
My fertility story has a happy ending, but – to be precise – it’s not just because I delivered a healthy child. There’s an opportunity in hardship, and in my case, it was for personal and spiritual growth. It was about learning to love myself despite my differences; it was learning how to manage a tremendous amount of sadness and depression that I now know I can survive. It was about accepting that I could ultimately be happy with or without children. It was developing a much closer bond with, and having another level of appreciation for, the excellent support system of people like my wonderful husband and closest friends. Without them, I would not have been able to get through my difficulties. It was meeting and drawing inspiration from the incredible community of other would-be mothers, some of whom have known suffering and disappointment far beyond what I could comprehend and who have still somehow found the strength to carry on. I am so thankful for their willingness to share, for their candor, for their support. Before my experience, I heard stories of infertility; I had close family members who struggled and many close friends. I wish I could go back in time, sit down with them, and tell them that I could not imagine how they are feeling, what they are going through, and that I am here for them. Even if my story helps you realize the depths of pain infertility can cause, I will feel accomplished somehow. Although my life felt shattered in a million pieces at times, my journey taught me strength and resilience. It instilled in me a deeper connection to humanity and a greater appreciation for the fragility of life. With those broken pieces, I’ve been able to rebuild something beautiful.
The post Reflections Under A Rainbow: My Infertility Journey Through Art first appeared on Bored Panda.
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