• Traci McCombs

Art for Healing After Miscarriage

To raise awareness about women's reproductive health, this post is in honor of National Women's Health Week, an observance led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health (OWH).


Life Has Been Hard

2021 has been a challenging year for so many women. Those who have suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth must sit at home in isolation, unable to have physical contact with their friends and family. Others have canceled cycles, rescheduled appointments, and put their hopes and dreams of starting a family on hold.


There is no better time for women to utilize art for healing after a miscarriage or prolonged infertility.


I have submitted an Art Piece to the Art of Infertility Virtual collection. The Art of Infertility is hosting a virtual art exhibit to help raise awareness about infertility and reproductive loss. I have utilized art for healing after my first miscarriage and believe in this cause.



Art Submission Postponed

In February of 2016, I learned about the Art of Infertility and their traveling art exhibitions. Elizabeth was kind enough to share more about infertility artwork and her goal to raise awareness and provide a creative outlet and community of support for those experiencing the effects of the disease of infertility.


My goal was to submit an art piece before my rainbow baby was born in March of 2016. But the more I tried, the more I realized I was no longer in the right frame of mind to create something for an infertility exhibit. Once my daughter was born, the best thing I could do was take a break from my blog (and my failed attempt to create an art piece) and focus on being a mom. The difficult emotions of the past did not blend well with my new joy and responsibility of being a mother.


Art Submission 4 Years Later

Four years later, I've had time to heal and reflect. The combination of sorrow from miscarriage and joy from motherhood gave me an idea. I decided to create an art piece that blends the past and present, a culmination of many experiences I explain in the paragraphs below.


Acrylic paint and canvas

I decided to start with a medium I am most comfortable with - acrylic paint and canvas. I grabbed my dirty old paintbrushes from the wine cellar (we aren't crazy rich... we live in Germany where everyone has one) and found the canvas I purchased in 2016. A bit rusty, I practiced strokes on some paper before blending the colors into a rainbow.



Sewing

Once the paint was dry, I ripped the canvas off the frame and flattened it to fit under the sewing machine. It was time to select thread colors. To ease the drastic difference in colors, I sewed comparable thread to the canvas's natural divide. I was satisfied with the scribble design of the horizontal thread and its new place atop the paint. Some of the scribbles are crooked, and others are symmetric, but that's what I love about art. You can't go back and fix your imperfections, but you can focus on the beauty that lies ahead.




Embroidery

My mom is an expert sewist and embroidered, so I asked for her advice. She provided thousands of embroidery options, and I eventually found an image that spoke to me. She downloaded the software for a heart made of autumn leaves. I transformed the program design to make it my own. A few leaves and stems looked odd, so I excluded them. I also used darker colors to dramatize certain elements like the two leaves' veins at the center of the heart.


Unlike the sewn lines across the rainbow, the elements in the heart were embroidered. I had to watch the machine to make sure the needle didn't rip a hole in the canvas as it pushed its way through. I wanted to use more gold thread, but the thin strip of metal was too delicate for the canvas.



Imperfections

When I finished, I was disappointed to see a few patches of missing color on the canvas, the puffy gathering from the silver thread on the far left leaf, and the off-center heart (you can't see it here because it is cut off). As I thought about the imperfections, I realized that's what makes my artwork mine. It's beautiful to me, imperfections and all.





A Mixed Media Display

Heart, Soul, Rainbow, Gold

Medium: acrylic, canvas, thread


The manipulation of color and textiles reflects the vast array of emotions one can feel on one's road to motherhood. Each pregnancy introduced me to a new world of emotion. Each pregnancy was vastly different, as unique as the babies that were growing inside me. Each pregnancy was transformative. Each pregnancy took a piece of my heart. I believe these experiences change a woman forever.


The leaves represent the unique experiences that have transformed my heart. The dark veins of the missing leaves represent my two miscarriages. The slightly crooked frame is the constant unsettling reality of infertility - something a woman desperately wants to fix but can't. The rainbow is my daughter Morgan, and the gold thread is my son Micah.


Petrarchan Sonnet

Heart, Soul, Rainbow, Gold


You filled my heart and turned it blue.


Like you, it will never come home.


One day, I will be with you.


And recognize you; perfectly grown.


Then, one Sunday morning, I still feel warm tears.


My perfect baby, almost as small as the cancer


“Don’t worry, mama; there is nothing to fear”


In my dreams, that’s how your spirit answers…


When I see a rainbow in the sky


I think of my three, and hug you


Every day, I promise I’ll try


My daughter, to be everything true


Then, gold is my son who came next, so perfect, so easy


As if God gave me you to mend my heart from life’s blistered past


The Art of Infertility

Art can be a great emotional outlet and a way to express your feelings. Music, photography, painting, poetry, and other forms are recognized by the Art of Infertility, an infertility artwork, oral history, and portraiture project. I love that this traveling exhibit gives women a creative outlet and support through their infertility journey. I hope you visit their website and find an event to attend.


The Creators of The Art of Infertility

A couple of months ago, Elizabeth and I were being interviewed about ART of Infertility. Towards the end of the interview, we were both asked: What makes you hopeful?


As I thought about the question, I thought about my infertility journey. At the age of 24, I was newlywed, living in a new state, and coming to terms with my infertility diagnosis. I was confused, angry, and depressed. I didn’t know where to go, who to talk to, or what next steps my husband and I should take. In need of releasing emotion, I turned to write. As an English major in college, I discovered that words were not just for communication but for healing.


And so, I wrote.


The House

I sit right now in the room that was to be the baby’s. We bought a cozy, two-bedroom, two-story house with the intention for the blue room to be ours. The mauve colored room we would repaint and would be for the baby. The blue room was slightly larger than the mauve. We intentionally selected this room with the rationale that a bassinet could comfortably be set up next to our bed. The mauve-colored room was smaller but had a walk-in closet to host the baby’s port-a-bed, bouncer, and a long-lasting diaper supply.


Next to the bed in the mauve-colored room is a desk where I sit and write and work. Books are stacked on the desk. Not in any order. Just placed on the desk. Where the desk and bed are is where we planned to put the crib. Now we fill that area with what we think maybe our new life—a life filled with professional promise and a life where a guest bedroom will always be needed. We will be the future aunt and uncle that can provide a retreat for a niece, nephew, or even sister or brother.


Coming home to this house, I sometimes remember the thoughts I had when we purchased it. The room downstairs that now has bookshelves and dog toys scattered about was the baby’s playroom. It attached to the kitchen and would have let me prep dinner and play with the baby as we waited for you to come home from work. I imagined hearing you pull into the driveway. I would give the stew in the crockpot a quick stir and then pick up baby Henry or baby Sophia from the playmat in the other room, anchoring the baby to my hip and having my free hand raise the baby’s hand as to wave to you from the backdoor.


Now, that image appears more like an illusion than a premonition. The house symbolizes something different now than what it did when we first purchased it. The very terms of making and sharing a home have changed. We first purchased it as a symbol of family extension and growth. Today we sit in the rooms of our house, trying to make sense of the symbol it now represents.



Rough Places. Art of Infertility Exhibition


Art for Healing

As I began writing, I became more open about the stigma and isolation I experienced with infertility. Today, I continue this work by writing a dissertation that explores infertility rhetorics through art and storytelling and participating as a collaborative partner with Elizabeth and The ART of Infertility. This work involves sharing my story and connecting with others who have faced infertility and sharing their stories to combat these stigmas and advocate for better infertility representation and legislation.


As I think back once more on the question, “What makes you hopeful?” I realize it may not be obvious. I do not have a child. I have not completed my infertility journey. I still, in many ways, am living in this state of unknown and limbo. But I realize now that I am hopeful. I have found so much healing – in words and stories. I encourage you to share your own story, participate in your own making, and find your healing.


ROSES. MIXED MEDIA BY ELIZABETH WALKER.


In July of 2012, I was on a 3-week medical leave, recovering from the exploratory laparoscopic surgery, which confirmed that endometriosis was likely contributing to my infertility. I was restless yet unable to do much due to my post-surgery restrictions. My husband and I had been trying to add to our family by having a baby for over three years. We’d endured testing, five rounds of Clomid and timed intercourse, and four hybrid cycles of intrauterine insemination. My diagnosis was profoundly affecting me, and I felt like I needed some physical representation of it. Something tangible that would mark this time in my life, a historical record. I pulled out my art supplies and started ripping up paper, creating mixed media collages. I found the process of creating art around my infertility experience to be a great outlet. So, I continued.


It turned out that I wasn’t the only one in my circle who created art while dealing with infertility. I thought that using art might be a great way to explain the experience of infertility to the public and reached out to the Ella Sharp Museum in my hometown of Jackson, MI, about allowing me to curate an exhibit that would tell the story of infertility through the artwork and interviews of those with the disease. That exhibit, The ART of IF: Navigating the Journey of Infertility, opened in March of 2014.


The response to the exhibit was incredible and went above what I could ever have imagined. Not only for the impact it had on those who were learning about infertility for the first time, but for the sense of community, it created for those living with the disease. I wanted to continue the project and take it to other cities, hoping to give more people with infertility an opportunity to come together through art. That’s when ART of Infertility was born. Since then, Maria and I have been traveling the country, collecting and displaying the artwork and stories of those with infertility and those who need assisted reproductive technology to build their families. We also hold art and writing workshops to give others the kind of outlet we have found helpful.

We invite you to share your stories with us and with the project. The ART of Infertility is always interested in collecting stories and art pieces – not just for the infertility community but as ways to advocate for better infertility legislation and patient-provider practices. (Note: Both “The House” and “Roses” are pieces included in the exhibit.)


LETTING GO. MIXED MEDIA BY DENISE CALLEN.


To raise awareness about women's reproductive health, this post is in honor of National Women's Health Week, an observance led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health (OWH).



Traci is an Amazon Bestselling author, NIH analyst, and a miscarriage and cancer survivor. She is passionate about undermining the misguided stigma and shame of pregnancy loss with a Christ-centered approach.

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