Bonding Through Infertility: Shared Strife Creates Kindred Spirits

I’m not really sure about the psychology behind why people who share the same challenges often become really great friends.  Some say, “Misery Loves Company.” We know that it helps to not suffer alone.

When I’m out and about, I feel like people who have struggled with infertility or those who are in the thick of their battles, are drawn to me like a magnet. I can meet these people just about anywhere… in the grocery store line, at a sporting event, in the midst of a summer festival, in the dentist’s chair. It really doesn’t matter where I am, those who struggle to build their families seem to present themselves to me. I’m not sure if I have a face that just exudes, I’ve been there, done that, or if people just feel safe opening up to me, but it is true. I meet women everywhere I go who have a fertility story to share.

Once I was at a graduation party for one of my best friend’s sons. It was a super hot and muggy day in Michigan and I had a horrible rash all over my body. I didn’t want to go outside where most of the guests were helping themselves to delicious, Mexican foods prepared to order by one of those fancy, restaurant trucks. I preferred to stay inside in the air conditioning. I made my way to the couch where I sat next to an elderly woman who was too frail to go outside. Soon the woman’s daughter brought her mother a plate a food and then she sat in the rocking chair beside the couch. Within moments of sharing how we had known the graduate, we were telling each other nearly every detail of our infertility journey. Amazingly, we are still great friends to this day. She told me that if I ever publish another book, she’d love to share her story.

I'd like to highlight another “fertility-bonding” story with you.  Just eleven months ago, I launched Detours: Unexpected Journeys of Hope Conceived from Infertility.  A month later I created my own Facebook page and website to promote the book. As I was building my presence on social media, I got a friend request from a woman named Janet Blackwell.

Janet Blackwell's Self Portrait

Janet Blackwell's Self Portrait

Janet is an amazing person who lives about 45 minutes from me. Soon she reached out to me and told me that she struggled for a long time to have her one and only son. She admired the work that I was doing and had purchased a copy of my book on Amazon. Janet was very complimentary and always responded to my Facebook posts. After a few Facebook exchanges, Janet asked me if I’d like to meet her for breakfast so that I could sign her copy of Detours.

Over our eggs and hashed browns, we shared the intimate details of our years of trying to conceive. Not many can hear the nitty-gritty details of treatments and procedures, but Janet and I clung onto each other’s every word. What amazed me about Janet was how important becoming a mother was to her and how easily our conversation flowed. This stranger and I were instantly kindred spirits! I could feel the fire burning in her soul about how badly she wanted to be a mother. She eventually had her son and it is clearly obvious how much she loves him.

Janet Balckwell's Self Portrait after her mastectomy.

Janet Balckwell's Self Portrait after her mastectomy.

Janet is warrior and always will be. During that same breakfast conversation, I found out that she was a breast cancer survivor! In addition, she had recently had a stent put in her heart. She had an inconspicuous heart monitor strapped to her body that she carried in an artistic tote bag. I would never have known about her heart problems if she didn’t show me the monitor in her bag. Janet is just a kind and gentle lady… and she didn’t want to draw attention to herself.  She just smiled and admitted that you do what you have to do. But she is strong! I thought to myself, there is something amazing about those who struggle and never give up on what they want in life.

 I am drawn to people with resilience and perseverance and I knew I wanted MORE of Janet Blackwell in my life.  As we finished our breakfasts, I discovered another thing we have in common. We are both teachers. I was an elementary teacher and Janet was a resource teacher for students with autism.  Janet had retired just two years earlier. I found it fascinating that she received a box of oil pastels from a fellow co-worker as a retirement gift. It was only in her retirement that Janet realized her artistic talents. She loves using vibrant colors and her fingers as her tools when she creates her pieces of art, which have some characteristics of both Henri Matisse and Picasso. She loves creating abstracts. I discovered that she was even accepted into the coveted Art Prize competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

This past fall,  Janet asked me if I’d like to accompany her as her guest to Art Prize. We spent a glorious day together going from entry to entry and discussing what it was that made some participants winners in their category. Again,  Janet was showing me the qualities that I admire most in people… following their dreams to make a difference.

Janet Blackwell's portrait of me. One of my friends named it,  "Compassionate Listener."

Janet Blackwell's portrait of me. One of my friends named it, "Compassionate Listener."

Soon after Art Prize, Janet and I met again at a local restaurant. I was hoping that she would give me some tips on using oil pastels. I thought I might like to try my hand at painting, too, because I could see the benefits of using art as an expression of life. Within just an hour’s time,  Janet created a portrait of me.  I cried when she gave it to me as a present. I proudly have my original Janet Blackwell portrait framed and prominently on display in my family room near the desk where I write my blogs. Yes… Janet Blackwell has become a very important person in my life.

This year for Christmas I gave my best friend an original Janet Backwell painting that I call Not Fair Weather Friends. It shows two women walking in the rain under umbrellas. I feel that true friends can share the good, the bad and the ugly with each other without judgment. This special painting depicts just that to me.

My BFF holding her Christmas present,  "Not Fair Weather Friends."

My BFF holding her Christmas present, "Not Fair Weather Friends."

The most exciting Christmas gift I got this year was a tote bag, much like the one that Janet concealed her heart monitor in at the breakfast where I met her about about 8 months ago. However, MY tote bag is unique! Janet created it to represent the women on the cover of my Detours book. Ten women… going hand in hand… trying to build their families and resolve their infertility and live their lifelong dreams. With Janet by my side… make that eleven!

Photograph of my Janet Blackwell original  Detours-inspired  tote bag. 

Photograph of my Janet Blackwell original Detours-inspired tote bag. 

If you like Janet Blackwell’s artwork and want to support a loved one on their infertility journey, you can purchase a Detours-inspired makeup bag or a totebag on my website. Better yet…  purchase one for yourself.  You will constantly be reminded that you are NOT alone!

In-Fertility & Friendship,


NOTE: For more information about Janet Blackwell’s work, like her on Facebook: Janet’s Art.