In honor of Infertility Awareness Week (April 23-29), two women are making a powerful statement about the hidden pain of infertility through a photo series unlike any other.
Vikki Hamilton, 32, an optician from Las Vegas, partnered with photographer Abbie Fox of Foxy Photography to bring light to the struggles of what 7.5 million women in the U.S. have endured. Hamilton explains that while many people are sympathetic about what she has gone through, there are still a lot of misconceptions about infertility.
“They don’t realize that at the end of Infertility Awareness Week this is still a disease I’m dealing with,” she says. “They don’t understand just how heartbreaking it truly is. I wanted to show them. I wanted them to see how I feel inside. Words can only do so much. Pictures are so much more powerful.”
The shoot brought up a lot of painful emotions for Fox as well because she, too, has struggled with infertility. To start the creative process, Fox examined her own feelings about infertility and came up with a list of images that represented the many different emotions that infertility can cause.
She eventually settled upon the images of a tornado, which captures the swirling darkness of emotions inside of a woman, a butterfly, which is like a “ray of hope” that she held onto after her miscarriage, and different uses of red in both Hamilton’s dress and the poppy flower, symbolizing the blood that becomes a familiar, unwelcome sight month after month.
Fox notes that she also knew she wanted to include a rainbow somewhere in the shoot, but because Hamilton has not had her rainbow baby yet, the rainbow in this shoot is a symbol of a woman waiting for her rainbow after the storm. “There is still hope after the tornado has ripped you apart on the inside,” Fox says.
Hamilton, who has had three miscarriages, first shared her journey with pregnancy loss and infertility on her blog, Beyond The Poppyseed. She and her husband Eric, 31, an emergency medical technician, have been married for four years and like many couples, never dreamed that starting a family would prove to be so difficult.
After trying for two years and experiencing her losses, Hamilton finally received more testing from a specialist, who recently diagnosed her with diminished ovarian reserve and informed her that IVF was her only option.
“I was completely devastated to say the least,” Hamilton says. “I started having anxiety/panic attacks and we have postponed any further procedures at this time.”
Both Fox and Hamilton found the photo shoot emotional and therapeutic, with no words necessary to speak what was being captured that day.
Like the images themselves, they were both witness to the beauty and pain that lives together in a woman’s heart when she is battling infertility. “They’re hard to see,” Hamilton admits. “The pictures were a way for me to express what I go through emotionally daily.”
Hamilton hopes to shed light on the incredible pain that infertility can cause, to educate others on how to best approach the issue of infertility, and primarily, to show other women going through it that they are never alone.
Every day presents a battlefield of triggers, from pregnancy announcements to Facebook postings to baby shower invites to callous comments by family and friends, which can sometimes be avoided by simple solutions. Hamilton recommends private messaging pregnancy announcements before making them public or being sure to include women in invitations, even if you know they might not able to come.
“The biggest misconception is that it’s not a disease,” Hamilton adds. “That it could be worse. How? It is proven that women with infertility have just as much stress and anxiety as someone with cancer.”
Studies have indeed shown that women with infertility have similar stress levels to patients with cancer and heart disease, and infertility is also linked to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
And while Hamilton picks her way through her own battlefield of infertility, she is begging others to be more sensitive to the ways that women dealing with infertility can be hurt and understanding that when it comes to infertility, there isn’t always a bright side.
“The hardest part is never knowing if I’m going to be a mom,” she says. “Not having that little miracle that is part me and part my husband. Not looking into a child’s eyes and seeing yourself. Never having someone call you ‘Momma.’ Never feeling those little arms wrap around your neck and feeling that bond with them. The hardest part about infertility is everything.”
In addition to her photo series, Hamilton is donating 100% of the profits from her online auction to infertility awareness.