A Marina del Rey couple’s struggle for a baby and an art exhibit about reproductive challenges break through the silence and stigma of infertility

By Christina Campodonico

A cradle filled with boxes of fertility drugs, a postcard announcing an empty womb, sunflowers made of syringes, and a smashed plate representing shattered dreams of parenthood.

These are some of the pieces that have crisscrossed the U.S. as part of a traveling exhibition and oral history project called The ART of Infertility. Co-directed by photographer and curator Elizabeth Walker and university English professor Maria Novotny, the nonprofit opens a community-sourced art exhibit called “Reimagining Reproduction: The ART of Infertility in Los Angeles” at Venice Arts on Saturday.

Founded in 2014 by Walker after she began making art to cope with failed fertility treatments, the nonprofit arts organization — wherever it goes — collects artwork and stories from people impacted by infertility or interested in exploring it, and also showcases work from its permanent collection, some of which will be displayed during the June run of “Reimaging Reproduction.” Amongst those pieces is Walker’s “Cradle with Medication Boxes” and a “grief stick” by Novotny that hangs above it like a mobile, mourning the ghost of a baby that never appeared.

“Sometimes for people who haven’t been exposed to infertility — it can be overwhelming,” says Walker about the art in The ART of Infertility’s shows. “It’s OK with us when people say, ‘It’s depressing.’ That is one piece. There are funny moments and touching moments, and moments of hope and despair.”

And opportunities to educate, “humanize” and raise awareness about reproductive challenges not only cloaked in stigma, adds Novotny, but — contrary to popular belief — faced by “all age groups and races and all socioeconomic groups.”

Maya Grobel and Noah Moskin filmed their intense three-year struggle to become parents of a baby girl
(Photo on the left by Elizabeth Walker; photo on the right by Nicole Goddard / nicolegoddard.com).

“So much of reproductive loss and infertility is not visible, is not seen,” says Novotny, who holds a PhD in reproductive rhetoric and did her dissertation on The ART of Infertility after struggling with her own infertility diagnosis. “It can be really hard to have a cup of coffee and talk about what it’s like to go through a miscarriage, but sometimes art or being in a different space facilitates that experience.

“I think one thing having an art exhibit allows, compared to film or writing, you can see the spectrum of infertility. What makes it so strong and compelling is that you can see all those different narratives.”

Among the stories featured through The ART of Infertility is the journey of Marina del Rey couple Maya Grobel and Noah Moskin to build their family. After about two years of trying to conceive, Grobel and Moskin, then in their early 30s, began filming their marriage’s deep dive into the world of assisted reproductive technologies and turned it into the raw and emotional documentary titled “One More Shot,” screening at Venice Arts on Saturday as part of the local launch for “Reimagining Reproduction.”

“This film is in a lot of ways our trauma narrative,” explains Grobel, who is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, and whose husband works in film and television. “When people create works of art about reproductive challenges or loss or the experience of it, it’s a really therapeutic process. I didn’t quite realize that until after I was watching it one day.”

In the film, Grobel and Moskin, who met while taking a film class at UC Berkeley, document three heartbreaking years of attempting to become parents. They go through an unsuccessful round of in vitro fertilization, consult a Oaxacan spiritual healer, turn to Grobel’s younger sister for an egg donation, and then receive donated embryos  — capturing it all with two borrowed cameras, a still camera that overheated constantly, help from a cinematographer friend and donations from well-wishers. They also interviewed heterosexual, same-sex and single parents about their journeys to build families.

“We couldn’t make a baby, but we could make a movie,” says Grobel. “Filming all of this was really natural to us. … At one point, we decided to pick up a camera and interview each other.”

Similarly, Walker and Novotny have taken a parental approach to The ART of Infertility.

Left: Kristin Phasavath’s painting “Fertility Tornado” expresses the emotional turbulence of being both a fertility patient and nurse.
Middle: Elizabeth Walker’s “Cradle with Medication Boxes” and Maria Novotny’s “Death Branch,” which she calls a “grief stick,” pair for a melancholy piece on reproductive loss.
Right: Kevin Jordan took this photograph of his own worn baby shoes to express feelings of being “left behind” on the journey to parenthood.

“The ART of Infertility has become our metaphorical baby,” says Novotny. “That’s really where all of our energies and emotions and finances have gone.”

“It really, truly has become our baby,” adds Walker. “I truly value this and what we’ve created together and our working relationship and our friendship above, honestly above, parenting a baby.”

The future family plans of Walker and Novotny with their respective spouses remain undetermined, but both know that they want to keep The ART of Infertility in their lives.

“If we do end up parenting in the future, we definitely want to make sure this organization and our working relationship and the work that we do is maintained,” says Walker.

“The ART of Infertility is not going away,” adds Novotny.

As for Grobel and Moskin, making a film led to another creation — a daughter, who’s now 3.

“We have the child who was always meant to be our kid,” says Grobel. “This will always be part of her story.”

Maya Grobel and Noah Moskin’s “One More Shot” screens at 3 p.m. Saturday (June 9) before that night’s launch of “Reimagining Reproduction: The ART of Infertility in Los Angeles” from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at Venice Arts, 13445 Beach Ave., Del Rey. Tickets are free at bit.ly/ReimaginingOpening or bit.ly/onemoreshotva.

“Reimagining Reproduction” remains on view through June 30, and “One More Shot” is available on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and Vimeo on Demand.