Alex and Steve are the best neighbors. One night we came home and found them celebrating around the pool with their friends and family because they had gotten married that day. How fun is that!? So many spontaneous and fun things happen around our pool. Here are some of the behind-the-scenes moments from the photoshoot we had last week.
The last time I entered a photo contest I was still living I my hometown and probably 19. It was at the local community college and I won first place for a black and white street scene taken from the Georges Pompidou in Paris. I cut out two shapes of people and blocked the light from the enlarger from hitting the print in that area. I've always been interested in this idea of connectiveness. I guess somethings never change. All these years later in still concerned with the idea of people finding common ground no matter where they are from.
I recently decided to spread my wings a little and try new things again.
Here's my entry into The Magnum Photography Contest
This body of work is about the idea of a town that is created in many places but exists in one body of work. I’m interested in what we can have in common. Maybe our sameness can expand our compassion. I’d like to change the idea that our identity is based on us versus them. That countries need borders and walls to separate us.
Our beginnings and endings, trials and errors, questions of identity and worth, dreams and risks can take place on any street. Beauty is in the door frame we walk by without a second glance, the public art that questions gender or our most basic assumptions, in the buttons you push to get entrance/acceptance. This is my collection of images and wishes that seeing beauty in a space might help others to see beauty in each other. I hope that each image reminds you of something. Maybe your hometown or somewhere you’ve visited. I am looking for the familiar in far away places.
Sunday Shenanigans with our neighbors. I love our apartment.
Writing : An artist statement. I love photography and I don't love speaking about my work. It's taken me a couple of weeks to squeak it out. I love deadlines so the struggle has to end at some point. ha! I'm happy with what I came up with, but definitely want to shape it more clearly as the project goes on. - Suzanne
Reading : The illusion of Separateness. I don't love reading books set in war time. It often shakes me to the core and leaves me a little broken. This book is more about the idea that we imagine we are more separate than we are, and that small acts can profoundly change the course of so many lives. I love the style that it's written in. The narrators flip back and forth and the author doesn't waste a word. - Suzanne
Excited for : June 4th portrait shoot. We are doing 20 minute mini sessions and maybe a pin-up/sexier shoot. I've been working on my portfolio and am so inspired by Suzanne's personal work. I'm excited to be mixing photography in with my other hobbies to create an art project. Stay tuned!
Dreaming of : Iceland again. What a great place with such freedom.
Suzanne & Mike
As many of you had requested, here are some practical tips from our fertility vacation in Prague. Hope it helps for your journey!
I booked my trip on WOW Airlines from Los Angeles to Berlin with a stopover in Iceland. I loved seeing the magic of the Northern Lights to fill up my spirit before the unknown of IVF. I choose WOW for their stopover options. Be careful on luggage charges and pack strategically. Mike flew on Copa, a Russian airline that had some great last minute options into Prague since we didn't know exactly what days he should be there.
Home Away from Home
We booked a few Airbnb apartments throughout our stay. We prefer to get to know a neighborhood, and then book last minute while we are on site. Other people like to book in advance to feel a bit more settled before their trip. We loved the photogenic Vinohrady district, which is an art deco neighborhood off the beaten path, but still close enough to everything.
I would recommend about a month-long trip for a Fertility Vacation; give or take a few extra days for travel and to account for what day your period will start. Technically, the guy only needs to be there a day or two for sperm retrieval, but having Mike as my emotional support during implantation, and also my adventure partner was necessary for a few days longer. Here is a sample schedule from our IVF clinic:
Day 1 – arrival
Day 2 – Initial consultation, gynaecological examination. The man will follow with blood sampling and sperm freezing. Paperwork, payment, signatures, man can leave if necessary.
Day 3 - 7 eggs retrieved from the donor, their fertilization
2 - 5 days after fertilization (i.e. between Day 5 – 12) cultivation of embryos takes place. It is finished by embryo transfer
After the transfer we recommend to relax at least for 24 hours before you fly back home.
In total 7 - 12 nights
Fertility Clinic - Praga Medica
Overall, we had a really positive experience at Praga Medica. The staff made us feel comfortable and understood, despite the language barrier. They provided a translator as part of the fees. They were helpful and competent, even if their approach to kindness was different than smiling (they’re definitely not going to smile at you!).
Money Money Money Money….Money
There are a lot of factors to consider with a Fertility Vacation. Vacation days from work, life commitments, how many times you want to try IVF, etc. Cost was a huge factor for us and with our flexible lifestyle and love for travel, a fertility vacation made the most sense.
In total - the cost of IVF, travel, room and board - our trip was about $10,000. Keep in mind, we also lived for that price - meals, shows, etc. IVF in the U.S. runs about $15-$20k. Most people I have spoken with said the cost is $20k, if you’re lucky, as it’s not uncommon to cost astronomically more than that. One of my friends was close to $65k and was successful on the first IVF attempt although they tried multiple options along the way.
Prior to choosing Praga Medica we Googled a few IVF clinics in Prague. We compared each clinic and then also asked our friend who is an IVF consultant here in the U.S. to see her recommendation. After interviewing Praga Medica, we felt like they stood out to us and were the best choice. Here is our list of questions from the interview.
Being in Prague was the best part of our experience; away from everything and focused on us. Prague is a big sprawling city that is affordable and has a ton of activities including unique cafes, foodie hot spots and art classes. There were historic city tours, food tours, music performances, day trips to charming towns like Cesky Krumlov, Karlovy Vary, Vienna and Budapest. So many choices!
Is a Fertility Vacation right for you? You should:
- Love to be in a new city
- Want to be parents
- Feel comfortable being away from home
- Have a support system in place; smart phones, Hello TMobile, friends to visit, etc.
- Find a way to communicate with your people so you don’t feel alone and so that everyone at home still feels included
While on your fertility Vacation - Suzanne says:
- Pick a place and neighborhood to stay; let yourself feel the routine of it
- Pick what time of day to take for your shots that fits best into your desired routine - mine had to be between 6 and 8pm. I choose 6 but as a photographer I wished I had chosen 7:30 so I didn't have to miss the golden hour
- Discover your favorite coffee shop and become a regular
- The shot has to be refrigerated so bring a cooler/ice pack with you so you don't have to go all the way back to your hotel if you don't want to
While on your Fertility Vacation - Mike says:
- Find a way to relax and enjoy your time, instead of constantly thinking about the procedure
- Spend enough time in your city: two full weeks for me was enough time for fun and exploration
- Treat yourself while you’re there
- It's a journey and it’s hard, but it also builds character and a sense of adventure
- Be willing to allow yourself to have fun
- It's not a dreadful event, but rather a life adventure
Things that made us feel at home - Suzanne’s lens:
- Went for Mexican food (Las Adelitas - Malé Naměstí 13) so many times, nothing says home more than tacos
- Drawing classes make me feel comfortable to me when traveling
- Mike’s walking tours. I pick places I’m interested in and then Mike holds my hand and and navigates me around the city, adding in his own special stops. I love following him around and he loves logistically organizing everything.
- Lunch and going to the museum
- English book store called “Shakespeare's” where expats congregate
- I feel really at home amongst tourists and listening to all of the languages being spoken. You find tourists in the most incredible places; they are my tribe.
Things that made us feel at home - Mike’s lens:
- Going to the movies (three times!)
- Visiting historical sights and art exhibits
- Farmers markets and swap meets
- Finding every cool coffee shop
- Drinking a beer before noon
- Walking 5-8 miles a day
- Endless picture taking and mini photo shoots of each other
- We had friends meet us there from England, Dubai, Switzerland and Sweden
IVF Is hard. There are no two ways around it. PMS has nothing on IVF. It is identity shaking, emotional, disruptive. The weeks during the actual IVF process were fine, even great, but the aftermath of the hormone depletion was completely overwhelming. I feel much better equipped for the second time around. I have less fear and will relax more, now that I understand the upcoming challenges.
Lots of love to you!!
Suzanne & Mike
“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” - John Lennon
Life has so many unexpected moments. Over the years, I have learned the importance of always having a backup plan. While planning for wedding season, one thing at the top of my checklist is making sure that I have a roster of great photographers with a mutual trust and shared commitment. Our wedding day “dream team” is in place to ensure that we’re offering a smooth and positive experience for our clients.
There is always the possibility of something happening to Mike or I. While we do everything (and I mean everything) in our power to be at every event we commit to, we want our clients to know that if we are very sick, injured, etc. that our team of second shooters are just as strong as any first shooters.
It's sort of like when the flight attendants talk about the unlikely event of a water landing, but give have an action plan just in case.
I've been violently ill at a three day shoot in Del Mar, and called in my second shooter (Hanna). I was still able to art direct all day and no one was the wiser.
With a trusted group of photographers, we go into every wedding day feeling confident and excited. I’m grateful to compensate these artists for their craft and give them an opportunity to improve at every wedding. It also makes the event more fun because we can challenge and cheer each other on.
Whatever the universe has in store, it will be a magical day for our brides and grooms.
Here are a few awesome shots from the super talented Hanna at a recent wedding at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe.
Jen and Vlad are two of the most original people I know. Jen is an extraordinary designer and a true friend. We loved capturing the start of their beautiful new life.
What can we do to raise our chances of being parents? What solutions are inside of me?
- Let go of other's expectations
- Be as healthy as possible
- Make room for new possibilities
- Let go of fear, guilt, anxiety
- Walking (a moving meditation)
- Stretching slowly
- Clearing out what I don’t need and what isn’t serving me
- Reading for pleasure
- Reading for knowledge
- Listening to music
- Finding activities that I take pleasure in
- Photo walks
- Eating outside with friends
- Playing with Gaidin
- Making work and lifestyle changes
- Connecting with friends and loved ones
- Eating well
- Moving at the pleasure of my soul
- Allowing time for reflection
- Art dates
- Date nights
- The Artist’s Way with Mike
- Getting more sun
- Comedies or funny TV shows
- Wild adventures
- Inspiring documentaries
- Going to the movies
- Not taking myself too seriously
- Celebrate the big and the small
- Be grateful for my amazing family and friends
- Be grateful for past, present and future opportunities
- Love and accept myself
Maybe this is where I’m supposed to be. Maybe I’ll break, but I’ve got a list of tools to get me through it. All of these tools and invitations serve me and will make me stronger and are within my values.
I can’t wish for things to be any other way, than the way they are. I can only focus on what I CAN do given the circumstances.
One day I’ll be holding my baby in my arms, laughing at everything we went through and all the doubts. It will all feel worth it.
I don’t want to regret not living the best, most amazing life I possibly can.
I love that hashtag. It took me two seconds to come up with it. I wonder how long it will take us to pull it off?
I took the second test and it still says not pregnant. I so loved uno and dos. I tried not to name them and not to get too attached, but I still cared and wished for them with everything I had.
I’m plagued with self doubt and grief. I’m trying to feel it all and let it pass through me. My natural reaction is resilience. Sometimes I switch to a more hopeful reaction before all the sadness has gotten out of me. I’m so self disciplined to look on the sunny side of the street that I risk leaving emotions inside of me, trapped and forgotten about, but latent. I’m beginning to feel like it’s a bit dangerous.
I miss them so much. How long am I supposed to stay down and take a knee before I start fighting for them again? Grief seems useless and fighting seems so much better.Although, I’m not sure if I’m moving on to the fighting phase too soon and not letting go enough.
I guess I can be healing while fighting all at the same time, similar to what we practice in yoga. Mountain pose is energy to the sky and energy to the ground. Maybe it’s okay if I stumble, as long as I keep getting back up again. Exhale letting it all go, inhaling strength to keep moving forward.
It’s so hard to accept that everything can go so smoothly and yet still not end up with the result with we wanted. How can I be a different, better version of myself in July vs. April? Supplemental changes, additional hormone herbs, a clean house, more conversations with experienced friends, finish projects and feel really good and confident about where I am.
I don’t want to be different than I am on the other side of this journey. I don’t want to be so changed that I don’t recognize myself. That’s my wish for myself on the other side of this journey. Win or lose. That I’m still this girl.
The one that has resilience filling her up while she’s still mid fall.
Negative. Ouch. It hurts. The answer is not this time. It hurts differently than I thought it would. I got to be what felt like a mom for two weeks. I'm so glad for that.
Hope is a complicated choice. Yes, I feel the fall, the heart break, the questioning. Yes, I wonder why not us. I don't believe there's a bigger plan. I've always believed I've been lucky because I chose to be lucky. No matter what happens in my life, I'll find my way out of hard times. I'll somehow turn my face toward the sun.
This journey has been so different. I feel like my luck has abandoned me. I started with such gusto four years ago, certain that we would be pregnant the first month. Over the years, I broke. I abandoned hope. I kept going through the motions, but I didn't believe I was lucky anymore and I wasn't sure why. I'm still not sure.
Our trip to Prague was incredible. It gave me back some of my faith in the universe and allowed me to hope again. Somehow this pregnancy test seemed like "not this time" vs. "no" or what used to feel like "never".
I feel like Mike and I did everything right. We took all the advice, I was relaxed and magical. And yet still no. I really loved those two weeks. I didn't take a moment for granted. Mike and I were alive with possibilities and we now know we are strong enough to try again.
I am so wildly grateful for everyone's wishes and prayers. We had so much support, we felt so loved. I'm so happy that we told everyone about the journey because I really needed all of you. It's been such a long journey that I couldn't keep going forward and believing without our friends and family.
I'm so grateful to Mike. We have grown stronger together and we are a little in awe of what we've been able to pull off. I'm so grateful to my mom for her help and all of our friends who came to Prague and stood by us. I hope one day I get to post that we are pregnant and one day post that our babies are safe in this world.
I wish it was today.
I’m feeling both strong and delicate lately.
2016 gave us plenty of excuses to have failed at our fertility vacations. Our hearts were broken over and over again. We lost so many close friends and family, and also fought cancer and won. We were distracted and broken hearted, yet somehow found the resources and perseverance to make it to the operating room, staring at two black and white embryos on the monitor.
We somehow found a way to hope again after so many years of heartache.
I’m so surprised and grateful that we could find something inside of us that allowed for hope. I didn’t expect to find hope on this journey. I knew we could find out how to get to Prague or how to try for adoption. I was committed to trying, but hope had long been out of the equation for me.
I am now full of strength and hope. Hope to be pregnant. And hope to try again if we’re not.
It feels like most parts of my life are walking around with their shoelaces untied. My heart and body feel a little discombobulated as I look out to still unpacked suitcases from Cuba, Iceland, Germany and Prague. End of the year projects are awaiting final touches. Two gravestones in New York not yet graced by our flowers and presence. A part of me still reeling from the election.
Being home has been mostly jet lag and coffee withdrawals. I’ve missed everything we had planned - an epic 50th party with our friend’s band playing, a heartfelt fundraiser, a three day artist retreat in Joshua Tree.
I feel like saying “not today” to every activity I’m presented with. I belong at the beach, curing my insatiable need to hear the waves, walking on the boardwalk and playing in the sand with my nephew.
I can’t throw myself back into work just yet and into the editing tunnel of projects in the backlog. I’m afraid I’l lose this sense of self I’ve created through photographing and walking around Europe for five weeks. I’ve done so much to stay present in my heart and body.
Don’t get me wrong, I love editing, getting lost in my work, pouring over images, categorizing and then sharing them. I love finding threads that run throughout and juxtapositions to tell the perfect story. I love discovering and re-living the memories, but there is inevitably some kind of intellectual pursuit that comes up. There are moments of self doubt as I categorize the images and I get too much in my head. The computer won’t move fast enough, my hand begins to cramp.
When I’m shooting, I’m solely creating. Everything is alive with possibilities. I’m free with no boundaries, restrictions or time constraints.
For now, I want to find order in the physical and continue Marie Kondoing our apartment. I want to stay in this realm with our little embryos inside of me because for a couple days, I’m their mom and I want to be here for it. I want these couple days to be great.
For now, I’ll walk in the sunshine and just make sure not to trip on my shoelaces.
It’s nice to be home. It’s been almost a week now, and in four more days, we take a pregnancy test. I’ve had extreme jet lag since I’ve been home, waking up between 3:15-5:15 every morning. I feel like half of me is still walking around Prague, taking pictures all day. I miss the movement. I miss charting out a course in the morning and getting lost in the different neighborhoods never knowing what we will discover next.
It’s good to be home nonetheless. I’ve been filling my sleep deprived self with energy from the ocean. The water and waves have a way with inner peace.
A couple of days ago I had some pains in my lower abdomen. I had been running a slight fever as well so I called my regular physician for an appointment. The nurse said it sounded like complications from IVF and that I should go to the clinic immediately. I then explained that our clinic was in Europe.
They gave me an appointment for later that day, but mentioned they might send me to the emergency room because these things can go wrong, quickly. It felt like the magical Prague bubble had been popped. Any concerns that I had at the clinic in Prague weren’t met with so much alarm.
I tried to remind myself that I was back in the states where emotions tend to run a little higher. I sat in the bathroom with tears running down my face, hands holding my stomach, frustrated with our alarmist nature, and mostly scared of losing my two. I can’t imagine a world so cruel. I shoved all the thoughts out of me and waited for my appointment.
My physician started asking me a barrage of questions about my symptoms and what hormones I had taken in Prague. She phrased some of the questions in the form of, “This is what we do here, I’m not sure how they do it there.” I answered all of her questions and it all seemed to be the same.
I did have this “off” feeling that there was an assumption that we do IVF better here. Since neither of us had experienced IVF both in Prague and the U.S., I found this a little irritating. We ruled out a UTI or bacterial infection and she examined my liver to make sure it hadn’t expanded which would be an indication of a more serious problem. My liver seemed normal size. She explained her concern of an ectopic pregnancy and that I would be in terrible pain if that was the case.
In the end, nothing was wrong and the pain was most likely my ligaments stretching from the hormones I’m taking. I reminded myself that there isn’t a language barrier anymore and doctors like to talk in worst case scenarios. No more strange “think positive” smiles from my Eastern European doctor. Instead, cryptic worried messages from my kind, smart, American doctor.
I sat on the couch when I got home with all of my energy depleted. I told myself that our journey is going to be a long one, and that I’ll listen to my body, ask for advice, and consider the source so I can stay calm and feel vitality.
Listening to : The Kitchen Sisters Present : The Hidden World of Girls with Tina Fey. This collection of emails, audio clips, poems, and stories travels to different corners of the earth telling stories about the hidden world of girls. I was feeling a little post vacation blues this morning and this gem cheered me up and made me feel more connected. Oh wanderlust. - Suzanne
Photographing : I'm so inspired by the Mitte district in Berlin. Life seems to be lived on the street. I felt like every apartment was empty Sunday afternoon and every man, woman, and child was out walking, biking, and lounging under the warm spring sun. It felt like a town and a city all at once. - Suzanne
Working on : I'm on a mission right now to get back into shape, on a proper diet, and back to martial arts. For the first time in 15 years I have allowed weeks to go without disciple in my categories like my diet. I notice this effects everything and I'm motivated to get going. - Mike
Listening to : Podcast by Jocko Willett author of Extreme Ownership. I highly recommend his book and podcast. I have been watching athletes and military service men in action. This always gets me motivated and grateful. Prague was an amazing chapter in our life and now a new chapter is starting. - Mike
So here we are on the last day of our trip. Four days since “uno” and “dos” have been put back inside of me. The doctor told me to avoid baths, jacuzzis, swimming pools, heavy lifting, over doing it, and uncooked meat for the first three days.
The first three days were crucial. It feels good to have made it that far. While I won’t know for another 10 days if I’ve made it at all, I still love the milestone. If uno and dos are born, I can tell them how I loved them and wished them safe passages as I walked around Prague and Berlin, putting myself in the way of beauty.
So many kind people have commented or texted their wishes to us. A few mentioned how brave we are for sharing our IVF story. Mike has mentioned several times that he thinks I’m brave too.
It’s been odd to wrap my mind around this concept. From the beginning, I decided that I was more afraid to attempt IVF in secret, than to tell everyone about my journey. The stress of not being able to keep the secret would bury me.
I don’t like secrets. I don’t think they are fun to keep.
I remember when I was a teenager and my parent’s marriage was falling apart. Times were tough, but it was important to me that it didn’t show. It felt like a terrible secret I was hiding. I got so good at hiding, that it took me a long time to be comfortable showing people my whole self. I can certainly give Mike a lot of credit for helping me bring out my light and my dark side. When we first met, I decided that if he was going to for fall me, I had to show him the real me.
Being transparent is now a part of my essence.
My brother told me secretly that he was going to propose to his girlfriend. He asked me not to tell anyone. So I called Mike (hey, he’s my husband!). Then I may have called my mom (well, she is my mom!). So if you have any good news, I’ll probably tell Mike and my mom too.
All of this to say, I couldn’t have gone to Europe for five weeks and not told you my hopes and dreams. I’m not really made that way.
Of course I’m scared, because maybe in 10 days a stick will break my heart and everyone will know.
But ultimately, I feel free that my spirit is full of truth and hope, not secrets.
Today is implantation day. April 1, 2017. Today is one of the best days of my life. We have a chance for hope; a chance to be parents. Maybe we will be parents in 9 months, maybe we won’t, but today we have the best chance we’ve ever had.
A questionnaire once asked me to list the three best days of my life. Of course there have been so many, but here are the one’s that stand out:
- The day I met Mike Ofeldt
- Our wedding day
- The day my world expanded as a 17-year-old when my dear friend Cristina explained backpacking and the endless possibilities of travel.
Today is coming pretty close.
Implantation went great. They implanted two excellent embryos and froze two excellent embryos. The procedure was relatively quick and painless. There was a point where it hurt and I held Mike’s hand tightly. I think it’s unusual for it to hurt, but I have a tilted uterus so perhaps that was the issue.
I zoned out and imagined two babies in footsie pajamas laughing and playing with Mike and I on the couch. I listened to Don Williams’ “I Believe in You” on repeat and then the procedure was over. I then took a 20 minute nap in recovery. Acupuncture right before and right after was a great choice.
Everything went as smooth as possible. In two weeks we will know more.
Dreaming of : Implantation in the next 48 hours. - Suzanne
Photographing : Prague. So many hours a day, every nook and cranny. What a daily dream; a meditation, a photo walk and holding Mike's hand. - Suzanne
Drinking: A bunch of different local beers in Prague. I'm enjoying trying to get a feel for the culture and the daily life here. - Mike
Watching: We have been to the movies on three occasions. One was an amazing film at the Prague film festival about kids during WWII. - Mike
Reflecting: It's been a roller coaster ride. Being in a different place going through this new IVF experience has taught me a lot and given me some much needed experience. It's given me time to step out of my routine and see what issues I have. I really like it here. - Mike
Suzanne & Mike
Today could have been our implantation day, but instead it will be tomorrow or Saturday. It feels scary that it wasn’t the first possible day. I’m guessing that it’s not actually better or worse which day it happens.
I wonder why I’m struggling so much. Is it the hormones? Is it because they took the eggs out? Does that make you spiral a little? Is it a withdrawal from the hormone shots? I guess I should be grateful for all the easy days I’ve had.
I’m worried about being worried. I want my body and mind to be relaxed and peaceful. The doctor said the only thing I can do to raise our chances is to think positive. Instead I feel panicky. I swivel from feeling so much power and gratitude, to feeling fear and panic. I’m sure it’s the hormones.
I have to keep remembering that everything is going so well. Seven of our 10 eggs are growing. All of our friends say that’s great.
I’m scared anyway. I meditated. Scared. I took a bath. Scared. I’m trying to write it so it gets out of me. Scared.
Finally we’ve gotten to the part in the IVF process that people complain about. I can’t help but feel overwhelmed during certain moments of the day.
Mike was supposed to fly home tonight, but I asked him to call and change his flight. I’m not ready for him to go. The next three days are crucial and with everything happening at the lab, I don’t want to be without him. Cristina arrives in an hour so I know I won’t be alone, but I need Mike here too. Everything feels more hopeful with him here.
I’m not a very needy or demanding wife. Usually I’m independent to a fault. But for a couple more days I want to explore the city via “Mike’s Walking Tour” and sleep holding his hand.
An hour goes by and I’m feeling even and calm. Mike is the best at talking the fear out of me.