I met the love of my life at 37 — well past the age most doctors want you to be when trying to have your first baby. When our own attempts at having a baby culminated in multiple miscarriages, and countless failed pregnancy tests, we spoke with my ob-gyn and moved into the seemingly frightening world of fertility treatments.
My work, my passion, has always been in exploring female sexuality and strength through photography. With the fertility treatments, I found myself in such a weird new place… a domestic limbo that felt wildly out of place with my art… two years of infertility treatments increasing and decreasing hormones, timed medications, and life on standby as doctors appointments and procedures changed moment to moment because of hormone levels; four years of unsuccessful pregnancies. I felt stalled in my creative work and I worried that by sharing what I was going through I’d lose my customer base.
I started seeing a therapist to help with the ups and downs of the treatment cycles, hormones, and miscarriages and she and I talked about this a lot. At this point, my love & I’d shared our struggle with only a handful of people. My therapist convinced me to start talking about what we are going through, and to start writing about it. If I wasn’t making work that felt like “my work” then at least I’d be doing something creative. And so I started sharing with family and friends and writing a little bit every day. Slowly, by sharing with people we love and trust and by writing, I found my voice. I began sharing aspects of our journey publicly on my social media. Our Reproductive Endocrinologist, Dr. Eve Feinberg who wrote the Foreword for Waiting, saw some of my photographs from our journey on Instagram and started telling me that she loved my photographs and that she thought they’d make a great book. Her confidence in this made me look at these seemingly disparate photographs as a possible series. When I looked at them side by side, I started to see our story.
If you’ve gone through infertility treatments, you are familiar with Waiting.
If you’ve gone through infertility treatments, you are familiar with Waiting. You wait for ultrasounds and lab work. You wait for visits with your doctor. You wait for refrigerated boxes filled with medications to arrive at your door. You wait for baseline test results, and for the phone call that tells you to begin your new cycle’s protocol. If your cycle is interrupted for any reason, you wait to begin it again. At the end of an infertility treatment, you wait for a pregnancy test.
Each month, in between treatment rounds, you wait and hope that you might get pregnant naturally after tracking every little bit of your monthly cycle.
It’s overwhelming, consuming, and can be an incredibly isolating experience. I do not think Waiting would have been born without the initial support of my therapist and doctor. I was blocked creatively and emotionally. There are studies that show that the diagnosis of infertility is as stressful as the diagnosis of cancer. And yet, when an individual or couple is diagnosed with infertility, they largely process and handle it alone. The subjects of infertility and reproductive care are still considered taboo by a huge swath of society; so many people battle infertility and go through infertility treatments quietly and without the support of their families, friends, and colleagues. And while I know that the relationship between a patient and doctor should be a collaboration, and I am so very grateful to have that relationship now with all of my doctors, I know from previous experience that is rarely the case. So how do we better support each other?
I believe the first step is sharing our stories. The more we step outside our comfort zones — -and maybe even the dictates of society — -and talk about our experiences with infertility, infertility treatments, pregnancy, miscarriage, reproductive care, and family building we normalize talking about these subjects. We know that infertility is experienced by 1 in 8 couples in the US — in the UK, I think that number is 1 in 6. When 1 in 8 people you know is experiencing infertility, when every person on earth was born as a result of an egg and sperm creating an embryo, why is it taboo to talk about it?
It’s only recently that I have really understood that my art, my work, my passion, is in women’s stories and specifically in examining those aspects of being a woman that are considered taboo. I’ve been hugely inspired by the women and artists who are sharing their stories around infertility. But there is still so much that goes unsaid due to lack of support. One of those unsaid things is that while we know it is stressful, it is also expensive to battle infertility. Not everyone can afford to undergo infertility treatments, or to “just adopt” as so many say when the subject of infertility arises. Family building, when you cannot get pregnant or sustain a pregnancy naturally, is incredibly expensive. How do you battle infertility when every part of you is emotionally, physically, or financially stressed? And that’s why I decided to have a portion of the proceeds from the sales of Waiting support the work of the Kevin J. Lederer Life Foundation (www.lifefindsaway.org,) an organization that helps to increase access to infertility education and family building, through grants for infertility treatments and adoption.
Sharing our stories changes the world. Art knocks down walls.
Waiting is very much a visual study of one woman’s experience, my own; but my story is not unique. I know that as I talk with more people about our struggle and as I witness our family, friends, and colleagues begin to share theirs. I hope Waiting helps those who haven’t gone through this struggle to better understand and support those battling infertility. And I hope it inspires those, women and men, individuals and couples, who are battling infertility to share their own stories.
This piece originally ran on The Art of Infertility.
Natascha Dea is an American photographer whose photographs intersect fashion and art in a captivating exploration of sensuality and erotic femininity.
Natascha was born in Germany, calls New York City home, and splits her time between Venice Beach and Chicago, where she currently lives with her family. She is available for editorial, commercial, and personal portrait commissions and travels. Her work can be found hanging in private collections in four countries, has been published internationally on LENSCRATCH and L’Oeil de la Photographie, and is featured on The Quiet Front. Duncan Miller Gallery recently featured Natascha’s black and white work for sale on their special project Your Daily Photograph as Emerging and Classic photography. Her second monograph, Natascha Dea’s Women, will be published by FortyTwo Women Press on May 1st, 2018.
Natascha is a vocal advocate for equality, reproductive rights and justice, and better access to reproductive and infertility healthcare for all. She is the founder of the Neshama Collective, a year-long creative workshop and gathering for women artists battling infertility.