An Interview with Author & Photographer Natascha Dea
It was a rare grey, rainy day in St. Augustine when I phoned Natascha Dea in Chicago. We compared notes on our grey landscapes and she mentioned there was a pregnant bunny just outside her window. “She looks like she’s just about to bust!” she said happily.
Natascha is an “old Facebook Friend” of mine—someone I’ve never actually met in person, but that I’ve grown close with over social media throughout the years. We had several mutual artist friends and somehow I stumbled upon her striking photography. At some point, the photography stopped being posted and instead, I started learning about another side of Natascha’s life: She was battling infertility. Slowly, she revealed more and more about her personal life and I joined her existing family and friends in encouraging her online round after round of IVF. Even with my own struggles, I never understood what exactly someone battling infertility truly went through until Natascha decided to start photographing and writing about her journey online.
Eight rounds of IVF and five miscarriages later, Natascha’s book, “Waiting,” chronicles her emotional quest for motherhood from the past five and half years that will hit bookstores on May 1, 2018.
I mentioned to Natascha that I could find no motivation or inspiration for writing or art during my first trimester of pregnancy. It turns out she understood more than I realized. She too lost her creative spark when she was being pumped with hormones during her back-to-back IVF rounds. That’s why I had noticed her head-turning photography had gone so quiet. She said that instead, she was simply taking photos on iPhone from waiting rooms and posting them on Instagram—since that was where she most often was.
It wasn’t until her current doctor (from the last two rounds), Eve C. Feinberg, M.D., Medical Director at Northwestern Fertility and Reproductive Medicine, took notice of her artistic images that they took on a larger direction. “The book was birthed, if you will, through our fertility doctor. She discovered my photos from the waiting room & kept saying ‘This would make an amazing book’ & I kind of laughed it off. I finally decided I’ll look at these photos, make a book for her, and she can put it in her waiting room. Then I saw…there was actually a story there.”
At around the same time, Natascha’s therapist, Mallory, told Natascha that the best way to heal after so many losses and attempts was to start talking about what she’s going through. First with close friends and family, and then gradually expand to her clients, professional colleagues, and social media connections.
“I wasn’t making my own work at this point–I could not focus while on the fertility drugs. I couldn’t be creative or see things the way I was seeing them before. So I was only taking pictures of our day. I had no intention of actually doing anything with it.”
But the silence about what she was going through was taking its toll on Natascha. “It’s a huge part of what you’re going through and a lot of women are going through it. To not honor that creates this duality that you’re living a life you’re not really talking about—something I was having intense difficulty with. I was having a hard time trying to maintain friends and clients while not creating art, all because I was going through a process that no one even knew about. Plus, I was packing on weight from the drugs and feeling self-conscious and not wanting to be around anybody. Once Dr. Feinberg said ‘This would make an amazing book’ and I really looked at it, and suddenly everything the therapist was saying made sense. So the book was born.”
The book comes in two forms: a 12×12 glossy limited edition and a 6×9 hard-back book with a dust jacket that will be available in most bookstores. A portion of the proceeds from both books will be donated to Dr. Feinberg’s foundation, the Kevin J. Lederer Life Foundation, which works on increasing access to family building, through infertility treatment or adoption, for those who may otherwise be unable to afford to pursue those options. “The work she is doing is crucial,” Natascha told me.
Her book is a stunning photographic monograph of what it’s actually like to go through these treatments day-to-day. Natascha has read the small number of books available on infertility and said that most of them cover it from a scientific standpoint or that they cover the governmental regulations. But she hadn’t come across anything that discussed what it was really like.
There’s a beautiful foreward from Dr. Feinberg where she discusses her experience of having a career in infertility. Then there’s an Artist Note from Natascha where she speaks about her own experience behind the photographs. In her epilogue, she focuses completely on body image and body changes that are a result of infertility treatments—something most people don’t understand, she says.
“Your body changes drastically after each treatment. I’ve gained 80 pounds now. Average weight gain per cycle is 10-12 pounds. Our cycles were back-to-back over the course of two years without a break. And when you’re on the treatments, you’re not allowed to exercise. Exercise can literally throw your entire cycle off. From that standpoint, it’s been very stressful. And you can’t exercise to release the stress.”
To close the book, she has both resource information and a list of things you should never say to someone going through infertility treatments.
“I’m really happy with it. And I don’t think I’m done talking about the subject. So I can see myself doing a lot more writing on the subject. It’s something that’s so much a part of a woman’s journey. Society brings up motherhood constantly. Whether you want children or not, how you choose to conceive them–it’s something every woman on the planet is subject to discuss at some time. And then there are all the other parts that are considered taboo and so women feel like they can’t discuss it. They’ve been told they can’t talk about it and they think they don’t know anyone else that they can talk about it with.”
“One thing I’ve noticed in regards to my miscarriages is that a lot of people who had never discussed it before came to me to tell me about their own miscarriages. It was such an honor to hear their stories of miscarriage, pregnancy loss, stillbirth. It’s a heavy thing to wear and hold on your own. Every person on this planet was born from a woman, so why are we not discussing these things? I think it’s so important.”
Natascha and her husband are still waiting…and still trying. They are set to begin another round—this time with donor eggs. Next options are surrogacy, and perhaps a final option will be adoption (which can be 5x more expensive than IVF).
“We just want to be parents.”
I’m grateful to trailblazers such as Natascha who are unafraid to chronicle their journey so publicly and to break the cultural taboos that have left generations of women alone in their silence.
If you are “Waiting” to become a parent, or you know someone who is, I hope you consider taking a peek at these captivating, raw and honest photographs and words by Natascha Dea.