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Fertility Treatments and Protecting Myself From My Books

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Dana Staves

Staff Writer

Going through life with an apron tied on and a pen in her hand, Dana Staves writes about books and food. She also writes a little fiction. She lives in Maryland with her wife, their son, and their cat.

Books are such a wonderful escape, aren’t they? I mean, we look at letters arranged on a page and we are transported to the lives and feelings and experiences of other people, other places. But sometimes, in certain moments of your life, a book is the opposite of an escape. Transporting, yes; but rather than helping us reach new levels of insight, entertainment, or knowledge, books can dig us deeper into an already treacherous emotional hole. This happened to me. This is the story of fertility treatments and how I ended up protecting myself from my books.

When I was trying to get pregnant, it wasn’t easy. My wife and I sought out fertility treatments. I did the injections, took my supplements, drank tons of water, changed my diet, did acupuncture, took up meditation, did everything I was supposed to. And still I was met each month with disappointment. And then, even more sadly, on my first successful month, I was met with miscarriage. The whole fertility treatment process began to undo me; I felt like a body, not a person.

My wife is active duty Navy, and so she was gone a lot during this process. It was just me, hanging out in our empty apartment, writing and cooking and obsessing over my not-pregnant body and reading. So much reading.

state of wonderBut a distressing thing began to happen:  every single book I picked up was about pregnancy or children or fertility or miscarriage or abortion, and it was like I could not escape from the thing that I needed the most escape from. I picked up an Ann Patchett, confident that State of Wonder would be a great diversion because Ann Patchett is amazing; nope, reproductive endocrinology. I sought out favorite authors who had been un-put-down-able in the past, but lo, there was pregnancy loss, or abortion. Everywhere I turned there were babies. But not in my apartment. Not with me.

I have always enjoyed reading. (Duh. We all do. Preaching to the choir.) But what was I supposed to do when reading became dangerous? When I couldn’t pick up a book without finding the one thing I wanted a break from thinking about? In the midst of fertility treatments, I wanted escape, I wanted comfort, I wanted a good story to whisk me away. But I couldn’t find that.

I needed someone to protect me. I needed a label on the book, or a friend to say, “it’s okay, there are literally no fertile ovaries in this book.” But as we all know, these protections don’t really exist. I had to find a way of protecting myself from my books.

So how did I do that? I got different. I sought out new genres. I dove into comics, falling in love with Lumberjanes. I read horror, and actually really enjoyed Horrorstör (horror light, because I’m a wimp and HELLO, my wife was gone, and my cat will not protect me). I discovered all the goodness that is Megan Abbott. Fantasy. Romance. You know who’s not trying to have babies? People in romances who are just meeting and falling in love and getting down and dirty. God love ’em. Not a baby to be seen.

I had to shake out of my genre comfort zones in order to find a new comfort zone. In order to protect my heart and my mind from the stories that reminded me I wasn’t pregnant yet, that I had to wait and keep working. I needed to protect myself from the stories that made me fear this would never happen for me.

After almost a year, I did finally get pregnant. Stories trigger me in new ways now. I can’t read about children being hurt, or lost, or kidnapped. I will hard pass on all of those. But that’s okay. I know what to do now. I know that sometimes, in order to protect myself from my books, I need to seek out new authors, new genres. I need new stories. And lucky for me, they are out there, in abundance.