“I remember the hum of conversation from pregnant patients with their significant others, astringent smells, phones ringing, stools rolling, the sticky slippery cold wet feeling of the lube they used for vaginal sonograms,” the photographer Beth Chucker tells me. “I remember jasmine in February.” It was 2012, a year the artist and her husband spent hours in lobbies, waiting rooms, and doctor’s offices, as they tried to bring a child into the world. 

Chucker has other memories from that time too: her legs up in the air on the examining table, intrauterine insemination (IUI) procedures, and a dilation and curettage (D&C) following a miscarriage. There were moments of longing and hope too, like a chance encounter with a woman she calls the Golden Lady, a stranger she saw at the stairwell during one of her many doctor’s visits. Like Chucker, the woman had red hair, and her presence was comforting. “I like to think of her as a guardian,” the artist says. 

Chucker first brought her camera with her on the day of the D&C–as a kind of armor as well as a method for keeping herself distracted. “I had also researched what a D&C was like and came across so many women who talked about the pain of losing a pregnancy,” she says now. “I think I felt that having a visual document of the experience could maybe be my way of honoring this loss. I am not entirely sure; I was feeling lost and holding on to what I know.”

She continued to document her visits with her husband to the doctor throughout that time, up through the conception of their twins. The camera remained her armor. “I could focus on my craft while being told I was too old and waited too long,” the photographer explains. “Or being told that I need to take Clomid and progesterone. Or being reminded that I just needed to be patient. 

“Photography has always allowed me to remain patient. Maybe it’s the idea that when you’re shooting with film, you don’t know if you got the image until it’s developed, and then you get these wonderful surprises. Going into the office and looking for images that would surprise me later or images that I know I got helped me feel like I had some control over my life and my body.” 

Over time, another inspiration began to take hold as well. “I was also motivated because, at this time, I feel women were keeping this journey private,” she says now. “I feel that people were not addressing what was happening to them in real-time. As we have witnessed in the past few years, miscarriage and fertility issues were hidden from sight–a quiet, lonely fight.” She’s glad to see more talking about it more openly and loudly now. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, Chucker found herself returning to the photographs she’d made during this time, collected together under the title A Work in Progress. She’d meant to revisit it earlier, but she was distracted with early motherhood. 

In the final picture of the series, a self-portrait, she’s projected a medical illustration of twins onto her belly. “The two fetuses are not my actual children,” she says. “They are a scanned copy of a fetus from a medical book I grew up on that my father had in his reference study. I had to track down the book and purchase it. For some reason, I wanted this book back in my life. It had given me so much odd pleasure as a child. 

“The book also shows rare medical conditions that fascinated me. When I was a kid, I loved learning these things about the body. As I reminisced, I saw the drawing of the fetus, and I knew I need to do something with it, so I scanned the drawing, copied and then flipped it, then projected it onto my stomach.” 

Chucker’s twins just celebrated their eighth birthday. Their mom thinks sometimes about those doctor’s visits, the sounds of phones ringing and stools rolling, or the cold sensation of sonogram jelly. She thinks about the Golden Lady, a stranger she saw by the stairwell on one of those visits: a woman bathed in golden light, her presence somehow reassuring and hopeful. Chucker never saw her again nor got the chance to ask her name. But she still loves the smell of jasmine in February. 

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