My initial reason for writing 336 Hours was pretty simple: it was a form of therapy. And a form of therapy that was much-needed at the time.
This story emerged from the diaries I kept during the years that my husband and I were trying for a baby. It was as we approached the third anniversary of trying to conceive that my need to get pregnant, and my even greater need to manage the negative emotions that had overtaken me, required some kind of outlet. I found writing to be therapeutically powerful.
I decided to turn the diary entries into a fictional story rather than a straight memoir, maybe because I wanted to distance myself from what was happening, or maybe because I hoped to gain a little perspective on our situation by imagining that it was happening to somebody else instead.
When I first put pen to paper I don’t think I knew who I was writing for; it didn’t feel as though it was solely for me, but I know it definitely wasn’t for the world at large. Perhaps it was just for a friend; one of my virtual ‘Tarantino buddies’ as they’re referred to in the story, somebody who wouldn’t judge me and who would already understand what I was experiencing.
Working on the story helped me. It wasn’t an escape from my problems; if anything it drew me further into them, but then my overriding problem had become my sole focus in life, and I wasn’t looking for escape.
What it allowed me to do was to validate my experience, make sense of it somehow, and understand why it had consumed my life and everything in it so completely. More than that, it enabled me to laugh again, and to find a kind of dark humour in the depths of the despair I’d fallen into.
I divided the story into fourteen chapters, each one focusing on one day in the notorious IVF ‘two-week wait’ – a mind bending, wall-climbing stretch of time where there is nothing to do but wait to see whether or not you are finally pregnant. It was the part of the process that made me question my own sanity at times, so it felt natural to set the story during this intense 336 hour countdown.
I showed the first draft of the book to my Dad, whom I knew to be a harsh but fair critic; someone I knew would give it to me straight and tell me whether or not this was a therapeutic exercise for me or something that should be shared more widely. He said it needed work. He advised me to replace ‘penis’ with ‘wiener’. He told me chapter ten might be a little short on the word ‘fucking’ (‘Remember Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles’, he suggested, because if you’re going to flip your lid, you may as well do it properly). He urged me to keep at it.
I rewrote it, but I didn’t want anyone to read it. It was too raw and it made me feel too exposed. It was just too close to home.
Fast forward four years, and as I held my new-born daughter over my shoulder one afternoon while searching for some paper for my two-year old son to scribble on, I stumbled across some pages of the book that I had printed out for a proofread a few years earlier. Immediately, it transported me back to that terrifying place.
Four years had turned my world upside down. I had lost my Dad to the cancer he was fighting while we’d been in the throes of IVF, and I had acquired two children that I feared I would never meet. Our journey to parenthood had not been forgotten; I knew it had left an indelible print on my life. I wondered if reading my story (or the story that was so heavily inspired by my story) could help somebody who was in that terrifying place, or if it could help somebody who had no idea about the impact of infertility to understand what it might be like to walk in these shoes.
I asked a few friends who had experienced infertility and IVF if they wouldn’t mind reading the latest version. They told me I should get it out there; they wanted people to know that this was how it felt to be singled out by the universe as the ‘one in six’ who wouldn’t just ‘decide to have a baby’.
Now that I have decided to put it out there, am I worried about sharing something so personal with the world? Absolutely!
I expect many of the women who’ve been through infertility will connect with that awful bitterness and rage that my narrator wrestles with throughout the book, but how I will be judged by the rest of the world, I really couldn’t say.
But I have learnt in recent years that life is short and that risks are worth taking. And if there’s a chance that this book I wrote in grip of my darkest days might serve to make somebody else’s dark days just a little more tolerable, then I guess it is better off in the world than in the bottom of a drawer.