In what she calls one of the hardest chapters to write in her book, Belle Boggs spends the night in a Virginia hospital with her mother, who’s recovering from surgery. Boggs was struggling to conceive with her husband at the time, but doesn’t tell her mother that.
“She had been placed in the maternity ward, so I stayed with her and listened all night as babies were born around me,” Boggs says. “That’s more the experience of infertile people, watching as other people become pregnant, have their children — and feeling left out.”
In her new book, Boggs asks readers to consider the opposite of pregnancy for someone who dearly seeks it. Through memoir laced with thoughtful research, interviews and scientific exploration, “The Art of Waiting: on Fertility, Medicine and Motherhood” discusses openly and gracefully a topic often kept private. And though she touches on the eventual success of her in vitro fertilization, she is well aware of how isolating and consuming that uncertain wait can be.
“I think we get lots of messaging, lots of celebration, lots of stories about pregnancy and that kind of maternity in our culture,” she says. “And that was not the story of this book. … I’m very aware of being ‘the other.’”
Boggs’ book developed from a 2012 essay she wrote for Orion Magazine, one of its most-read online, that landed her on public radio and was republished several times. With one in eight American couples affected by infertility, the essay touched a nerve. The book is enjoying a similar reception, landing the Virginia native on the cover of the New York Times Book Review and earning glowing reviews from other national outlets.
Boggs’ writing is infused with respect and warmth for all manner of reproductive choices that women and their partners can make. There’s also a chapter about two married men and their choices in a state such as North Carolina, where Boggs lives now. In another, she explores the complexity and loss inherent in adoption.
“Exposing the stereotypes that people use to describe all kinds of reproductive decisions, it’s really important to me,” Boggs says. “It’s very easy, unfortunately, to think that the way you approach something is normal and natural — and the way someone else’s life unfolds, that those choices are less so.”
Boggs realized she was guilty of this before trying to conceive.
“When I was thinking about the way that childless or infertile women are portrayed in fiction,” she says, “I looked at my own short story that had a young woman going through IVF treatment, seen through the lens of her mother. I didn’t do a thorough enough job of interrogating my own biases.”
Boggs graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in English and released a collection of short stories, “Mattaponi Queen,” in 2010. Like that book, “The Art of Waiting” is full of insights about the natural world and animals. But she doesn’t have a background in the sciences.
“No, I have a background of growing up in the country and living in the country,” Boggs says, laughing. She grew up in King William County and moved across the Mattaponi River to King and Queen County when she was 15, graduating from West Point High School.
The book doesn’t shy from the oft-prohibitive cost of infertility treatments, the process of recovery for victims of forced sterilization, the phenomenon of “baby fever” that some people experience, and the indescribable frustration that comes with your body not working in what we’re told is its most basic function.
“If someone had told me, ‘In five years you will have a baby,’ I would have been fine to wait those five years,” Boggs writes. “I would have been grateful to have them, in fact, and would have gotten busy with some of my other goals.” But, instead, the wait is intense, dizzying and filled with self-doubt.
The tone stays relatively light, though, peppered with knowledge of literature and pop culture. And Boggs arrives at a place of deep understanding for what it feels like to be infertile in an explosively fertile world.
“I hope it will help other people who struggle and have struggled with infertility and plan B family-making,” she says of the book. “But I also hope it will be useful to someone who has someone in their life going through this — grandparents to-be, or young people not at the point of thinking about whether they’ll have family, but who see it on the horizon, or feel pressure for it. I hope it’s for everyone.” S
Belle Boggs will read from and sign copies of “The Art of Waiting” at Chop Suey Books on Thursday, Sept. 29, from 6-7 p.m.