Book Review: The Art of Waiting by Belle Boggs
After a visit to a reproductive endocrinologist confirms Belle Boggs’ low odds of fertility, she and her husband begin their wait. It’s a long wait, and one with no clear end in sight. Instead, prospective parents such as themselves remain at the mercy of science and fate, hopeful that at the conclusion of a journey filled with a gamut of the latest medical techniques—medication, in vitro fertilization, among others—they will at last be rewarded with an embryo. But as Boggs notes in The Art of Waiting’s opening pages, it’s “not a patient, serene kind of waiting,” but a “consuming struggle, staggering expense, [and] devastating loss.”
Throughout the remainder of the book, Boggs sets out to prove it, detailing the quiet, oft-kept private heartbreaks that occur daily for those struggling with infertility. “A large part of the pressure and frustration of infertility is the idea that fertility is normal, natural, and healthy, while infertility is rare and unnatural and means something is wrong with you,” Boggs writes. “[E]ven the strongest of us let the body’s failures become how we define ourselves,” Boggs confirms—an acknowledgment that speaks not only to individuals, but to the culture at-large. Boggs reflects that for a woman struggling with infertility, fertility is everywhere: on the Facebook feed, on the TV screen, at the mall. Its apparent ubiquity serves as yet another hardship many must face: the fear of being “left behind” while “friends and relatives go about the business of raising their ever-growing families.”
Running concurrent to Boggs’ story of infertility is the story of her anxieties as a writer. It’s a tale that relies upon the assistance of Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee, Joan Didion, Tillie Olson— all literary icons who speak to the subject at hand, but also serve as reminders of Boggs’ own writerly aspirations. Upon considering the negative consequences of pregnancy, Boggs writes that it “tends to make women poorer and more vulnerable to violence and some diseases—and certainly less likely to write books…” It’s this flash after the dash that confronts the mostly tap-danced-around question: What becomes of one’s art when the artist becomes a parent? Or to put it more pointedly: What becomes of one’s entire life? In one particularly memorable scene, Boggs asks her father if it’s true that kids “squash” their parents’ dreams. Not only does her father confirm it, but adds also that having children “takes all your money, too.” Though hardly the pep talk she’d hoped for, his candid assessment prepares her for her own potential fate. To be clear, in every instance, Boggs seems to prefer motherhood over her writing career, yet her career remains the specter in her periphery. Though it’s an understated dilemma only obliquely addressed, its complexity further contributes to the fabric of Boggs’ story: a reminder that every scenario is imperfect, and that no one can have everything all at once.
What Boggs wants mostly, it seems, is to be a part of the “community of human experience.” To experience motherhood the way others do, to find a plus sign on the pregnancy test like the many mothers who’ve come before. But prior to seeing that plus sign herself, she takes refuge in another community—one made up of others struggling with infertility. It’s a community with its own lexicon (embryologist, surrogacy, IVF), as well as many message boards and support groups. She gratefully takes her place among their ranks before her own IVF success ultimately transitions her to the world of pregnant mothers. At last she joins the community she’s long sought, though she never forgets her former one. How could she? Once she was them.
Grounded in fact and feeling, Boggs takes a complicated experience and turns it inward. In doing so, she emerges as the perfect messenger: recounting her personal struggle while also transcending beyond it. By book’s end, readers don’t just feel the echo of her heartache, we feel the ache itself. And we understand that she hardly bears it alone. That infertility, like fertility, is something we share—whether we talk about it or not.
B.J. Hollars is the author of several books, most recently From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us About Life, Death, and Being Human, as well as a collection of essays, This Is Only A Test. In February, Flock Together: A Love Affair With Extinct Birds will be published by the University of Nebraska Press.