The Art of Waiting by Belle Boggs is an inquiry into fertility and motherhood. After years of trying to conceive without success, Boggs makes the difficult and expensive decision to utilize ART—assisted reproductive technology. As she takes this drastic step toward biological motherhood, she explores every option and decision.
“The life an infertile person seeks comes to her not by accident and not by fate but by hard-fought choices.” What begins as a first-person narrative shifts into a wider sociological view as Boggs struggles to make sense of her situation. “Baby fever is painful and all encompassing,” she writes. Boggs draws parallels between her fertility experience and the outside world. Her research is evident in passages from academic studies and online chat sites. Gorilla and marmoset birthing habits give way to a cultural exploration of motherhood. Boggs’s straightforward language and empathetic style create a steady voice, and she is unafraid of posing difficult questions when she considers the multitude of situations women face:
What happens when one of them, like me, cannot have a child? What if she needs medical intervention to conceive? What if she chooses not to? What about the body that isn’t alike in some way, the body that strays from the trajectory of womanhood through motherhood?
Boggs invokes the voices of[ literary masters quoting Didion, Olsen, Woolf, Rich, and others—to assist in her soul-searching. She appears to seek counsel as she scrutinizes their birth experiences and motherhood choices, as well as literary portrayals of childless female characters.
The most personally revealing part of the narrative comes when Belle is called to help her mother in the hospital following an undisclosed “female” condition.
I had told my mother almost as little about my infertility or treatment as she had now told me about her surgery. Our broken parts—the broken female parts, at least—were an uncommon silence between us.
As both mother and daughter experience the breakdown of the female body, these otherwise loquacious women silence themselves. Belle acknowledges that her family’s birth stories followed a more mainstream theme:
The pregnant body suggests a story we think we know: health, love, happiness. That pregnancy is in fact a dangerous condition… isn’t something we talk about… my mother needed the story of my birth to be about nature taking its course and the perfection of the experience.
For me, this is a pivotal point for the memoir. As a writer of all things fertility, I understand it is a lonely business even for those surrounded by support groups and well-meaning family. I’m moved to embrace Belle as she searches for answers in familiar and comforting places. I get it. Conception is not always simple, and birth may be horrid, but how can we talk to women about such things when we have failed to admit the truth to ourselves? In this absence, Boggs reaches for research and literature, embedding her fertility story so deeply into the wider sociological context, it’s essentially hidden. Or protected. And while each chapter is peppered with the first person, her narrative focus is outside of her body. Her pain and anger and waiting are buried in the words and experiences of others.
Throughout the text, I longed to hear Belle’s emotional perspective, but her story targets the intellect. She inundates us with facts, building a strong argument. When she skillfully divulges a few personal paragraphs, we unwittingly fill in her details. We feel we know her pain, her longing, and her waiting. But we don’t. Open discussions about fertility are risky and rare. Readers unfamiliar with IVF may be satisfied with the scant personal details, but those of us who have lived through similar years will recognize the veil of distance.
And there I am, hidden behind sunglasses and crinolines and kittens.
Kelly Hedglin Bowen is a satirical writer turned reluctant memoirist. Kelly has no natural pause and is therefore comma challenged. While earning an M.F.A. from Goddard College, she completed a memoir Mystic Trinities. When not reading and writing, she follows the seasons with her family ~ snowboarding, sailing, and hiking. Her work has appeared in The Pitkin Review and online at The Huffington Post.