From an early age, women are expected to present an image to the world of health and fertility. In “The Art of Waiting,” Belle Boggs’ moving memoir about infertility, she ponders what happens when a woman’s body “strays from the trajectory of womanhood through motherhood.”
Only women and couples who have faced their own battles with infertility can understand the pain associated with wanting a child and being unable to conceive. “There is evidence,“ Boggs writes, “that infertility, as a stressor, is equivalent to the experience of living with cancer, HIV, or other chronic illnesses.”
“It’s such an assault to your identity,” one doctor tells Boggs. “Physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.”
Boggs’ daughter Beatrice was born through IVF, in vitro fertilization, in which a fertilized embryo was planted in Boggs’ uterus. But Beatrice’s birth was preceded by years of trying “less invasive methods first,” including oral medication, intrauterine insemination, acupuncture, natural cycle timing and even “taking a break from actively trying.”
When nothing works, Boggs and her husband decide to try IVF. “No one imagines that she will need to be tested, medicated, and injected before conceiving a child,” Boggs writes, “that her eggs will have to be retrieved and combined in a laboratory with a partner’s sperm before being transferred back to her body.”
Boggs’ obsession with getting pregnant is exacerbated by an addiction to internet message boards such as Momtastic.com, where she reads daily about other women’s fertility problems as well as, for some, subsequent, successful pregnancies.
She joins support groups and contemplates adoption in the United States, as well as abroad.
“The Art of Waiting” is not just an honest and heartbreaking account about Boggs’ experience. In addition to the endless medical options available to her and other women, she deftly examines the choices and challenges couples and singles face. She introduces us to people who have pursued domestic and international adoptions and how those families have fared. She delves into “fertility tourism” to Nepal, Thailand and other countries, where the business of hiring surrogates is booming. Boggs writes about dealing with insurance companies and the limits to what they’ll pay and about the tough fights members of the LBGT community face when trying to adopt, get pregnant or use surrogates.
Infertility is a personal struggle, but Boggs ably mixes her experience with a broader, more objective account of what for many men and women amounts to one of the most traumatic upsets in their lives. “The Art of Waiting” is a primer for anyone dealing with infertility. It’s also an eye-opener for anyone who takes having children for granted.
Carol Memmott also reviews books for the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.
The Art of Waiting
By: Belle Boggs.
Publisher: Graywolf Press, 242 pages, $16.
Event: With Kate Hopper, 7 p.m Sept. 27, Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.