- The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood
- Belle Boggs
- Graywolf Press
I once told a friend that the experience of infertility is like enduring a kind of grief that actually gets worse – not better – over time. The necessary hope that you will one day have a child of your own is the very thing that prevents you from resolving the pain the diagnosis inflicts upon your mind and body. As the weeks, months and years pass without the success of conception, the mourning of what you cannot have only gets more acute, until, one day, you know you might be forced to give up hope altogether.
I have been dealing with "unexplained infertility" for two and a half years now, my life characterized by what seems to be endless appointments, ongoing stress and sadness, and overwhelming uncertainty. It is an intensely lonely place to be, the people I love doing their best to provide support, but finding themselves mostly unequipped to offer the solace I need.
That is, of course, through no fault of their own – infertility is highly stigmatized and rarely discussed, a surprisingly common condition that would-be parents grapple with in near-complete isolation. When infertility is talked about, those who can't identify with the burden of wanting and not being able to have a baby are prone to providing lacklustre commentary. ("I know lots of women who had babies when they were older," "You should really just relax," and "Well, you can just adopt" being amongst my least favourite offerings.)
Belle Boggs knows all too well the disruption, sorrow and ceaseless ache that infertility can bring to a life. She understands the shame thrust on those who are not able to get pregnant, and the cultural disdain for medical interventions that have been developed to make pregnancy happen. In The Art of Waiting, Boggs documents her years of "failing" to conceive and in doing so reveals our beliefs around the role of medicine in reproduction and the right to motherhood, and how little institutional and emotional support we offer those who can't readily have the child they so deeply want.
Through a series of beautifully rendered, often poetic essays, Boggs touches on myriad emotional and physical aspects of infertility, and the various options on offer to solve it. She peppers her memoir with references to literature and the natural world, rendering a rich, truly human and sometimes harrowing portrait of an oft-misunderstood experience. Boggs not only demystifies the diagnosis and the slew of medical procedures that can come along with it, but corrects the idea that there is a single, straightforward path when it comes to tackling it.
The author takes us inside the helplessness and courage of support groups and message boards, through the overwhelming complexity of blood tests, drug regimens and invasive procedures, and reveals how lengthy, costly and all-consuming adoption really is, despite the fact that it is often offered up by the well-intentioned as an "easy" alternative to IVF. She is candid about a ceaseless wanting that feels like it will never be fulfilled, and the ugly feelings of jealousy and inadequacy that accompany it. All the while, she is careful to assert that motherhood should never be seen as self-defining necessity, but instead a choice available to those who desire it.
Perhaps the most apt metaphor in The Art of Waiting is that of Boggs contracting workers to dig for a well in her yard with no real guarantee that water will ever be found. Each foot deeper the workers go costs her more, and as time goes by and thousands of dollars are spent, the fear of failure is combatted only with faith. This relentless dig is akin to the resources expended in the pursuit of conception; savings emptied out and debt incurred, a life completely disrupted and mental health thoroughly taxed, with only small statistical outcomes to cling to. In the end, the deep well finally provides what is sought, but not without considerable investment and personal loss along the way.
Despite being an all-consuming process, a huge part of coping with infertility is the necessity of distraction. To get through it, one must take on the impossible challenge of not thinking about what your body is or isn't doing at any given moment. It was for this reason that I largely ignored The Art of Waiting when it arrived, left it languishing on my dining room table for weeks, intent on avoiding whatever truths lay inside. I regret that tactic now, if only because the book represents the long-overdue comfort I was seeking. Boggs offers kindhearted kinship and understanding, and has an ability to make us feel better about an often hidden struggle, while still asking us to face it head on.
The Art of Waiting is an intimate and generous collection, providing a new and necessary narrative of infertility than the one we're consistently offered. The book uncompromisingly states that it's okay to deal with the process on your own terms, that none of this is your fault and that in what feels like the loneliest part of your life, you are not alone. Unlike anything I have read on the subject before, this book is immensely valuable not only to those have faced the hardship of infertility, but to all who seek to support them.