Baby Fever “The Art of Waiting” Captures the Pain of Infertility

Book Reviews{ Graywolf Press }
Released: September 6, 2016

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This article appears in our 2017 Spring issue, Family Values. Subscribe today!

One of the tropes of Belle Boggs’s The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood is the ambling daily walks she takes in the woods near her rural North Carolina home. She has a particular gift for finding four-leaf clovers—a gift she inherited, through either genetics or imitation, from her mother. The Art of Waiting feels a bit like Boggs’s daily walks: meandering, but sometimes offering, under her careful observation, four-leaf clovers of insight into the many aspects of infertility she explores.

Boggs leads us down various trails in the vast landscape of infertility, including the evolutionary psychology of baby fever, pop culture and literary representations of childlessness and assisted reproductive technology (ART), the ethical dilemmas of international adoption, forced sterilization and eugenics, the politics and pragmatic considerations of queer family formation, and the often prohibitive cost and related inequities and social barriers to ART access. Each of these issues is explored narratively, through accounts of real people’s experiences. Her handling of their stories is largely compelling, and her treatment of these widely varied topics is often nuanced and empathetic, deftly attuned to issues of social justice. She is also careful not to assume motherhood as the default desired state; she examines cultural norms that contribute to expectations of and desire for motherhood, and includes voices of women who have chosen not to parent.

But the book feels, in some ways, laden with too much information, trying to journey too far afield. When Boggs explains the details of fertility treatments, she is both too technical and lacks nuance. Her exposition recalls an A-student reciting memorized information without trying to engage the reader or add to the story she’s trying to tell. She stumbles a bit when she tries to link forced sterilizations by the state of North Carolina and her own experiences of infertility. And she missteps when she undertakes, in an astounding feat of navel-gazing, a close reading of an infertile character in one of her own previously published short stories. The ambition of the scope of the book also makes it feel less nimble. Connections between chapters often feel clumsy, making it read like a collection of essays (some of the chapters were, in fact, previously published as essays) linked by the theme of infertility instead of a continuous narrative. It felt, at times, like a slog to continue on with her.

For all that, it is not unpleasant to amble through this exploration of infertility with Boggs, and she is at her best in the places where her literary training— she teaches creative writing and has an MFA— shines through. These moments are the four-leaf clovers of the book: the analyses of representations of infertility in literature and culture, the personal narratives that drive each of the chapters, and Boggs’s beautiful use of metaphor, as when she likens her childlessness and fertility treatments to the well on her property, which has ceased to yield the expected water and must be drilled, at great expense and uncertain odds, to ensure the continued habitability of their family home.

This article was published in Family Values Issue #74 | Spring 2017
by Rebecca Koon
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Rebecca Koon is a writer and educator based in Portland, OR. She is a former editorial assistant at Bitch media and is interested in reproductive justice, literary fiction, and cookies.

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