Belle Boggs’ memoir, The Art of Waiting: on Fertility, Medicine and Motherhood, published by Graywolf Press, is intelligent, measured, passionate and compassionate and the narrative is rich with anecdote and research. With uncommon elegance she shares the experience, other people’s as well as her own, of what it means to choose parenting even when told it will be difficult or even impossible.
Q: Your memoir is incredibly rich with stories from other parents, research, myths, as well as moments from your own personal story and is broadly relatable. Can you talk about the research process? Did you gather the research first or was the process more organic?
Belle: Because I wrote the book over a period of a few years–and also because I was at first writing individual essays–I’d say that the process was more organic, and driven by my own curiosity and desire to learn from other people who’d been through similar (and also sometimes very different) experiences with their paths to parenthood, or to a childless or childfree life. But the research process was incredibly helpful to me, not just in the writing but as a fiction writer who usually spends creative time alone.
Q: In the chapter on adoption, you found a scientific study that suggests that through adoption parents become biological by the very process of loving and raising that child and that environment actually has an effect on the genetic level. This is a powerful and beautiful way to understand the process of adoption. Do you want to add anything to this?
Belle: This was so fascinating to me! I actually first learned about it in an evolutionary biology class I had a chance to sit in on at Duke University–the professor in that class was very skilled at efficiently debunking myths like “nature versus nurture” (it’s actually both, all the time) and explaining epigenetics, in which genes are switched on and off based on the environment. And then a biologist friend of mine suggested that I read Sarah Hrdy’s Mothers and Others and Mother Nature, which were so brilliant and eye-opening. Hrdy describes being frustrated at hearing the term “biological parent” applied in adoptive families, which ignores the biology that happens all around the child after adoption–the feeding, nurturing, parenting choices that continue to change and affect the child in profound ways.
Q: The tone of your work holds an impressive amount of empathy even when you’re not necessarily in agreement. How easy was it for you to be objective in the writing of this, particularly since there was an emotional component for you?
Belle: Navigating the tricky waters of my own decision-making and thinking made it much more difficult to judge other people’s choices. By the time I was writing a lot of the book my husband and I had considered domestic and international adoption, foster care, living child-free, IVF–every choice presented risk and complexity. I had also watched so many other people struggle–legally, financially, emotionally, bodily–and all of these people were absolutely serious and thoughtful.
Q: I loved the story about how your husband sent in your abandoned collection, Mataponi Queen, to a major prize and it won. Another sort of birth/delivery. Can you talk about the moment you found out you’d won a prize that you hadn’t entered?
Belle: Yes! I actually first learned that he had done this amazing thing for me when I found out that I was a finalist for the Bakeless Prize, which was such a boost of confidence at a time when I had hardly any time to write or think about a writing career. I was teaching at a high-needs, long-hours middle school in D.C. at the time, and had come home from work at about 8:00, in the winter, to hear the message on my answering machine. On my answering machine! That’s how long it was ago.
Q: In another chapter, you end it with the wish that when your daughter thinks about “chance and luck, longtime preoccupations of her mother, I hope she thinks not of the fragility of life, but its bounty.” How were you able to hold this belief close to your heart and mind while enduring the wait?
Belle: It was hard. Writing helped, and reading, and being outside. My husband wrote me a beautiful poem about springtime that I kept by my bedside for a long time.
Q: What advice would you offer to parents, in any constellation of partnership, who might be on the verge of losing hope?
Belle: In some ways I feel unequipped to give advice to people who are struggling with hope because I think it’s okay to struggle, and also to resist someone (like me now) on the other side of the experience, giving that advice. I will say that when Elaine Riddick, who was one of the outspoken heroes of the movement to provide compensation to eugenics-based sterilization victims in North Carolina, told me her story of post-traumatic growth, I was very comforted. She told me–this woman, whose reproductive future was cruelly stolen by the state–that she’d found ways of being maternal and nurturing, and had come back to a place where she could cradle a pregnant friend’s belly and speak to the baby inside. I learned a lot from other women in my support group too–it helped me a great deal to be with other people who knew something about what I was going through.
Q: Is there anything the general public has yet to understand about issues surrounding infertility that you wish it did?
Belle: I think people still don’t understand how common it is (one in eight couples), and many still don’t understand it as a medical condition that should be treated like any other medical condition: still only fifteen states mandate any kind of insurance coverage for infertility (and most of these are minimal in the coverage they require). The high cost and lack of insurance coverage has a huge impact on who can access treatment.
Q: You juggle motherhood, writing and being a professor. Any advice on how to do it all well?
Belle: I feel very lucky to have a job that allows me some time to write–for years I was a K-12 teacher, and mostly had time to write in the summer. But working parenthood, and trying to have a creative life on top of that, is definitely a challenge. We need better parental/family leave laws in this country, and better access to quality, affordable childcare.
Q: What are you working on now?
Belle: A novel! It’s called The Ugly Bear List. It’s about two writers who start the first low-residency MFA program for Christians, and it comes out with Graywolf in spring 2019.
Q: How might you describe the desire to have a child?
Belle: I think it’s surprising, how strong the desire can be, even if you always “knew” you wanted to be a parent (or not). I’m pregnant now–by IVF frozen transfer–with my second daughter, due in May. I never thought I’d be pregnant at 41, or that the process of becoming pregnant would be so difficult. But I’m grateful that I’ve been able to try, and amazed daily by what I didn’t know about parenthood. I think this is protective–it would have been even harder for me, had I known.
Learn more about Belle here: http://www.belleboggs.com/
You can find a review of Belle Boggs’ The Art of Waiting here: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/01/books/review-the-art-of-waiting-what-to-expect-when-youre-still-not-expecting.html. You can find Belle Boggs’ prize-winning collection, Mataponi Queen, here: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781555975586