Up until now, Belle Boggs has been known for her fiction; in 2010, Mattaponi Queen was selected as a Kirkus top fiction debut, shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award, and longlisted for the Story Prize. But Boggs’s personal struggle with infertility has led her to write her first nonfiction book, The Art of Waiting (Graywolf, Sept.), part memoir, but also a psychological, cultural, political, legal, medical, and sociological look at childlessness. We spoke with Boggs in advance of her galley signing today at the Graywolf booth (1865), 11 a.m.
How was it to cross over to nonfiction?
Fiction can sometimes be lonely—you are off by yourself, working on something that comes from your imagination. With this particular book, I wrote it at a time when I was really interested in finding community. I was eager to do interviews and meet many people—out of my house, out of my office, out of my head.
What led you to explore the topic of infertility?
I had been trying for some time to have a child. It was the most difficult experience in my life. I came up against this realization that I was possibly not to become a parent. I had been a teacher for most of my career, and nurturing children was very important to me. Realizing that my life might be different than how I’d planned it was a moment that I felt that I really wanted to address in writing and research.
Where are you now on your quest?
I have a daughter who is two and a half—conceived through IVF, but after five years of trying, searching, and considering other alternatives. I am very grateful to have her, but this book looks at people who have different results, and different desires.
This book is part memoir and part literary, cultural, political, medical and historical investigation. Why did you aim for such a wide scope?
In writing the memoir parts, I got tired of myself after a while. I wanted to hear a broader story. I also wanted to explore the way that childless women are stigmatized in the culture. I am interested in the idea that fertility and pregnancy are these miraculous events that just happen to us. And for many of us, it’s just not that way.
How do misconceptions about infertility connect to larger problems of social inequality?
When you look at where fertility clinics are located and where they advertise, it is often in wealthier locales, focused on white women. That leaves a lot of people out. The high cost of treatment, and the fact that it is not covered under most health plans (only 15 states require [payment for] any kind of infertility treatment) make it difficult for a lot of people to access care.
At the same time, couples that do go for invasive, expensive medical interventions are often perceived negatively.
Women in particular are often told that if only they would just drink whole milk, eat healthier, start earlier, just relax, go on a vacation, adopt, try this holistic approach or herb supplement and then they’ll get pregnant. It puts them somehow at fault. I tried acupuncture, which felt more natural than going through IVF. It did feel great, but it didn’t work, and IVF did. Infertility is a disease, and it should be covered by health insurance just like any other disease. I know I was very lucky to have access to this option and to be able to afford this option, but I also know not everyone is.
This article appeared in the May 12, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.