Fertility experience inspires author Belle Boggs’ ‘The Art of Waiting’

Belle Boggs starting writing her first book, “Mattaponi Queen,” out of homesickness for the rural South.

Living in Brooklyn and working as a teacher, she found herself reminiscing about her home and the people from her childhood in King William County, Va. She lived in a 200-year-old house that was requisitioned as a hospital for Union soldiers during the Civil War. She found relics in the yard — a bone toothbrush, old glass bottles, Civil War bullets.

“Mattaponi Queen” (Graywolf Press, $15) is a series of interconnected stories about the people living at the Mattaponi Indian reservation bordering the counties of Virginia. The book won the Bakeless Prize and the Library of Virginia Award, and was one of Kirkus Review’s top fiction debuts for 2010.

After the book was published in June 2010, Orion magazine approached Boggs, who teaches in the MFA program at North Carolina State University, to ask her about new writings. At the time, Boggs was going through fertility treatments. She was interested in examining and writing about fertility and infertility in the non-human world and maybe even visit some gorillas and gorilla keepers in North Carolina, and possibly write about her personal experience with assisted reproduction. She also wanted to write about Virginia Woolf. Orion was interested.

“I was so lucky to find an editor who was interested in my strange combination of ideas, and lucky also to continue to work with Graywolf Press,” Boggs said in an email about her essay and book.

The deeply personal essay went viral, leading to republication in Harper’s and other publications.

And now a book. Earlier this year, Boggs’ first nonfiction book, “The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood” (Graywolf Press, $16), was released. Boggs will lead a session at the AJC Decatur Book Festival on Sept. 4.

“It’s spring,” Boggs writes in the first paragraph of the memoir, “when I realize that I may never have children, and around that time the thirteen-year-cicadas return, tunneling out of near, round holes in the ground to shed their larval shells, sprout wings, and fly to the treetops, filling the air with the sound of their singular purpose: reproduction.”

Boggs said as she continued her path toward creating a family and she and her husband considered adoption, foster care, and various kinds of fertility treatment before finally conceiving through IVF, she found powerful narratives about fertility were all around her — in books and films and pop culture and politics. In the end, she wrote a powerful memoir that weaves together stories about fertility, including her own experience.

So how has being a mom changed Boggs, who is now 40?

“Well, I don’t feel that I’m waiting for anything any longer. Instead I’m very interested in time slowing down,” she said in an email. “But the great joy of life with my daughter — far more wonderful than I even imagined — has made me even more interested in the experiences of waiting by other people. People who build their families through adoption — often a really hard wait — and through donor egg and donor embryo and surrogacy. The particular challenges faced by LGBTQ families and individuals, the challenges faced by people of color who often face subtle and not-so-subtle bias and obstacles as they approach the world of assisted reproduction.”

Belle Boggs, author of “The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood,” will speak at 1:15 p.m. Sept. 4 at Carreker Hall, First Baptist Church, Decatur.

MORE: AJC Decatur Book Festival highlights

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.