The Art of Waiting | Belle Boggs

Summary of: The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood
By: Belle Boggs


Delve into the complex world of human reproduction with our summary of ‘The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood’ by Belle Boggs. Discover how cultural and biological factors shape our desires for parenthood, the widespread problem of infertility, the challenges faced in the adoption process, and the contemporary developments in reproductive technology like in vitro fertilization (IVF). This summary offers an insightful look at the age-old human drive to have children, the societal pressures and cultural conditioning around reproduction, and the lengths to which people will go to fulfill their dreams of parenthood.

The Paradox of Reproduction

Millennia of cultural conditioning have led us to believe that children are the center of all life, but humanity has managed to reduce births despite the simultaneous promotion of fertility and contraception.

From an early age, most children are taught about the privileged place of the concept of birth in our society, and cultures promote the idea that children are the future. Millennia of cultural conditioning have led people to believe that their futures should include children, and this belief is so ingrained that most children see themselves as future parents. Yet, there is also an emphasis on contraception and the importance of protection against unwanted births. Despite this contradiction between the simultaneous promotion of fertility and contraception, humanity has managed to reduce births successfully.

Compared to other members of the animal kingdom, humans have relatively few children, at a worldwide average of just 2.5 kids per woman. Developed countries have even lower numbers, while poorer societies have slightly higher rates. In developing nations, women have around four to six children on average, but half of them die before sexual maturity.

Most world religions and art also code the desire for biological children. For instance, the Hebrew Bible commands Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, while the Hindu belief is that children are gifts and a reflection of karma. Even the earliest known works of figurative art feature exaggerated sexual characteristics like wide hips, voluptuous breasts, and prominent vulvas. These artworks are thought to depict fertility goddesses.

Therefore, while we have been conditioned to value reproduction and child-rearing, contraception has helped us reduce births significantly. Cultural beliefs aside, humanity has made significant progress in controlling population growth, and it is worth noting that people have a choice when it comes to having children.

Understanding the Longing for Children

The desire for children is deeply rooted in culture, yet scientists debate its biological origin. Some argue that a “childbearing instinct” exists, while others believe it is simply the sex drive. A recent study led by sociologist Anna Rotkirch found that the desire for children, or “baby fever,” is felt by people who never planned on having children. This suggests a deeper biological imperative underlying the longing for children, despite conflicting plans and societal pressures.

The Hidden Pain of Infertility

The issue of infertility has been overlooked in public discourse despite its widespread nature and the emotional suffering it can cause for couples trying to conceive. The misconception that infertility only affects white, upper-middle-class Americans obscures the reality that minorities, the poor, and less educated individuals are also affected by it. While infertility disproportionately affects women, both sexes suffer the same. The shame around infertility causes those affected by it to suffer without support. Historically, certain groups have been forced into sterilization, a practice that has traumatized many individuals. This summary highlights the devastating effects of infertility and calls for greater awareness and support for those affected by it.

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