Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Wendy S. Simonds

Second Advisor

Elisabeth Burgess

Third Advisor

Ralph LaRossa

Abstract

Throughout history, both popular and scholarly literature depicted infertility as a devastating experience in a woman’s life. Infertility was unbearable, filled with stigma, and a perpetual state of conflict between those who cannot have children and the rest of the world who can. Until recently as treatments for infertility developed, families assumed childlessness as hopeless. While the process of overcoming infertility is still arduous, unpleasant and unpredictable, many options are available today to overcome infertility and have children. As a result, the portrayal of involuntary childlessness and infertility especially by popular media, changed significantly over the years. Current procreative technologies encouraged families to believe that the dream of having a baby was achievable for all. Using social constructionist and feminist theories, I analyzed the culture of infertility between 1960 and 2010. I used a mixed-method approach to the historical study of the infertility culture tracing the way the public became aware of the various medical treatments for infertility. First, I utilized a modified grounded theory approach to analyze the norms, values, beliefs, attitudes, and goals pertaining to infertility and the treatment of infertility as reflected in popular magazines. Next, I interviewed six fertility specialists who practiced reproductive medicine and the treatment of infertility between 1960 and 2010 to gain their perspectives regarding how the expectations about infertility and treatments changed over time from the medical point-of-view. Finally, I analyzed data available from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s population-based National Survey of Family Growth describing public attitudes and behaviors with regard to infertility, infertility diagnoses, and the utilization of infertility treatments over all the years that the survey was conducted. Shaped heavily by issues related to power, patriarchy, gendered expectations, social stratification, and heteronormativity, the cultural story of infertility between 1960 and 2010 was much more complex and diverse than typically told by social science researchers. Overall, I found that although the increased media attention and the availability of procreative technologies changed the landscape of family building, the underlying social forces influencing decisions about procreation did not.

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