Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Wendy Simonds - Chair

Second Advisor

Elisabeth Burgess

Third Advisor

Ralph LaRossa


Infertile and childless women think about, live with, and defend their status as mothers and as nonmothers, arguably more so than other women for whom motherhood comes about accidentally or relatively easily in accordance with a plan. Within this group of infertile and childless women are those who are otherwise socially marginalized by factors like class, race, age, marital status, and sexual identity. This dissertation asks about the ways in which marginalized infertile and childless women in America make sense of their situations given the climate of “stratified reproduction” in which the motherhood mandate excludes them or applies to them only obliquely. While other researchers focus on inequalities in access to treatment to explain why many marginalized women eschew medically assisted reproduction and adoption, I emphasize women’s resistance to these attempts at normalization. I take a critical, poststructural, feminist stance within a constructivist analytical framework to suggest that the medicalization, commodification, and bureaucratization of the most available alternative paths to motherhood create the role of the “infertile woman”—i.e., the white, middle class, heternormative, married, “desperate and damaged” cum savvy consumer. By contrast, the women who participated in this study are better described as the “ambivalent childless” (i.e., neither voluntary nor involuntary) and the “pragmatic infertile.” These women experience infertility and childlessness—two interrelated, potentially stigmatizing “roles”—in ways that belie this stereotype, reject the associated stigma in favor of an abiding, dynamic ambivalence, and re-assert themselves as fulfilled women in spite of their presumed deviance.


Included in

Sociology Commons