Infertility has not been a primary research area for me, though it certainly has been a topic that has arisen in many of the projects I have conducted. In the process of undertaking interviews with participants on a diversity of topics infertility has been raised, including in projects on surrogacy, foster care, pregnancy loss, and reproductive heterosexual. Into the future, I hope to continue to explore the topic of infertility, and specifically to focus on areas such as genetic testing and fertility, and men and infertility.
Applications of research findings for practitioners
A key starting place for thinking about infertility is to begin before people are trying to conceive. This suggests the importance of education to young people about the fact of infertility, so as to raise awareness about infertility being a potential part of their future. This is not to say that awareness can mitigate distress, but rather to suggest that awareness is the first step in being prepared for the future.
In tandem with education about infertility must be approaches to education about reproduction that resists a pronatalist imperative, and which recognize the diversity of ways in which, should they choose, people may become parents. Again, this is a point about awareness, rather than one suggesting that all challenges can be simply overcome by default of knowing what might lie ahead.
To counter the normative gendering of reproduction, education about in/fertility should target young people of all genders, not simply girls and young women. In tandem with education is the pressing need for closer oversight of fertility services, so as to ensure that people are not pushed into new technologies or ‘add-ons’ that may or may not address the desire for a child, but which may instead hold the potential to increase distress about infertility.
Applications of research findings for people impacted by infertility and fertility-related challenges
My research on infertility has suggested that the reproductive journeys of others can negatively impact upon women’s understandings of their own reproductive journeys. The birth of children to other family members can be a trigger for women who are faced with infertility or fertility-related challenges. For some women shame relating to infertility may become a part of their narrative of reproduction, leading them to remain silent about the challenges that they face. This suggests the importance of fertility counseling in the context of reproductive challenges, so that women (and their partners) can work through the feelings they may experience.
One potential response to shame may be creating a separation between experiences with IVF and subsequent experiences of motherhood. This type of separation, at least for some of the women I have interviewed, may be productive, as it may serve to cordon off feelings of shame from feelings of joy associated with eventual motherhood. Indeed, this may suggest that therapeutic practices that focus on cognitively separating out the two may be a productive way to engage with and respond to feelings of shame or distress associated with fertility-related challenges. This is not to suggest that shame can easily be discounted, but rather that their positioning as a part (or indeed past) of a reproductive journey may serve to create a space in which reproductive futures can be imagined and, if achieved, experienced positively.
Resources for practitioners
Australian and New Zealand Infertility Counsellors Association. (2018). Guidelines for Professional Standards of Practice: Infertility Counselling. Revised 31st August 2018. ANZICA.
Fitzgerald, O., Harris, K., Paul, R.C., & Chambers, G.M. (2017). Assisted reproductive technology in Australia and New Zealand 2015. Sydney: National Perinatal Epidemiology and Statistics Unit, the University of New South Wales.
National Health and Medical Research Council. (2017). Ethical guidelines on the use of assisted reproductive technology in clinical practice and research. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.
ACART (Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology) (Aotearoa/New Zealand)
Resources for people impacted by infertility and fertility-related challenges
Access Australia – Approaching life without children
Access Australia – A rational definition of infertility
Access Australia – Male infertility
The Conversation – Infertility through the ages – and how IVF changed the way we think about it (by Tracey Loughran)
Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) (Victoria) – Suspecting infertility
AccessAustralia – Australia’s National Infertility Network – Community forum
Essential Baby – Assisted Conception – Primary Infertility
Infertility Network (Canada)
NHS (UK) – Infertility
Books with personal stories
Bettison, K. (2014). When you can’t have kids. CreateSpace.
Fertility Network UK – Your stories
Creating a Family: The National Infertility & Adoption Education Nonprofit – Books for children conceived through fertility treatments
My research publications
Riggs, D. W. (forthcoming). Diverse pathways to parenthood: From narratives to practice. Elsevier.
Other research publications (selected)
Crowe, C. (1985). ‘Women want it’: In-vitro fertilization and women’s motivations for participation. Women’s Studies International Forum, 8(6), 547–552.
Barnes, L.W. (2014). Conceiving masculinity: Male infertility, medicine, and identity. Philadephia: Temple University Press.
Blyth, E. (2012). Guidelines for infertility counselling in different countries: Is there an emerging trend? Human Reproduction, 27(7), 2046-2057.
Carmeli, Y.S., & Birenbaum-Carmeli, D. (1994). The predicament of masculinity: Towards understanding the male’s experience of infertility treatments. Sex Roles, 30(9-10), 663-677.
Craven, C. (2016). Infertility and reproductive loss. In A.E. Goldberg (Ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies (pp. 584-587). Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Culley, L., Hudson, N., & van Rooij, F. (Eds.). (2009). Marginalized reproduction: Ethnicity, infertility and reproductive technologies. London: Earthscan.
Goldberg, A. E., Downing, J. B., & Richardson, H. B. (2009). The transition from infertility to adoption: Perceptions of lesbian and heterosexual couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 26(6-7), 938-963.
Letherby, G. (1999). Other than mother and mothers as others: The experience of motherhood and non-motherhood in relation to “infertility” and “involuntary childlessness”. Women’s Studies International Forum, 22(3), 359-372.
McCarthy, M. P. (2008). Women’s lived experience of infertility after unsuccessful medical intervention. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 53(4), 319-324.
McQuillan, J., Stone, R. A. T., & Greil, A. L. (2007). Infertility and life satisfaction among women. Journal of Family Issues, 28(7), 955-981.
Machin, L. (2011). A hierarchy of needs? Embryo donation, in vitro fertilisation and the provision of infertility counselling. Patient Education and Counseling, 85(2), 264-268.
Moore, L.J. (2008). Sperm counts: Overcome by man’s most precious fluid. New York: New York University Press.
Strathern, M. (1992). Reproducing the future: Anthropology, kinship, and the new reproductive technologies. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Ulrich, M., & Weatherall, A. (2000). Motherhood and infertility: Viewing motherhood through the lens of infertility. Feminism & Psychology, 10(3), 323-336.
Wirtberg, I., Möller, A., Hogström, L., Tronstad, S.-E., & Lalos, A. (2007). Life 20 years after unsuccessful infertility treatment. Human Reproduction, 22(2), 598-604.
Ying, L.Y., Wu, L.H., & Loke, A.Y. (2015). Gender differences in experiences with and adjustments to infertility: A literature review. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 52(10), 1640-1652.