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Misconception: Social Class and Infertility in America

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 180
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Despite the fact that, statistically, women of low socioeconomic status (SES) experience greater difficulty conceiving children, infertility is generally understood to be a wealthy, white woman's issue. InMisconception, Ann V. Bell overturns such historically ingrained notions of infertility by examining the experiences of poor women and women of color. These women, so the stereotype would have it, are simply too fertile. The fertility of affluent and of poor women is perceived differently, and these perceptions have political and social consequences, as social policies have entrenched these ideas throughout U.S. history.

    Through fifty-eight in-depth interviews with women of both high and low SES, Bell begins to break down the stereotypes of infertility and show how such depictions consequently shape women's infertility experiences. Prior studies have relied solely on participants recruited from medical clinics-a sampling process that inherently skews the participant base toward wealthier white women with health insurance.

    In comparing class experiences,Misconceptiongoes beyond examining medical experiences of infertility to expose the often overlooked economic and classist underpinnings of reproduction, family, motherhood, and health in contemporary America.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6481-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Conceiving Infertility
    (pp. 1-12)

    When I met Angie, a black, homeless, twenty-five-year-old, she was desperately yearning for a child. She told me she wanted a child so that she could “receive love,” something that was missing from her own upbringing. Angie had tried to become pregnant through unprotected intercourse for nearly eight years before realizing that something might be “wrong.” Her childlessness made her feel “abnormal” among her peers because most of them already had several children. In fact, Angie did not know anyone who had difficulty with childbearing. Although marriage is not important to her, the lack of a commitment made her fearful...

  5. 1 “That’s What I’m Supposed to Be”: Why Women Want to Mother
    (pp. 13-22)

    Why do women want to mother? It seems like a simple question, yet few researchers have looked for the answer. In studying infertility, asking such a question seemed like an intuitive place for me to start because implicit in the very definition of infertility is intentionality of pregnancy: a woman must want or “try” to become pregnant in order to recognize her inability to conceive. So, I wondered, why did the women want to mother in the first place? As the findings demonstrate, this simple question begs a not-so-simple answer.

    Until the 1980s, sociologists failed to inquire about why women...

  6. 2 “I’m Good at the Job”: How Women Achieve “Good” Motherhood
    (pp. 23-39)

    We see it on a daily basis—the news media criticizing certain types of mothering: mothers who leave their children locked in hot cars, “latchkey” children left alone while their single mothers are at work, teenage parents too immature to raise children, and emotionally damaged children of divorced parents. While these are extreme cases, they still convey the pervasive idea that only certain types of women are deemed appropriate mothers. In other words, it is not enough tobea mother, but, to be socially accepted, a woman must be a good mother. The definition ofgoodmotherhood is based...

  7. 3 “Getting Pregnant’s a Piece of Cake”: Trying to Mother
    (pp. 40-52)

    Throughout the course of my interviews, as I asked the women to describe their process of trying to become pregnant, I realized that the way researchers currently frame pregnancy intentions (along race and class lines) is deeply flawed. In defining intent in terms of “conscious action,” such as planning, deciding, or trying to conceive, national surveys and researchers exclude the pregnancy intentions of economically marginalized women. For women of low SES whose lives do not allow for a prioritization of such active planning, constructing childbearing intent in such a manner fails to capture their purposeful pursuits and desires for pregnancy....

  8. 4 “Socioeconomically It Would Be Much More Difficult”: The Lived Experience of Infertility
    (pp. 53-82)

    Infertility is not solely a medical condition that takes place in the confines of doctors’ offices, as past literature and stereotypes have implied. It occurs within the context of women’s everyday lives. Indeed, infertility “is not something in which there are ‘social factors’; it is itself a profoundly social phenomenon” (Schneider and Conrad 1983, 227). It is therefore important to investigate how and why social and cultural factors shape the infertility experience.Socialcontext in particular is especially influential in shaping an individual’s understanding of and reaction to childbearing difficulties (Miall 1986).

    Most infertility research does not study the social...

  9. 5 “Whatever Gets Me to the End Point”: Resolving Infertility
    (pp. 83-111)

    “Most doctors try to talk you out of getting pregnant,” Michelle replied when I asked whether she had considered medical treatment for her infertility. For Michelle, a black woman of low SES, the negative comments she had come to expect from doctors made seeking infertility treatments simply unthinkable. In contrast, women of high SES, such as Nadia, could not imagine treating their infertility any other way; medical treatment was “theanswer” to their childbearing difficulties. Such divergent experiences among women of different social classes resulted in dramatically different ways of resolving infertility.

    Since the development of reproductive technologies in the...

  10. 6 “So What Can You Do?”: Coping with Infertility
    (pp. 112-132)

    The infertility journey does not end with the choice (or lack thereof) of a resolution. The resolution itself greatly shapes how a woman experiences infertility. In particular, the participants’ socioeconomic circumstances as well as whether or not they used medicine to resolve their infertility influenced how they coped with infertility and envisioned the future.

    This final chapter of the infertility experience, however, is not captured in our current understanding of the condition. Most prior literature focuses on a cross section of the experience, typically when women are in the midst of it, such as when they are receiving medical care....

  11. Conclusion: (Re)conceiving Infertility
    (pp. 133-140)

    “I don’t think infertility is a problem. Usually it’s the other way around—[women of low SES are having too many children],” a woman from a social service agency told me as I inquired about recruiting participants from her facility. Although I was aware that stereotypes of infertility existed, I quickly learned just how ingrained such ideas are—even agencies serving women of low SES did not recognize the presence of infertility among their clients. Throughout the book we learn how such stereotypes shape experiences of infertility and, even more important, how those mainstream ideas are rooted in ideological notions...

  12. Appendix: Methodology
    (pp. 141-148)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 149-150)
  14. References
    (pp. 151-160)
  15. Index
    (pp. 161-166)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 167-168)