Misconception: Social Class and Infertility in America

Misconception: Social Class and Infertility in America

Misconception: Social Class and Infertility in America

Misconception: Social Class and Infertility in America

Synopsis

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

Excerpt

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 that her partners would leave her once they discovered her childbearing difficulties so she did not tell them of her troubles. Additionally, because she had no health insurance and because of her negative experiences with physicians, she did not seek medical care. Ultimately, Angie, accustomed to not getting everything she wanted in life, was forced to cope with her infertility and primarily sought solace through prayer.

Sarah, a white, upper-middle-class, thirty-three-year-old, also told me about her childbearing difficulties. After completing college, establishing a career, and getting married, Sarah decided it was time to have a child. But after just six months of trying with temperature taking and ovulation kits, she began to worry about why she was not conceiving. She described her husband as her strongest support system and said talking to her friends was her “therapy” for getting through her reproductive troubles. Several of Sarah’s peers who delayed childbearing to focus on their careers were still childless so Sarah felt like she “fit in.” Upon recognizing . . .

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