Date of Degree
Samuel W. Bloom
Barbara Katz Rothman
This is a qualitative longitudinal study of delayed childbearing and infertility. The initial sample consisted of 35 women. Although they knew they might never have biological children, most did not regret postponing parenthood.
Because infertility is a socially defined illness, the doctor-patient relationship was fraught with conflict. It tended to follow a set pattern: from dependency to disappointment to discord to dissociation. The optimal doctor-patient relationship was mutual participation.
Infertility adversely affected marriages. The "medicalization of masturbation" and intercourse caused many marital problems. Couples also argued over how often and with whom to discuss infertility, when to stop treatment and whether to adopt. Those marriages that fared best were those in which the husbands were involved in infertility and its treatment. Despite marital problems, most women felt that their marriages were ultimately strengthened by infertility.
Because of the women's hypersensitivity and the insensitivity of others, relationships with relatives and friends–especially pregnant friends–often suffered. Careers were also adversely affected, and often put on hold. Those who maintained active involvement in their careers fared better emotionally than those who lost interest.
Most women experienced feelings of loss, guilt, and poor self-esteem, and sought different methods for coping. Some depended mainly on intrapersonal coping mechanisms, such as religion, philosophy and superstition. However, it was primarily the interpersonal coping mechanisms–especially spousal support and support groups–which were the most beneficial.
In the follow-up component, 10 of the original sample were re-interviewed more than a decade later. Most still did not regret delaying childbearing, and were happy with how they resolved their infertility.
Infertility did have some long-term effects on these women. It remained a permanent part of their identities. Some sex lives and marriages never recovered. Most who gave birth or adopted felt that infertility had positive effects on their parenting styles. They felt they appreciated their children more, and as older parents, they were more patient and tolerant.
Finally, this study found that while the trend toward delayed childbearing continued, the definition changed from 30 and above in the early 1980's to 35 or even 40 in the 1990's.
Liebmann-Smith, Joan, "Social Consequences of Delayed Childbearing and Infertility" (1995). CUNY Academic Works.