Penn researcher looks at infertility's impact on women

June 18, 2012 By Jill DiSanto

(Medical Xpress) -- For a woman who is unable to bear children, the pain of infertility extends far into her everyday life and can impact her relationships with family and friends for years.

Marni Rosner, who earned a doctorate in social work at the University of Pennsylvania in May, studied how impacts female identity in her dissertation, “Recovery From Traumatic Loss: A Study of Women Living Without Children After Infertility.

“I was curious as to how women living without after infertility rebuilt their identity and life after this traumatic loss,” Rosner says. “There was little research that focused specifically on the long-term adjustment of women who experienced infertility and had not gone on to become parents either through biology, adoption or third-party reproduction. 

“There was really no other research that focused solely on this population in this era, with numerous reproductive options and so many life choices available for women.”

Rosner, 46, lives and works in Manhattan, where she established her own private psychotherapy practice in 2000.  She says that, while there is a great deal of existing research that addresses the psychological impact of infertility for women who are actively experiencing it, almost none examined the post-treatment phase.

Women are frequently asked if they have children or when they plan to have children, but the impact of such questioning for a woman who is struggling with infertility can produce a profound feeling of social exclusion, which can be brief or prolonged, Rosner says.  

“Stigma, in its everyday subtlety, manifests both interpersonally and relationally, deepens suffering and ultimately serves to become internalized as part of the woman’s identity.”

According to Rosner, society is extremely pro-natal, and families with children are the considered the norm.  Adults, once they become parents, link with each other and form bonds and friendships through their children, and their social lives are often structured around these friendships.

Rosner’s research shows that infertility often goes hand-in-hand with unacknowledged, or disenfranchised, grief.  In addition, relationships with spouses, friends and family members are impacted in some way.

“It is, essentially, an assault to a woman’s identity,” she says. “Although most women are forever changed by the infertility experience, many issues begin to resolve once you have a child. For those who decide not to have children after ceasing treatment, this issue –- this assault to identity -- remains very much alive.”

In her study done at Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice, Rosner uncovered the losses created by infertility, including the denial of motherhood as a rite of passage; the loss of one’s anticipated and imagined life; feeling a loss of control over one’s life; doubting one’s womanhood; changed and sometimes lost friendships; and, for many, the loss of one’s religious environment as a support system. 

Rosner examined the years-long psychological process of infertility, from becoming aware of one’s inability to conceive through beginning and ultimately ending treatment and, finally, the process of letting go of hope and coming to terms with childlessness. She found that the women’s ability to fully acknowledge, grieve and integrate, rather than disavow, the numerous losses of infertility into their life story facilitated personal growth, what Rosner refers to as “post-traumatic growth.”

“Over time, most of the women in the study reported tremendous post-traumatic growth,” Rosner says. “Several ongoing issues remain, of course, but most participants had integrated the loss into their narratives, had actively reimagined their lives and were embracing life once again.”

The study found that on average it took three to four years for study participants to fully emerge from feeling like infertility was their primary identity.

Explore further: ‘Infertile’ women may just need longer to conceive

More information: blog.silentsorority.com/2012/0 … up-for-non-moms.aspx

Related Stories

‘Infertile’ women may just need longer to conceive

February 20, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- One-in-four women with a history of infertility can still end up having a baby without treatment, a new study from The University of Queensland (UQ) shows.

Childless women at greater risk of poor health, study finds

November 28, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Childless women may experience poorer health and wellbeing than the general Australian female population, according to the results of a Deakin University study.

It's written all over their faces

October 27, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Women with feminine looking faces are more likely to want a brood of children, according to the latest research.

Refugee trauma worse than war trauma

November 11, 2011
(Medical Xpress)—The trauma of being a refugee can be worse than the trauma of war, according to a new Victoria University study.

Recommended for you

Transplant of ovarian tissue frozen years ago holds hope of life

November 23, 2017
Ovarian tissue that was frozen a decade ago was implanted last week in a 25-year-old cancer survivor who hopes that reviving the tissue from suspended animation will allow her to start a family.

Sleeping position linked to the risk of stillbirth

November 20, 2017
Pregnant women who go to sleep on their back during the later stages of pregnancy face an increased likelihood of suffering a stillbirth, according to new research.

Study in mice finds dietary levels of genistein may adversely affect female fertility

November 14, 2017
Exposure to the phytoestrogen genistein prior to conception may adversely affect female fertility and pregnancy outcomes, depending on the dosage and duration of exposure, a new study in mice suggests.

IUDs may have a surprising benefit: Protection against cervical cancer

November 7, 2017
Considered a safe and highly effective contraception method, intrauterine devices (IUDs) may also be quietly offering protection against the third-most common cancer in women worldwide. A new study from the Keck School of ...

Increasing rates of chronic conditions putting more moms, babies at risk

November 7, 2017
Pregnant women today are more likely to have chronic conditions that could cause life-threatening complications than at any other time in the past decade - particularly poor women and those living in rural communities, a ...

First time mums with an epidural who lie down more likely to have a normal birth

October 18, 2017
Adopting a lying down position rather than being upright in the later stages of labour for first-time mothers who have had a low dose epidural leads to a higher chance of them delivering their baby without any medical intervention, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.