Misguided hope: a narrative analysis of couples' stories of childlessness despite treatment with assisted reproductive technology

Author: Kathleen Peters

Peters, Kathleen, 2006 Misguided hope: a narrative analysis of couples' stories of childlessness despite treatment with assisted reproductive technology, Flinders University, School of Nursing & Midwifery

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Abstract Societal expectations for procreation often result in infertile couples accessing assisted reproductive technology (ART). In the current state of this technology, the successful outcome of the birth of a child does not always occur. This study contributes to nurses' understanding of what it is like for couples to remain involuntarily and permanently childless after infertility treatment has ended, and aims to bring about change in attitudes and practice towards this group. Literature that acknowledges individuality as well as shared experience for couples who remain childless after infertility treatment is scarce. Health professionals may therefore encounter difficulties in providing this group with appropriate support. This research used a qualitative approach informed by feminist perspectives to gather stories of five couples' experiences of childlessness after accessing ART. Individual conversations with both members of the marital partnership were recorded, transcribed and analysed. The study found that due to the societal expectation of procreation, and the falsely elevated 'success rates' of ART, couples often delayed decisions about whether they should persevere with treatment, hence reducing the possibility of exploring alternative methods of parenting. As well as highlighting the ambiguity of the term 'success', the study suggests that the hope that technology brings childless couples prolongs decision making and simultaneously serves to compound the sense of failure experienced by these couples. The couples' engagement with ART, as well as their inability to conform to the normative family of parents and their biological children, also contributed to periods of isolation. Following the decision to remain childless, the participants found that setting achievable and challenging goals assisted in re-building their self-esteem, and enhanced the process of adapting to their life without children. Although participant couples expressed obvious grief at remaining childless, they also showed resilience by managing attached difficulties and stigmatisation, and by creating positive future outcomes. For these childless couples, the strength of their relationships was seen as critical in the process of overcoming adversity. This study suggests ART clinics should provide more realistic information to individual couples regarding the likelihood of taking home a baby. Further to this, independent counselling support is recommended for couples prior to and during ART treatment, and when this treatment is ceased.

Keywords: infertility,feminist research,in vitro fertilisation

Subject: Nursing thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2006
School: School of Nursing & Midwifery
Supervisor: Associate Professor Trudy Rudge