, Volume 43, Issue 11-12, pp 821-841

Childless in the Land of Imperative Motherhood: Stigma and Coping Among Infertile Israeli Women

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Abstract

Drawing on Goffman's stigma framework, this in-depth study explored the experiences of 26 infertile Jewish women in Israel, the country with a strong pronatalist ideology, both institutional and popular. The findings are in line with the key postulates of the stigma concept: women's coping strategies included selective disclosure, avoidance of exposure of their “hidden disability,” and other information management techniques. Infertility became a “master status” for these women, undermining any other merits and achievements they might have. Most women fully internalized and endorsed the pronatalist discourse by way of pursuing long-term and burdensome infertility treatments, at any personal cost. The paper argues that resistance to stigma of infertility is only possible where women dare question the motherhood imperative, which is clearly not the case with most Israelis. Material and mental resources needed for resisting the stigma of infertility are found among few educated professional women. The paper suggests three theoretical inferences: (a) stigma as a psychological response is graded by the extent of individual's conformity with the dominant norms; (b) the stigma of childlessness is most devastating for the less educated women without career or other nonfamilial aspirations; and (c) in pronatalist societies, the coping and management approach to the study of infertility is more relevant than the resistance approach suggested by some authors.