Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 341–367 | Cite as

Don’t Give Up! A Cyber-ethnography and Discourse Analysis of an Online Infertility Patient Forum

  • Mihan LeeEmail author
Original Paper


Infertility affects women across the socioeconomic spectrum; however, it is by no means egalitarian in its distribution, nor uniform in its lived experience. Evidence shows striking disparities by income, race, and education in infertility prevalence, access to infertility services, and success rates after receiving infertility treatments. However, few studies so far have investigated disparities in patients’ access to psychological support during the infertility journey. This paper undertakes a cyber-ethnography of the online patient forum, “Finding a Resolution for Infertility,” hosted by RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. It also draws from interviews with 54 infertility patients recruited from the forum. Our aim was to examine how social support operates within this virtual realm, by examining how the forum’s language, norms, and values create and enforce categories of deserving and belonging among site users. We find that the forum’s discourse privileges an infertility narrative we term the “persistent patient,” in which a patient exhaustively researches treatment options, undergoes multiple cycles of treatment despite repeated failures, and ultimately achieves success (a healthy baby). Meanwhile, there is little to no discursive space for discussion of the financial and social resources necessary to act in accordance with this script. Thus, women without such resources can be alienated, silenced, and denied mental health support by this online community.


Infertility Cyber-ethnography Discourse analysis Social support Persistence 


Compliance with Ethical Standards


This study was funded by the Harvard Graduate School of Arts & Sciences’ Christopher G. P. Walker Fellowship, Merit Term-Time Fellowship, and Dissertation Completion Fellowship.

Conflict of interest

Mihan Lee declares that she has no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Health PolicyHarvard Graduate School of Arts & SciencesCambridgeUSA

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