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Perceptions of Women with Infertility on Stigma and Disability

Abstract

Women with fertility problems have utilized the Americans with Disabilities Act to sue to gain insurance coverage for fertility treatments and additional paid time away from work, thus requesting that the relatively invisible but stigmatizing condition (infertility) be acknowledged by society as a disability. This provides a seemingly paradoxical situation given the generally negative connotation of disability in our society. Twenty-three in-depth interviews were completed with women who belonged to infertility support groups to examine their experiences of infertility, stigma and the notion of constructing infertility as a disability. We took a constructivist grounded theory approach to the data by engaging in free coding of themes. Being a mother was something respondents assumed would happen naturally for them, within the realm of a normative life course. The discussion of infertility as a disabling condition brought forth issues of stigma from respondents in terms of a feeling of non-normalcy and discredited social status surrounding the childless state. A primary issue that arose in discussion with respondents was resource allocation, and the potential for a label such as ‘disability’ to afford more generous reimbursement and workplace support for infertility treatments. There is an interesting juxtaposition between the individual problem of infertility and the social consequences of a childless state. Legal discourse reveals that simply being labeled disabled does not necessarily increase access to treatment if treatment is sought. Further study is needed to assess the potential social, medical and legal ramifications for all stakeholders of labeling infertility a disability.

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Correspondence to Elizabeth A. Sternke.

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Sternke, E.A., Abrahamson, K. Perceptions of Women with Infertility on Stigma and Disability. Sex Disabil 33, 3–17 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11195-014-9348-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11195-014-9348-6

Keywords

  • Infertility
  • Stigma
  • Disability
  • Social construction
  • Gender
  • United States