Rules Help When Talking About Infertility

TUESDAY Sept. 6, 2011 -- When couples have difficulty getting pregnant, the amount of information they share with family and friends may depend on who feels more stigmatized by the problem, a new study finds.

Researchers interviewed 50 infertile couples and assessed their support networks. They found that when the woman was concerned about people's reactions, the couple were more open with family and friends. But if the man felt he would be blamed, the couple were less open with others.

These differences may have to do with protecting the husband's public image and responding to societal pressure to pursue motherhood, according to study author Keli Ryan Steuber, an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa.

"It aligns with the idea that couples do more work to maintain the husband's public persona," Steuber said in a university news release.

"For women, it may be a response to our pronatalist culture. There's an expectation that women want children, and sometimes those who are voluntarily childless are labeled as selfish or too career-driven. We wonder if that stigma overrides the stigma of infertility, to the point that women and their husbands feel compelled to clarify: 'We're not choosing to not have children. We can't have children.'"

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Applied Communication Research and the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

About 4.3 million (15 percent) of the 28 million married couples in the United States have difficulty conceiving. Infertility can be a difficult topic for couples to discuss with others.

The best way to maintain harmony, Steuber said, is for couples to develop privacy rules and to discuss the reasons behind them. For instance, talk about whether your wish to withhold information is because of trust issues with specific people or perhaps because of general insecurities.

"I've had women say things like, 'My whole life, if I worked hard enough at something, I've eventually gotten it. This is the first time where, no matter how hard we work at this, we don't know what the result is going to be,'" Steuber said.

More information

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has more about infertility.

Posted: September 2011


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