Recovery From Traumatic Loss: A Study Of Women Living Without Children After Infertility
RECOVERY FROM TRAUMATIC LOSS: A STUDY OF WOMEN LIVING WITHOUT CHILDREN AFTER INFERTILITY
Ram A. Cnaan, Ph.D., Dissertation Supervisor
Infertility, from a mental health perspective, is known to have a profound effect on the lives and identities of women. Although many women resolve their infertility by incorporating non-biological children into their conception of family, some women are either unable or unwilling to do so, and live without children. This qualitative study focused on the long-term transition to living without children after pursuing treatment for infertility, and the impact living without children after infertility has had on marriages, relationships with family and friends, and identity. In-depth interviews were conducted with 12 women, aged 35-54, who pursued treatment for infertility, are now living without children (either biological, conceived through third-party reproduction, or adopted), and have not pursued treatment for at least three years. Findings include themes of experiencing trauma; actively deciding to end treatment; moving into living without children; a sense of profound loss and grief; processing the grief; acceptance and choice; reestablishing identity and turning toward the future; growth and opportunity; improved spousal relationships, and enduring issues. Like most stage models, progressing through these phases was not systematic. Findings suggest that it took, on average, 3-4 years for the women to fully emerge from feeling like being infertile was their primary identity. Implications for clinical practice and future research are also discussed.