Contested Change and Choice: Infertility in Ireland

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Abstract

Fertility has long been part of a complex analysis of economics, social values, family formation and community in Ireland; yet little attention has been focused on the meaning of childlessness and infertility in relation to those same values and social institutions. Couples struggling to conceive are widely assumed to have chosen their childlessness. This paper argues that such assumptions in Ireland are now part of a wider social narrative in which reproductive choice has become a metaphor for social change. The paper shows how political, moral and religious meanings for family formation and motherhood have been re-articulated in new economic, material and medical ideals in the guise of individualism and choice, sometimes increasing the burden of individual responsibility in the process. Moreover, people are expected to consider costly and invasive assisted reproduction technologies (ART) such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) as part a repertoire of reproductive options for infertility. The research took place against a backdrop of immense social and economic change in Ireland—something the 40 women and 10 men in the study reflected upon almost universally within their narratives on their inability to conceive.

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