Coping with infertility: An explorative study of South African women’s experiences
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The expectation of getting married and having children is for many individuals a natural part of adult life. Many young people anticipate the prospect of becoming biological mothers and fathers. This expectation of parenthood emanates as individuals and couples are socially groomed to aspire to this social norm. Therefore, infertility can be a very traumatic and tormenting time for many men and women who aspire to conform to these socio-cultural conventions of normative parenthood and who believe that childbearing is central to their lives. Infertility is medically defined as the inability to achieve a pregnancy after a period of at least twelve months of regular sexual intercourse without contraception. For both men and women infertility may present pervasive feelings of incompleteness, a sense of failure and inadequacy. However, infertile women tend to endure a myriad of feeling losses and high levels of suffering and sorrow as a result of their inability to have children. This study explored a sample of South Africa women’s experiences of coping with infertility. Utilising a qualitative methodology, a diverse group of 21 married women who were diagnosed with primary infertility were recruited. Semi-structured, in-depth individual interviews were conducted and the data were analysed using thematic analysis. The results of the study indicated that the women reported emotional turmoil characterised by emotions such as disappointment and shock, anger and frustration, a deep sense of sadness and then progressed to experience a sense of acknowledgement that a problem existed. The findings of this study suggest that severe psychological and emotional strain accompany infertility. The coping strategies employed by these women in the study included social withdrawal and women isolating themselves from social events and social gatherings, avoiding pregnant women and women with children, engaging in escapism strategies on both a psychological level and a physical level. Employing an escapism strategy on a psychological level would involve deliberately thinking about strategies to avoid thinking about infertility, pregnancy or babies. Escapism on the physical level would include engaging in activities like shopping, working longer hours, sleeping more than usual, engaging in activities that would occupy an individual to the extent that they cannot think about anything else except the activities they are currently engaged in.