Knowing and Not Knowing about Fertility: Childless Women and Age-Related Fertility Decline
Keywords:Life course, temporality, masculinity, sexual health, anti-aging medicine, Mexico
Knowledge claims may play an essential role in reproductive decision-making, as individuals seek out, assess, reject, and use information about health and fertility gathered from numerous sources. This paper focuses specifically on childless women’s self-perceptions of knowledge about infertility and age-related fertility decline. How knowledgeable do childless women perceive themselves to be about fertility and infertility in general, and from where they do they obtain this knowledge? Furthermore, how knowledgeable do childless women perceive themselves to be about their own fertility and ability to conceive, and to what do they attribute this knowledge? Data for this project was gathered through semi-structured interviews with 72 childless American women; the interviews were inductively and thematically coded using qualitative-analysis software. Childless women assessed their general knowledge of fertility as confident, self-doubting, or novices, and they claimed multiple sources as the basis of this knowledge, including formal education and training, media and popular culture, and family members and peers. When assessing knowledge about their own fecundity, the women tended to rely on two additional sources: biomedical diagnostics and embodied knowledge. Childless women’s awareness of average statistics of age-related fertility decline did not necessarily translate to individual self-knowledge about their own bodies and fecundity. Because knowledge claims were based on multiple information sources given unequal weight, this raises questions about authoritative knowledge—that is, the knowledge that “counts” for women as they make decisions regarding their future childbearing.
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