‘Just because a doctor says something, doesn't mean that [it] will happen’: self-perception as having a Fertility Problem among Infertility Patients

Ophra Leyser-Whalen, Arthur L. Greil, Julia McQuillan, Katherine M. Johnson, Karina M. Shrefffler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations


Only some individuals who have the medically defined condition ‘infertility’ adopt a self-definition as having a fertility problem, which has implications for social and behavioural responses, yet there is no clear consensus on why some people and not others adopt a medical label. We use interview data from 28 women and men who sought medical infertility treatment to understand variations in self-identification. Results highlight the importance of identity disruption for understanding the dialectical relationship between medical contact and self-identification, as well as how diagnosis acts both as a category and a process. Simultaneously integrating new medical knowledge from testing and treatment with previous fertility self-perceptions created difficulty for settling on an infertility self-perception. Four response categories emerged for adopting a self-perception of having a fertility problem: (i) the non-adopters – never adopting the self-perception pre- or post-medical contact; (ii) uncertain – not being fully committed to the self-perception pre- or post-medical contact; (iii) assuming the label – not having prior fertility concerns but adopting the self-perception post-medical contact; and (iv) solidifying a tentative identity – not being fully committed to a self-perception pre-medical contact, but fully committed post-medical contact. (A virtual abstract of this paper can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_979cmCmR9rLrKuD7z0ycA).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)445-462
Number of pages18
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018



  • diagnosis
  • identity disruption
  • infertility
  • self-definition
  • symbolic interactionism
  • treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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