Somewhere there's a silver lining : women's experiences of infertility on the Cape Flats

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

In the communities of the Cape Flats, it is expected that all women will bear children and become mothers. Motherhood serves as a social and cultural indicator of femininity and enables women to access social and economic networks that knit them into community. The social and cultural valorization of motherhood in these communities has informed the powerful stigmatization of infertility (or the involuntary nonconformance to motherhood). The stigma associated with infertility affects women in particular, because the inability to bear children is commonly perceived to be a woman's problem. This study explores the cultural constructions of infertility. It examines in particular, the diverse cultural meanings and the stigma associated with infertility. The examination of these cultural meanings challenges the notion that infertility should only be examined in the biomedical realm. My research was conducted over a seven month period with six infertile women and with women who have borne children from different areas on the Cape Flats. The infertile women were the primary informants. Other informants included the mothers with whom the focus group was conducted and specialist informants who were healthcare professionals. The participants were recruited through the primary health care clinic in Manenberg, the network of community newspapers, The Daily Voice and through my own social network. Qualitative research methods were used. The study also used participatory research methods involved because the participants played an active role in the construction of the research process and interview schedules. The primary information used was obtained from in-depth interviews and journals kept by the infertile women. For comparative purposes, a focus group was conducted with a group of mothers. The study illustrates that on the Cape Flats, infertility is constructed as a major cultural and social problem for women. The stigma attached to infertility draws its power from the social and cultural meanings associated with inability of infertile women to live up to the expectation that every adult woman will become a mother. The effects of the social stigma of infertility are especially profound. As I show, bio-medicine does offer some solution, but only to the few who can afford it.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 286-297).