IVF and the "promise of happiness"



Publication Details

Morris, R. (2019). IVF and the "promise of happiness". In V. Mackie, N. J. Marks & S. Ferber (Eds.), The reproductive industry: intimate experiences and global processes (pp. 97-107). Lanham: Lexington Books.


In this chapter I examine three recent Australian women's memoirs on the individual experience of involuntary childlessness and the undergoing of in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment, which one author defines as "that procedure for losers who can't manage to impregnate themselves" (Bates 2007, 15; emphasis in original). What becomes apparent in these narratives is that each author is heavily invested in the socially inculcated ideal of motherhood. As Karen Throsby has argued, "IVF, for all its rhetorical newness, is predicated on deeply entrenched problematic discursive resources and practices around the gendered body, motherhood, and nature" (Throsby 2010, 236). Two of these authors do not "achieve" their dream of motherhood, with each describing a crisis of guilt leading to stress, depression, and a reevaluation of their marriages and life goals. I understand their narratives with reference to Sara Ahmed's work on "the promise of happiness." After the diagnosis of infertility they seek "happiness" in the pursuit of the goal of giving birth to a biological child. This drives these women (and their partners) to repeatedly undertake physically invasive, risky, and costly IVF cycles. Ahmed writes that "happiness involves a specific kind of intentionality, which we can describe as 'end-oriented.'" After all, she continues, "happiness is often described as 'what' we aim for: as a self-evident good, or an end-in-itself" (Ahmed 2007, 124). She also, however, cautions us about this aim, end, or promise, which she defines as "quite distinct from the feeling of happiness itself." Many of the IVF memoirs I have read, including the three analyzed in this chapter, describe in detail the aim for a child via IVF. As Ahmed notes, however, "so much happiness is premised on, and prompted by, the concealment of suffering, the freedom to look away from what compromises one's happiness" (Ahmed 2010, 196). This is pertinent to a reading of each woman's account of her repeated disappointments and dashed hopes during the pursuit of the happiness she and her partner believe a child will bring them.

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