• Home
  • Cherry Picked - Study uncovers social-status stigma surrounding pregnancy issues

Study uncovers social-status stigma surrounding pregnancy issues

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

LAWRENCE — For years, researchers have found the social stigma surrounding infertility has negative health implications for women experiencing it and can serve as both a visible and invisible hardship.

A new study by University of Kansas researchers has confirmed these findings, yet they also found that women seeking fertility treatments in online comments themselves tend to challenge and stigmatize pregnant women for their perceived immoral behaviors or a lower social status.

The researchers said the findings provide a link in how societal stigmas surface and insights into the challenges facing pregnancy-related social relationships, especially surrounding motherhood and perceptions of class.

"Issues of fairness and unfairness and whether someone is deserving or undeserving of motherhood consistently appeared in women's forum postings. While these feelings aren’t necessarily unique to women experiencing infertility, they highlight how stigmatized groups continue to define social norms regarding the 'proper' path to motherhood, particularly along social-status lines," said Jarron Saint Onge, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology.

The study was published recently in the journal Social Science & Medicine. Saint Onge and lead author Natalie Jansen, doctoral student in sociology, examined 432 initial conversation threads posted by women in various stages of the fertility-seeking treatment process in the online forum, Fertile Thoughts.

In response to frequently mentioned experiences of insensitivity or hurtful behaviors, many women appeared to use the forum as a coping strategy, the researchers said. In the anonymous online postings, infertile women frequently appeared to denounce fertile friends and family members, in some cases describing pregnant women as "fat cows, ferts, the fertiles, Fertile-Myrtles or momzillas-to-be."

The researchers also found several instances of women struggling with fertility issues using remarks to elevate their own positions in comparison, including questioning why "God would give children to such a terrible person" or to a woman "and her cheating hubby." Posters to the forum also consistently showed that being pregnant and on welfare were perceived as less acceptable than being pregnant with more financial stability, which is a near requisite for fertility treatments, the researchers said.

"Propagating comments about low-income mothers led to common definitions of acceptable and unacceptable behavior," the researchers wrote.

And by equating low socioeconomic status with undeserving motherhood, women struggling with fertility issues in the posts appeared to be rectifying their own feelings of unfairness in the situation, they said.

Other criticisms from posters focused on fertile women using drugs and alcohol or teenagers or couples who became pregnant outside of marriage.

Jansen said the study is not meant to pass judgment on women experiencing fertility issues but that it's important to study how stigmas surface in this area because infertility can be one of the most heartbreaking things a person can experience. Having an anonymous online forum allowed infertile women to maintain positive social relationships through their struggles, especially with women having common experiences, she said, which is important because infertility affects nearly 30 percent of U.S. women between the ages of 25 and 44.

"It's important to note that the women are operating under pre-existing stereotypes about the ‘right way’ to go about motherhood, and these preconceived notions are likely the driving force behind their comments," Jansen said. "Their own disappointment may be exacerbating it. These stigma dynamics are complex, and while we normally think of one person being stigmatized and another person doing the stigmatizing, in reality people can play different roles depending on the situation they're in."

The researchers said the study could hopefully provide more awareness and insight on stigma in general and how certain stereotypes, though possibly not always viewed or often talked about on the surface, can still cause harm.

"Actions toward fertility-treatment seeking women may have unintended perceived effects of stigmatization or marginalization, even if well-intentioned," said Saint Onge, who also serves in the KU Medical Center's Department of Health Policy and Management within the School of Medicine. "These actions can have potentially damaging effects on important social relationships."

Read the latest MUSE News!

Find out what KU's Museum Studies Program and our alumni are up to:

September 2017 Newsletter
January 2017 Newsletter


Museum Events

Red Hot Research: Graduate Edition
Friday, November 17 | 4 p.m.-5:30 a.m.
The Commons, Spooner Hall, 1340 Jayhawk Blvd.
Red Hot Research brings together scholars from all disciplines, speaking for six minutes each in Pecha Kucha–inspired presentations. Audience members are encouraged to connect with the speakers and each other during breaks. This session features graduate student research.

Slow Art Sunday: Amida Buddha (Amitabha) 
Sunday, November 19 | 2 p.m.-3 p.m.
Spencer Museum of Art, Gallery 407, 1301 Mississippi St
Slow down at the Spencer and spend time getting to know one great work of art. Slow Art Sunday features one work for visitors to contemplate and converse about with Museum staff. In November, get to know Amida Buddha (Amitabha).

Performance: Aspects of Liszt 
Sunday, November 19 | 4 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Spencer Museum of Art, Gallery 317, Sam and Connie Perkins Central Court, 1301 Mississippi St
Distinguished Emmy-winning author, critic, radio and film producer David Dubal joins KU international concert artist Steven Spooner in an afternoon of piano music from the era of the Spencer Museum’s origins and fascinating commentary on the legendary Franz Liszt. This concert is part of the Museum’s centennial celebration of our collection.

Day After Thanksgiving Program: Magic Marbles 
Friday, November 24 | 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
The National Museum of Toys/Miniatures, 5235 Oak St. Kansas City, MO
It’s a day of marble magic with fun for the entire family. Explore the museum’s special exhibit Playing for Keeps: The VFW Marble Tournaments, 1947-1962, and try your hand at “knuckling down” during a marble lesson. Then, pick out your own marble and turn it into a piece of wearable art to take home with you. Included with museum admission.

Global Film Festival
Thursday, November 30 | 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
Spencer Museum of Art, Rm. 309 1301 Mississippi St
Curated by first-year students, the Global Film Festival features four films exploring ideas in Spencer Museum exhibitions. This film is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Power Clashing: Clothing, Collage, and Contemporary Identities. The film will be announced on the Museum’s website.

Home to 50+ departments, centers, and programs, the School of the Arts, and the School of Public Affairs and Administration
KU offers courses in 40 languages
No. 1 ranking in city management and urban policy —U.S. News and World Report
One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times