Card image cap
Card image cap

The Experience of Women in Their Forties and Assisted Reproductive Technology: Questioning the Thresholds of Reproductive Temporality, Fertility and Infertility

Manon Vialle

Research Framework : There has been a significant decline in age of first maternities in Euro-American societies. This has increasingly led women to turn to assisted reproduction technology (ART) to help with infertility caused by the “natural” alteration of their ovarian reserve. In France, women are treated using insemination or in-vitro fertilization up to the age of 43, but the use of self-preservation or oocyte donation to overcome a form of infertility that is not considered “pathological” is not allowed. When the alteration of their ovarian reserve is considered too significant, treatment is stopped.

Objectives : This article studies the thresholds of female reproductive temporality, fertility and infertility as envisaged by the French bioethical model (ART). In particular, it looks at the way infertility – as a “normal” or “pathological” biological phenomenon – is addressed and how this threshold determines permission and restriction in France.

Methodology : Our work is founded on a study of the experiences of women in their forties and ART using a qualitative sociological survey that includes interviews of 23 women over the age of forty from two ART clinics in Marseille who were confronted with an alteration of their ovarian reserve.

Results : This research allowed us to identify the profiles and biographical trajectories of these women, as well as their experiences with age-related infertility. A variety of reasons explain the time frames for becoming a parent at a later age, and these reasons are all linked to social injunctions of “reproductive norms” as well as the socio-demographic changes that led to the rejuvenation of this age group. For these women, discovering that their infertility was age-related was a surprise. It came as a surprising contradiction to their physiological, psychological and social “feeling of youth”.

Conclusions : We show that the trajectories and experiences of age-related infertility experienced by the women interviewed led to a different understanding of the threshold of reproductive temporality. This threshold clearly falls beyond the solely biological aspects represented by ART and ovarian capacity. It must also take into account broader notions of the body as a whole and the social, relational and temporal aspects of infertility.

Contribution : The research presented in this article allows us to separate the way in which the notion of infertility is addressed and understood from a legal, medical and, more broadly, social perspective. Far from being set in stone and strictly biological in nature, the study of these practices reveals the complexity of this notion and it reflects upon the opposition between what is considered normal versus pathological and the social versus biological aspects of the way infertility is addressed in France.