Facing and dealing with the challenge of involuntary childlessness : an interpretative phenomenological analysis


Having children is a major transition in adult development, bringing new meanings into one’s life. While there are people who are childless by choice, for those who are involuntarily childless, life without the fulfilment of parenthood can affect them in various ways. Although, much research on childlessness looks at infertility and treatment experiences, little is known about what it is actually like to be involuntarily childless living everyday life while contemporaries pursue their lives with children. This thesis is composed of two empirical studies. Part I explores the experience of eleven white British women (aged between 45 and 54) who are involuntarily childless. Part II, as an extended study from Part I, investigates the experiences of four white British childless men (aged between 44 and 47) who wanted to be dads. This research applies the participant-centred experiential approach of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to explore the lived experience of involuntary childlessness. The results from both studies reveal the following four higher-order patterns: 1) Intrapersonal – loss; 2) Interpersonal – loss; 3) Intrapersonal – gain; and 4) Interpersonal – gain; all of which underpin the experience of the participants striving to live their lives meaningfully. The findings suggest that the emotional impact of childlessness may not appear as a symptom but trigger existential concerns. Difficulties in finding shared meaning with people with children have important implications on identity development. Ways of dealing with childlessness are unique to individuals, and finding ways of relational reconnections, where intrapersonal and interpersonal meaning integration takes place, are of vital importance for people facing the challenge of involuntary childlessness. This thesis hopes to offer a holistic psychological understanding that has practical implications for counsellors and health professionals, and to raise awareness on this phenomenon in society. The need of further research is also addressed

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