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Not Trying
Infertility, Childlessness, and Ambivalence

Author(s): Kristin J. Wilson

One message that comes along with ever-improving fertility treatments and increasing acceptance of single motherhood, older first-time mothers, and same-sex partnerships, is that almost any woman can and should become a mother. The media and many studies focus on infertile and involuntarily childless women who are seeking treatment. They characterize this group as anxious and willing to try anything, even elaborate and financially ruinous high-tech interventions, to achieve a successful pregnancy.

But the majority of women who struggle with fertility avoid treatment. The women whose interviews appear in Not Trying belong to this majority. Their attitudes vary and may change as their life circumstances evolve. Some support the prevailing cultural narrative that women are meant to be mothers and refuse to see themselves as childfree by choice. Most of these women, who come from a wider range of social backgrounds than most researchers have studied, experience deep ambivalence about motherhood and non-motherhood, never actually choosing either path. They prefer to let life unfold, an attitude that seems to reduce anxiety about not conforming to social expectations.

Biography of Author(s)

Kristin J. Wilson is Chair, Department of Anthropology, Cabrillo College.


  • "The voices of the interviewees shine through on every page. [...] Challenging the static image of the desperate infertile woman is an important contribution to the growing literature on women, motherhood, and health. Not Trying serves as an excellent complement to studies that examine the culture of motherhood and the medicalization of women's bodies."
    --H-Net Reviews in the Humanities & Social Sciences
  • "Kristin Wilson has looked beyond the 'desperate infertile' and looked at the real women who are not having babies. Some would have, had things been different; some didn't want to; some sorta might someday kinda plan on it if things work out. Here it is that we find most of the women who are not mothers--not gloriously reveling in 'childfree living,' and not unendingly doing pointless fertility treatments. They are in that in-between place where no one, before Kristin Wilson, seems to have looked."
    --Barbara Katz Rothman, City University of New York, author of Recreating Motherhood
  • "Recommended."
  • "The image of the 'desperate' infertile woman one sometimes encounters in the media is based on studies of the experience of infertility among treatment-seekers. We know little about the experiences of other infertile women, many of whom are not white, not middle class, and not heterosexual. Kristin Wilson's book provides us with a long overdue look at these other women, who do not fully buy into dominant discourses such as the medicalized model of infertility and the 'Motherhood Mandate.' They do not necessarily define themselves as infertile, they do not unambiguously desire to become mothers, and they are decidedly less committed to treatment."
    --Arthur L. Greil, author of Not Yet Pregnant: Infertile Couples in Contemporary America