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We present findings from a longitudinal ethnographic study of infertile couples seeking treatment following initial GP referral to specialist fertility services. Repeated observations and interviews were undertaken with the same 14 heterosexual participants over an 18-month period. Heterosexual, non-donor couples comprise the majority of fertility clinic patients; however, research interest in this group has dwindled over time as IVF cycles have increased. In the United Kingdom, IVF is presented as a logical response to involuntary childlessness, and as an entirely predictable, and linear, course of action. The market is well-developed and often patients' first experience of privatised health care in the NHS. Our couples were challenged by this, and while they felt expected to move on to IVF, some wished to explore other options. While IVF is ubiquitous, the discomfort and challenge around fertility treatments remain; experiences are prolonged and characterised by recursive narratives and expressions of disequilibrium, which are rarely acknowledged and reflected in ongoing clinic-patient interactions. Our findings develop understanding of the process of 'mazing' (Image - The Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 1989, 21, 220), the pursuit of parenthood, by showing that the routine and normative status of IVF, at least in the current health care context, is at odds with the lived experiences of individuals.

Original publication




Journal article


Sociol Health Illn

Publication Date



IVF, couples, ethnography, fertility clinics, identity, in vitro fertilisation, infertility, longitudinal, normalisation, patient experience