Persevering in Fertility Treatments Despite Failures: Unrealistic Optimism and the Reality of a Pronatalist Culture

Maayan Abramov, Einat Shalom-Paz, Yael Benyamini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Fertility treatment discontinuation is difficult as it entails accepting childlessness. In most countries, financial limitations provide sufficient justification to terminate treatment. In Israel, unlimited funding enables women to undergo multiple treatment cycles, even when the odds of success are poor, thus providing a context for studying the psychological mechanisms involved when financial constraints are set aside. The study aimed to investigate the contribution of unrealistic optimism to Israeli women’s willingness to continue fertility treatments even after repeated failures and to their psychological adjustment, comparing age groups. Methods: A longitudinal study of 100 women (ages 31–45) undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment (1–22 previous cycles), who filled in questionnaires assessing their estimates of treatment success (theirs/for same-age patient), estimates received from the physician, intentions to continue treatment, and psychological adjustment. Follow-up was conducted 17(± 4) months later, by phone (n = 71) and/or medical records (n = 90). Results: Most women (57%) reported that they will continue as long as needed till they have a child, 13% did not know, and 25% mentioned a specific plan; 5 did not reply. Women’s estimates of treatment success showed vast unrealistic optimism, which was unrelated to their age, history of unsuccessful treatment cycles, or intentions for treatment continuation, yet was related to better psychological adjustment. At follow-up, almost all women who did not conceive were found to have continued treatments. Conclusions: Unrealistic optimism helps women maintain hope and well-being along the demanding journey to (biological) parenthood, where childlessness is highly stigmatized, and contributes to perseverance in treatment, regardless of objective factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-219
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Medicine
Volume29
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2022

Keywords

  • Distress
  • In-vitro-fertilization
  • Infertility
  • Israel
  • Treatment discontinuation
  • Unrealistic optimism

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