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The Empty Cradle: Infertility in America, by Margaret Marsh and Wanda Ronner

The Empty Cradle: Infertility in America from Colonial Times to the Present

by Margaret Marsh and Wanda Ronner

Purchase at:  Amazon.com 

Format: Paperback, 1st ed., 344pp.  
ISBN: 0801861764
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press  
Pub. Date: February 1999

Description from Amazon.com

Book Info

Temple University, Philadelphia, PA. History of the social, cultural, scientific, and medical aspects of infertility in the United States for the past 300 years. For historians or those treating infertility. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Description from BarnesandNoble.com

Synopsis

In this history of infertility in the United States, the authors "emphasize that changing attitudes toward the family, marriage, sexuality, sex roles and gender, the social and private dimension of reproduction, emotional life, and religion all contributed to how couples perceived and responded to the nature and causes of their own infertility....The second half of the book...[describes] medical and scientific advances, especially the emergence of endocrinology and its clinical applications, and changing therapeutic approaches to treating infertile couples."

Annotation

Is infertility on the rise because women are delaying childbearing in order to pursue careers? Has it reached "epidemic" proportions among affluent and educated Americans? Does infertility affect the well-off more than the poor, or white Americans more than black Americans? Have the new reproductive technologies dramatically increased the success of infertility treatment? Most Americans would answer "Yes" to these questions and most Americans would be wrong. In this book the authors delve into the origins of these and other misconceptions as they explore how medical and cultural beliefs about infertility emerge from its history. Drawing on a wide variety of sources including intimate diaries and letters, patient records, memoirs, medical literature, and popular magazines the book investigates the social, cultural, scientific, and medical dimensions of infertility over the past 300 years.

From the Publisher

Is infertility on the rise because women are delaying childbearing in order to pursue careers? Has it reached "epidemic" proportions among affluent and educated Americans? Does infertility affect the well-off more than the poor, or white Americans more than black Americans? Have the new reproductive technologies dramatically increased the success of infertility treatment? Most Americans would answer "Yes" to these questions - and most Americans would be wrong. In The Empty Cradle, Margaret Marsh and Wanda Ronner delve into the origins of these and other misconceptions as they explore how medical and cultural beliefs about infertility emerge from its history. Drawing on a wide variety of sources - including intimate diaries and letters, patient records, memoirs, medical literature, and popular magazines - The Empty Cradle investigates the social, cultural, scientific, and medical dimensions of infertility over the past three hundred years. Telling a story that begins long before infertility was viewed as a medical problem, Marsh and Ronner show how generations of women responded both to their own desire for children and to the enormous pressure placed on them by the cultural expectation that all women should want to be mothers. In colonial America, a woman's inability to bear children was explained as the will of God or, perhaps, the work of the devil. By the middle of the nineteenth century, infertility was increasingly seen as a medical condition calling for therapeutic intervention - but also as a condition for which women themselves were held responsible. The authors describe how physicians in the late 19th century argued that women who attended college, or had intellectual interests beyond marriage and motherhood, brought infertility upon themselves, because women who put energy into mental pursuits had none left for reproducing.

From the Critics

From B. Bullough - Choice
Marsh, a historian, and Ronner, a physician, are sisters who have here collaborated for the first time. The result of the two perspectives forms a comprehensive history of infertility in America, which should sweep away most of the myths so prevalent in popular thought....The book is a well-documented, comprehensive (including in vitro fertilization), understated rather than overstated commentary on a very human problem.

From Rima D. Apple
Marsh and Ronner have sought to go beyond the published medical literature to disclose the voices of those most affected by the physiological and cultural condition of infertility...they have restored to the historical record the anguish and the hopes of women who expereienced infertility. -- American Historical Review, The Henry E. Sigerist Series in the History of Medicine

From Regina Morantz-Sanchez - Reviews in American History
Ronner and Walsh do an excellent job of framing the problem of infertility in its cultural context....Another advantage to the authors' account is that the story of scientific investigation is not confined to the U.S., but moves to Great Britain, Scandinavia, and Italy when pertinent, suggesting that the problem of infertility was not simply one constructed and defined by American culture alone, but was shared by other countries and cultures in Western Europe. Unfortunately, the authors don't pursue this insight....Perhaps one of the most valuable of Walsh and Ronner's contributions is their insistence on a revisionist approach to the doctor-patient relationship. They eschew the dominant construction of women as passive and preyed upon.

From Booknews
A gynecologist and a cultural historian trace the changes in the way people have understood infertility over the past three hundred years, drawing on sources including diary entries, letters, patient records, medical literature, and popular magazines. They also examine emerging scientific evidence that infertility is equal among men and women and the fact that infertility rates have remained surprising consistent for more than a century. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments

Introduction   1

1 Denied "a Blessing of the Lord": Living with Barrenness in Early America   9

2 "Purely Surgical"? Technology, Instrumentation, and Redefinition of Sterility at Midcentury   41

3 The "Degeneracy of American Womanhood": Gynecology Redefines Infertility, 1870-1900    75

4 Framing Infertility: Sexuality, Marriage, and Parenthood in Twentieth-Century America   110

5 Degrees of Infertility: From the Sterile Woman to the Infertile Couple, 1900-1945    131

6 "Such Great Strides": Reproductive Technology in Postwar America, 1945-1965    171

7 "The End of the Beginning"? From Infertility Treatment to Assisted Reproduction, 1965-1981    210

Epilogue: The Past in the Present: Putting Reproductive Technology in Perspective   243

Appendix: How Reproduction Occurs   257

Note on Sources   261

Notes   265

Index   317
 


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