Peer-to-peer counselling and emotional guidance on infertility in Britain and Belgium (1970s-1980s)

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Abstract

In the wake of sexual and reproductive health counselling in postwar Western Europe, emotional guidance on infertility was as yet neither readily recognised nor available. In this article, we show that in Britain and Belgium, infertile couples themselves identified the need for systematic emotional guidance on their infertility experiences. They set up self-help support groups to provide counselling on infertility in their respective countries. Originally formed by heterosexual, white, middle-class couples, who were childless due to infertility, these support groups were cautious - rather than affirmative - of reproductive technologies to aid conception. In their view, these technologies were not readily available and did not work for everyone. In this social climate, systematic interactions with peers sought to provide emotional guidance to destigmatise infertility and accept childlessness. This emotional guidance was grounded in the contemporary psychological literature - on grief, mourning and other emotions - that the support groups applied to infertility experiences. We suggest that these groups could be seen as among the first - in their respective countries and arguably within Europe - to offer infertility counselling through a peer-to-peer format, which is today recognised as a crucial part of professional infertility counselling provision. In this light, our findings uncover previously unseen connections between grassroots support groups, infertility counselling and emotional guidance in the period before infertility counselling was professionalised in Britain and Belgium. Our analysis is based on various archival and published sources as well as oral history accounts, many of which have not been analysed before. Our findings contribute to the history of sexual and reproductive health, history of self-help, history of counselling, and history of emotions.

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APA

Hilevych, Y., & Claes, T. (2023). Peer-to-peer counselling and emotional guidance on infertility in Britain and Belgium (1970s-1980s). Medical Humanities, 49(2), 214–224. https://doi.org/10.1136/medhum-2022-012505

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