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Beyond pathology: women’s lived experiences of melancholy and mourning in infertility treatment
  1. Marjolein Lotte de Boer1,2,
  2. Hilde Bondevik1,
  3. Kari Nyheim Solbraekke1
  1. 1Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  2. 2Department Culture Studies, Tilburg University School of Humanities & Digital Sciences, LE Tilburg, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Marjolein Lotte de Boer, Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo, Oslo 0315, Norway; marjoleinlotte{at}; m.l.deboer{at}


Throughout history, melancholy and mourning are predominantly understood within the tradition of psychopathology. Herein, melancholy is perceived as an ailing response to significant loss, and mourning as a healing experience. By taking the philosophies of Freud, Ricoeur and Kristeva together with relevant social scientific research as a theoretical framework and by drawing on women’s accounts of melancholy and mourning in infertility treatment, we offer an exploration of melancholy and mourning beyond this pathological ailing/healing logic. We do so by asking what it means for women to actually live with melancholy and mourning in infertility treatment. In answering this question, we show that women in infertility treatment may have different kinds of melancholic longings: they desire their lost time as a pregnant woman, lost love life and lost future. Within these longings, women derive their sense of self predominantly from their lost past: they understand themselves as the mothers or lovers they once were or could have been. We further reveal that some of these women attempt to escape this dwelling of identity and mourn their losses by (re)narrating their pasts or through performing rituals. While these results show how melancholy and mourning are coshaped in relation to these women’s embodied, temporal, sociocultural and material lived context, they also give insight into how melancholy and mourning may be understood beyond infertility treatment. We reveal how the binary dynamic between melancholy and mourning is inherently ambiguous: melancholy instigates a joyous painfulness, something that is or is not overcome through the agonising exertion of mourning. We show, moreover, that underlying this melancholy/mourning dynamic is a pressing and uncontrollable reality of not being able to make (sufficient) sense of oneself. At the end of this work, then, we argue that it follows out of these conclusions’ urgency to have context-sensitive compassionate patience with those who live with melancholy and mourning.

  • reproductive medicine
  • philosophy
  • mental health care
  • social science

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  • Contributors The first author recruited respondents, interviewed these respondents, coded the data, and translated the codes that she deemed relevant for the specific subject of this study. In close consultation with the second and third authors of the paper, the first author interpreted the translated coded excerpts of the interviews. While the first author was mainly responsible for writing up (drafts of) the article, the second and last authors substantially contributed by commenting in depth on several drafts of the article. The last author, as the leader of the research project of which this article is part, was responsible for the overall conduct of the study. By implication, the third author was also responsible for obtaining research ethics approval.

  • Funding This study was funded by FP7 Marie Sklodowska-Curie/Scientia cofund grant (609020).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval Ethical clearance was obtained for this study from the national ethical review board in Norway (NSD–Norwegian Centre for Research Data), the country in which the authors of this article work (file number 56775). Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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