New book focuses on the challenges of infertility in one of the world’s most populous countries

December 12, 2022

Contact: Jon Meerdink (meerdink@umich.edu)

ANN ARBOR — What is it like to struggle with infertility in a country with more than a billion people?

Holly Donahue Singh attempts to explain the answer to that and other questions related to motherhood, family, and identity in her new book Infertility in a Crowded Country: Hiding Reproduction in India.

Published this month by Indiana University Press, Singh’s work grew out of her doctoral dissertation, which itself started when Singh spent time living in a women’s hostel in India. There, she made contact with many young women who were planning for their futures, attempting to envision what their families could look like once they’d finished their university studies.

“Usually their ideas involved children, and that got me thinking: ‘well, what if that didn’t work out?’” Singh said. “This is a country where not only do we have an abundance of people, but many people think it’s actually a problem. In the midst of that, what is it like to experience infertility?”

A former University of Michigan post-doc who now works as an anthropologist at the University of South Florida, Singh centered her book around the experiences of numerous women she spoke to in India, contextualizing their stories with the information they received from different sources, such as infertility clinics, their families and relatives, and the culture at large. 

She also touches on how women attempt to pursue solutions to their infertility, including the challenges — financial and cultural — of medical solutions.

“How does infertility map onto realities of things like inequality — inequality of access, inequality of financial resources — and kinds of social biases like religious identity and things like social hierarchy in terms of things like that?” Singh said. “How do they try to come up with the resources? How do they try to do things that they see as socially unacceptable?”

The answers are as complex as the questions, but Singh says that’s partly the point. Dealing with complex issues in complex — and large — societies is part of an anthropologist’s job, as is getting readers to think about compassionate solutions to challenging problems. Changing the way people think about infertility from the family level to the highest institutional level can have a big impact. 

“The structure of society and our institutions can make issues around infertility much easier to cope with or much more difficult to cope with. We need to think about the messages that we send and the structures we put in place so we can make things like this easier for people to cope with in the future.”

Infertility in a Crowded Country: Hiding Reproduction in India is available in paperback, hardcover, or ebook from Indiana University Press.