A Road Without a Map: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Intentional Childlessness in Indian American Women




Patel, Dhruvi N.

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Despite recent restrictions on reproductive choice in the United States, American women are increasingly delaying childbearing, others deliberately forgoing motherhood altogether. This subset of childfree women includes women of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, yet extant literature predominantly probes the experiences of White women. Employing the methodology of interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) and framed by a critical existential-feminist conceptualization, this dissertation study centered on intentionally childless Indian American women and how they experience and understand the decision in relation to their identities and relationships. Recruited via varied methods, 10 childfree Indian American women, 28 to 43 years old and based in the U.S., participated in two-hourlong semi-structured interviews conducted online. Their narratives were transcribed, close-examined, and analyzed to unearth themes both idiosyncratic and resonant across the sample. Three superordinate themes and eight subthemes revealed A Mutiny Born of Scrutiny, "An Active Push Against Expectation," and "Community by Necessity." The women arrived at a "mutiny" of motherhood through a sustained scrutiny of prescribed life scripts, their inner desires, needs, and circumstances, demands of mothering work, and sociocultural contexts, including structural gender inequalities. Most women were versed in invalidation and dismissal of their decision; several braced and prepared themselves for future challenges. Childfree Indian American women redefined and revamped notions of family and legacy, finding strength, support, and empowerment in families and communities of their own creation, as well as in inspiring and nurturing others. The researcher imparts implications and recommendations for counselors, counselor educators, and researchers committed to reproductive justice.


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Childfree women, Childfree, Existential feminism, Indian American women, Intentionally childless, South Asian American women, Voluntarily childless