Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Palmer-Wackerly, A. L. & Krieger, J. L. (2015). Dancing around infertility: The use of metaphors in a complex medical situation. Health Communication 30:6, 612-623. doi: 10.1080/10410236.2014.888386


Copyright © 2014 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Used by permission.


People use metaphors to cognitively frame their experiences as well as to explain those experiences to others, especially in complex medical situations. However, previous research has not fully explored the extent to which metaphors may be helpful or harmful to achieving well-being. This investigation fills this gap by identifying and explaining metaphor use in the context of infertility. Guided by self-determination theory, in-depth interviews were conducted with 22 women and men who had experienced an inability to conceive a child. Analysis of participant narratives yielded 10 prominent metaphors that reflect how participants’ need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness were (and were not) met during their infertility experience. Results indicate that cognitively framing the infertility experience using certain metaphors is more likely to enhance personal and relational well-being, while others may be more harmful. Suggestions for communication with doctors, partners, families, and friends are discussed.