It can happen to queer parents too…
By queer, we mean any lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans-gendered parent. This is an all encompassing term that the authors have carefully considered and believe to be an appropriate term. Sometimes being a lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans gendered parent can feel like a pretty invisible position. It’s easy for people to make the assumption that because you have a baby, you are in a heterosexual relationship. The transition to becoming a parent is also rife with different kinds of issues, which may present more challenges along the way.
Conversely, becoming a queer parent may be a great opportunity to become more comfortable with your own identity, to connect more with your family of origin and to get lots of positive feedback from other people about what a great parent you’ll be. There is not a lot of research out there, but what research has been done suggests that lesbian mothers may experience slightly higher rates of symptoms of post-natal depression. Importantly, this research also suggests that there might be different kinds of reasons involved.
What might be risk factors for post-natal depression in queer parents?
- Stressful experiences with conception, such as using IVF, dealing with donor issues, negotiating parenting with lots more people involved.
- Legal and societal discrimination making it harder to secure parenting rights.
- Previous depression is a risk factor for post-natal depression. Research fairly consistently shows queer people are around 2.4 times more likely to experience mental illness than heterosexuals. So more of us are at risk for post-natal depression to start with.
- Social support structures often change from being focussed on friends to focussed on families of origin when you become a parent. Some queer people have experienced difficult relationships with their families, potentially making this transition more complex.
- Worry about social stigma and your child potentially being discriminated against.
- If you are not the biological or birth parent, you may feel hidden and neglected in the process of having a baby. Just like Dads can get post-natal depression, there’s every reason to believe that queer non-biological parents can too.
What are some advantages to being a queer parent, which might be protective when it comes to mental illness?
- The child is often much-wanted and carefully thought about.
- You’re more likely to have talked about how you want to parent, and what your expectations are.
- Many people will be more excited for you because you’re doing ground-breaking new things.
- Research suggests that although you might be worried about your children being discriminated against, very few queer parents actually report instances of this. In fact, most report being surprised by how positive others are toward them.
What do Queer parents say has been helpful for them?
- Being out to your midwife and doctors. Try it! They’ll be more open than you think. If they aren’t, then it’s quite okay to change and find someone who is more comfortable with you.
- Find support where ever you can. There are often groups of queer parents in the larger cities. Even if you can’t make it to meetings, you might be able to get in touch with other queer parents to talk things through.
- Use your information and contacts to find health professionals who suit you. For example, do you know anyone connected with the health field or other queer parents who could recommend a midwife?
- Belonging to a social network for queer families eg. rainbowfamiliesnz.org
- Talking explicitly about how to manage role-confusion when you have two Mums or Dads.
- Deciding in advance what you’re willing to tell people about how you created your family.
Ask for help
Most importantly, remember it’s okay to ask for help! Good places to do this include: your GP, your midwife, your local mental health services, a counsellor… And you have a right to receive treatment that is respectful of your sexual and gender orientation.
- Bos, H.M.W; van Balen, F; van den Boom, D.C. (2004) Experience of parenthood, couple relationship, social support, and child-rearing goals in planned lesbian mother families. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Vol 45(4)
- Gartrell, N; Rodas, C; Deck, A; Peyser, H; Banks, A.(2006) The USA National Lesbian Family Study: Interviews with Mothers of 10-Year-Olds. Feminism & Psychology. Vol 16(2)
- Ross, Lori E (2005) Perinatal Mental Health in Lesbian Mothers: A Review of Potential Risk and Protective Factors.Women & Health. Vol 41(3)
- Ross LE. Steele L. Goldfinger C. Strike C (2007). Perinatal depressive symptomatology among lesbian and bisexual women. Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 10(2)
- Short, Liz (2007) Lesbian Mothers Living Well in the Context of Heterosexism and Discrimination: Resources, Strategies and Legislative Change,
- Feminism & Psychology. Vol 17(1)