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Exploring same sex couples' experiences of maternity care

02 July 2014
12 min read
Volume 22 · Issue 7

Abstract

Same sex parenthood is becoming increasingly prevalent around the world. More same sex couples are engaging with maternity services, and as a ‘vulnerable’ group in health care it is imperative that their needs are met (Burkholder and Burbank, 2012). This literature review explores research from around the world to evaluate the care that same-sex parents receive in the maternity sector. No articles were found to include gay men; however, 13 articles focused on lesbian parents. Three main themes arose from the review: the attitudes of health care professionals, the involvement of the co-mother and the invisibility of the lesbian mother due to heteronormativity. It was found that same sex couples receive overall positive care, however, some areas of subtle homophobia remain. Most same sex parents wish to be treated no differently to heterosexual parents, but with special recognition of their diverse family constellation. It is therefore essential that health professionals are educated on the unique needs of lesbian women and gay men.

Attitudes towards homosexuality have transformed considerably in the last 20 years. As recently as 1990, homosexuality was removed from the World Health Organization (WHO) list of diseases, whilst today public acceptance of same-sex families has dramatically increased (Burkholder and Burbank, 2012). Various legislation in UK, for example the Civil Partnership Act (2004), the Equality Act (2010) and most recently, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act (2013) now safeguard the rights of homosexuals and provide legal recognition of their relationships. Technological advances in reproductive science have also enabled same sex couples to contribute to the creation of a baby, causing a shift in the societal paradigms associated with parenthood (Margalit et al, 2013).

The new legislation, advances in fertility technology and lessening societal constraints have all led to a rise in the number of same sex couples becoming parents and therefore requiring maternity care (McMannus et al, 2006). In 2009 there were just 24 births registered to same sex parents in the UK, which rose to 475 in 2010, and 608 in 2011 (Office for National Statistics, 2013). Subsequently, midwives and other health professionals in maternity settings are increasingly encountering same sex couples in their practice (Cherguit et al, 2012). The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) requires that nurses and midwives practice women-centred care which is not discriminatory of sexuality, and to treat partners and families with equal respect (NMC, 2008). Therefore, gay men and lesbian women are entitled to the same non-discriminatory services that are provided to heterosexual women and their families. This literature review will explore how same sex couples perceive their care in the midwifery setting.

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