Bereaved parents have a lot in common. They are the only people in the world who truly understand what it means to lose a child. What it means to go through Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day after your baby has died.
But in a same-sex partnership, there are unique aspects to pregnancy loss that can make mothers feel like they don’t have as much in common. Often, lesbian women can feel marginalized and isolated in their grief, despite the fact that they can and do share so much with other bereaved mothers.
Questioning Whether to Get Pregnant
Despite increasing acceptance of same-sex couples, there remains a lot of discrimination against them, especially when they want to become parents. One study even found that continuous exposure to anti-gay feelings can cause some women to internalize the sentiments and question whether or not they should become mothers. To wonder if they will make good parents without a father figure.
Coupled with those anxieties, lesbians face legitimate concerns about how much social support they can expect from friends, family, and their community if they have a child. In some cases, same-sex partners have been denied the right to be with their partner during a pregnancy loss because they don’t have legal status. In general, hospitals are respectful of a patient’s wishes, but same-sex couples certainly do have more concerns about visitation rights than opposite-sex couples. Same-sex couples can also experience lack of support from their family and friends at a time they can most use it.
After struggling with these types of questions, same-sex couples then face a new challenge: becoming pregnant.
Struggle to get pregnant
One group lesbian women do have a lot in common with is parents who have gone through infertility prior to pregnancy loss. Without an automatic candidate for biological father, there is a guaranteed struggle to conceive.
There are choices to be made—anonymous donor or approach a friend? Which partner will carry the pregnancy? How many times will you try? How many times can you afford to try?
As anyone who has sought fertility treatments knows, the financial burden can be high. Each round of any method comes with its own cost and only a chance of getting pregnant each time.
The stakes are higher for any woman trying to get pregnant with assistive technology. Each month brings the chance at pregnancy and the chance of disappointment. A successful implantation starts to seem like a prize as hard-won as an Olympic medal.
Although any pregnancy loss can be devastating, a loss following the struggle to get pregnant in the first place definitely has the potential to feel like insult added to injury.
Experience of Pregnancy Loss
The physical and emotional experience of a pregnancy loss is no different for a pregnant lesbian than a heterosexual woman. There is a unique situation in a same-sex relationship, however, and that is the grief of the non-pregnant partner, or co-mother.
Research shows that the non-pregnant partner often reports feelings like that of an opposite-sex partner during a pregnancy loss. As with everything else associated with pregnancy loss, however, every person’s experience is unique and personal. It’s possible that a co-mother would have similar feelings to that of her partner, or some level of confusion about what kind of role she should play.
For various reasons, not every lesbian couple is made up of two potential mothers. Medical conditions, age differences, and personal preference can make the choice of who will carry the pregnancy simple. However, other couples may have two options for biological motherhood.
In those cases, there may be an increased feeling of guilt after pregnancy loss for the pregnant partner. She may wonder if her partner would have been able to carry the pregnancy to term, or somehow change the outcome.
Considerations for Health Practitioners
Lesbian women share much of the experience of pregnancy loss with heterosexual women. Of course the physical experience and plan of care will be nearly identical. However, doctors and midwives should be aware of the potential for lesbian patients to lack social support, and cope with more intense feelings of guilt. They are also like fertility patients in that they must work harder to get pregnant in the first place, and could have greater feelings of failure or frustration after a pregnancy loss.
Peel, E. “Pregnancy loss in lesbian and bisexual women: an online survey of experiences.“ Human Reproduction 2010 25(3): 721–727.
Wojnar D. “Miscarriage experiences of lesbian couples.” Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health. 2007 52(5):479-85.
Wojnar D., Swanson K. “Why Shouldn’t Lesbian Women Who Miscarry Receive Special Consideration? A Viewpoint.” Journal of GLBT Family Studies. 2006 Vol 2(1).