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Keywords:

  • empirical research report;
  • ethics;
  • lesbian;
  • maternity care;
  • midwifery;
  • phenomenology

Abstract

Title. Vulnerable and strong – lesbian women encountering maternity care

Aim.  This paper is a report of a study to describe the maternity care experiences narrated by a sample of lesbian couples.

Background.  Pregnant and labouring women are dependent on the professional skill and caring ability of the healthcare provider. Studies show that lesbian women who reveal their sexual identity are exposed to homophobic prejudice and discrimination in midwifery care.

Method.  A phenomenological hermeneutical study inspired by the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur was conducted. Six lesbian couples were recruited in Norway by a snowball method, reporting a total of eight children conceived by donor insemination. Joint interviews were performed in January 2006, and the participants were encouraged to share narratives about important events in their maternity care experiences.

Findings.  The fundamental life conditions of vulnerability, responsibility and caring permeated the narratives, and were related with the couples’ decisions to be open about their sexual identity. Being exposed, they experienced under- and over-focusing on sexuality. They felt responsible for having the right attitude in interactions, which meant being open, but not over-assertive. They described genuinely caring situations as well as being content with less genuine care, and demonstrated that in addition to receiving care, they provided care in the encounters.

Conclusion.  Lesbian women are a vulnerable group when encountering maternity care. They took responsibility in caring situations because of healthcare providers’ uncertainty and anxiety. Existential needs, such as being seen, being cared for and communicated with, should be considered equally important for lesbian women and heterosexual women in labour.