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Reproductive Loss in Lesbian Couples

Beth Perry Black, PhD, MSN, RN

UNC Chapel Hill

Award Year: 2013

Initial Abstract

Reproductive loss refers to an array of events or conditions such as miscarriage or intrauterine fetal death, among others, which are known to be highly distressing. Research on reproductive loss to this point has typically been focused on heterosexual women’s experience or assumed a heteronormative experience; lesbian couples seeking parenthood through pregnancy are experiencing losses but researchers have yet to address their experience fully. The path to pregnancy for lesbian women is different than that of heterosexual women, both medically and socially, and is fraught with many legal questions not experienced by married heterosexual couples. The norm for lesbian couples is the abnormal for heterosexual couples: lesbian couples most often pursue pregnancy with the help of fertility specialists whom straight women seek out only when pregnancy is elusive or there is a known history of reproductive impairment. Furthermore, the legal system, invisible to most straight couples having and raising children, becomes a significant presence in lesbian attempts to achieve pregnancy and become parents. In the US, and particularly in certain states where there is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships or second-parent adoption, the context of pregnancy and reproductive loss becomes more complicated and tenuous because only one parent – the biological mother – has legal rights to children born within the relationship. The purpose of this descriptive exploratory study then is to examine systematically the experiences of lesbian couples who have had a history of reproductive loss, addressing questions of how decisions are negotiated related to which partner becomes pregnant; how these decisions are revisited after a reproductive loss; what factors contribute to the decision to continue to pursue pregnancy as a means of becoming a parents; and how health care providers facilitate or impede these decisions.

Using narrative techniques generic to ethnography, the investigators will interview 10 lesbian couples with some form of reproductive loss within the past two years. We anticipate conducting analyses comparing partners' constructions of the loss and decisions related to childbearing; interpretations of childbearing in a socio-legal context that does not support efforts to become parents; and use conceptual frameworks such as intersectionality and loss of the assumptive world as foundations for directed content analysis. The proposed study extends previous work on reproductive loss, taking into consideration the significant social and legal dimensions of childbearing in lesbian couples that are not typically in question among heterosexual couples.

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