28 September 2009
Research conducted by a psychologist at Aston University has highlighted discrepancies in the healthcare services offered to lesbian and bisexual women who experience pregnancy loss compared to heterosexual women.
A study conducted by Dr Elizabeth Peel, surveyed lesbian and bisexual women across the UK, Australia, Canada and the USA who have experienced recent pregnancy loss. Key findings suggest that health professionals often assume women who experience pregnancy loss are heterosexual, same- sex partners are often not acknowledged and health service forms and literature do not recognise the specific issues faced by non-heterosexual patients.
27% of survey participants said they experienced heterosexism, homophobia or prejudice from health professionals during pregnancy loss care. Noted examples of heterosexism from participants included:
- The intake forms at our clinic were extremely heterosexist, even though they have many lesbian clients and advertise that they accept lesbian clients.
- My partner was asked to leave during several exams, and was not allowed to answer questions regarding the autopsy or funeral arrangements after stillbirth.
- I recall there being a lot of confusion as to the relationship between me and my partner. They did not seem able/willing to accept our relationship.
The research highlights that non-heterosexual women’s pregnancies are more likely to involve lengthy planning, investment of more resources and are almost twice as likely to be intended than heterosexual pregnancies. 98.3% of the survey participants planned their pregnancies – where as general population statistics indicate that 50% of heterosexual pregnancies are unintended. According to the findings, the investment made in achieving pregnancy often amplified the subsequent loss.
A report compiled as a result of the survey findings has made a series of recommendations to the healthcare sector:
- Health professionals should not assume patients are heterosexual – they should demonstrate awareness and sensitivity to the context of the pregnancy and ensure that same-sex partners are acknowledged and actively included
- Procedural changes should include the alteration of forms in clinics and maternity services so the gender of the partner can be marked as female
- Lesbian and bisexual women should be made more visible in literature supplied through the healthcare service on reproductive health and pregnancy
Dr Elizabeth Peel, commenting on the research findings, said:
“Miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death are traumatic experiences that affect many women. Yet, there is a cultural silence about pregnancy loss bereavement. We have some insight into the experience of reproductive loss from the perspective of heterosexual women, or women with different-sex partners, but the voices of lesbian women or women with same-sex partners have been, to date, completely marginalised. It is important to inform health care professionals and services about the support and information needs for all women. I am delighted that miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death support organisations in the UK and elsewhere are engaging with the findings of this study.”
Dr Peel has been researching patients’ experiences of health services for many years. As a critical psychologist she is interested in trying to effect positive social change for marginalised and disadvantaged groups. Her diabetes research has influenced Canadian policy on self-blood glucose monitoring. She hopes to develop this particular research theme and impact on reproductive health policy and practice in the UK and elsewhere.
Find out more about current research activities in the School of Life and Health Sciences and the Health & lifespan psychology Research Group.