A few months ago, I attended an event filled with some of the leaders in postpartum depression (PDD) research and treatment. It was pretty cool to meet with an interdisciplinary group where everybody was passionate and dedicated to reaching the same goal of ensuring parents with PPD are thoroughly supported and I’m glad to have been a part of it, but something has been weighing heavily on me since that day – I’m not sure that psychiatrists know that gays, queers, and trans people can develop PPD.
Now I’m your typical rainbow flag waving queer. And I spend a lot of time hanging out with other rainbow flag waving queers, so I am particularly well trained to notice LGBTQ+ inclusion. While I am accustomed to having cis women’s bodies as the dominant conversation around pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, I didn’t realize that same sex couples having children was some kind of secret to the medical community. So, it wasn’t surprising that when I suggested to one psychiatrist (whose favourite word to describe people with PPD seemed to be ‘mama’) that not everyone who births identifies as a mother, that I was met with a shrug and a confused response about statistical outliers. But I was surprised by the scant use of the word ‘partner’ to describe non-birth parents and the dominate use of the phrases ‘mom and dad’ or’ husband and wife’. (Notice the exclusion of solo parents, surrogates, adoptive parents, and co/poly-parent families as well, but more on that later).
I left that day feeling pretty upset about this because I was a solo queer parent who survived PPD/A.
And my story was made to be invisible.
And that felt really yucky, friends.
When I got home, I couldn’t help but wonder how big this problem of exclusion was. I cracked open every textbook and mass-market self-help book written by the leading medical professionals on postpartum mood and adjustment disorders (PMADs) to make sure that they knew that LGBTQ+ families also struggle with postpartum mood. I knew that, in general, the big name researchers and clinicians in this area didn’t go out of their way to use language that demonstrated inclusion, but I had to know, how bad is it really?
Turns out it’s bad, y’all. Really bad.
Karen Kleiman, Valerie Davis Rasking, Joyce Venis… the words written by these authors had saved me during my own period of PPD/A and gave me a basis for understanding how to support people with PMADs during my own clinical training. When I finally took off my fan-girl glasses and re-read their work with a critical lens I could truly see just how hetero/cis normative it all was. Every time they would refer to ‘mother’ I found myself asking, “which one?” Occasionally, I would get excited to see ‘partner’ referenced, but shortly thereafter they would throw in a ‘he’ or ‘his’ just to make sure you did not envision a same-sex couple. And if you were looking for any kind of gender diversity in birthing parents? Forget it. It simply doesn’t exist.
And I get it, friends. At least in part. I am also implicated in this. I primarily work with, write to, and focus on the experiences of mothers* because I identify as a mother (even as a mama!) and because I don’t want to lose sight that the endless demands of perfectionism and the self-sacrificing messages parents get remain exceptionally feminized. Mothers are still considered default parents and fathers the helpers – even in families that don’t have a mother – and even the most routine childcare activities performed by fathers are often met with an abundance of praise. “He got up with the baby in the night? You’re so lucky!” I know many fathers for whom these comments feel insulting, hence the recent “I’m a dad, not a babysitter” campaign.
I also know that it is super difficult to find marketing images of families that don’t fit some kind of Leave-It-To-Beaver family typology. And trying to write with language that is inclusive of all genders, sexualities, family structures, ethnicities, cultures, abilities is incredibly tough, as we all write from our own experiences and what we don’t know can often exclude people.
But you don’t give up! You don’t just say “Oh well. That group is so small. They’re just a statistical outlier so let’s not count them”. You learn and reflect and bumble along while learning from mistakes and creating new spaces for people that experience the world differently from you. And when you can, you use your privilege to help marginalized voices be heard – without speaking for them.
There are so many questions about LGBTQ+ identity and postpartum mood that are important to explore. I believe that every parent deserves exceptional postpartum mood support and that until we understand the experiences of marginalized parenting communities, we are failing at meeting this standard. When LGBTQ+ families don’t get acknowledged in the research and discussion on PMADs, you can take it as a pretty clear sign that we aren’t getting the support services that we need.
Do we even know the rates of PMADs in non-birth mothers? In gay dads? In trans or non-binary birthers? I know there are a few isolated studies with LGBTQ+ families, but I want this to be mainstream information, not secret knowledge. With more and more LGBTQ+ families represented in the media, isn’t it also time to represent us in a health issue that can literally be a matter of life or death?
Sadly, it’s not just LGBTQ+ families that are excluded in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum discourse. It is part of an overall theme of exclusion of vulnerable families. Thankfully, there is a growing movement of maternal/paternal support practitioners and health care providers who are demanding full spectrum care. And I am one of them.
Which is why I have partnered with bebo mia (and several other awesome community workers passionate about supporting all families) to create the Diverse Families Certification E-Program. If you are a doula, counsellor, midwife, OB, paediatric nurse, or community organizer working in the area of fertility, pregnancy, birth, or postpartum and you want to ensure that your services are inclusive of all families, we can help you get there. This goes beyond LGBTQ+ families and touches on ethnicity, class, family, structure, ability and so much more.
I hope to see you in the program. Because my family matters and I can guarantee you that yours – however it comes – does too. xo
*By mothers I mean anyone who identifies as a mother regardless or their genitals or experience as a birthing person*
Olivia Scobie, M.A., ACC, CPCC, MSP