HALIFAX – Giving birth should be a joyous experience but new research from Dalhousie University has found that may not always be the case for a gay woman.
Dr. Lisa Goldberg, an associate professor of nursing, studies support for gay women when they give birth. Her research spanned birth units across Nova Scotia, B.C. and Alberta.
Her findings show that while healthcare workers don’t approach gay women with disrespect, the women are more scared and face more difficulties than heterosexual woman in the maternity ward.
“[They have] a level of anxiety and negative expectations about approaching healthcare,” Goldberg said.
“Part of it is what has come before them, part of it is around some of the language [on forms] that has been used and part of it is some previous experience.”
Members of Halifax’s gay community say the findings aren’t surprising.
“We know generally that the LGBT community has negative experiences with healthcare and there could be a couple of reasons,” said Kevin Kindred of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project.
“It could be about homophobic responses from the system but as often as not, it’s about fear of not fitting, fear of being labeled as one way and fear that your healthcare practitioner will not understand your personal circumstances.”
Health officials agree with the findings, saying more conversations with the gay community could help fix the problem.
“It’s certainly exciting for that dialogue to open up and come forth to allow us the opportunity to really address people’s needs and meet them where they are when they come into the health centre and birth unit,” said Lisa Courtney, clinical leader of the birth unit at IWK.
“[There needs to be] an increase and a constant space for dialogue, increasing capacity and knowledge and understanding, ensuring that is built into the systems within nursing and within healthcare in general,” said Cybelle Rieber, coordinator of Pride Health. Pride Health is a program within Capital Health that works to increase healthcare access for the LGBTQ population in Halifax.
Goldberg says dialogue is critical and notes that there could be long term, negative consequences for gay women who don’t feel positive about their birthing experience.
“If that continues to happen, it’s concerning around how often LGBTQ persons will access healthcare, which is vital in terms of health outcomes,” she said.
The researcher says it is important to address how homophobia and transphobia contribute to health inequities across the country. Her next study will examine the quality of care gay women receive in birth units across rural Nova Scotia.