Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A couple is a couple...

I saw a lovely couple last night for a consult.  There were many issues they were dealing with - many of them breastfeeding related.  But I am not talking about breastfeeding today.  

So what am I talking about?  The concept of two parents being treated as a unit, which seems to be difficult for far too many people.  Whether those parents are male-female, female-female or male-male, they deserve to be treated as a unit. 

When a mom and her partner come in with a baby needing help, the focus is on her and primarily her alone.  The partner is often ignored - especially, it seems, if the partner is a female.  The question is:  Why?  Every single lesbian couple I have worked with as an IBCLC has had the same problem during their pregnancy, often the birth and then post-partum.  Everything is directed at the mom who birthed the baby.  It's like the partner doesn't exist.   I have spoken with my couples and asked them what they thought the problem was and they don't know either, assuming it's because they are lesbian and the HCP's are uncomfortable or worse:  discriminatory.  

Doing some reflecting on what I have seen and heard over the years, I have to say I think the answer is relatively simple - and sad.   Many HCP's simply have no idea how to treat the lesbian partner - is she an equal, is she like a husband or is she just a friend who came into the room with the 'mom' - who is she?   So, rather than  simply ask, "Who is this person with you? Can I share your personal information with them," they address the visit with the mom who birthed the baby and the partner is ignored.

This in fact happened with my wife and myself.  When I had to be rushed to the hospital last year my wife was really not involved in the conversation or decision making in my care.  She was an emotional mess at the time, granted, but truly she should have been informed about what was happening to me and what needed to happen to me.  And - she wasn't.  Had she been a male (and us a hetero couple) that would not have been the case.  And, we had to be very clear that we were in a domestic partnership (as married as you can get in the state of California if you are LGBT) and that she had full rights legally to make any decisions for me.  Hetero couples are not asked for nor do they feel a need to state they are married.   Had Jo been my husband she would not have been treated that way.  I have an ex-husband and he was never treated or ignored the way my wife was.

So, back to my couple I saw last night.  While trying to get help for their baby and breastfeeding challenges, they were involved in a group setting, with many other Lactation Consultants who were watching a well-known expert evaluate and give suggestions for treatment.   Mom A (the one who birthed the baby) was in on all conversations.  Mom B was ignored.  Per her recounting of the experience no one took her aside to make sure she understood what was happening.  The person who was doing the evaluations did not address her nor include her in the conversation about HER baby.  No one made sure she was part of the conversation.  She felt left out, ignored - and angry.  And rightfully so.   And, while both Mom A and Mom B are the baby's parents, many people assume that the partner who carried and birthed the baby is the Bio-mom (biologically related to the child).  What those LC's may not have realized is that Mom B was the actual Bio-mom.  It was HER harvested and fertilized egg her partner carried and gave birth to.   She was ignored while HER baby was being checked out, handled and evaluated by people she didn't know - and NO ONE is brought her in to the conversation.  Can you imagine how you would feel in that circumstance? 

So what does this all mean?  For HCP's, Lactation Consultants, midwives, doula's etc.,  it means pay attention to how you are treating your lesbian couples.  Do NOT ignore the partner - to do so is disrespectful.  Rather, if you are unfamiliar with working with lesbian couples SAY SO.  It's OK to not know how to work with the LGBT community.  But do us a favor and ask us what we want and need from you. 

And what about us in the LGBT community?   Simple - and not so simple.  Speak UP.  Let your HCP's, Lactation Consultants, midwives, doula's etc. KNOW you exist.  Make it a point to be part of the conversation - even if it means you need to get a bit pushy.  "Hey - I am right here!  This is MY partner and MY baby - talk to me too, please."  Be involved - ask questions.  Don't be afraid to make yourself part of that conversation and don't let anyone push you out of it.  Don't let anyone dismiss your importance.  Because You ARE important!  

If you take anything from this let it be:  A couple is a couple - regardless of what gender the partners are.  They both deserve to be fully involved in matters that concern them as a couple and as parents.  They are equals in that relationship - no one is more important than the other.  And they deserve to be treated with respect, common courtesy and as the important people they are to their family.  Period

Thank you.