Featured Article from August Issue of “Health and Social Work” Journal

“Challenges and Mental Health Experiences of Lesbian and Bisexual Women Who Are Trying to Conceive”, Christina Yager, David Brennan, Leah S. Steele, Rachel Epstein, and Lori E. Ross, Health and Social Work, August 2010 (Vol. 35, No. 3), pp. 191-200.

Very little research has been done to date on the challenges and mental health experiences of lesbian and bisexual women who are trying to conceive.  In this article from Health and Social Work the authors say that women seeking assistance in trying to conceive face numerous challenges, such as cost, limited donor selection, and dealing with the medical industry.

Lesbian and bisexual women face additional challenges from overt and covert discrimination, both from service providers and family members.  The study interviewed 33 women who identified as either lesbian or bisexual, 15 of whom were trying to conceive, and 18 of whom were post-partum.

Three major themes emerged in the participants’ descriptions of their experiences in trying to conceive:

  • the emotional impact of the difficulty of conceiving
  • the lack of positive support while trying to conceive
  • the experiences and expectations of heteronormativity in the services that assist in reproductivity.  (Heteronormativity is the social environment in which nonheterosexual orientations are marginalized, ignored or disparaged.)

Survey participants widely reported that difficulty in conceiving was stressful.  Furthermore some of the participants interpreted the difficulty in conceiving as a personal failure.  Participants even reported experiencing self-doubt as time passed in the process of trying to conceive.

Although many participants reported a lack of support from others in sexual minority communities, and from family members and coworkers, others valued the emotional support they received from friends during the process.

Participants noted that most assisted reproductive technology clinics are oriented toward heterosexual couples, and couples predominantly dealing with infertility issues.  However, some participants expressed positive experiences in dealing with social workers and staff at the clinics.

This study provides a preliminary evidence-based assessment of the mental health and experiences of lesbian and bisexual women trying to conceive.  It highlights the need for culturally competent health care providers, including social workers.  Social workers in particular may be able to assist in creating resources to help lesbian and bisexual clients who are trying to conceive.  Increasing the understanding of the barriers and challenges these women face in trying to conceive is an important step toward improving health services for lesbian and bisexual clients.

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