As has been discussed in previous posts throughout this month, PMADs can strike mothers regardless of their sexual orientation and can also strike fathers regardless of their sexual orientation. It can strike adoptive parents as well as the partner not carrying the baby in a lesbian couple. However, in sticking to the theme this month of Maternal Mental Health, let us focus on a mother’s mental health within the LGTBQI community.
This can quickly become a complicated topic and I do not profess to know all. There are somethings that I, as a mental health provider, do know. I know that individuals who are part of the LGBTQI community are humans…just like those who are heterosexual…and as humans, they have mental and emotional health as part of their make up. I know that mental and emotional issues can strike any human regardless of their genetics, SES, education, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. I know that mental health as a whole is stigmatized and not enough conversation, support or education takes place around mental health in general.
I also know, from educating myself and from personal experience, that being part of the LGBTQI community comes with stigmas, biases and prejudice of it’s own. Being challenged daily by a society where some individuals will judge, target, discriminate or shun you because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, can be quite damaging to ones self-esteem, and mental health. While mental health issues strike all humans, those who are part of the LGBTQI community are 3x as likely to experience a mental health condition (https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/LGBTQ). Merely living a life in which you are not treated or viewed equally by some can cause a great strain on your mental and emotional health, contribute to feelings of depression or anxiety and increase stress levels. Being a LGBTQI individual places you at higher risk of getting a PMAD during pregnancy or after the birth of a child.
Prior to ever becoming a mother, many lesbian, bisexual, queer or transgender women will go through the process of coming out to family and friends. This can result in family rejection or abandonment/distancing by friends. A support system that many new moms take for granted, may not be as readily available to a member of the LGBTQI community. And, likewise, for women who may still be living in secret, fearful of disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity, there becomes the dilemma of how to go about becoming a mother, a single mother essentially, while protecting yourself from the possible judgement and abandonment. There are many aspects from conception, through pregnancy and deliver and rearing a child that are considerably more complicated for a same sex couple. Conception can be more expensive as it generally includes IVF or a surrogate. Delivery poses questions such as, will my partner be considered the baby’s parent if something goes wrong during delivery and I’m unable to make decisions?…or will my partner be put on the birth certificate?
Now let’s add in societal views of moms in general. Should they work? Should they stay home? Should they breastfeed? Should they be able to do it all? These pressures all apply to lesbian, bi, queer and transgender mothers as well. Plus we have additional societal views and questions…where’s the father? Doesn’t the baby need a man in his life (especially if you have a son)? Can same sex parents raise a child well? It is widely believed that same sex parents are indeed more open-minded and accepting of their own children’s differences.
And the mother’s own worries and anxieties about her baby. Most mothers struggles with the responsibility of protecting their child while also allowing their child to grow and develop into a capable adult. How to protect your child or prepare them for all the difficulties in life. What if you had the added worry that your own lifestyle may actually bring negativity and pain into your child’s life? What if you had to contest with questions about if the other mothers on the playground would accept you and your child if you walked in holding your same-sex partner’s hand or if they realized you were bisexual, queer or transgender?
The ways and manners in which being part of the LGBTQI community can impact a mother’s mental health are vast and diverse. There is more our society as a whole can and needs to do to close the gaps in services and support, to create more equality not only tangibly but in our own hearts and minds. There can be immense support in the LGBTQI community despite it not necessarily being perfectly tailored to maternal mental health. At NAMI’s national website you can find mental health support groups and at NAMI’s page for LGBTQI individuals: https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/LGBTQ you can find resources to help locate an LGBTQI-inclusive provider. What is most important is to keep looking, not only for professional support or treatment, but for community support, and non-traditional places of support until you find what works for you. There is always more we can each do as individuals. Being the mom who is accepting and welcoming at the playground, mommy meetup or support group can really help change how this environment is experienced by a newcomer who is already battling societal negativity and/or internal negativity such as someone from the LGBTQI community does.