Unconventional conceptions : family planning in lesbian-headed families created by donor insemination

Green, Lisa Katherine. Unconventional conceptions : family planning in lesbian-headed families created by donor insemination. 2006, Doctoral Thesis, University of Basel, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.


Official URL: http://edoc.unibas.ch/diss/DissB_7773

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This study aimed to systematically describe the decision-making phase of family formation in German lesbians planning to parent via donor insemination, to assess the issues pertinent to each mother role and those involved in donor type choice using a retrospective, structured questionnaire. Data was collected from 105 self-identified lesbian women, 55 of whom were birthmothers and 50 of whom were social mothers.
The process of planning a lesbian-headed family created by donor insemination is, in many ways, unique to this family form. First of all, each woman has to successfully come-out and develop a positive self-identity as a lesbian and develop a committed lesbian relationship (in the case of planning a two-parent family). The decision-making phase of family building, which took 2 years on average, includes working through issues that are common to the decision of parenting shared by heterosexual couples as well as lesbian specific issues. The following lesbian specific aspects of family planning were identified in this study. Lesbian women must actively confront (internalized) societal taboos of lesbians and gays having children and develop strategies for handling homophobia. They must also develop a positive attitude towards a lesbian-headed family. In the absence of or outside of legally sanctioned relationships, women planning to parent in lesbian relationships consider the event of relationship dissolution or death of the birthmother for both the social mother and the child. The lesbian couple also decides what model of family they intend to build. In the absence of traditionally defined roles, the lesbian couple must negotiate and define the birth and social mother roles for their family. In the absence of terminology for the birth and social mothers, the lesbian couple must decide what they want the child to call them. Lesbian women must decide on the method by which they want to become parents. If a lesbian couple decides to become parents by conception, then they must negotiate which of the women will conceive (first). Another decision to be made regards that of donor type choice, i.e. how to get sperm and to what degree the male it stems from should be known to and involved in the life of the lesbian couple and child. Prospective lesbian parents must decide if, to what degree and in what way they intend to include men in their child’s lives. In contrast to heterosexual family planning, lesbian prospective parents are choosing a non-normative path and, correspondingly, are faced with the issues of resources, challenges and eliciting support for their family decisions.
104 of the 105 participants planned a two-parent family with their lesbian partner. The allocation of mother role between the two women occurred via the decision over which
woman would bear the (first) child. The obvious difference between the mother roles lies in the biological fact that the birthmother goes through insemination and the physical work of pregnancy, childbirth and probably nursing where as her partner becomes a mother without it. The other major difference between the mother roles is that the birthmother role is culturally defined where as the social mother is culturally and legally (prior to stepparent adoption conclusion) non-existent. However, these differences do not impact the couple full force in the decision-making phase; they are anticipated and first strategies for handling upcoming difference is made, i.e. plans for equal parenting, and ‘mother’ terminology. In fact, during this phase, the roles seem more similar than different as the women make all the parenting decisions together.
The women in this study chose different donor types in planning DI: anonymous donors (n=42), identity-release donors (n=22), known donors (n=39) and unknown, fresh sperm donor (n=2) to conceive their first-born child. The decision as to which type of donor the couple wants may be conceptualized as a balance act between protecting the lesbian couple and LDI family unit boundaries in our social and legal context, on the one hand, and attitudes towards father related issues, on the other, such as, the degree to which the women think it is acceptable or damaging for a child not to know its biological father, and whether they felt the desire to know one’s ‘roots’ is biologically determined or socially imposed. The attitudes of mothers who used identity-release and known donors conformed more with heteronormative attitudes while those of mothers via anonymous donors did not. Although different donor types were chosen, all women were able to identify positive and negative aspects of their donor choice attesting to the fact that there is no blanket solution for everybody, only solutions for individual couples.
Future research needs to assess the development of the LDI family by phase through the all stages of family formation in order to deepen our understanding of these families’ transition to parenthood and passage through the life cycle. The information assessed in such studies would provide information future LDI mothers may need before they embark on motherhood as well as prove useful to professionals in a variety of disciplines who are educating and /or providing services for members of LDI families.
Advisors:Rauchfleisch, Udo
Committee Members:Gehring, Thomas Michael
Faculties and Departments:07 Faculty of Psychology > Departement Psychologie > Ehemalige Einheiten Psychologie > Abteilung Klinische Psychologie und Psychiatrie
Item Type:Thesis
Thesis Subtype:Doctoral Thesis
Thesis no:7773
Thesis status:Complete
Number of Pages:154
Identification Number:
edoc DOI:
Last Modified:23 Feb 2018 11:42
Deposited On:13 Feb 2009 15:53

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