How LGBTQ Childbirth Classes Demolish the 'Perfect Mother' Stereotype

A Berlin-based midwife who cares for queer families explains why we desperately need to expand our definition of motherhood.

Jul 10 2017, 3:36pm

Photo via Imago | Geisser

This article originally appeared on Broadly Germany.

No matter how different they are, every family has one thing in common: anxiety. Most people's worries about their baby start during pregnancy and reach their climax at birth. It's at this point that you need people around you who can care for you in the best way possible—something that Michèle Kretschel, a Berlin midwife who mainly cares for LGBTQ families, knows very well.

Kretschel and her colleagues organize what they call "identity-sensitive" childbirth classes tailored to those who might be otherwise afraid to attend regular birth classes for fear of discrimination—such as those who identify as non-binary or gay—or who simply don't fit into society's idea of the so-called traditional, heterosexual family unit.

Broadly talked to the German midwife about the importance of a childbirth class that isn't rooted in heteronormativity, and the reasons why our standards of motherhood really can't be actualized anyway.

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BROADLY: How did you first come up with the idea for this course?
Michèle Kretschel: Some of my [fellow midwives] and I wanted to work outside the margins of heteronormativity, partly because some of us could only find ourselves there. As a lesbian, I sometimes felt marginalized during my midwife training and while working on the job, and I asked myself what role my own identity played in my work. That also had to do with the fact that, as a midwife, I'm often asked whether I have a boyfriend or children. I'm always being put into [situations where I'm being outed]—both by my colleagues and by the families I care for. So I thought it'd be nice if my own identity could find a place in my work.

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Another reason why we wanted to offer a childbirth course for LGBTQI and non-binary persons or lifestyles is because there was demand [for one]. Pregnant people came to us because they felt they couldn't just attend any birth course; they were afraid of being discriminated against.

What can you learn in this course that you can't learn in others?
With respect to content, there are no differences. But, for example, we allow more than one accompanying person to attend the class, and it's not usual [that more than one does]. We do that because we're aware that people don't always have children as a couple, but in various familial constellations. Those could be families with multiple parents or two people who are expecting a child together but aren't in a romantic relationship, like a lesbian woman and her gay best friend, for example. It's important to not reinforce the normative idea that you can only have a child in a classical relationship between two people.

At the beginning of the class, we always name body parts, suggest definitions, take suggestions, and talk about words and terminology that will circulate in the group. At the end, we try to agree on something that's acceptable to everyone. And we also talk about pronouns and how each of us would like to be addressed.

Participants should be given the space to talk about the discrimination they've faced during their pregnancies. To provide a nice atmosphere for every participant, it's important to not ask any stupid questions. No one should be forced to answer a question they've been asked over and over again. That's when we should reflect and ask ourselves, Do I really need to know this to [successfully] take this class, or is it just my curiosity?

What kinds of negative experiences do people typically share with you in the course?
That's difficult to say because their experiences aren't mine. I can share what I've personally experienced, at least in my job at the clinic. Any departure from routine can complicate the smooth operation of the hospital ward or the delivery room, whether it's someone whose sexual orientation is unusual for the staff or someone who doesn't speak fluent German.

In many cases, it could mean that these patients are ultimately avoided [by healthcare workers], and sometimes it results in homophobic or xenophobic comments. For example, [I've heard] colleagues say, "I don't want this," or "I think this is unnatural," or "They can do whatever they want, but do they have to have children?" These are my experiences, but I assume that others are going through that as well.

Photo by Markus Spiske via Pexels

How can we prevent such situations from happening? What do you think should change in the way LGBTQ people are treated when receiving medical care?
I wish people would reflect on [their behavior] and imagine how it would feel if they walked [into a room] and weren't understood or accepted. Once you've realized [what that feels like], it's actually pretty easy. After all, no one wants to feel less worthy or like they're an inconvenience. Everyone wants the best medical care possible, which can't happen if someone is being ignored.

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The best thing would be, of course, to ask ourselves whether it's always [a good thing] to be blind to differences—or rather, would people benefit from having their differences accepted, without being put into the same box with everyone else? But it's always a balancing act not to reinforce discriminatory categories.

Are the expectant parents in your course different from the classic heterosexual mother-father couples? Or are there similarities when it comes to their fears and dreams?
[All expecting parents] have so much in common. Most of them share this feeling of uncertainty, especially [when it comes to] their first child. What will it be like? Will I do everything right? Will I be in good hands? Will I be supported? Can I trust my own body? These are the fears and concerns that everyone shares in this situation.

With LGBTQI people, the trust [that helps them conquer these concerns] is particularly undermined by our heteronormative society. But trust is the basis for a good birth. When you're being undermined by your own surroundings and you're in such a vulnerable state, and when you start to get the feeling like you've made a bad choice. That causes additional challenges. As a society, we have a very narrow idea of who and under which conditions someone is allowed to have a child. After all, we have these stereotypes for women, pregnancy, and motherhood that nobody can actually fulfill.