Students Staff

08 July 2009

New lesbian baby study

Colchester Campus

Lesbian mothers have different expectations of the role of donors in children’s lives depending on which country they are from. That’s according to research by sociologist Dr Róisín Ryan-Flood from the University of Essex.

In a newly-published book, Lesbian Motherhood: Gender, Families and Sexual Citizenship, Dr Ryan-Flood explores the experiences of lesbians who choose motherhood after coming out. This type of family is also referred to as the ‘lesbian baby boom’.

Dr. Ryan-Flood focused on the mothers themselves in her research. Her findings indicate that lesbian mothers in Ireland prefer donors to be largely uninvolved in raising children, while their counterparts in Sweden expect them to play an active role in helping to raise the child. However, lesbian women in both countries preferred to have a known donor, and to be able to communicate his identity to a child.

Dr Ryan-Flood puts the dramatic differences in attitude and behaviour down to the cultural, historical and political backdrops of the two countries used in her research. She said: ‘One explanation is that in Sweden family politics are rooted in gender equality ideas and recognition of the historically unequal position of women in society – as well supporting women who want to work in paid employment, there is also an established expectation of participatory fatherhood and men having real and shared responsibility for domestic chores including changing nappies! That’s very different from the sort of rights rather than responsibilities attitudes that are at the heart of the ’families need fathers’ political rhetoric that we tend to see in the UK and Ireland.’

Although the differences between the roles of fathers is one of the main findings of the research, the book, published by Palgrave Macmillian, examines a much wider range of issues surrounding the ‘lesbian baby boom’ including how and when openly lesbian women decide to have a child, the healthcare they receive, experiences of day care and schools, family relationships where only one partner is the biological parent, and the possibility for a more flexible approach to gender relations within these families. Dr Ryan-Flood says her book is set in the context of more than 30 years of extensive previous research that indicates that having lesbian parents is in no way detrimental to children’s psychosocial development.

She believes the findings of her research paint a fascinating picture of a new kind of family and also of a society that is becoming ever-more complex and diverse. ‘It’s so important to look at these new family formations in order to understand their particular needs. They also illuminate wider changes and understandings of gender and family politics in society more generally.’

For further details on the Lesbian Motherhood: Gender, Families and Sexual Citizenship

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