by Jacqui Tomlins · Apr 26, 2017

I’m currently working with the rainbow families team in Sydney to produce an “Early Years Support Guide” that will be available at the International Family Equality Day, Sunday May 7th in Sydney. The Guide will contain some material from my Resource Kit for Rainbow Families, and a number of new sections. This blog is the first in a series highlighting the new content. Hard copies will be available on the day, but you’ll be able to download a copy from my website and from Rainbow Families (NSW) and Rainbow Families Victoria after May 7th.

Janet Broady, Registered Nurse & Midwife, recently ran the first LGBT antenatal class in Sydney on behalf of Rainbow Families. I really didn’t enjoy our antenatal classes. As the non-bio mum, I felt awkward and out of place: Did I go off with the dads, or stick with the mums?  Neither felt right. So I was really happy to see that LGBT antenatal classes have popped up in Sydney with Janet and in Melbourne with queer parent and experienced childbirth educator, Jess Permezel. I spoke to Janet about running her first antenatal class for everyone!

Antenatal classes for everyone!

Mainstream antenatal classes can present some challenges for prospective LGBT parents. Janet Broady ran the first antenatal class in Australia designed specifically for prospective LGBT parents. Janet outlines the content of the class, identifies some key points of difference, and looks to how LGBT classes can develop in the future.

Who attended the class?

The class was attended by seven lesbian couples, three gay male couples and a supportive grandparent. The mixed group worked well. We covered all the essentials, including: pre-labour and labour, relaxation techniques, birth, care of the newborn, breastfeeding and recovery. It was a lot to get through in a day, but we were able to include everything. Having said that, all the participants wanted more time spent on something! I was able to provide follow-up information and have kept in touch with participants.

 

What’s different for LGBT prospective parents?

Mainstream classes can be hard for lesbian couples and singles, gay dads and trans people. An LGBT class provides a safe and inclusive environment, which means the participants are able to relax, chat, and share their experiences much more easily. They are comfortable to ask questions about things like co-feeding and donor milk. These are the kinds of specific things that we talk about for both lesbians and gay dads that wouldn’t be covered in a mainstream class.

Non-birth mums

I think mainstream classes can be especially hard for the non-birth mum because so many of the activities are divided up along gender lines. So, a lesbian mum has to decide whether to stay with her partner and the other women, or go off with the dads. An LGBT class overcomes this problem and means the non-birth partner can participate fully in all aspects of the class without feeling like she’s the ‘odd one out’. That’s a key advantage of these classes. Inclusive language is especially important as well.

Co-breast/chest-feeding

It’s possible for lesbian trans couples to both lactate and feed. Where both partners have been pregnant and are lactating at the same time, this is easy. In other cases, the non-birth mum can take medication to initiate lactation and enable breastfeeding. This is certainly possible, but it does require some time and patience. Hospitals should have a framework to support co-feeding and can organise an appointment with a lactation consultant.

Gay dads

Some hospitals accommodate gay dads and will run one-on-one sessions for them, but I don’t think this is the norm across Australia. There is a place for classes just for gay dads, focusing on things like bottle feeding, bathing, changing, swaddling and settling. Daddy Boot Camps for expectant fathers are a great idea too with information and advice provided by an early childhood nurse.

Child health record

When a baby is born in Australia, the parents are issued with a book that provides details of the baby’s birth, and information about immunisation, periodic health assessments and screening. It’s a really important document that hooks you into the maternal and child health system and records your child’s medical history. Babies born by surrogacy overseas miss out on receiving that. Surrogacy dads can get a book from their early childhood or maternal and child health centre (see below).

Early childhood/maternal and child health centres

Parents who have a baby using surrogacy – either locally or overseas – may not be hooked into the local health and support services for new parents and their babies. Early childhood centres provide help, information and referral, including: parental mental health and post-natal depression services; nutrition for babies and breastfeeding mums; speech pathology and physiotherapy. They also organise new parents’ group and lots of gay dads have attended these and found them helpful. So, new gay dads should contact their local centre and make an appointment to see the nurse.

They may also miss out on receiving the Medicare registration forms that are provided to all new parents in Australia when a baby is born. These forms are available from Centrelink. If a baby is born overseas, they have a foreign birth certificate, but are able to register for Medicare because their parents are Australian.

There are two clinical tests that may not have been carried out if a baby is born overseas. They are the SWISH hearing test and the Newborn Screening Test. Your GP or paediatrician can organise for these to be carried out at your local hospital.

Donor milk

One of the areas we cover in the classes is breastfeeding and I provided some information about the Mothers’ Milk Bank (MMB) which provides breastmilk to parents who – for whatever reason – cannot provide their own. MMB transport milk by frozen air freight, which is picked up by the recipient from their nearest airport. MMB have provided milk to a number of gay dads in the past, as well as women who have had a mastectomy, or who have low milk supply.

How have participants responded?

Feedback suggests the participants have really enjoyed the day and feel more prepared for birth as a result of having attended the class. These are a couple of comments from the evaluations:

Thank you for doing this. It’s really great to do birthing classes with people with similar families and to acknowledge same-sex partners.

Congratulations on running this class – much needed in the community. Thank you Rainbow Families.

Basically, they wanted more of everything! Suggestions for inclusion:

  • group work and more time to chat
  • more advice on how to care for a newborn
  • a range of different speakers
  • a take-home folder with information on topics covered, where to get further advice and help and links to further reading
  • videos and information on breastfeeding, bottle feeding and labour and birth positions
  • information on:
    • pre-labour and when to go to hospital
    • Caesarean section
    • relaxation techniques
    • international surrogacy

What are your plans for future classes?

I would love to run some separate classes for surrogacy dads and to focus on feeding – including a discussion about formula and a demonstration of formula preparation – caring for a newborn, and some early-parenting advice.

Lots of people are interested in relaxation techniques and I’d also like to look into how we could support trans parents. The participants were keen to set up a Facebook group that I could moderate so they can all keep in touch.

We need information and brochures that focus specifically on the needs of rainbow families. There really isn’t much available at the moment. When I was developing the course material I couldn’t find any good quality educational videos that featured LGBT prospective parents. I’m now hoping to work with a filmmaker to develop some film clips for rainbow families. We’re currently looking into how we can partner with an educational film production company to produce a series of videos.

Where can people get more information?

These are great sites.

Raising Children

Australian Breastfeeding Association

Mothers Milk Bank

Lactation Consultants of Australia and New Zealand

The next Sydney class is on May 28th.

Check My Midwives for Melbourne classes.

Love ya work, Janet! Thank you.

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