Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gay Parents and Health Care Professionals

Recently the Huffington Post published this essay titled "The Question You Should Never Ask a Lesbian Mom." Of course it was about the infamous "who is the real mom" question. That question sucks, so does going to one of LB's appointments with B and having a nurse/PA/doctor only interact with one of us, while completely ignoring the other adult in the room. In the essay the author describes her son's surgery, and the multiple ways that health care providers denied her son's family structure.  I would feel better about the world if I never read the internet comments on news stories, but I can't help but look.  The comments on this essay were largely of the "Why don't you just relax and get over it, it's not like someone beat you with a crowbar because you're a lesbian."  And yes, I would rather have someone ask me "Are you her real mom?" than have someone beat me with a crowbar, but that imagined choice seems to miss the point.

I feel the petty insults of the world.  B and I spent time and money formalizing our relationship as mothers to our daughter, and it smarts to have someone waltz into an exam room and assume that I am my daughter's grandma or a random +1 who just happens to attend medical appointments with a child and her mother.  Those mistakes are small and easily corrected, but they point to the potential for higher stakes problems.  At a well-child appointment or a developmental appointment we can clarify or complain, but what about the night when we run through the emergency room doors?  What about the intake clerk who doesn't see our family as real?  For me, like many other gay parents, that fear turns to anger when I encounter life's slights and misunderstandings.

In my taxonomy of acceptance, the most accepting health care workers are those with long experience working in urban hospitals.  They save their ire for the high, addicted, hopeless, and, of course, teen moms, while stable, well-spoken lesbian moms are just another variation of normal.  The worst are med students, residents, and social work students.  I realize we all need to learn, but sitting with my daughter in the NICU or waiting for the results of her developmental evaluation are really not good times for me to be someone else's teachable moment.  It seems like there should be an orientation session, or at least a pamphlet called: "Shit you shouldn't say to racial/ethnic/religious/sexual minorities,"  but maybe that's the section when people duck out for a coffee. 

My very practical solution to this problem would be a little slip of paper: a little voluntary form, preferably in florescent color, that would say "Patient" and "Who else is attending this appointment" and "relationship to patient" that we could choose to fill out and would then be attached to some prominent place on LB's file.  If I had a dollar for every time I've though "Why did I just spend 15 minutes filling out paperwork, if you aren't even going to fucking look at it!" I would definitely have enough money to buy B a six-pack of her latest fav microbrew.  But I realize that people sometimes don't have time to look through a whole file as they walk in to see a patient, or the records may be unclear, or they may be dealing with parents who are closeted or partially closeted, or they may not want to come off as too nosy, or they may not want to assume that a sister/aunt/case worker is a lesbian lover.  Hospitals and doctor's offices need to come up with a simple way to let families define themselves and share what they feel comfortable sharing.  It would make life easier for gay parents [and as pointed out by a friend, gay parents can also be single parents, foster parents, kinship caregivers, etc.] and our kids, and it would make life less awkward for health care providers.

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