UCalgary research with lesbian mothers

Aug. 31, 2021

UCalgary Nursing alum's research with lesbian mothers highlights lack of knowledge, understanding of their experience

Deborah Mansell, BN'99, MN’04 says Pride Week is the time to push for safe, effective health and social care for LGBTQ2S+ people

UCalgary Nursing alumna, Deborah Mansell, BN'99, MN’04, recalls her first job as a registered nurse on a labour and delivery unit in Calgary. A particular experience she carries with her has shaped her career and education as a nurse.

“Rachel and Nicole had just welcomed a beautiful baby boy into their lives, and they were tired yet happy,” says Mansell, now a faculty member in the School of Nursing at St. Francis Xavier University and a doctoral nursing student at UCalgary. “But the words they shared were words of alienation and sadness – something along the lines of ‘well, I am his mother too, but the papers say mother and father.’ While I have experienced many other poignant mothering stories, their experience intertwined with mine at a particular time in my nursing practice and a specific place in my motherhood story. It has stayed with me, and I still wonder what mothering has been like for Rachel and Nicole.”

As a result, Mansell’s research question became “what are the experiences of lesbian birth mothers as they negotiate maternity care?” Her qualitative exploration has been of the experiences of these moms and how they compose their identities as mothers in relation to maternity health and social services and practitioners. And as Calgary Pride Week takes place, Mansell says it is necessary to recognize that mere tolerance – the idea that if everyone is treated the same, then everything is okay - is not enough.

Deborah Mansell (MN’04, BN’99)

Deborah Mansell is a doctoral nursing student at UCalgary and a faculty member in the School of Nursing at St. Francis Xavier University.

Health care for the LGBTQ2S+ community 

“As a cisgender, heterosexual, white woman, Pride reminds me that every day LGBTQ2S+ people face bigotry, hate, physical and social harms,” she comments. “While Pride may seem like a party or celebration, it is essential to remember Pride is a protest to a society that says it is wrong or harmful to live as your genuine and whole self.

”Health and social care must take a critical look at its history in contributing to the idea that LGBTQ2S+ people are ill or immoral,” Mansell adds. “The mothers in my research faced biased care, lack of opportunities to have family-centred care and the use of policy to police their mothering. Lesbian birth mothers face barriers to care that heterosexual women do not.”

Mansell will continue to teach and study the experience of mothers who do not ‘fit’ the heterosexual, two-parent families maternity care in Canada is built around.

“There are fundamental gaps in nursing and practice education which would enable nurses to disrupt the biases and hate LGBTQ2S+ people and their families face when seeking health care,” she says, adding that most undergraduate nursing curriculum provides little on how to care for LGBTQ2S+ people safely and effectively across the lifespan.

“Funding for health and social care for LGBTQ2S+ is profoundly lacking across the country, including funding for research,” says Mansell. “Nursing faculities need to make funding for this area of health and social care research a priority and/or ensure funding for this marginalized population is available consistently.”

UCalgary strives to create and maintain a positive, productive learning and working environment where there’s respect for the dignity of all persons and fair and equitable treatment of individuals in our diverse community.

To learn more about how UCalgary is connecting with the community and other community events, click here.