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"It was kind of awkward and kind of special all at once": Lesbians' experiences of conception, maternity and family spaces

Abstract
This thesis examines the decision making and experiences of lesbians creating families in and through spaces and places where heterosexual relationships are predominant. I explore the conception spaces of homes and fertility clinics, the maternity spaces of ante-natal classes and hospital wards, and the educational, legal and discursive spaces of family in Aotearoa New Zealand. I address how heteronormative understandings of family influence the ways in which lesbians create family and how lesbians disrupt heteronormative assumptions about family. This research responds to calls for more scholarship on: a broader range of mothers; lesbian mothering; queer family in Aotearoa New Zealand; conception practices; and the normalisation of sexual practices outside of heterosexuality. I draw on feminist and queer geographies to examine how meanings of spaces and bodies are fluid, mutually constituted, and contradictory. Qualitative methods were used to collect empirical evidence. I conducted semi-structured face-to-face interviews with 38 lesbians and developed online surveys to which 240 women responded. I used the concept of hegemonic heteronormativity to examine how normative understandings are expected and performed within conception, maternity, and family spaces. Many aspects of this research were awkward: conversations about insemination; talking with lesbians about sperm; the stories participants told about feeling awkward; and the unease in hearing these stories. The synergistic ways in which conception, maternity and family spaces and lesbian bodies create feelings of awkwardness is analysed through concepts of ‘space invaders’ (bodies being in the wrong place), the abject (a disgust of something which is considered neither one nor the other), and the act of queering (disturbing normative assumptions of bodies and spaces). There are three research findings based on the themes of: conception; pregnancy and birth; and being a lesbian mother. The first finding is that spaces of conception - such as homes and fertility clinics - are heteronormative, but these spaces also disturb procreational norms and binary understandings of ‘homely’ and ‘clinical’. Lesbians seeking pregnancy queer assumptions around fertility, conception and gender performance, creating awkward spaces where understandings can be renegotiated. Second, maternal bodies and places are also heteronormative, and there is a strong connection between pregnancy, heterosexuality, and mothering. Expectant lesbian mothers who are not pregnant often feel they do not fit in maternity spaces, as they are not regarded as a mother nor a father. The third finding shows discursive understandings of family consistently exclude lesbian mothers and their children. Deciding whether to come out or not is a normative everyday aspect of parenting, as is the awkwardness that is provoked through exposing heteronormative assumptions. Awkwardness also creates a space of possibility, where understandings of lesbian, mother, and family are expanded, and where laughter can encourage change.
Type
Thesis
Type of thesis
Series
Citation
Melville, L. (2021). ‘It was kind of awkward and kind of special all at once’: Lesbians’ experiences of conception, maternity and family spaces. (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/14603
Date
2021
Publisher
The University of Waikato
Rights
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