Date of Award

5-2008

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Human Development

Advisor

Sandra Caron

Second Committee Member

Robert Milardo

Third Committee Member

Amy Blackstone

Abstract

Given social and legal constraints, this research examines the experiences of lesbian mothers in same-sex relationships and explores how mothers form families, develop support systems, and negotiate healthcare, school, church and other societal institutions while living in rural communities with fewer resources than urban or metropolitan environments. Over twenty hours of interviews were conducted with nine lesbian mothers living in six eastern and western Maine communities. A semi-structured interview format intentionally allowed participants to direct the conversation toward those experiences that impacted them most. Interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed by the researcher. The perception of social climate in Maine was very positive. While there have been struggles, lesbian mothers are happy overall and feel hopeful for the future. Daycare experiences were positive, although experiences with staff in upper grades were mixed. For seven of these women, work environment was positive as well. Women were happy with their neighborhood communities, and three women related being intentionally proactive in winning over neighbors to promote good living communities. From the seven women who included church in their lives, six were searching for community. This was most noticeable for women who struggled with balancing strong Christian beliefs with a welcoming church community. One woman related encountering outright rejection from her church. Medical care was an irritation for some lesbians who found they continually had to explain their family dynamics and their lesbian status. Birth certificates only allow room for one female mother and one male father, while hospital forms, and most forms in general, only allow space for two parents, not taking into consideration alternative family configurations. Stronger complaints included hospital maternity care where policies do not address family formations of more than two people such as birth mother, co-mother, and involved donor father. In the therapist community, two out of two women encountered problems on revealing their lesbian status to their child's therapist. Nine lesbian mothers had nine different experiences forming family, although seven of the nine current relationships resemble nuclear families. All lesbian mothers and their partners report strong support from their families of origin, and most mothers include non-kin in their definition of family. Positive reasons for living in a rural community include safe communities, getting to know neighbors, and the desire to stay close to family. Negative aspects included being the only same-sex family, and lack of support systems found in more urban areas. Research involving lesbian-led families has been done primarily in metropolitan and urban environment. This study advances the research by looking at women in more rural areas. Representativeness should be accepted with caution. Seven of nine mothers were associated either directly or indirectly with a university environment, often viewed as a more liberal community. All women were Caucasian and educated. Participants were volunteers as well as "out" and proactive in their communities. Further research would involve lesbian mothers in rural communities with lower SES and less "out" in their communities, as well as experiences of lesbian families in the healthcare field that might inform training and services.

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