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Lesbian Visibility: Inclusion for Families Like Ours.

Updated: Apr 23

For Lesbian Visibility Week guest writer Tash Koster-Thomas shares the challenges of navigating pregnancy as a lesbian couple in a heteronormative world.


A photo of Tash and Marthe Koster-Thomas, a lesbian couple, sat at the foot of a slide. Tash has brown skin, long dark locs and is wearing a jacket, t-shirt and pregnancy yoga pants. is sat in front of Marthe, with her hands on her pregnant stomach. Marthe has pale skin and shoulder length brown hair. Both are smiling at the camera.


The moment we saw the little message, ‘2-3 weeks’ our entire world shifted. It was a wave of mixed emotions, disbelief, gratitude, love, overwhelm, but more than anything, excitement. We were excited to be starting this new journey. The one that so many of our heterosexual friends had already experienced. We were excited to share our news. To tell the world, ‘WE’RE HAVING A BABY!” But we hadn’t anticipated the worlds’ reaction.


As a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultant I spend my days focused on supporting inclusion within the workplace. However, the experiences I had during pregnancy highlighted the need for a developed awareness in society.


When I “came out” at 16 years old, I always knew I would have a family of my own. I grew up knowing I would experience pregnancy one day, regardless of the assumptions of those around me. So, when I met my wife Marthe, we knew we would start a family together. Within a month of our relationship, we had already decided who would carry and when. The ‘if’ was never a question, it was just the ‘how’. 


Our journey to pregnancy was relatively easy when compared to other same-sex couples. We chose a private donor, and I was fortunate to get pregnant within the first few months of trying. It was a fairy-tale story and so when we started to share our news, we assumed everyone would have the same reaction as us. Instead, we were met with a barrage of uninformed, inappropriate, and intrusive questions. 


“Of course everyone was really happy, but I do remember one friend saying ‘how’? - Marthe Koster-Thomas

I would love to say this interaction was a one-off, but it became the norm. People’s curiosity seemed to override their politeness and well-wishes. In the early days we would make jokes and laugh about how ridiculous some of the questions were. However, the humour quickly wore off. Instead of feeling excited to share my news with people, I started to dread it. Knowing I would have to deal with yet another thoughtless comment. 


The question that hurt the most was, “is the Dad going to be involved?”. This would offend and frustrate me in many ways, and highlighted how heteronormative our society is. Even when people knew we were two women in a relationship, there was still this need for a Dad figure to qualify as a family. The use of the word Dad, when in fact the man in question is a donor. The idea that donation of sperm automatically makes them equal to Mum. The assumption that we require a man to be involved. 




But the most frustrating fact is people would never ask this question to a heterosexual couple using a donor. There wouldn’t be assumptions about if the donor was going to be involved in parenting the child. 


“Who is the father? I found that really intrusive. The use of the term father I found offensive as a lot of people already knew we were using a donor, who wasn’t going to be involved.” - Marthe Koster-Thomas

I wondered if we were unique in this experience, but after speaking with other same-sex couples we learned it seems to be the norm. Mel and her wife welcomed their daughter 3 years ago and experienced a lot of similar questions. Mel shares how the question of “who is the Dad?” wasn’t exclusive to friends and family, but even within the medical profession: “Especially in the NHS, the language is not there yet. When it was private [healthcare], they knew the language of donor but with our GP, midwife etc the language was never correct.”

 

This experience highlights how language is continuously evolving to become more inclusive. Whilst we may have a certain level of awareness, there is an individual and collective responsibility to foster inclusion


This is even more poignant as in February of this year the NHS announced it was shutting down its ‘LGBT Rainbow Badge’ scheme for hospitals. Started in 2018, it has provided basic education and resources to staff who sign up. Supported by Stonewall after their Britain Health Report (2018) estimated that one in five LGBT+ people aren’t ‘out’ to any healthcare professional when seeking general medical care. The badge was given to staff who pledged their commitment to reduce inequalities and provide support to LGBTQ+ people. 


Unfortunately, the UK is not alone globally in these experiences for LGBTQ+ people seeking respectful and dignified medical care. There were times when I found myself awkwardly laughing as I answered strangers' questions. I was so shocked by their lack of respect for my privacy that I didn’t know any other way to respond. I would walk away from interactions feeling frustrated with myself for not speaking up.  


“What does the father look like? Was the most infuriating for me, especially once she was born. In the beginning I would even describe his features as I was so taken back by the question. But now I say to people that I would like to keep it private. I have learned throughout the process.” - Marthe Koster-Thomas

Now that our daughter is here, I find myself being a lot clearer in my boundaries. She is no longer a hypothetical person. She is someone I want to protect from other people’s ignorance. But there is a fine balance in sharing knowledge for the purpose of education, respecting your family’s privacy and not coming across as rude.


“It’s really good to talk about this with your partner. How you’re going to respond to these questions because they are quite surprising. If I had known they were going to come, I would have set harder boundaries.” - Marthe Koster-Thomas

Ultimately these questions come from curiosity and a desire to understand something that’s different. Mel shared, “I try not to get offended, because it’s not people trying to be offensive. I think it’s just a lack of knowledge and education.”


This doesn’t change the long-term impact. We know we will continue to experience microaggressions such as these throughout our daughter’s life based on our family dynamic. However, there is action that can be taken within the systems we are creating.  


I would say to anyone asking these types of questions, ask yourself something first. Why? Why do I need to know? What’s the purpose? And most importantly, what’s the impact?



A photo of Tash Koster-Thomas, a lesbian woman with brown skin and long dark locs. She is smiling at the camera, wearing a yellow top and denim jacket.

Tash Koster-Thomas (she/her)


Tash is a leading Inclusion and Diversity Consultant, presenter, speaker, and LGBTQ+ Activist who is driving the conversation forward. As a Black queer woman, Tash leverages her lived experience and identity to champion diversity and inclusion in both society and the workplace. She provides invaluable insight into dismantling barriers associated with diversity, ensuring that opportunities are accessible with equity, not just in the workplace, but also in our communities, both locally and globally.


Find more information about Tash here.


A selfie of Tash and Marthe. Tash wears glasses and a denim shirt. Marthe wears a red and white striped top.

Tash and her wife Marthe continue to share their experiences via their social media @_breakingthedistance. They also have a podcast ‘Breaking the Distance - Podcast’, where they have shared their pregnancy journey. 








 

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