Nursing researchers Drs. Lisa Goldberg and Megan Aston have collaborated with a Halifax playwright to creatively present findings from their qualitative feminist and phenomenological study to better understand the dialogue surrounding LGBTQ+ women’s health.
The research study examined the experiences of LGBQ+ birthing women and the prejudices held by rural healthcare workers often unknowingly due to institutionalized heteronormativity and the assumption of heterosexuality.
The play, What to Expect When You Aren’t Expected, tells stories of eight LGBQ+ women who felt that their perinatal care providers lacked understanding and knowledge of how to work with LGBQ+ families. The dialogue for the play was taken directly from the research study and each woman’s story was performed as a monologue.
To protect the anonymity of the participants in the study, Drs. Goldberg and Aston asked each woman to choose a pseudonym, which took the place of their name in the play.
The play, created in collaboration with playwright Annie Valentina, brings to light the exclusionary nature of birthing spaces and how heteronormativity is perpetuated through taken-for-granted assumptions. Many of the women interviewed found that there was little space outside of the hetero-norm provided for them during their birth experience.
Invisibility was another main theme throughout the play as the women expressed how they felt excluded and misunderstood.
Many rural care providers are limited in knowledge surrounding the specific healthcare needs of LGBTQ+ women. Unconscious biases contribute to the vulnerability of LGBTQ+ women as they normalize the segregation and compartmentalization of queer women within the healthcare system.
Funding for the creation of the play was provided through the knowledge sharing support award granted through the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation (NSHRF). Dr. Aston says presenting the data in the form of a play was an effective way for the project to stand out from the other award applications the foundation received.
“A lot of people apply for those awards so ours was specifically, ‘we want to do a play’ and they were very excited about that because they saw the benefit of it.”
The research process
What to Expect When You Aren’t Expected runs approximately one hour in length, though Drs. Goldberg and Aston began their research nearly five years ago. Dr. Goldberg has been studying queer health since 2004 and says the topic has only recently begun to garner attention from researchers and academics.
The duo interviewed thirteen LGBQ+ women between the ages of 18 and 42 who had birthed in rural Nova Scotia, in addition to one midwife. The data collected included dialogue from semi-structured interviews, which allowed each participant to freely narrate their personal experience.
Recruiting women to participate in the study was challenging at times, as the researchers were living outside the rural locations of targeted participants. Dr. Goldberg says travel was at times difficult and alternatives such as phone interviews proved an excellent option for collecting interview data.
“Recruitment is a challenge because we’re situated here [in Halifax] and [the study] goes across the province so sometimes travel is difficult. It can be hard to reach people.”
The role of knowledge translation
Academic research studies can be difficult to make sense of for those outside of the scientific world. Collaborating with a playwright proved to be an effective method for the researchers to share their data with a public audience. Dr. Goldberg’s aim for the project was to educate as broad an audience as possible and present the data in a way that it may be easily interpreted by those without an academic or scientific background.
“The reports, we hope, get out to folks. We hope people will look at our website and video but still, that’s a limited audience.”
Dr. Goldberg also emphasizes the importance of utilizing knowledge translation to create lasting change within the healthcare system to improve the experiences of all LGBTQ+ women.
“That research knowledge, translating it and getting it beyond the research trajectory, is really important to get that knowledge out,” she says.
Dr. Aston says she is thankful for the enthusiasm of the participants as their stories will help change the narrative surrounding all LGBTQ+ women’s health and make the birthing experience more comfortable for LGBQ+ women across the country.
“To even volunteer, you know what it’s going to be and you want to tell your story,” she says. “They knew that it would be going out to help people and to educate.”
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