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Podcast: Supporting the LGBTQIA+ community

 

Breastfeeding ... with ABA podcast. 

How we're supporting LGBTQIA+ families to feed and nourish their children. 

Nicole talks with Bridget from Rainbow Families NSW about information and support available to LGBTQIA+ families, including an exciting new collaboration with Rainbow Families NSW and the Australian Breastfeeding Association. Elke and Andrea also share their experience of feeding their babies.

Listen to the episode: here

Read the transcript: see below

For more about the information discussed in this episode:

 
Visit our companion blog on this topic: Supporting the LGBTQIA+ community
 
Ways you can get information and support right now:

 

Credits and more:

This podcast is proudly brought to you by the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA). Produced by Belinda Chambers, Jessica Leonard and Eleanor Kippen.

This episode is presented Nicole Bridges. Featuring Bridget Muir, Elke and Andrea. Audio editing by Jessica Leonard. Show notes by Belinda Chambers. Transcription by Eleanor Kippen.

 

Find out more about Breastfeeding … with ABA.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association is a Registered Training Organisation (RTO 21659).


Episode transcript:

ANDREA: One of us would be feeding her and one of us would be pumping, but because she was eating so little whoever fed her, like I also had to be pumping. So, once every 3 hours we were both pumping so much! You know, the pumps became known as the cows, and our son at one point said we will take a holiday, with you know, all 5 of us. And we were like, 5?! And he said, you know, mom, mommy, the baby and the cows, will be coming with us, they’re all our family!

NICOLE: Welcome to Breastfeeding with ABA podcast. It’s a podcast brought to you by volunteers with the Australian Breastfeeding Association. Breastfeeding with ABA is a podcast about, breastfeeding. Made by parents for parents. In this episode we’ll be talking about the LGBTQIA+ community and an exciting new collaboration with Rainbow Families New South Wales and the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

This episode is intended to be suitable for anyone, no matter their knowledge or experience of the LGBTQIA+ community. We’d like to extend our thanks to Rainbow Families New South Wales and their representative, our guest Bridget, for generously sharing explanations of their community. We extend our respects to all Indigenous members of the LGBTQIA+ community, including Sister Girls, Brother Boys, and their communities. We are recording this podcast in different parts of Australia. We’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we are recording, and which you are listening to this podcast. We pay our respects to elders, past, present and emerging, and to any Aboriginal people who are listening today.

In each episode you’ll hear from different parents around Australia. My name is Nicole and I’m a volunteer counsellor and community educator with the Australian Breastfeeding Association. I’m speaking from my home on the lands of the Dharug people in Western Sydney, New South Wales. I have 3 children, 2 daughters and 1 son and they are currently aged between 10 and 21 years

BRIDGET: Hi My name is Bridget and I’m a volunteer on the welfare and community sub-committee for Rainbow Families New South Wales. And I’m speaking on Bidjigal Gadigal country in East Sydney, New South Wales. I have 2 children, 1 aged 8 and the other one is aged 13.

NICOLE: Thank you Bridget, and thank you for joining us today. First off, could you tell us a little bit about Rainbow Families New South Wales and what they do.

BRIDGET: Rainbow Families New South Wales is a not-for-profit grassroots organisation here in in NSW, and we are the voice of LGBTQIA+ families and prospective parents in New South Wales. We advocate for, empower and celebrate our community and we’re really run by the community, for the community, so all our volunteers, including board committee members are LGBTQIA+ parents themselves. Some of the key projects are writing submissions to the government, regarding any policies that may impact our families and our community. We also develop resources that are free, for example, we have a trans- and gender- diverse parents’ resource that was put together about 3 years ago now. We also have a guide for parents that are in the early years, and a school support guide as well and a few other resources. We also run parenting courses, and antenatal courses in partnership with New South Wales health. Including a very new program that’s an antenatal course that’s specifically for gay dads. We also run playgroups, across the board, monthly catchups, and we also have an annual resilience camp that we’ve been running for the past 3 years for primary school kids and queer and trans parents, and so much more. So you can find us on Facebook, Instagram, or our website, which is rainbowfamilies.com.au, if you want to see what else we do, or how to get involved.

NICOLE: That’s fantastic Bridget, it sounds like you’ve got such a wonderful support network there. I know we often hear a lot of terms being thrown around when referring to the queer community. Perhaps you could explain what the current acronym is, and what it all means.

BRIDGET: Yes, I can understand there’s often a lot of confusion. So, the acronym we’re using is LGBTQIA+ and within Australia there are a few slight variations, and then there are even more variations in the global context.

So, L stands for Lesbian, which is a female identifying person, attracted to other female identifying people.

Then you have the G for Gay, a male identifying person attracted to male identifying people. Although, gay can also be used for anyone in a same sex relationship as well.

So B stands for Bisexual, the bisexual community is quite diverse in itself, but it’s really folks that are attracted to female identifying folks and male identifying folks, or beyond genders.

Then we have T, which stand for Transgender. And transgender stands for someone who’s been assigned a sex at birth based on the appearance of their genitals, but their gender identity, which is an internal feeling that you have about yourself, is not in line with that sex that you have been assigned to you. The transgender community is really diverse in itself, and many trans folks really go on their own journeys. I really just want to acknowledge that there is no like, ‘this is what means to be transgender’.

Then you have Q for Queer. So, queer has been used as a really derogatory term in the past, and actually it still is sometimes. But the community has reclaimed this word in terms of an empowering word. Someone who might use the word queer could be someone in a same-sex relationship and they just identify with that word more. Someone might identify with the queer political movement, the gay-rights movement and that side of things. Someone might not quite fit into all the other experiences and feel that queer is the better term for them. People use it for various reasons.

And then we have I for Intersex. And the intersex community are a diverse population with many different kinds of body sex characteristics, sex assignments, genders, identity, life experiences, and terminology and word preferences. Intersex folks share in common an experience of having innate sex characteristics that differ from medical norms, using quotation marks here, ‘Medical norms of female and male bodies’. So, this is about bodily diversity that definition is actually from the intersex human rights Australia page and they do a lot of advocacy work and education.

And then we have A. Now A stands with Asexual. Some people get confused, and they think A stands for Allied, but A stands for Asexual. And the asexual community is quite diverse as well, it’s quite a spectrum. Basically, an asexual person does not experience sexual attraction. So, they might experience romantic feelings, or sensual attraction, but not a sexual attraction, there’s a few differences there. They’re not drawn to people sexually, and do not desire to act upon attraction to others in a sexual way. There’s a lot information on the website run by AVEN, and they’re a global organisation that do a lot of education around asexuality, because it is one of the communities that is often misunderstood, and there’s a lot of myths. So, for example, some asexual people do have sex, and some actually do sometimes enjoy it, and there are also asexual parents.

And then the plus on the end. So, the plus is actually really important. The plus acknowledges that this is not the full story of our community, [laughter] and that its really even more diverse and expansive. There are so many more identities and orientations out there. And I just want to acknowledge that some of the experiences and identities within the acronyms also overlap as well. So, for example my partner is a transwoman, and she identifies as lesbian.

There are a few other words that I’m just going to explain. One of the words is cisgender so we’re starting the hear that a lot more now. So cisgender is really the opposite to transgender. So cis literally means same in Latin. So cisgender is someone who is assigned a sex at birth based on their genitals, and their gender expression, which is that internal feeling inside, that connection of yourself with that gender, is in line with the sex you were assigned at birth.

And then another word that seems to pop up a lot is cis-het, or cis-heteronormativity, which is quite a big mouthful. And that’s really a societal assumption that folks are cis-gender and heterosexual.

Some other words are birthing parent, so birthing parent is the person who birthed the baby. Feeding from the body, which is a fairly new term actually, when a baby or child is being fed from a human, by being attached to their body around the nipple. So, it could be even used by someone who is using for example like a supplemental nursing system for example.

Then the other term is lactating parent, so this is the parent whose body is making milk for the baby or a child. And there are so many other words out there, so I’m just going to really encourage the listeners to utilise Google, because we’re at a time where there is an abundance of knowledge and information on Google. Like actually really good information. So just take the initiative to do that yourself as well.

NICOLE: So, what about some of the scenarios the members of the queer community may find themselves in when it comes to breastfeeding their children.

BRIDGET: Yeah, so a few scenarios that may come up could be example number one: there could be a couple and they’re going to have their first baby and one of them could be the birth parent who is a cisgender woman and her partner is a transgender woman. And together, they both decide that it would be lovely to co-nurse. So co-nursing is about sharing the nursing relationship with another person. So, you’re both feeding the baby, from the body. So that might be one situation, so how would a transwoman, whether she has taken hormones to support her transition or not, how can she get support. That might be one scenario that might come up in our community.

Another example might be a transmasculine man, so someone assigned female at birth however identifies male, who might be a single parent and considering having a baby via sperm donation. And perhaps as part of their story they have had chest surgery, and they would like to feed their baby from their body. So that might be another scenario that might come up. So how would that, you know, how could that person get the information and support.

Another situation that may come up, which I’ve actually heard of overseas, is two cisgender gay dads having a baby via surrogacy and really wanting to feed their baby human milk. So, that might be another situation that could come up. So, they might look at perhaps some donor milk, or they might look at some support using a supplemental nursing system.

Another example might be, similar to the first one around co-nursing, there might be 2 cisgender women, and one of them is going to birth the baby and they would both would like to feed the baby, through co-nursing.

NICOLE: Elke and Andrea live in Melbourne with their 2 children, a 7-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl. Elke is an environmental lawyer and Andrea is an evaluator. Elke, Andrea, could you please tell us a bit about your family?

ANDREA: Well, I guess we’re a fairly mundane family, living in Melbourne, occasionally drinking too much coffee. Ah, we’ve got 2 moms, and I’ve got an American accent, so apologies for that in advance. I did not grow up in Australia, Elke did. And, our kids, one goes to primary school, one’s in kindy, and we all live in the same house.

NICOLE: Fabulous so, perhaps you’d like to share with us a little bit about your experience feeding your babies.

ELKE: Obviously as a lesbian couple we had to go through sourcing sperm somewhere else. And so our story of coming to having babies at all was pretty lengthy and complicated. So we have ended up each carrying one child. I ended up carrying our son, Andrea carried our daughter. Which wasn’t plan A, that was plan F, W, something! [laughter] It was a long way down the plan list. But that’s how it happened. With our son I carried him and breastfed him for about 20 months, until he just kind of tailed off of his own accord. And then yeah, 4 years later, we had a daughter, which Andrea carried, and we both breastfed her. So it was a very different experience.

NICOLE: Oh, Absolutely. So what challenges have you encountered when sharing breastfeeding?

ANDREA: So I carried our daughter, and when I gave birth to her, she was slightly underweight and mal-fed, so they kept us in the hospital a bit longer and had a bit of jaundice and went onto that pump and feed cycle almost instantly. So I think just initially making sure that enough was getting into her. And me being a mum who was new to breastfeeding even though I had a 4-year-old son at the time was really interesting. I think a lot of them just walked in assumed I knew what I was doing, and I definitely benefited from their coaching which was really good. So yeah, it was that ever 3 hours, round the clock thing. That wasn’t too challenging, because you think about it, you just blindly walk through the experience.

But what made it challenging then, I think was this natural back and forth flow between Elks and I. Oh, I’ll feed this time when she cries and you go that time. And it turned into a lot of scheduling. And when you were trying to induce lactation, it involved you pumping on the mechanical pumps once every 3 hours as well. So basically, one of us would be feeding her and one of us would be pumping. But because she was eating so little, whoever fed her, like I also had to be pumping. So once every 3 hours we were both pumping so much. So, the pumps became known as the cows and our son at one point suggested we take a holiday with you know, all 5 of us! And were like 5, you know? And he was like, you, Mom, Mommy, the baby and the ah, cows! Will be coming with us. And they were part of our family. And little things eventually, we got mobile ones we could hang around our necks so we could do the dishes. But essentially it was quite tethering.

ELKE: It was such a different experience. So with my son I just fed him, he had a slight tongue-tie at the start but there were no real problems with the feeding. I had enough milk, it was all fairly straightforward. And then with our daughter, I knew I wanted to try breastfeeding her as well. So Andrea, immediately after the birth did those first few weeks. But in that time I was trying to get my milk supply up. So I had been on domperidone, and then I was pumping every 3 hours. So neither of us was ever getting more than 2 and a half hours sleep, like ever. So, of course we also had a 4-year-old. So in hindsight, it was just stupidly exhausting and draining at that point. It was really actually really tough. The funny thing is that I’m still breastfeeding her, so she’s heading for 3 and a half now, and Andrea kind of tailed off around the 8-week mark, or 3 months and I’ve been doing it since then. It actually got extended for a long time because of COVID, because I was always at home, there was no problem breastfeeding her to bed every night, cause it’s not like I was going to be anywhere else. And now we’re down to 2 or 3 feeds a week, when she happens to ask for it, and it’s become you know, a really long-term lovely thing. But those first few weeks were really hard.

NICOLE: So we’ve heard about some of the challenges, but what are some of the best parts about sharing breastfeeding?

ANDREA: I thought it was really nice. So I fed her for about 8 weeks and stopped, and I thought, you know what, I actually really like it but I was originally like nup, and handballed it right out of the gate. You know. And then I went back and ended up pumping for her and feeding her the 6 am and 6 pm feeds. And it was when she could just latch on and there wasn’t like pumps afterwards, so for a couple of months, till she was about 6 months it was just lovely, just those early mornings and the late nights but not having to do the overnights and not having to do like during the day. I went back to work, like you know all of that happened and I didn’t have to anything really but just you know, provide milk twice. And I confess, I have technically weaned her, but the other week Elke was gone for 5 days, and I may or may not have just been like here. Oh, Jess here, and I was like, is there any milk and she was like [high pitched voice], ‘Yeah, there’s milk, there’s still milk’. And I was like, you’re kidding, and I squeezed and I was like oh my god, there is! So, just little moments like that are pretty cute.

NICOLE: Our bodies are pretty amazing aren’t they?

ELKE: Yeah.

NICOLE: So what do you think people should know about breastfeeding?

ELKE: So one of the things that I think we made our own life much more difficult, was that, so Andrea started off breastfeeding and doing all the breastfeeding, and then I transitioned in as she transitioned out, so we were kind of doing this weird juggle where she was trying to make sure she didn’t get mastitis and I was trying to get my supply up by pumping lots to kind of take over. I think if people were doing a scenario where, from birth, they both were doing some of the breastfeeding, they’re not trying to kind of manage and change flows, they’re just ongoingly sort of sharing it. And that actually sounds quite lovely. You’ve obviously got someone else to do some of the feeds overnight, or you know, it’s a much more shared and fluid kind of arrangement.

Whereas you know, the way we did it, we just had to communicate a lot about our breasts. [ANDREA: Yeah] And we had to constantly kind of be managing our own milk supply, whether we had too much or not enough, and because she was an underweight baby, and I know this is a stress for any breastfeeding person. It’s like a constant stress if you feel like your baby’s maybe not getting enough or not growing enough. So we had that going on, anyway, on top of trying to juggle two supplies. So I guess what I would say is it was a really bonding thing, but it was also a really difficult thing. So, I would say that people would need to think about their communication styles beforehand and really prepare themselves for just having to communicate constantly about managing the breastfeeding. But also think about what style they want to do. If they just want to do that ongoing role where someone might pick up the 6 am feed, ongoingly, you know, then that sounds much more manageable to me than what we did. And it actually sounds quite lovely. So you both of you get that shared moment with the child and the bonding thing that you get when you’re physically attached to them. So yeah, I would think that would be a better way to go. But I think one of the other really lovely things about what we did was that it was we’re in no way the first people to do this, but it felt a bit ground-breaking. Any number of friends kind of turned to us and said oh, what I wouldn’t have done to have a spare pair of breasts in the house that could feed the baby! [laughter] There’s lots of lesbian couples out there, or it might be some kind of random arrangement where someone’s sister is going to take on some of the feeding. There’re all kinds of arrangements where people might want to break out of the shell a bit and try breastfeeding in more novel scenarios.

[voices]

NICOLE: Sorry, go ahead.

ANDREA: Oh, I just thought I’d chip in too, and another thing is that expect the unexpected. I think originally we were kind of thinking something like that might happen. Someone might just pick the 3 pm feed and kind of pick that up. But then when she had jaundice the hospital was like, huh, yeah, one of you is in the hospital, so it was a bit more medicalised. And then, oh, praise our daughter, but she didn’t take a bottle. And I mean why would you [NICOLE: yeah exactly, she’s smart] you’ve got boobs on tap. [laughter] Yeah, and so she, but that was never in the plan either because our son just sort of had one, so of course then one of us could like just pump a bit and have extra. And that could be useful in case I was nervous I thought my feed was dropping off. So, there was elements like that, what worked for one kid wouldn’t, probably, may not, have worked, assuming you know, your first child went like this, so your second kid will go like that. I think that could apply universally to any family but um, even more so if you read a case study, or hear a story, don’t just assume that oh, that’s what sharing breastfeeding looks like, it’s quite a unique and individualised journey. Just like breastfeeding is. So too, is sharing breastfeeding.

ELKE: Yeah, we certainly know of couples where one of the couple has done all the breastfeeding and the other one hasn’t and kind of regrets it now that her children are older and kind of regrets it now, that she didn’t at least try it. Um, and I I’d hate to think that was the case, because there are so many other ways to connect with a child, but if people are thinking about it and are thinking they might want to try it, then it’s worth sort of going into it with your eyes open that it can be pretty challenging. And I was lucky that my milk supply came in, maybe because my body had done it before. But it might not have, and that would have been challenging in and of itself, because you know, if my partners breastfeeding and I want in on it, you know and I can’t get enough milk, and there’s all kinds of emotional you know, territory there, that you might need to deal with each other about you know your own relationship to your milk production and your relationship to your child and then your relationship with each other. I don’t want to put people off and say it was fraught, but it was a really challenging time for us. But at the same time we both sort of look back and really cherish it, as well, that we both breastfed her. So um, I think it’s worth it if people want to try it, it’s definitely worth investigating.

NICOLE: It’s like a lot of things in life, isn’t it? Often the most challenging will be the most rewarding.

ELKE: Yep, yep.

NICOLE: Why have you chosen to share your story with us?

ANDREA: There’s a growing amount of resources which is pretty exciting, I mean, even for us, definitely as we chatted with some consultants who had some ideas, but most of the ideas were about inducing lactation, not as much about sharing. Rainbow families sharing, however you want to look at it, so I think just continuing, if you know someone who’s done it, encouraging them to contribute their story and publish it and get out, the words out there, because there was limited amount of knowledge on this topic and I don’t know that we had anybody we could have chatted to about it. That’s why we’re happy to do podcasts like this. But just, if anyone else has any knowledge on it, please by all means get in touch with ABA and get that knowledge out there, because it’s going to be useful.

NICOLE: Thankyou Elke and Andrea for sharing your story with us and our listeners. Bridget, we’ve heard why support and information was important for Elke and Andrea. You do a lot of amazing work supporting the queer community, why do you think the queer community needs support to feed their babies. And how is it different to support that has traditionally been given to cis-gendered, heterosexual couples?

BRIDGET: Well, we need the support because queer parents, queer and trans parents, have every right to be able to nurture and nourish their babies just like everybody else. You know, we also love our babies and children and we should be able to access good support and education. I know many people might say but the support and education is out there, and that’s true, it is out there, there’s a lot out there. But, there seems to be, there’s still a lack of understanding of the LGBTQIA+ experience of journeying through life. And many services, especially in the pregnancy, birth and lactation world are still very gendered, and not affirming or inclusive. So, there’s still this assumption out there that, of how a family should look. Even though we like to feel that we have moved past that, but it’s a huge, experience from, it’s how we’ve been conditioned, is what I’m saying [laughter].

Yeah, so there’s still a lot of prejudices out there and assumptions. And, you know a lot of transphobia and homophobia and all the phobias. And this is actually a really harmful. And then on top of this, I think most people are well aware by now, but the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole does experience very high rates of mental health challenges, trauma, and also suicide as well. So, finding services that are affirming, inclusive and equitable, can actually be lifesaving in that way. Many LGBTQIA+ parents are also not so much in connection with their own families. Of course, there are always exceptions out there, but because the process of coming out and then also deciding to be a parent, can also raise a lot within your own family context, many are disconnected from family, or they have just, or rejected, you know, things like that there’s quite a bit of isolation. So, for our community, community itself is really important, because we don’t have a lot of family around. So, this project even though it is very much about giving information, I think one of the things that is going to come out of it, is the feeling that you are being seen, and you are hearing other people stories from your community and you know, you get to actually see other people that are, from the queer community.

NICOLE: Now, I know that the ABA are working alongside Rainbow Families New South Wales on an exciting new project, for the LGBTQIA+ community. Could you tell us a little bit more about that project please, Bridget?

BRIDGET: So, this is a partnership project between the Rainbow Families and the Australian Breastfeeding Association. A couple of years ago Rainbow Families did a community consultation and it was discovered that there was a significant gap in support services for LGBTQIA+ families that were looking for support specifically around lactation and human milk feeding. So, with that information, Rainbow Families obtained funding from LUSH! And the Vasudhara Foundation, to cover development of this specific resource. And also part of that was acknowledging that this would need to be done with folks that were knowledgeable about lactation and infant feeding, and of course, ABA, that’s how that relationship came to be.

The project consists of a resource, and 4 pilot lactation education classes that will be run over a year, and then of course an evaluation after that. So, the resource which initially started as a booklet, has now turned into a book. Because we’ve realised and have learned that the rainbow community is so diverse, and because we really want to get as much information to the community, it means that we’ve had to put a lot of education and information in the resource. So this has been put together by both Rainbow Families and particularly ABA, all the knowledge ABA has. And this resource also includes personal stories, which are really lovely, because there’re stories shared from the community. And I really want to thank those parents that offered their time to send us those stories. And it also has lots of beautiful photos that are of queer and trans parents that Rainbow Families New South Wales actually contacted Rainbow Families Queensland and they supported us in sourcing a photographer and also gaining some photographs from the community in Queensland.

So, this resource, even though it was put together with Rainbow Families New South Wales, it feels like it’s an Australia wide resource. We’ve also had a lot of input into the resource from other ABA counsellors, including many ABA counsellors who are also from the rainbow community, and we’ve also had some input from the intersex community as well, in terms of some of the language in there. So the resource was also written using inclusive language, so I know that might be a bit different from a lot of other ABA resources. But inclusive language is really important for our community. A lot of time has really been spent, really trying to use language to the best of our knowledge in this resource. We know language is always changing, so the idea is that in 2 years’ time we will review the resource and also update any research because I also understand that in this field there is a lot of new research coming out as well. It has taken a while, because it has been a huge project, just that resource in itself. And now we’re at a stage where we’re actually starting to look at the lactation classes. And the lactation classes will be taught by ABA counsellors, with the support of Rainbow Families as well. But, because of the content, it does mean that a lot of what is being taught right now, needs to be re-written and also some new stuff needs to be added in as well. So that the information in these classes are really specifically for the people who are attending.

At this point, because of COVID, it will probably be run by Zoom. So, in a way that’s really exciting, because it’s not just for Sydney people. It’s anybody in Australia will be able to attend, or beyond as well. And this project’s really exciting because even though there’s some information out there for Rainbow Families, most of it is international and that’s fine, but a lot of people are looking for local knowledge, and especially in the Australian context because we do have different experiences here as LGBTQIA+ folks.
[music fades in]

NICOLE: Fantastic, thank you Bridget. So just I guess really affirms why these resources are so important.

BRIDGE: Yes, that’s right.

NICOLE: SO, for more on this topic, you can go the ABA’s website at: breastfeeding.asn.au and check out the show notes for this episode’s blog post, which contains further links and information. To speak to a breastfeeding counsellor, call the National Breastfeeding Helpline 1800 686 268 Or you can also use LiveChat, available via our website at: breastfeeding.asn.au. Find your local group by visiting our website, where you can find loads on information and a link to join the Association as a member. You can also join our Facebook group to continue the conversation. Just search for Breastfeeding with ABA. Please answer the 3 joining questions so we can add you quickly. As volunteers with the Australian Breastfeeding Association, we follow a code of ethics that guides us online and in person. To keep things neutral, we interact respectfully and non-politically. You can learn more about our Code of Ethics on our website breastfeeding.asn.au. We would love it if you can share this podcast and our website with your friends and family. So that other families can use this information and find support too. Thank you for listening and thank you for joining me today Bridget, it’s been lovely chatting to you.

BRIDGET: Thank you Nicole

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TRANSCRIPTION // Eleanor Kippen