Polyamorous or non-monogamous relationships are on the rise in Canada, and yet these families face surmountable social stigma during pregnancy, primarily from the health care sector due to their attitudes and policies built around traditional views on monogamy.
The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) published a study done on 24 polyamorous Canadians from across the country, including 11 women who gave birth in the past five years and 13 partners. Accordingly, co-authors Erika Arseneau and Samantha Landry say that while the healthcare experiences varied from being adverse to positive, all participants reported some degree of marginalization rooted in “mono-normativity,” the assumption that romantic relationships are limited to two partners.
Polyamory doesn’t have a universal definition. However, it is typically characterized as a "consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy" where all the partners believe in an open relationship, and each knows about the other.
Though there are not many statistics reporting on the existence of polyamorous families, a study published by the Journal of Sex Research last April, found these rates are on the rise in Canada. Out of 2000 Canadians surveyed, 4% admitted to currently being in an open relationship, while around 20% agreed they had engaged in this practice at some point.
During the study, Arseneau and Landry observed some of the significant challenges faced by polyamorous parents, including a lack of acknowledgment of all the partners, judgmental comments, and complications while navigating the healthcare system. Out of fear of judgement, many people reporting hiding their polyamorous relationship from medical professionals.
Landry explained, "A lot of the time, healthcare providers… would kind of validate the people who were biologically related to the child, rather than kind of opening up the focus to everyone and giving everyone the same treatment." Rather, some polyamorous couples refer to a third partner as "uncle" or "aunt."
Arseneau observed that hospital admission forms typically only provide space for the information of two parents, thus restricting a third partner’s access to the delivery room and being involved in medical decisions. She also noted small hindrances, such as the identification bands linking a child to their parents, which only comes in sets of threes.
"They found that while participants expressed that having multiple partners provided more support during the childbearing process, these relationships often went unacknowledged by the health-care system."https://t.co/bk6LUq3UB6— Global National (@GlobalNational) October 15, 2019
Giving birth to a child is a joyous moment for any family, but the conventional health care system dampers it. The authors found that participants who had more than one partner felt more comfortable during their childbearing process and that they received more support, despite the judgement they may face fro the healthcare system. In another survey conducted in 2016, it was found that 40% of polyamorous couples had children living with them.
The law is slowly picking up pace with the evolution of the Canadian family, and the researchers hope the healthcare system will improve itself and become more inclusive of polyamorous families. It's time that healthcare providers start educating themselves about polyamory so that they can acknowledge and accommodate the diversity of families making up society.