The number of polyamorous families in Canada is increasing, but they struggle to access quality prenatal and healthcare for their families.
Polyamorous relationships involve multiple partners. For some, this means being in a relationship with multiple people but having one ‘main’ partner. For others, it may take the form of an equal relationship between multiple individuals, such as three partners. Or, polyamory can also take the form of two or more completely separate relationships.
Statistics suggest non-monogamous relationships are on the rise in Canada. A study published in April by the Journal of Sex found that nearly 4 percent of Canadians report currently being in polyamorous relationships, while 20 percent admit to having been in polyamorous unions in the past. Even more telling, 40 percent of respondents said they had children living at home, either full or part-time.
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Canada’s law has begun recognizing the parental rights of polyamorous families. Last year, a court in Newfoundland and Labrador acknowledge three unmarried adults as the legal parents to a child born within their polyamorous relationship.
However, with that being said, Canada's healthcare system isn't as inclusive of polyamorous families as it should be. New research released this week explored the extent to which polyamorous families face discrimination when accessing healthcare, particularly prenatal care.
The Canadian Medical Association Journal, in conjunction with McMaster University’s midwifery program, published a study earlier this week that explored the quality of healthcare they received during pregnancy. The researchers conducted interviews with 24 polyamorous Canadian women, 11 of which had given birth in the past 5 years, as well as 13 of their partners. The participants were found through ads posted to social media groups.
The research found that polyamorous families face discrimination in healthcare due to pervasive attitudes surrounding monogamy. Amongst their findings, the researchers discovered most healthcare providers refuse to acknowledge polyamorous relationships. For instance, some medical professionals would refer to a third partner as an ‘uncle’ or ‘aunt’ rather than as a parent, like what the expecting families preferred.
The study’s co-authors Erika Arseneau and Samantha Landry explained this sort of marginalization is rooted in “mono-normativity,” which is the assumption that romantic relationships can and should be limited to only two partners. The authors said that society must challenge their assumptions of polyamorous relationships and the belief that relationships of more than two people are unnatural or somehow harmful.
“There’s a lot of people that are engaging in polyamory and a lot of them are having children, contrary to popular belief, and their experience is very similar to monogamous families in a lot of ways,” Arseneau explained. “In other ways, it’s enhanced by the fact that they have multiple relationships and multiple support people in their lives.”
Landry added she hopes the research will push Canadian healthcare providers to be more inclusive of polyamorous family structures. “If you’re creating a respectful, inclusive and accessible space for conversations to take place, whether it’s about health care or social ideas, then that allows more room for difference and acceptance,” she explained.