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Please join us for a conversation on the shifts in approaches to lesbian parenting and family formations throughout history. Touching on themes like assisted reproduction, co-motherhood, and the fight against the dominance of heterosexist family values in British society, we will discuss the various ways in which lesbian mothers have imagined and built relationships with both each other and their children from the 1970s up until present day. We will be joined by Rebecca Jennings and Petra Nordqvist, two experts on lesbian motherhood in history and sociology respectively, who will each present a paper on the period they specialise in. Aiming to reach a more complete understanding of the history of lesbian motherhood, both speakers will then enter a dialogue with each other, mapping out the differences and similarities between understandings of lesbian family formations then and now. Throughout this conversation, the audience will be encouraged to share their own experiences or ask any questions that may come to mind. 

Dr. Petra Nordqvist is a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester affiliated with both its Sociology department and the Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives. Her research explores how new reproductive technologies, and specifically the use of donor egg, sperm or embryos in assisted reproduction, impact on family and personal life. An expert on lesbian donor insemination, her PhD interrogated lesbian couples’ experiences of becoming and being parents using the technique. Currently, she is working as the Principal Investigator on the ESRC funded project 'Curious Connections: The Impact of Donating Egg and Sperm on Donors' Everyday Life and Relationships', which examines the impact of donating egg and sperm on donors in a UK context. 

Dr. Rebecca Jennings is a senior lecturer at University College London with an interest in the history of gender and sexuality in modern Britain. Her research focuses on twentieth-century British and Australian lesbian history and she is the author of Tomboys and Bachelor Girls: A lesbian history of post-war Britain (2007); A Lesbian History of Britain: Love and sex between women since 1500 (2007); and Unnamed Desires: A Sydney lesbian history (2015). Rebecca is currently completing a monograph arising from her Australian Research Council-funded research into 'Lesbian Practices of Intimacy in Britain and Australia, 1945-2010', which traces lesbian relationship models and parenting practices in post-war Britain and Australia.

Abstract Papers: 

Petra Nordqvist - What does it mean to belong together as family? Kinship thinking in 21st Century lesbian couple donor conception 

This talk speaks of a study I was involved in 2006-2009, and explores lesbian couples’ stories about becoming parents through donor conception. Third party reproduction and lesbian couples becoming parents together both stand in sharp relief to culturally dominant understandings that kinship is defined through biological/genetic connectedness, which are in turn intertwined with assumptions that parenthood is necessarily heterosexual. As such, lesbian couples who conceive using donor sperm are faced with needing to consider what kinship means to them, and how to bring into being a relationship that is defined as such for them, and for their children. In this talk I explore the stories of three lesbian couples, and in them I trace how couples work with and through the idea of what it means to be kin, and what it means for their child to belong to a kin group. I develop the argument that bringing kinship into being – with their children, and for their children – is a key concern of lesbian couples as they become parents in this way. I also develop the argument that as such, kinship should be seen as a multi-layered and malleable resource with an exceptional capacity to encompass difference in family life. This leads me to suggest that as a society, we need show utmost sensitivity to the multitude, nuanced and shifting ways in which parents and children experience and live connected lives.

Rebecca Jennings - From ‘Mother’s lover’ to ‘Other mother’: Lesbian co-mothers and kinship in Britain and Australia, 1960s to 1990s

The period from the 1960s to the 1990s witnessed a significant shift in lesbian family structures in both Britain and Australia.  The dominant experience of lesbian parenting up to and including the 1970s was that of the woman who had conceived her child(ren) in the context of heterosexual marriage, gradually giving way in the final quarter of the twentieth century to the use of artificial and self insemination and other techniques of family formation in the context of pre-existing lesbian identities and relationships.  This paper will explore the shifting constructions of lesbian co-mothers, which mirrored this gradual change in methods of conception. Drawing on the personal narratives of British and Australian women who raised children in the context of lesbian relationships, I will map the growing recognition of the role of co-mothers in parenting children.  At the beginning of the period, the lovers of lesbian birth mothers tended to be considered as providing a supporting role, without the responsibility and lifelong commitment of a ‘parent’, but by the end of the century, parental responsibilities were increasingly shared more equally between both or all lesbian parents.  However, the absence of legal rights and social recognition of lesbian co-mothers put considerable pressure on lesbian-headed families at this time.  This paper traces the experience of co-mothers and considers the impact this role had on shifting cultural attitudes to motherhood in the late twentieth century.

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend, but advance registration is required.