The main study I am conducting about reproductive heterosex is a longitudinal qualitative study with Clare Bartholomaeus called Feeling, wanting, having: The meaning of children to Australian heterosexual couples. This study examines the experiences of ten heterosexual couples through their journey to conception, pregnancy, and birth. The study is focused on desires to have children, decision-making and expectations related to planning for a first child, and subsequent experiences during pregnancy and after the child is born. Individual semi-structured interviews occur or have occurred at four stages: 1.) when couples are planning a pregnancy via reproductive heterosex (i.e. without the assistance of reproductive technologies), 2.) when the couple is six months pregnant, 3.) six months after the birth of the child, and 4.) 18 months after the birth of the child. For more details, please see the project website.
I have also conducted research with Clemence Due with people who have conceived children via reproductive heterosex in a comparative interview family study alongside people who became parents via intercountry adoption, foster care, or commercial surrogacy, and we have recently published a comparative survey study of support towards family diversity, including reproductive heterosex. In addition, I have conducted research on pregnancy loss amongst heterosexual women with Clemence Due, Catherine Collins, and Kate Obst.
Applications of research findings for practitioners
Findings from the longitudinal study show that heterosexual couples who intend to have children often view having a child as a natural progression, that there is an innate drive to want to have children, and have a desire to see themselves reflected in another human being. Overall, participants did not frame wanting to have children as a ‘choice’, but naturalised the desire to have children. These findings suggest it would be useful for practitioners to more fully explore with people why they want to have children, to encourage people to reflect on this beyond the idea that it is the norm, and to discuss with them that there are many ways to become a parent.
These findings have particular implications for practitioners working with heterosexual couples who are having trouble trying to conceive. In Australia there are relatively few services targeted at people considering pregnancy via reproductive heterosex. Practitioners working with these couples need to keep this in mind, and also be aware (and discuss with intending parents) that assumptions about fertility can have negative consequences if a pregnancy and birth do not occur. The dominant framing of having children as both desirable and ‘natural’ means that a significant loss may be experienced by those who are unable to conceive children, because they have not been able to achieve something which they view as ‘normal’ and ‘natural’.
The comparative research shows that families formed via reproductive heterosex are less likely to face scrutiny and regulation compared with families formed via intercountry adoption, foster care, or commercial surrogacy. Compared to these other family forms, people who had children via reproductive heterosex viewed the government primarily as having a positive impact on their families due to welfare benefits and generally showed little awareness that the government may negatively impact on some families. It would be useful for practitioners working with families formed via reproductive heterosex to both be aware of the privileging of this family form in all their interactions (indeed, this may be the lived experience of practitioners themselves) and to directly discuss this privilege with this family form. Again, this is important if intending parents are exploring different options to parenthood in the face of infertility, or if they are considering a range of options prior to attempting to conceive.
In addition, the comparative research also highlights that genetic relatedness was most privileged by participants who had children via reproductive heterosex, and was often a reference point for how people in all family forms discussed who was included as family. Similarly, the longitudinal study showed that genetic relatedness was preferred over other ways of becoming a parent, and was often an important aspect of the motivations to have children in the first place (particularly for men). This is reflective of a broader emphasis upon genetic connectedness in western societies, despite increasing acceptance of diverse family forms. Practitioners working with families formed via reproductive heterosex (or people trying to have children in this way) need to be aware of the influence of the norm of genetic relatedness and how this impacts on motivations to have children in particular ways. This can have particular implications on what are viewed as alternative options to ways of having children, such as preferring forms of Assisted Reproductive Technology which ensure genetic relatedness (e.g. IVF) over other forms of forming a family.
While families formed via reproductive heterosex (and thus genetically related) are often viewed as the norm, it must also be noted that these research projects were conducted with white and middle class participants, who either had children (comparative study) or intended to have children (longitudinal study). It is important to recognise that not all families formed via reproductive heterosex are privileged, and that many may face scrutiny relating to aspects of diversity such as class, race, (dis)ability, religion, age, and couple/marital status. In addition, it is of course possible for children born within a relationship to have their parents separate and for children in any family form to be removed from their parents for their own welfare. These broader contexts suggest that practitioners need to be aware of the diversity of people forming families via reproductive heterosex.
Applications of research findings for (intending) parents and families
In our longitudinal study following heterosexual couples from when they intended to conceive a child through to after their child was born, it was clear that most participants viewed having children as ‘natural’ and had not previously reflected on why they wanted to have children. These findings suggest that it is useful for intending parents to reflect on why they would like to have children and why they would like to conceive children (rather than become a parent in other ways).
Whilst some participants spoke about being aware that they may have some difficulties conceiving, generally the cultural messages they received hid this possibility. In other words, for participants who took longer to conceive than they expected, or who have not conceived to date, these difficulties were still largely unexpected and was something they rarely saw reflected publicly in discussions around becoming a parent. These findings suggest that it would be useful for intending parents who encounter fertility issues to deliberately seek out support sources around infertility, including both professional sources and support groups (including online). It would also be useful for intending parents to be aware that conceiving a child is not a guarantee within a heterosexual relationship, and that it’s possible to become a parent in many different ways.
For those couples who have become parents, managing their relationships with their partners have at times been challenging. In particular, expectations around how much the women and men in the couples would contribute to household work, child care, and paid work has caused some issues. For most couples, responsibility for their child has fallen on the women, regardless of their paid work situation. These findings suggest that it is useful to discuss in depth how responsibility for providing for a child will be approached by couples prior to attempting to conceive, and during the pregnancy. It also suggests that couples need to continue to communicate with each other around their expectations and how they should share the workload.
The comparative research which included families formed via reproductive heterosex (i.e. conceiving a child in a heterosexual relationship), intercountry adoption, foster care, or commercial surrogacy, found that those formed via reproductive heterosex were the most privileged form of family. In particular, they benefitted from government policies rather than being scrutinised, and were culturally accepted as a family form. This privilegeing relates to social norms and their widespread impacts, rather than suggesting this is the best kind of family form. This norm can make it difficult to come to terms with having difficulties trying to conceive and/or when seeking other ways to have children as this then places people outside of the privileged norm which they thought they would be part of. These findings suggest that intending parents should keep in mind that families come in many different forms. In addition, intending parents may find it useful to seek support if they are having difficulties conceiving, and to explore what it would mean to them to have children in other ways which is outside of the privileged norm.
Resources for practitioners
Australian Institute of Family Studies – Domestic and family violence in pregnancy and early parenthood
Australian Psychological Society – Pregnancy support counselling: Information for general practitioners
Your fertility – For professionals
Your fertility – Fertility facts for health professionals
Your fertility – Fertility fact sheets
American Psychological Association – Having a baby?: Clinicians offer tips for expecting psychologists on how to manage the effects of pregnancy and new parenthood (by Amy Novotney)
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – Pregnancy
Resources for (intending) parents and families
Reproductive heterosex – government sources
Australian Government – Starting a family
Australian Government – Department of Human Services – Having a baby
Health Direct – Pregnancy
Pregnancy, birth & baby – Pregnancy
Reproductive heterosex – additional sources
Australian Psychological Society – Pregnancy support counselling: Information for clients
Beyondblue – Pregnancy and new parents
Parentline – Helpline services
Raising Children Network – Pregnancy
Bubhub – Conception and fertility
Bubhub – Pregnancy & birth
Essential Baby – Pregnancy
Essential Baby – Birth
Raising Children Network forum – Pregnancy
Victoria State Government – Better Health – Pregnancy – week by week
Government of Canada (Canada) – Healthy Pregnancy
UK Government (UK)) – Pregnancy and birth
US Department of Health and Human Services (US) – Office on Women’s Health – Pregnancy
Books/sources with personal stories
Diary of a new mother – Shannon Brownlee
Rookie Moms blog
Silverberg, C., & Smyth, F. (2012). What makes a baby. New York: Seven Stories Press.
My research publications
Riggs, D. W. (forthcoming). Diverse pathways to parenthood: Translating research to practice. Elsevier.
Riggs, D. W., & Bartholomaeus, C. (in-press 2018). “That’s my job”: Accounting for division of labour amongst heterosexual first time parents. Community, Work & Family.
Riggs, D.W. & Due, C. (Online First 2018). Support for family diversity: A three-country study. Journal of Infant and Reproductive Psychology
Riggs, D.W., & Bartholomaeus, C. (Online First 2017). “It’s just what you do”: Australian middle class heterosexual couples negotiating compulsory parenthood. Feminism & Psychology.
Bartholomaeus, C., & Riggs, D. W. (Online First 2017). Intending fathers: Heterosexual men planning for a first child. Journal of Family Studies.
Due, C., Obst, K., Riggs, D. W., & Collins, C. (Online First 2017). Australian heterosexual women’s experiences of healthcare provision following a pregnancy loss. Women and Birth.
Bartholomaeus, C., & Riggs, D. W. (2017). Daughters and their mothers: The reproduction of pronatalist discourses across generations. Women’s Studies International Forum, 62, 1-7.
Bartholomaeus, C., & Riggs, D. W. (2017). Terms of endearment: Meanings of family in a diverse sample of Australian parents. In R. Harding, R. Fletcher & C. Beasley (Eds.), Revaluing care in theory, law and policy: Cycles and connections (pp. 182-197). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Riggs, D.W. & Bartholomaeus, C. (2016). The desire for a child amongst a sample of heterosexual Australian couples. Journal of Infant and Reproductive Psychology, 34(5), 442-450.
Riggs, D.W., Bartholomaeus, C., & Due, C., (2016). Public and private families: A comparative thematic analysis of the intersections of social norms and scrutiny. Health Sociology Review, 25(1), 1-17.
Riggs, D. W., & Peel, E. (2016). Critical kinship studies: An introduction to the field. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Collins, C., Riggs, D.W. & Due, C. (2014). The impact of pregnancy loss on women’s adult relationships. Grief Matters: The Australian Journal of Grief and Bereavement, 17(2), 44-50.
Other research publications (selected)
Baum, F. (1988). “Life’s never going to be the same”: The first work-in-progress paper from the new parenthood project, reporting on experiences of pregnancy. Southern Community Health Services Research Unit.
Baum, F. (1989). “We are not just two, we’re three”: The second report from the new parenthood project, on experiences of birth and the first eight weeks of parenting. Morphett Vale: Southern Community Health Services Research Unit.
Baum, F. (1990). “Nothing or no-one could have told me what it was going to be like’ : The third and final report from the new parenthood project on experiences of birth and the impact of the child on parents’ health, lifestyle and relationships. Morphett Vale, South Australia: Southern Community Health Services Research Unit.
Baxter, J., Buchler, S., Perales, F., & Western, M. (2015). A life-changing event: First births and men’s and women’s attitudes to mothering and gender divisions of labor. Social Forces, 93(3), 989-1014.
Draper, J. (2002). “It’s the first scientific evidence”: Men’s experience of pregnancy confirmation. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 39(6), 563-570.
Draper, J. (2002). “It was a real good show”: The ultrasound scan, fathers and the power of visual knowledge. Sociology of Health & Illness, 24(6), 771-795.
Draper, J. (2003). Men’s passage to fatherhood: An analysis of the contemporary relevance of transition theory. Nursing Inquiry, 10(1), 66-78.
Draper, J. (2003). Blurring, moving and broken boundaries: Men’s encounters with the pregnant body. Sociology of Health & Illness, 25(7), 743-767.
Lupton, D., & Barclay, L. (1997). Constructing fatherhood: Discourses and experiences. London, Thousand Oaks, and New Delhi: SAGE.
Maher, J., & Saugeres, L. (2007). To be or not to be a mother?: Women negotiating cultural representations of mothering. Journal of Sociology, 43(1), 5-21.
Qu, L., Weston, R., & Kilmartin, C. (2000). Children? No children? Effects of changing personal relationships on decisions about having children. Family Matters, 57, 14-19.
Weston, R., Qu, L., Parker, R., & Alexander, M. (2004). “It’s not for lack of wanting kids . . .”: A report on the fertility decision making project (Report No. 11). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Barrett, G., & Wellings, K. (2002). What is a “planned” pregnancy? Empirical data from a British study. Social Science & Medicine, 55(4), 545-557.
Coltart, C., & Henwood, K. (2012). On paternal subjectivity: A qualitative longitudinal and psychosocial case analysis of men’s classed positions and transitions to first-time fatherhood. Qualitative Research, 12(1), 35-52.
de Montigny Gauthier, P., & de Montigny, F. (2013). Conceiving a first child: Fathers’ perceptions of contributing elements to their decision. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 31(3), 274-284.
Finn, M., & Henwood, K. (2009). Exploring masculinities within men’s identificatory imaginings of first-time fatherhood. British Journal of Social Psychology, 48(3), 547-562.
Fox, B. (2009). When couples become parents: The creation of gender in the transition to parenthood. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Fox, B. (2001). The formative years: How parenthood creates gender. Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue canadienne de sociologie, 38(4), 373-390.
Grunow, D., & Evertsson, M. (Eds.). (2016). Couples’ transitions to parenthood: Analysing gender and work in Europe. Cheltenham, Glos: Edward Elgar.
Henwood, K., & Procter, J. (2003). The “good father”: Reading men’s accounts of paternal involvement during the transition to first-time fatherhood. British Journal of Social Psychology, 42(3), 337-355.
Langdridge, D., Connolly, K., & Sheeran, P. (2000). Reasons for wanting a child: A network analytic study. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 18(4), 321-338.
Langdridge, D., Sheeran, P., & Connolly, K. (2005). Understanding the reasons for parenthood. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 23(2), 121-133.
Meyers, D. T. (2001). The rush to motherhood: Pronatalist discourse and women’s autonomy. Signs, 26(3), 735-773.
Miller, T. (2005). Making sense of motherhood: A narrative approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Miller, T. (2011). Making sense of fatherhood: Gender, caring and work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Miller, T. (2017). Making sense of parenthood: Caring, gender and family lives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Miller, W. B., Severy, L. J., & Pasta, D. J. (2004). A framework for modelling fertility motivation in couples. Population Studies, 58(2), 193-205.
Morison, T., & Macleod, C. (2015). Men’s pathways to parenthood: Silence and heterosexual gendered norms. Cape Town: HSRC Press.
Overall, C. (2012). Why have children?: The ethical debate. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Rijken, A. J., & Knijn, T. (2009). Couples’ decisions to have a first child: Comparing pathways to early and late parenthood. Demographic Research, 21(16), 765-802.
Rijken, A. J., & Thomson, E. (2011). Partners’ relationship quality and childbearing. Social Science Research, 40(2), 485-497.
Sevón, E. (2005). Timing motherhood: Experiencing and narrating the choice to become a mother. Feminism & Psychology, 15(4), 461-482.
Sevón, E. (2012). “My life has changed, but his life hasn’t”: Making sense of the gendering of parenthood during the transition to motherhood. Feminism & Psychology, 22(1), 60-80.
Thomson, R., Kehily, M. J., Hadfield, L., & Sharpe, S. (2011). Making modern mothers. Bristol: Policy Press.
Yavorsky, J. E., Kamp Dush, C. M., & Schoppe‐Sullivan, S. J. (2015). The production of inequality: The gender division of labor across the transition to parenthood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77(3), 662-679.