First meetings – making open-ended questions

Do you work in maternal healthcare and think about how to make open-ended questions when meeting your patients? Here are an image and a text to reflect on alone or with your co-workers.

Making open-ended questions – an image and a text to reflect on  

Illustration: Bitte Andersson

There are powerful norms in society about what a family should look like; norms that we all have to relate to. Norms affect our expectations and presumptions. The midwife in the picture asks her patients an open-ended question about their family (“What does your family look like?”). This gives a family with three potential parents the opportunity to talk about their roles, or to explain that they have a different relationship to each other.

“Language is always dependant on our ideas and assumptions.”

Language is always dependant on our ideas and assumptions. That is why we can’t specify what an open language is without talking about an open state of mind. We all need to practice moving away from our normative presumptions about what a family can look like, who can be pregnant, or who can be a parent. In order to find out what a specific family looks like we have to ask. You can ask someone who comes to register alone if they have conceived by themselves or if there are more parents or ask questions about how parents want to be addressed.

Norms also dictate how forms and record-keeping systems are designed, which often makes it difficult to correctly document information about rainbow families. In those cases it’s a good idea to think about how to get around this; maybe rephrase the questions you need to ask because the system demands it, or apologise for that the record-keeping system excludes or makes the family in front of you invisible. It’s also important to explain to a patient why you’re asking a particular question so that it doesn’t come across as normative or demonstrative.

LGBTQI people are often subject to questions based on curiosity because they break the norm. Only ask questions that are relevant to the care administered.

If you want to know more about LGBTQI and parenthood, there’s good information here at the website.

When we asked LGBTQI people in a survey what a good reception can be, we got the following answers:

“The midwife had a Pride flag in her window. That made me feel comfortable. And her language showed a consciousness about the hetero norm, which also was comforting.”

“At one point someone said to me: ‘Mother, or whatever I should call you’, which really didn’t feel good. Another time I was asked if I wanted to be called mother, ‘since it can differ between couples’. That didn’t feel offensive even though to me there was no question that I wanted to be called mother.”

“She balanced nicely asking what she needed for her work without letting her own curiosity take over.”

Questions to reflect on:

What are your ideas about what a family looks like?

What do you ask and what do you assume when you meet a patient?

In what situations do you explain why you ask certain questions?

Do print out the image and the text for reflection and spread it at your workplace and before discussions in your workgroup (pdf, opens in a new window).