TROY – Dr. Rhonda Kobold, 37, an out lesbian doctor of gynecology and obstetrics in private practice, has been helping women “from stork to finish” for years.
When she started medical school she originally wanted to do sports medicine. “But I had two tremendous women professors in medical school that were really dynamic and then my third rotation as a medical student was in OB/GYN, which is the greatest I think,” said Kobold. “One of the most intimate moments of a patient’s life is during delivery and so it’s really tremendous to share that experience.”
As a doctor, Kobold is especially interested in reaching the lesbian community, a population she believes is underserved.
“I really think it’s important for those women to seek care and to feel comfortable seeing who they see,” said Kobold. “I want to make sure that they are aware that there are options in the Detroit metro area for gynecologists.” Kobold’s partner in private practice, Dr. Becky Smith, is a lesbian-friendly doctor.
Establishing a relationship between doctor and patient is important, and having a doctor that lesbian patients feel comfortable coming out to is an important first step.
Kobold believes that many lesbians don’t come out to their doctors, “because they fear their reaction, which is not unfounded. There are certainly plenty of homophobic doctors out there.”
“It’s important for physicians not to assume who they’re taking care of,” said Kobold. “I feel comfortable asking [about a patient’s sexual orientation, but] many physicians won’t ask because they’re not comfortable with the answer and patients don’t offer it because they’re not comfortable with the reaction.”
Kobold hopes to change this. “I’m sure there are enough women who have had horrible experiences and they never want to repeat it so they’re not going to go back, so my goal is to make sure they have a positive experience,” she said. “If there’s a problem or something I can’t take care of then I can refer them to someone else they can be equally as comfortable with, and I think that’s really important.”
For her lesbian patients seeking to have children Kobold advises they get an anonymous donor. “Second parent adoption being what it is in our state and the whole conflict of potential paternity and suing you for rights and loss of custody all together is not worth the money to me, and it typically comes down to a money issue,” she said. “So if you can afford to use a sperm bank, wherever that is, then that’s what I encourage them to do.”
When Kobold and her partner of nine years, Ivana Bettraino, who is also an OB/GYN doctor, were ready to have children, they, too, chose an anonymous donor for their two children – four-year old Claire, and Giancharlo, who will be one in April.
The decision gives her peace of mind. “On the birth certificate there is no one listed, so I can’t go back and sue him for child support, nor will he be able to find me and ask for a paternity test,” she said.
Kobold carried both children. “I always knew I wanted to have kids, and that didn’t change when I figured out I was gay,” she said. “It was an open part of the discussion Ivana and I had when we got together – that I wanted to have kids, and she herself wanted to be a parent, though she never wanted to have the children. So we knew that it would be me that would have them.”
Kobold worked with an infertility doctor she knew that coordinated everything with a Birmingham sperm bank. “He met us as a gay couple and I’ve sent many single lesbians or lesbian couples to him, knowing he is not biased, to inseminate them,” she said.
“It only took me two months to get pregnant (the first time). A lot of my lesbian couples try much longer with less success,” said Kobold. “Since we’re in OB/GYN we consider ourselves extremely lucky that our pregnancies went both reasonably well and not that complicated.”
The couple does not plan to have any more children. “We only wanted two anyway so I feel quite blessed to have the two,” Kobold said.
Because of barriers to second-parent adoption in Michigan, only Kobold is recognized as a legal parent to Claire and Giancharlo, and Kobold’s is the only name on the birth certificate.
Though the couple have their custody wishes in writing, they are not legally binding, leaving Bettraino at risk should something happen to Kobold. “We have some attorney papers that give Ivana custody in the event of my death, but with that if my family really wanted to sue for custody in this state they potentially could,” Kobold said. “That’s another reason to have an anonymous donor, to limit the number of potentials for that.”
So far Bettraino’s parental rights have not been challenged. “We’d really like second parent adoption, for Ivana to adopt them so we eliminate the legality part of our situation,” said Kobold.
They would like to be more involved in groups like the Coalition for Adoption Rights Equality and be actively working for that right. “But it’s been so comfortable and I think that’s the problem. We haven’t had a problem and unfortunately you don’t know you have a problem until you have it,” said Kobold. “Unfortunately we live in a horrifically conservative state, [but] we don’t have any plans to move.”
Mama and Mommy
Aside from their legal barriers, Kobold and Bettraino are no different from opposite-gendered parents except when it comes to some details, like what the children call them.
“They call me Mama, and they call Ivana Mommy,” said Kobold. “It was a big deal to try to decide what to have her (Claire) call us … and of all the potential choices that’s the one we were comfortable with and that’s the one we tried to start immediately when she was born and that has continued since then.”
Kobold describes being a mother as “awesome,” adding that some days are more challenging than others.
“It definitely changes certain things. Not in a bad way, but you’re definitely not single any more,” said Kobold. “There’s been a little less time for Ivana and me to be a couple. We plan that more often.”
“Things revolve around what time bed time is and who ate last and bath time,” said Kobold. “You would never have to worry about any of that if it’s just the two of you.”
“I’ve not seen prime time television in almost 5 years,” Kobold continued. Claire gets put to bed between 8 and 8:30 each night. “So by that time it’s like 9, 9:30 and we just go to bed. I mean, it’s been a full day.”
The two women share responsibilities at home, dividing up housework. “Ivana typically cooks and I clean and she does laundry and I do child care and it just kind of has been the way it started when we became a couple and has just progressed while we had kids,” said Kobold. There is one major difference, however. “I am by personality the disciplinarian at home,” said Kobold, adding with a smile that Bettraino is “not very good at it” by choice.
They are both fully committed parents. “We both interact with them and show reasonable affection to each other in front of them,” she said. “I think they see us as loving parents, which is honestly all I think is important.”