Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Not Your Average Birth Conference

Speaking at YoniFest to a tent full of midwives and doulas!

This past weekend my family and I attended YoniFest, a wildly successful birth conferencein beautiful rural Quebec. This was the first ever YoniFest, but I’m sure it will not be the last. Every aspect of the festival came off without a hitch. I was invited there to speak about trans* pregnancy, birth, and infant feeding. The conference organizers were clear from the beginning that they wanted the gathering to be welcoming and inclusive, and it truly was.

The day before the opening ceremony, the person who was in charge of interpreting the proceedings into English approached me to talk about the best language to use –‘ parents’ as well as ‘moms,’ and ‘people’ in addition to ‘women’. At the ceremony, my partner turned to me wide-eyed when he heard her say ‘parents’. We’d never been included like that in a birthy setting before. There were beautiful and empowering statements about the strength and oneness of women, as well as plenty of space for our family and others to be celebrated, too.

On Friday I presented a 15 minute personal talk on a panel alongside Ina May Gaskin, Betty-Anne Davis, and Whapio Diane Bartlett. I tried to give the attendees an idea of what it is like to access health care when you are trans* and pregnant. Everyone seemed absolutely ready to listen and learn, and I believe the message got through. Many people thanked me afterwards, but one woman’s comments stand out in particular. She said I “changed her world” ­– she used to be a missionary and comes from a traditional background. She told me that the discomfort she had previously around the concept of trans* pregnancy was erased.

The following day I gave a two hour workshop on how health care providers and birth workers can assist trans* clients. Again, the response was awesome! Participants asked important questions and we had a great discussion. Michel Odent made me super nervous by sitting in for part of the session! Thankfully, a dear friend provided a familiar smiling face near the front of the room.

A few conference participants mentioned to me that they have friends or friends of friends that are trans* men who have given birth. I noted that one woman used the wrong pronouns when she initially mentioned her trans* acquaintance to me (I inwardly cringed but didn’t manage to say anything in the moment), but she used the correct ones *after* she attended my workshop. She always knew what the right language should be, and said as much to me, but somehow “got it” in a deeper way.

CBCRadio-Canada came to do a piece on YoniFest and asked to interview me, which was fine, but also hilarious... The very first question for me: “Do you know what you’re having?” (Meaning, does baby have a penis or a vagina?) I explained to the interviewer that I had opened my talk the previous day by discussing this exact question. She smiled and seemed to think that was nice.  

Workshop highlights for me included learning from Kathleen Fahy of Australia about postpartum hemorrhage (active vs. physiological management of the 3rd and 4th stages of labour) and Whapio Diane Bartlett on the holistic stages of labour.

Possibly the most impressive sight of the whole weekend was all the partners racing around watching kids so that others could attend workshops. As we attendees sat in open tents, we saw families zooming by, dads running back to the car to get a new pair of pants, down to the river to cool off, back to the hill to play soccer, scooping up the toddler who fell on the play ramp, wearing baby on the back while carrying toddler on the shoulders and holding hands with the pre-schooler... Others volunteered at the daycare, and stayed there the whole weekend instead of trading off so that the littles would have the best possible continuity of care.

I can't wait for the next YoniFest! 

Closing circle of Yonifest, and a shot of the kids' play structure.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Yonifest 2014!

I'm thrilled that Yonifest is nearly here! For those who don't know, it is a radical birth conference, taking place in a small town in the stunning Quebec countryside. I will be speaking, along with the likes of Ina May Gaskin and Michel Odent!

I'm particularly excited to attend because I'm 27 weeks pregnant myself – perfect timing for me to be surrounded by birthy energy, take in new information and inspiration, share what I can, and then return home to focus on my own powerful journey. I haven't attended Yonifest before, but it seems to have a special community vibe. People camp in tents at the festival site, bringing their families along as they wish.

The middle of a pregnancy is a significant time to lead a workshop for midwives, doulas and other birth workers. Much of what I share will stem from my personal experience as a trans guy about to have his second child. Like, how I had trouble getting into obstetrical triage at the hospital a few weeks ago when my midwife wanted me to have a particular issue looked at. Or the time when it took 20 minutes to convince the clerk at a medical supply store that I did, indeed, need compression stockings for pregnancy.

In my workshop I'll be teaching participants how to communicate effectively with trans* clients and how to be a good ally. We'll talk about gender dysphoria and pregnancy, lactation after top surgery, and inducing lactation in trans* women, among other topics.

Workshop date and time: SATURDAY, AUGUST 2nd, 3:30pm.

Looking forward to seeing some familiar faces and meeting new ones!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Call for Participants

How Can Lactation Consultants,
Midwives, Nurses, & Physicians Support
Transmasculine Individuals with Birthing Care?

Do you self-identify as transmasculine?
Have you been pregnant, given birth, breastfed or chestfed your baby?

We are Researching Transmasculine Individuals' Experiences with Pregnancy, Birthing, and
Feeding their Newborns

If you are interested in more information
or if you would like to participate:

Please contact Joy.Noel-Weiss@uottawa.ca or
Trevor MacDonald - tmacdon3@uottawa.ca
Please note: This study is in English only

This study has been funded through the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health
I am the research coordinator for this study titled, "Transmasculine Individuals' Experiences with Pregnancy, Birthing, and Feeding Their Newborns: A Qualitative Study". The researchers are Joy Noel-Weiss and Michelle Walks. The study has ethics approval from the University of Ottawa Ethics Review Board. I have been involved in designing the research study, and I am conducting participant interviews. I will work with Joy and Michelle to analyze the data and write the final papers that we will publish. Our research team also includes lactation consultants, MaryLynne Biener and Diana West, and midwife, Alanna Kibbe, each of whom have experience working with trans* clients.

We are trying to understand what works and what does not work - especially how nurses, physicians, midwives, and lactation consultants can better help transmasculine individuals. Your participation would involve 2-3 interviews – one or two to tell your story and then a final interview later to confirm the findings. The study will be only conducted in English. Participants will remain anonymous in all published material. If you are interested in more information or would like to join the study, please email me at tmacdon3@uottawa.ca, reply in this thread, or send me a private message.

Anyone who self-identifies as transmasculine and has experienced or is currently experiencing pregnancy and birth is eligible to be involved in this study. There is no requirement regarding transitioning or method of infant feeding. Transmasculine individuals who planned their transitions after pregnancy and birth, as well as those individuals who transitioned before pregnancy and birth, are eligible to participate.

Please feel free to share this post with anyone who you believe may be interested.



This study has been funded through the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

La Leche League Will Allow Male Leaders!

La Leche League International has published a clear, proud press release stating that men who meet the necessary qualifications may apply to be Leaders. Men are now eligible to apply.

From the press release: As an organization dedicated to helping babies breastfeed, the expanded eligibility criteria demonstrates La Leche League International’s commitment to assisting even more parents breastfeed their babies.

YES!!! Thank you La Leche League!

Read the whole press release here.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Happy News From La Leche League on Leader Eligibility

I think? Maybe? The title of this post might better read, “Unclear News From La Leche League, but it’s an Update of Some Sort.”

La Leche League Canada has published a media statement about a change in leader eligibility. Exactly what the change is, we don’t know. The press release states that LLLC’s new approach has come as a direct result of an update from La Leche League International, LLLC’s governing body. From LLLC’s statement:

In recent weeks the La Leche League International Board of Directors has updated their internal Policies regarding eligibility to apply for leadership to be consistent with their Bylaws Preamble: “LLLI is a worldwide, educational, nonsectarian, nondiscriminatory service organization which has been incorporated in Illinois as a general not-for-profit corporation.” LLL Leaders have breastfed a baby for at least nine months and have demonstrated a commitment to the philosophy of La Leche League.

So, this is vague, as it doesn’t explain what the update in policy actually is, but there are a few items of note. We know they probably didn’t update leader eligibility policies to be consistent with being “worldwide” or “educational”: the organization has met both of those ideals for decades. I’m also quite sure you could argue it has always been nonsectarian. Therefore, I’m going to guess that the update in policy has to do with nondiscrimination. I’m hoping that it has to do with gender, and that it means that an individual of any gender can now apply to be a La Leche League Leader if they meet the necessary qualifications. (get caught up by reading LLLC's previous media release about the eligibility of transgender applicants)

The next sentence is very, very special: “LLL Leaders have breastfed a baby for at least nine months and have demonstrated a commitment to the philosophy of La Leche League.” Gendered terms such as woman and mother are nowhere to be found. If you’ve spent any time on LLL web sites or working with LLL, you will know that this is rare, and very probably done on purpose.

At the end of its press release, LLLC states that it has updated its own policies to be consistent with LLLI’s recently made change, and to be “in keeping with the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act.” It is still not affirmed specifically that people who do not identify as women may apply to be Leaders, but I’m going to hope that this is (at least part of?) what they mean!

I was unable to find a related press release on LLL International’s site.

YAY, La Leche League!!! (I think)

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Resolution: Tackle Inner Transphobia

The hardest part about nursing my child as a trans person is that doing so forces me to come out to anyone who sees it happening.  If I nurse in public, people come up to me and ask what I’m doing. I guess they think that because I’m doing it where they can see it, this means that I am willing and available for questioning. It doesn’t occur to them that Jacob and I are nursing because we need to, because he has hurt himself or is very tired and I need to calm him down. If I nurse in front of a guest in my home, I feel obligated to explain a bit of our backstory.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook might have noticed that I’m rather dog-obsessed these days. We have a rowdy ten-month-old puppy that was having major behavior problems until he recently was diagnosed with a thyroid condition. I hired a professional trainer to come to our home and work with us. Of course, she could only come during Jacob’s usual nap-time, when he nurses a fair bit.

The trainer began her evaluation and then Jacob woke up crying. I brought him into the living room, and as I sat down to nurse him, I said something horribly awkward like, “Uh, we’re a bit of an unusual family. Ummm… I’m transgender. I was born female but took testosterone. Anyway, so I birthed him myself and I still nurse him.”

The trainer was wonderful about it. She said, “Oh, that’s fine. Now I want to show you how to teach Tadoo to accept a muzzle.”

Unfortunately, I found this trainer difficult for unrelated reasons, and located another one who was a better match for us in terms of our doggy issues. She, too, was only able to work with us at a time when Jacob was exhausted and badly needed to nurse. I could choose to either nurse him, or not hear a word the trainer was saying to us due to continuous crying. I said another explanatory spiel and started to nurse him in front of her.

The trainer said, “Oh, I’ve seen everything, don’t worry. I used to work as a nurse. A guy [sic] I used to work with was trans [a trans woman].  He [sic] and I got along really well.”

Then came the questions.

“How much milk do you make?”

Fairly innocuous. I didn’t mind to answer that. I explained that since I had chest surgery, I don’t have a full supply.

“Oh! I thought you’d gone the other way. I don’t know as much about female to male.”

Then she said something like, “When are you going to go all the way?” or maybe it was, “when are you going to complete your transition?”

Ian, my partner, told her that bottom surgery wouldn’t be very good for our hopes of having another child. I mumbled something about the risks of such a major surgery and then tried to get her back onto the topic of dog training.

There was so much in what she’d said that made me uncomfortable. I personally knew the woman that she had worked with, and I knew she would be horrified at the trainer’s use of male pronouns for her. Further, I don’t think of my transition as incomplete, but there would be no way to explain that in brief to someone who believes that gender is firmly binary.

There was something eerily familiar to me about her questioning. After her visit I remembered that medical professionals have asked me those sorts of questions, and she was indeed a retired nurse. In a clinical setting such questions are difficult because I can’t tell whether the practitioner needs to know the answers to take care of my health concerns, or if they are simply being curious (and inappropriate).  I feel like I am supposed to respond fully.

Why did I feel that I had to tell my dog trainer I am trans before nursing my child in front of her? It certainly doesn’t help normalize what I’m doing. If it is normal, then why do I need to explain it?

Coming out to her started a conversation that I didn’t want to have and led to her asking questions that made me uncomfortable. My intention was to share this as one piece of information and to get it out of the way, but that was not what happened. That said, I don’t believe that coming out to someone should give that person a right to ask intrusive questions. If a new acquaintance tells me, for instance, that she is a single mother, I do not respond by asking her, “What happened to your husband? Did he pass away, or did he leave you, or did you split up?”

My New Year’s Resolution: I am going to stop doing preemptive explaining in this sort of situation. I am going to do what I need to do, what is best for my child, and if someone is curious or confused about it, I will hand them a card with my blog on it, where I have laid everything out. I want to be an advocate and an educator, but I don’t need to continually open myself up to personal questioning in my day-to-day life. I will be brave and strong, and I will let go of my inner transphobia, embracing my own normalcy.

The trainer was excellent with our dog, by the way, and we have been making great progress.

Friday, 6 December 2013

A Transgender Patient in the ER: 12 Hours

I try to keep this blog as positive as I can, because I feel that this is the best way to move forward to greater understanding and tolerance in general. By nature I am an optimistic person and I prefer to highlight what is going well. Yet life is not always rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes we must tell our sorrowful stories in addition to those of gratitude and joy.

Trigger warning: This post is about a pregnancy loss.

We got our positive pregnancy test on Thanksgiving Sunday (Canadian). We had been in our new home just a few weeks at that point, and decided it was meant to be. We moved to this beautiful forested property with a cute red barn, and of course we were newly pregnant!

We told some family and close friends. I had a little nausea but nothing as bad as with our first. Now I remember reading a few years ago that the more sick you feel, the less likely you are to miscarry. Vomiting is a particularly good sign.

Last week we had our first meeting with our midwife, at around 10 weeks’ gestation, and discussed having a home birth outside the city limits. We talked about the logistics of a potential hospital transfer as well as how quickly the midwife could get from her home to ours.

I told her that in terms of care, the biggest deal for me is pelvic exams and how much I hate them. I don’t think anybody enjoys them, but for a lot of trans people they are particularly excruciating. The midwife accepted this well and said that only under rare circumstances would she really insist on doing one – if there was a huge amount of bleeding or if the baby’s heart rate suddenly tanked. That sounded fine by me. We left the appointment feeling happy. The pregnancy seemed much more real, and we told more family and friends.

A few evenings later I noticed some light bleeding. It wasn’t much, but I had been feeling poorly all day and wanted to go to the hospital. I just really wanted to go. We didn’t yet have our midwife’s pager number, so I wasn’t able to talk to her about what I should do. I drove myself into town and left Ian and Jacob on their own for the first time overnight.

The intake nurse asked me what was going on. Here. We. Go. “I am transgender. I was born female and transitioned to male.” I paused and looked at her. “Is that ok? Do you understand that?”

She nodded.

I once saw a walk-in clinic doctor about a urinary tract infection and erroneously assumed that he knew what ‘transgender’ meant. Then I realized part way through the visit that he was utterly confused about what I have ‘down there’. Ever since, I’ve spoken more slowly and spelled out my situation clearly. I always stop for a moment and give the care provider time to absorb what I’ve said. Then I ask as gently as I can if they are ok and if they know what I’m talking about. I try to leave space for the person to admit that they don’t have a clue.

I told the intake nurse that I was pregnant, experiencing bleeding and feeling unwell. She gave me a paper wrist bracelet and told me to wait.

After a couple of hours, I got moved to an exam room, where I waited another three hours without speaking to anyone.

A nurse came in and asked why I was at the hospital. I started again from the beginning – transgender, born female, pregnant, 10 weeks, light bleeding, one previous healthy pregnancy, no testosterone for years. She said a doctor would see me in a while.

Another nurse came in later to check my vitals. She, too, asked why I was in the hospital. I went through the same spiel, and she, like the others, was professional and respectful.

A student doctor came in and asked what was going on.

“Ummm… Do you know the background at all?” Did I really have to come out as transgender to each of these people, one at a time?

“Well, yes, I do know the backstory a bit.”

“So, you know I’m transgender?”


“Are you ok with that?” I asked him.

“Yes. I did a bit of research, but I think I am caught up.”

Cool! He looked in the chart ahead of time, realized he was unfamiliar with transgender folks, and decided to look us up. Then, within a few minutes of doing some reading, he was able to use the correct pronouns and have a frank discussion about my medical problem. THANK YOU, whoever you are. YOU will be an awesome doctor when you are all grown up.

He asked me lots of questions, including checking several times that I had not been taking testosterone recently. I confirmed that I haven’t taken T since well before conceiving my toddler.

He asked if I’d had any surgery, so I told him about my top surgery from a few years ago. He seemed genuinely interested to learn what that was all about – what the procedure was like and how it differs from a double mastectomy.

“Have you had anything done on the… bottom? Anything that we should know about?”

“No.” Thank you for asking politely rather than making assumptions because you find this embarrassing to talk about.

The teaching doctor came in and said something like, “So I understand you are pregnant.”

Thank you for signaling to me that I don’t have to start by discussing my genitals at birth with you.

We talked about what was going on, and the doctor said he would order an ultrasound. He thought everything was probably fine given it was very little bleeding, but he wanted to be sure.

I was moved to a waiting area in the hallway near the nurses’ station. I saw a doctor arrive in his coat and scarf, coffee in hand. He was wearing a pair of black Blundstones, the same kind of boots that I use for riding horses. They seemed incongruous to me in a hospital, but I suppose they must be much more comfortable than traditional dress shoes. Another doctor asked him how he was, and he replied that he'd spent two hours cleaning up vomit in the middle of the night – his kid had been sick. Still, he and the new nurses coming in for the day looked much more cheery than the night shift had.

 The student doctor came up to me and said that they would be discussing my case with the next set of doctors coming in. “So you might hear us talking about you.”

I watched and listened to it all. Not a single wrong pronoun, no poorly-covered laughs, no unnecessary discussion of my body or my transition. In comparison, the last time I had to go to the hospital for something, I heard the doctors and nurses laughing about me in the hallway, not even trying to be discreet.

The doctor in the Blundstones sat down next to me and said I would need a Winrow shot because my blood type is Rh negative and I’d had some bleeding. “It will not only protect this pregnancy, but all future pregnancies as well.”

Thank you for understanding that this pregnancy was planned and wanted. Thank you for accepting that I deserve the right to have children as much as anyone else.

I called Ian. I was anxious to hear how he and Jacob did overnight.

“We saw FOX!” Jacob said over the phone.

Jacob had been very brave and did not cry at all, even though he woke up in the middle of the night a few hours after I left. He also did not want to lie down in bed. Ian held him for the rest of the night in the rocking chair by our front window. At one point Ian looked out and saw a fox standing there, very near the house. He woke Jacob so that he could see it, too.

I was relieved to hear Jacob sounding so happy. I said I would call back when I had some information.

Finally they were ready for me to have the ultrasound. The technician put goo on my belly and started taking pictures.

“Are you sure the baby isn’t 5 weeks instead of 10?”

I knew this was bad. I was sure about our dates. He wasn’t finding a 10-week-old fetus.

He said we needed to do a vaginal ultrasound. I told him I was not so comfortable with that procedure. He said he didn’t like doing them either but it was important to find out what was going on with the baby, and he couldn’t get a good enough picture otherwise. He asked if it would help to have another person in the room, male or female. I said no. Thank you for asking. Thank you for considering it from my perspective, and helping me make my own choice.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, except for that the room was very cold for someone wearing a paper gown. The technician said that I should go and talk to the emergency room doctor, who would get the ultrasound pictures soon.

A half hour later, the Blundstone doctor told me, “I don’t have all the pictures yet on the computer, but I can see what they wrote on the file. It looks like a healthy 6 week fetus. You probably just have the dates wrong. It happens all the time.”

I had trouble holding back tears. “I don’t see how I could have the dates wrong. We were trying for this, so it’s not like I wasn’t paying attention. I don’t see how this is possible.”

The doctor said he would wait for the images to be on his computer, and he would look closely at them.

Another 30 minutes later he took me aside to a separate room.

“You were right about the dates. The fetus stopped growing at 6 weeks. I’m so sorry. We almost never know why this happens. I’m going to call for an OBGYN consult. This happened 4 weeks ago but you have only had very light bleeding. Have you heard of a D&C before?”

I had. Vaguely. “I’ve heard it is really unpleasant.”

“Yeah. I’m sorry. There might be an alternative. There’s a medication you might be able to take instead. It depends on certain factors. We’ll see what the OBGYN recommends.”

I called Ian and told him. I felt like I was stabbing him, giving him such painful news. I’ve never heard his voice sound so broken the way it did that day. He and Jacob got picked up by a friend and came to the hospital while I waited for the OBGYN.

The doctor and student who came to talk to me were profoundly sympathetic and kind. They discussed the risks and benefits of both the D&C and taking the medication, and left the choice up to me. I chose the medication. Jacob and Ian came in and I got some amazing, big hugs. Jacob nursed a ton while the various doctors and nurses gave him adoring looks.

The doctor said, “We usually give this medication as a vaginal injection, but we looked it up and found that you can also take it in pill form. So we can give you a prescription for it and you can take it at home when you are ready.”

Wow. They get it. I don’t have to say anything. YES, a trans guy will likely prefer a pill. Why that isn’t normally available for cis women as well, I have no idea. I am only grateful on this day.

They told me what to expect and how to contact them if I had any questions. On my way out I thanked every nurse and doctor I saw. I caught Dr. Blundstone in between tasks and I said, “Every single person here has been so respectful and understanding. I really appreciate it. I’ve had some pretty bad experiences in the past…”

“You will have them again. You know that. But I’m glad that people were good this time. I think things are changing. We are getting much more education about trans health care in med school and it is making such a difference.”

Ian, Jacob and I ate sushi with our friend and her son in the hospital lobby. We picked up the prescription and some heavy pads and then went home. I was exhausted from staying overnight in the hospital and decided to wait until the following day to take the medication. That was another process to go through. We all needed to rest and have time together first. We had to somehow catch up to the realization that for the past four weeks, while we were planning and dreaming about a new family member, our baby was already gone.