Monday, 8 June 2015

Philadelphia Trans Health Conference: My Safe Space


I hope it will be the first of many for me. I attended the conference to conduct a session on my research study: Transmasculine individuals’ experiences of pregnancy, birth and infant feeding (funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – Institute of Gender and Health). After two years of work, 22 participant interviews (about one hour each) and many, many hours spent transcribing, analyzing, coding and re-coding, Dr. Joy Noel-Weiss and I presented our findings!

We had a well-attended session and received many good questions from attendees. I had my nursing 7-month-old baby with me. She played on a blanket on the floor with some toys and snacks. An amazingly generous woman I’d never met before got down on the floor with my baby and entertained her, without getting too close or picking her up (she would have screamed!). She made it possible for me to speak! Once in a while when the baby got fussy I picked her up and nursed her, handing the microphone over to Joy to continue presenting. It all worked out beautifully.

Philly Trans Health refreshed my soul. Last year there were about 3500 attendees, and friends told me that this year seemed to be an even bigger gathering (we have to wait for the final tally). It is hard to describe what it feels like to have spent my life up until now as the only trans* person amongst cisgender people at all times, and then to be suddenly surrounded by THOUSANDS of trans* and gender non-conforming people. I felt so damn SAFE. I nursed the baby in the hallways, and didn’t avoid eye contact; I smiled at people who walked by, knowing that they would return the friendly gesture.

On the first day of the conference we went to City Hall where the transgender pride flag was raised for the first time. Children, and people with children were invited to participate in the ceremony, so my baby and I both held the flag and then a group of kids pulled the rope to lift it while the audience cheered.


video



There were so many trans* and non-binary people in town for the conference that I could see others like me everywhere I went – Reading Terminal Market, on the SEPTA train while commuting to my friends’ place in the suburbs, and around the historic district, too. I nursed my baby in all of those spaces, and felt safe everywhere.

It is only in experiencing this weekend of mass transness that I am realizing how I have been affected by being the only. This past winter was rough for my family to a point where I began to feel stressed and fragile. My partner needed gallbladder surgery when our baby was only two months old, and shortly after that, the baby developed bronchiolitis. With all of the anxiety surrounding their illnesses, I had trouble coping with parenting while trans in public. I became reluctant to go out on my own with my two kids. This went on for months. When it was time to travel to Toronto and Ottawa to speak at a regional conference, I desperately wanted to cancel. How could I cope with all that? I had lost my usual resilience.

We went, and I did it. Getting out there and just making it all happen helped me start to feel better, but arriving in Philadelphia let me be whole again. In Philly, I stayed with a trans* friend I knew only from the interwebs, and his partner and son. In their household, not only was my trans* identity utterly normal, but we also shared an attachment-minded style of parenting that includes nursing our kids beyond toddlerhood. My friends helped entertain my baby in the most understanding and patient of ways so that I could clean bottles and thaw milk, and pack. When I wanted to attempt a shower, this friend said, “Oh, let me start the shower for you so you don’t have to spend time figuring out how it works. Otherwise the baby would be crying by the time you get in.” Yes, yes, yes.

I felt completely accepted and valued, and I think I have brought at least some of this sense of well-being back home with me. I am so grateful and privileged to have been able to enjoy this nourishing experience. I know that many others cannot.

I also acknowledge that some had a very hard time with the conference. I found flyers left out on the vendors’ tables explaining that trans women seem to be getting significantly less programming that is specific to them. I’d like to know why that is happening, and what the organizers plan to do about it for next year. 

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Nursing Two Babies

I haven’t blogged in a long time because… I had my second baby! Things have been busy around here. Right now I’m nursing the two-month-old and typing with one hand. My three-and-a-half-year-old is asleep. I’m exhausted and should probably get to bed as soon as the baby is ‘milk drunk’ – you know, when they come off and look at you so satisfied and relaxed and then pass out immediately - but I want to share something with you about parenting my two children through nursing.

Yes, I still nurse my ‘older’ child. Just this morning I was thinking about how big he is getting, how mature. I mentioned to my partner that nursing him seems and feels a bit weird these days. His mouth is huge compared to the newborn’s and his latch has changed a lot in recent months. He, too, has noticed a difference and will often say that the tube isn’t in the right place or it’s ‘not working.’

Tube? Yes, tube. I have nursed my son for three-and-a-half years using an at-chest supplementer because I never had a full milk supply. For the last 18 months we’ve used water in the supplementer instead of milk. Jacob likes the flow of it. He loves to nurse, but not if there’s nothing coming out. It has worked for me and it has worked for him, so this is what we we’ve been doing.

This time around I have more milk, although still not as much as the baby needs. I nurse the baby first (with a different supplementer and donated human milk), and then nurse Jacob if he wants it. Initially after our baby girl was born, Jacob wanted to nurse all the time. Sometimes that was tough, and often it was sad because I had to just say no – baby needed it first, and he wasn’t used to that.

I won’t go into the gory details, but will say that tonight, after Jacob caught a horrible stomach bug that left him empty and us with a lot of laundry to do, I suddenly became ever so grateful that he still nurses. He refused to drink water out of a glass and the same went for juice, which is normally a much-anticipated treat in our home. He was scared and upset at having been so sick, over and over again. He wasn’t grown up or mature-looking at all. Sure, he is an ‘older’ nursling compared to an infant, but he is not ‘old’. He is a three-and-a-half-year-old LITTLE boy who can't yet tie a pair of laces or even manage to open our sticky front door. Why would he be too old to nurse? Through nursing this evening, he took in a good amount of water plus some much-needed antibodies from the bit of milk he got from me. I’m relieved that we don’t have to worry about dehydration at this point.


So tonight I uttered some strange, strange words as I was putting Jacob to sleep (nursing, of course!): “If you want to nurse in the night, just wake me up, ok?! Even if the baby is fast asleep!”

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
 
 M
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.

Sincerely,

Trevor

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)