Friday, 25 September 2015

Canadian Midwives Statement – Feminist and Inclusive

The Canadian Association of Midwives’ (CAM) Board of Directors published a statement today about the inclusion of trans, genderqueer, and intersex people in midwifery care. The message is loud and clear. CAM sees no contradiction in providing woman-centred care and respecting diverse identities. The Board acknowledges the organization's feminist roots in its first sentence and goes on to declare,

“We are aware of recent events in the United States and the claims of some that the important steps being taken to ensure that trans, gender queer and intersex people in our care and in our communities are not marginalized, denied or made invisible, are somehow undermining our ability to provide woman-centered care. CAM refutes this statement completely. We believe that it is critical for midwives to honour and respect all people’s right to self-determination and their right to receive health care that is free from discrimination, transphobia and prejudice. Women and women’s health care will not benefit by refusing to recognize or include the rights of others.”

In the statement, the Board mentions that CAM is taking action in order to serve marginalized populations better. CAM is currently reviewing its own language to insure inclusion of people of all genders. The organization is “committed to providing resources and education for our members” about the needs of trans, genderqueer, and intersex people.

I am thrilled to be helping contribute to education on this front by speaking at CAM’s annual conference this November. My session is titled “Some men haveuteruses: a qualitative study about transgender men who experienced pregnancy& birth.”  My presentation is paired with one I’m excited to attend by lesbian midwifery clients Jenna Jacobs, a trans woman, and Eby Heller, a cis woman.

CAM’s Board finishes with a powerful conclusion to its statement: “We believe that ensuring that our work and our language reflects the existence and inclusion of trans, gender queer and intersex people does not erase the existence of women, it simply extends basic human rights to all midwives and the people they serve.”

It will be interesting to see what language they decide on.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

What is Really Behind the “Woman-Centred Midwifery” Letter

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post attempting to claim a middle ground between gender inclusivity and feminism in the midwifery community. I am a gay, transgender man, and I am a feminist. A vicious response by a lead midwife from the group Woman-Centred Midwifery was posted and then deleted later in the day. Have no fear, I obtained a screen capture of it so we can all read it and discuss.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the issue: The Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) formerly referred to clients as "women" and "mothers," but in 2014 changed some (but not all) language in its core competencies document to refer to "pregnant people" and "birthing individuals." On August 20th, a dissenting group of midwives calling themselves "Woman-Centred Midwifery" wrote a letter to MANA protesting the “erasure” of the word “woman” from the documents.

I proposed that organizations like MANA can and should continue to use the words “woman” and “mother” in addition to gender neutral terms like “all birthing people” or “people of all genders.” There can be respect for women’s struggles against patriarchy and inclusivity of transgender, genderqueer and intersex individuals at the same time.

In response, Mary Lou Singleton, the first signatory on the Open Letter to MANA, wrote a comment on my blog post that is the most bizarre and hostile piece of misinformation I’ve ever seen. Her opinion about transgender people is made abundantly clear by her use of terms such as "medical mutilation" and "gender industrial complex."

But there's still more. Ms. Singleton asserts, "Male-to-trans billionaires pour millions and millions of dollars into promoting transgenderism, while simultaneously funding horrific anti-woman politicians and initiatives." Yes, it is true that there is one trans billionaire in the world. She doesn’t represent all trans people, who in general face high rates of poverty and are frequently victims of violence. I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next person, but painting one of our society’s most oppressed groups as the oppressors is not only far-fetched, it contributes further to the transphobia and discrimination we already encounter.

Ms. Singleton continues: “transgenderism reinforces the patriarchal caste system but being gay challenges it... The erasure of biological sex and the legal codification of sex-role stereotypes as the sole definition of male and female is the patriarchy's wet dream. ” What about individuals like myself who are both transgender AND gay? What about transgender women who are lesbians? And, let’s remember the topic at hand – midwifery care during pregnancy, birth and post partum. I can say from personal experience that being a guy with a beard, a low voice and a pregnant belly does not constitute conforming to sex-role stereotypes in our society. Nursing a baby while sporting facial hair does not constitute conforming to sex-role stereotypes in our society.

As the first signatory on the Open Letter to MANA, I assume that Ms. Singleton must have a good deal to do with the motivation behind it. I fear that we have now seen the true colours of this particular “woman-centred midwifery” group – hateful yet utterly confused.  I hope that others who signed will carefully consider the implications and will withdraw their support of such a brutal ideology.

Many thanks to Sion Jesse for providing this screen capture:

Monday, 7 September 2015

Midwifery is for Women AND Everyone

Last summer I presented at a radical birth conference called Yonifest, held in Quebec, Canada. I was pregnant at the time and fully in awe to be included in such a powerful gathering. Everyone there was deeply committed to exploring and celebrating birth. I presented my own workshop on transgender experiences of pregnancy, birth and nursing, and also spoke alongside the famed and revered American midwife Ina May Gaskin on a panel.

After my presentation, I received wonderful comments and insightful questions, and I also saw fear. One midwife recounted how her organization had begun to change the language in its documents to be inclusive of trans and genderqueer birthing people, and she told me, “but I don’t want to erase the word ‘woman.’” She had tears in her eyes and was truly upset. This same midwife had just sat through my two-hour presentation. She was there because she was interested in supporting trans people. She was not dismissive.

Now, one year later, in an open letter, agroup including Ina May Gaskin and Katsi Cook (Cook was also present at Yonifest that summer) has written in protest of changes to wording in the core competencies document of the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA). The letter condemns the erasure of the word ‘woman’ from the MANA document, and also denies the rights of trans and genderqueer individuals to self-identify as they wish and questions their right to receive midwifery care. There is much in the letter that is painful, misinformed and degrading to trans, genderqueer and intersex individuals, points that have been well-covered in a response writtenby another group,

Yet, I don’t want to erase the word ‘woman’ either. I get where these midwives are coming from -- somewhat. Women are a group who have been and continue to be oppressed in many ways by a patriarchal society. This includes women having a terrible lack of control over their bodies during the birth process. This is not about individual patient rights. For many years, one group of people, primarily men who do not have the ability to give birth, has controlled another group of people during the birth process, a group that is primarily women. Women and midwives have worked incredibly hard to try to regain social and legal rights to use women’s knowledge in the birth process. I have deep respect for this struggle.

Yet, trans, genderqueer, and intersex people have been giving birth for as long as women-identified people have and they have also encountered oppression. The open letter presumes that to be trans and to give birth is some new phenomenon of the last few years. Trans people giving birth are newly visible because today we are able to transition hormonally and surgically as well as engage our bodies in pregnancy, but there have always been people who identified differently from women whilst experiencing birth.

Kathleen Fahy, an Australian midwife and professor, told me at Yonifest that she remembered when her profession changed the language first to providing ‘family-centred’ care, and then later to ‘woman-centred’ care. There was a time when the partner (often a cisgender man) of the birthing parent (often a woman) was not allowed to be present during the birth. Care providers realized that their approach didn’t respect the family unit as a whole. However, shifting to use couple language for everything pregnancy and birth related wasn’t quite right, either. The partner’s body does not give birth, nor does the body of the doctor or midwife. The birthing parent gives birth, and the birthing parent was virtually always perceived as female, although as explained above, trans, genderqueer, and intersex people have been giving birth for as long as anyone.

I propose that organizations trying to grapple with respecting the feminist legacy of midwifery care while using inclusive language should be generous with their ink. Use more words! 

From the MANA core competency: The biological wisdom to give birth is innate, it has been held throughout time, and is experienced across cultures by all pregnant people.

The problem above: the word “woman” has literally been erased from the sentence.


The biological wisdom to give birth is innate, it has been held throughout time, and is experienced across cultures by all pregnant women and all pregnant people.

Is it wordy? Yes. Is it inclusive? YES! Is it respectful of the struggles of women against patriarchy? I think so. There could even be an explanatory note if desired!

The response group at wrote that, “It stands to reason that women identify as people, therefore women are not excluded by the use of the word “person” to refer to them. However, there are pregnant people who do not identify as “women” and feel excluded or misidentified by the use of the word “women” in reference to them. Therefore, use of the word “people” is inclusionary, while use of the word “women” is exclusionary.

The above statement is logically correct, yet to me it is eerily reminiscent of the way some are promoting the hashtag #alllivesmatter in response to #blacklivesmatter. Yes, it is true that all lives matter, but we are focusing on black lives right now because black people are facing racism and violence every day.

Women and people perceived as women have faced and continue to face obstetrical violence in the context of a patriarchal society. We do not need to erase the word “woman” from models of care or core competency documents, but we should add more words to include everyone.

If there are people who want to be referred to as women in the context of birth, such self-identification needs to be respected. I believe those who wrote the Open Letter feel that they as women are made invisible by the exclusive use of the words “pregnant individuals.” They fear a future where they will not be allowed to write or speak about women in their own practices. For some, becoming pregnant and giving birth is a crucial aspect of their womanhood, not their personhood. Queer folks have done well to add more letters to our “alphabet soup” LGBTTQIA acronym. We can all handle a few more letters.

The Open Letter to MANA contains many factual errors and offensive statements regarding trans and genderqueer people. I see there is much work to be done. I want to see two communities that I love, the radical birth world of traditional midwives and womyn, and the LGBTTQIA birth workers move forward together. I will always love and respect Ina May Gaskin’s work. I hope I will meet her again one day and be able to continue this conversation.

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.


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!