14 May 2017

Jenna's Breastfeeding Journey: Trans Motherhood



Image: Mother in a purple shirt holding a baby over her shoulder. Quinn Dombrowski, Flickr Creative Commons.
Yes, trans women can breastfeed! I wrote about this before, when I interviewed Sarah* about her personal experience. In another post, I talked to health care providers Dr. Jack Newman, Marylynne Biener, IBCLC, and Diana West, IBCLC, about what we know so far when it comes to trans women and breastfeeding .

Continuing on with this series of posts, I recently interviewed another trans woman, Jenna. She talked to me about her experiences with breastfeeding and raising her two children, whom we’ll call S and A, with her partner, E.

I’m so grateful to Jenna for sharing her story on this blog. I believe it is deeply important to tell these stories so that others in the trans community who might be dreaming of being parents one day can access this information and know that they are not alone. Thank you, Jenna!

Banking Gametes

Seven years ago, Jenna knew she might someday want to have kids that were genetically related to her. She chose to store her genetic material before she began taking estrogen as part of her transition. I asked her if she had any tips about banking gametes.

Jenna: Think about where you’re going to store your sperm in terms of where you might eventually want to use it for insemination. I didn’t do the research. It wouldn’t have been very hard for me to reach out and ask lesbian parents – which clinics are the good clinics, where did you conceive your child? Instead I went by location and I just went to the closest sperm bank to my apartment at the time. It turned out that we picked one of the worst sperm banks in our city in terms of being queer-friendly.

When we tried to use the sperm we thought, well, it’s already there, we might as well use this clinic, but we had some really bad experiences. In the end, we packed up our sperm in liquid nitrogen and moved it to another clinic. It was a big difference, and it all started with where I chose to store my sperm.

Jenna explained that the first clinic she and her partner used was very male-dominated. Doctors and staff seemed uncomfortable with transgender people in general, and they misgendered Jenna. A doctor doing an insemination procedure for Jenna’s partner, E, didn’t make eye contact beforehand, and left the patient with the light on and equipment still between her legs when he exited the room afterwards. At the new clinic, there was a greater diversity of clients, more female staff, and a more respectful attitude on the part of the doctors.

Why Breastfeed?

Jenna: I always thought breastfeeding was an important connection to have with a child. Because I couldn’t carry the child, I thought it was going to be the next best thing. I’d seen many people have that connection through nursing. That felt like something I needed to do. I knew it was possible for trans women to breastfeed, but I didn’t know much about how to do it.

Preparing for Breastfeeding

Midwife Alanna Kibbe referred Jenna and E to the Newman Breastfeeding Clinic in Toronto to learn about inducing lactation and breastfeeding. She had referred transmasculine clients there in the past and knew the clinic was welcoming of LGBT families.

Jenna: My timeline was that I’d been on estrogen therapy for 14 months before I had bottom surgery. I had my operation and stopped producing testosterone, and then our first baby was born three months later. It was a whirlwind. I received my papers for my legal change of sex only weeks after our baby was born. I’m technically her father, and there’s no way the government will change that. So I’m legally our first child’s father, and our second child’s mother. 

Anyway, when I induced lactation, I was not producing testosterone. They put me on a protocol similar to adoptive mothers, which seems so obvious, but it wasn’t obvious to most other providers I’d talked to. It’s really not that big of a deal. It’s the same thing that other non-gestational mothers – cisgender females – would do to induce lactation .

About two months before the birth, I was put on high doses of progesterone in the form of birth control pills. Then I stopped taking the progesterone three weeks before the birth, and I began pumping. I pumped about three times a day, although I was supposed to do more than that according to the protocol for inducing lactation.

Jenna explained that her endocrinologist had prescribed only estrogen for her at the time of her transition, not progesterone. Her progesterone was prescribed later by the lactation professionals. Similar to Sarah*, the other trans woman I interviewed with regard to breastfeeding, Jenna wonders if the common regime of estrogen-only for trans women is an over-simplification of the endocrine system. She suspects there may be health benefits to taking progesterone, outside of lactation.

Breastfeeding the New Baby – Sharing Breastfeeding and Managing the Milk Supply

Since Jenna’s partner was giving birth and planning to breastfeed, the couple needed to coordinate breastfeeding together. Milk production works on the principle of supply and demand, meaning that as milk is removed from the body, the body receives the signal to produce more milk. If less milk is removed than what the baby is consuming (for example, if the baby is being given supplemental bottles or if another parent is breastfeeding the baby), then milk production will likely decrease. I asked Jenna how she and her partner worked with this.

Jenna: I didn’t produce a lot of milk. I knew from the pumping. I’d get a few tablespoons, or maybe an ounce at a time. But I was able to nurse. I nursed my baby for about six weeks. Lactation consultants were worried about how my nursing might affect my partner’s supply, but it turned out that my partner had an oversupply of milk . So it didn’t play much of a role in her nursing experience. I was producing pretty small quantities so for a while it felt more like I was a human pacifier than actually giving many nutrients to this baby.

We joked that the baby would drink all four boobs – she’d go through all four of them and still be hungry, or still appear hungry. It was convenient for both of us to be able to nurse. In the birth centre, the day she was born, I nursed her in the rocking chair while E was getting stitched up from the birth, which was a pretty nice co-parenting experience. My partner was able to let go of the baby and know that she was getting the skin-to-skin time and the nursing and everything while she had to get stitched up, which is a relatively common occurrence after birth.

We were both working a lot that summer on our farming business. So I would nurse the baby but E would still nurse every two hours. On a half-day shift, I’d bring the baby to E so she could nurse her, but then I’d also nurse her in the off hours as well.

My nursing experience was really tainted by the fact that my partner produced so very much milk. I feel like it would have been a different experience if we’d had twins or if my partner had a low milk supply, and if there was more of a need for my milk. It was a lot of work to maintain my milk supply. I wasn’t getting up and pumping in the night. I was nursing sometimes in the night, but not as regularly as E was, and E had milk literally pouring out of her. And it was like, well, I’m enjoying the experience, and I feel like I had the experience for the first six weeks, but it didn’t seem like it was going to be a long-term viable situation.

Latching Challenges

Jenna: I found it difficult to latch her because I have quite small breasts, and quite small nipples. I was always doing the sandwich technique and I was restricted to quite precise nursing positions. Whereas, E could lie on her side and the baby would nurse from her, and E really didn’t have to hold on to one of her breasts and pinch it to get a good latch. The only position that worked for me was sitting in a chair with one arm grasping the back of the baby’s head and neck and my other hand pinching my boob.

I think it would have been different if I had more tissue there. My breasts have grown significantly in the last year. It took me four to five years of hormone therapy until I felt like I saw some significant breast growth, which isn’t too big of a surprise. But I think all trans women want it to happen in the first month, the first year.

For me (Trevor), as a transmasculine person who had chest surgery before my children were born, I can relate to Jenna’s challenges with latching. I’ve never been able to nurse comfortably while lying on my side, even after six years of nursing babies. As my babies grew bigger and stronger, I eventually no longer had to make a “sandwich”  for them to latch, but I continue to need to hunch over a bit so that my chest tissue isn’t too taut.

Baby Number Two

I asked Jenna if she nursed her second baby as well.

Jenna: Almost not at all. She latched on one night when I was alone with her during a crying fit, and it really hurt. Because of my partner’s milk supply and with A being born at the height of farming season, it didn’t make much sense to nurse. I didn’t want to do the work. Even though I loved the experience with my first and I’ll cherish that forever, it wasn’t totally the experience I was looking for. Again, I think it was because of my partner’s over-production, and her strong desire to nurse, as well. It didn’t make much sense for me to change my hormone therapy, to spend the time pumping.

In the end, E didn’t take much maternity leave at all, and I spent most of the winter with the baby after farming season was over. I was on parental leave for nine months. Even now that she’s a toddler, and I’m still the one that’s here for her every night and every morning. I’m developing a different connection.

It’s rare that I spend a night away from these kids, which is good and bad. I’m hoping as they get older, it’ll be easier to get away from them a bit more. It’s clear that S really doesn’t like it when I’m not here. When she comes home from daycare and I’m not here, she doesn’t like it. That’s the connection I’m enjoying with her, and that I have with our second child, A, too.

I’m an important person in A’s life even if I don’t nurse. We have our battles on the nights when E’s not here, but I put A to sleep every night. That was one of my biggest fears before I had children. I saw so many heterosexual couples where the male father couldn’t even get their kids to sleep at night. And I saw these mothers that were totally overwhelmed because they could never get a night away from their children because nobody else could put them to sleep.  In our family, it’s really me, I’m the one that puts my baby to sleep every night, even though I don’t nurse. That’s really important for me.

The birthing parent in our case is the one that works outside the home and is more career-driven. Clearly she still has this other bond with the toddler that I don’t have, in terms of the comfort that is sought out from nursing. I can see when she wants to nurse, and I can replace it pretty well with a bottle of breast milk. We’re trying to slowly wean our toddler, especially at night, so I try to use the milk from the freezer sparingly.

Learning from the Experience

I wondered if Jenna had any advice for other trans women who would like to breastfeed.

Jenna: You have to prepare. A trans woman has to prepare for breastfeeding when gestation starts, when the partner or surrogate becomes pregnant. You need to give yourself those nine months. Before pregnancy begins, you have to know about the hormonal protocol and know when you’re going to start it.

And it’s a lot of work. It’s not easy. I don’t want to take away from cisgender women’s experiences, but sometimes for cis women, breastfeeding seems easy. I know that’s not true for all cis women, but for many, milk production is this natural thing that happens without extra effort. For trans women, you have to put in some effort to make it happen.

Another tip would be to get a good electric breast pump! And to pay for the little attachment that holds the breast pump to your breasts so that you can have your hands free.

Confronting a Myth

Jenna: I came up against this idea from lactation consultants that the birthing parent’s milk is the best milk and that co-nursing might have negative impacts on the baby or on the birthing mother. This came out quite obviously in a prenatal course at the birth centre, when the lactation consultant there made a stern comment towards our situation. She presented this idea that the birthing parent’s milk is formulated specifically for the baby. That’s not untrue, but in contrast, the opinion we received at the Newman clinic was that a diversity of milk would actually be beneficial to the baby. Yes, the birthing parent’s milk is great for the baby, but that doesn’t mean other milk isn’t beneficial as well. Of course, I liked the latter opinion the best. I think the “mother’s milk is best” type attitude was more about discomfort with co-nursing and maybe discomfort with a trans woman nursing, but it was scapegoated onto the baby’s health.

Scientists do know that breast milk changes in terms of its fat, protein, carbohydrate, and antibody content as a baby matures, and even over the course of a feeding, or from one feeding to another. However, we don’t know for sure how all that happens. One theory is that the breastfeeding parent receives biofeedback from thebaby’s saliva through their nipples. If the baby is fighting off an infection, the parent’s body reacts by producing specific antibodies in the milk to help. If this theory is correct, then surely a trans woman who didn’t give birth to her baby would still receive this biofeedback through saliva while nursing. If two mothers co-nurse their baby, the baby would benefit from a greater diversity of antibodies.

The World HealthOrganization states that the best milk for a baby is its own mother’s milk, or if that is not available then milk from another mother, and if donor milk is also unavailable, then formula. 

Jenna is her baby’s own mother. A transgender mother is her baby’s mother and I believe she produces her baby’s best milk if she’s breastfeeding.

** If you’re a trans woman willing to share your own story about breastfeeding, please contact me at milkjunkies (at) ymail (dot) com. 

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1 May 2017

Successful Sleep Training: One Parent’s Guide


BedThe first night that my little one slept in his own room, he went down without any crying and he stayed on his own all night long! He did the same thing the next night. It was a miracle, the details of which I must share.

Sleep is really important to me, as a parent and as a human being. I’ve noticed that when I don’t get enough sleep, I have less patience for my kids (and others) and I feel generally irritable. I’m a better parent when I’ve had a decent amount of sleep.

So how did the magic happen? What did we do?

Sleep training for us happened in two parts.
  • Sleeping at night without nursing (night weaning). 
  •  Sleeping in his own room.
I’ve seen posts about infants crying so hard they vomited and parents who said it was “worth it” to “teach” the baby how to sleep. From what I can glean, the idea is to teach them that no one is going to pick them up so they might as well stop crying and get used to being on their own all night.

My experience was different.

Our kid slept in our bed with us from birth. When he cried, I nursed him. At times when that didn’t work, I’d pick him up and walk him up and down the stairs or even down the street until I got him back to sleep. Then we’d go back to bed together.

When our second baby was born, the first kiddo had to learn to wait to have his nighttime needs taken care of. That was the beginning of night weaning for him. If he cried, he often woke up the newborn, which meant I’d have to nurse her before I could help him get back to sleep. He started to understand, and got pretty good at waiting patiently. Soon enough, he started to fall back to sleep while I was still settling the newborn. Then he started sleeping through the night without waking up to nurse or cuddle at all. He was about four years old.

For the next few years, we all slept together on our king-sized bed.

Something big changed for our son when he turned six. He seemed to have an instant developmental leap and was suddenly much more mature. He went from fighting constantly with his sister as if he, too, were a toddler, to rolling his eyes and exchanging knowing glances with me if little sister was having a particularly toddleresque moment.

It also became apparent that child #1 needed a space to keep his own things. The toddler tried to scribble in his workbook and ripped apart his carefully-made projects. We began talking with our son about having his own room with some shelving and drawers for his favourite books and toys. He was thrilled!

Great, we thought. But would he want to sleep in it? I knew I was ready to no longer be kicked at night by a six-year-old, but how would he feel sleeping alone? 

He was excited!

My partner took the kids for an adventure to Ikea where they tried out all the kid mattresses by jumping on them. Our son chose the springiest one, with cheerful red sheets to go on it. We set it up at home with a nightlight. At bedtime, my partner read him a book and told him a story, as per usual, and the kid fell asleep.

It is truly brilliant to witness a child doing something for the first time exactly when they are ready for it. You get to see their interest and curiosity, as well as the joy and confidence that come from figuring it all out. My child felt proud.

When my son was an infant, friends told me that I had to "teach" him how to sleep or he’d “never learn”, that he’d be in our bed “forever.” Six years might seem like a long time, but a six-year-old child is still a little kid. And that’s okay by me.


I bet I can guess a question that might have popped into your head, though, if you read this far:

How do you have intimate time with your partner if you're co-sleeping with kids?

The kids go to sleep a while before we do, and our home has more than one room. So we hang out elsewhere, sometimes sitting on the downstairs couch, chatting (but more likely looking at our respective Facebook feeds, "liking" each other's posts). Or... you know. When we are ready to sleep, we join the kids in bed.

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13 Apr 2017

Trevor’s diverse library for kids


The popular children’s song by Raffi, called “Like Me And You” is supposed to be about how we’re all alike. For years it has irritated me to no end. My family loves Raffi, particularly his song, “Baby Beluga”, but Raffi doesn’t love us. He shows no sign of ever having considered a family like ours. “Like Me And You” names children from countries around the world, saying “Each one is much like another / The child of a mother and a father”.

When my son was about two years old and we listened to the song for the first time, we paused after that lyric to explain that Raffi forgot our family. And then we proceeded to sing loudly on each repetition, “The child of a DADA and a PAPA”.

It’s important for children who belong to marginalized or underrepresented communities to have access to books and other media with characters that are like them and their families. I’m a transgender guy in a gay relationship, and I want my kids to read books that include two-mom or two-dad families, or characters who express their gender as non-binary or trans.

I also desperately want my kids’ friends who come from typical mom-and-dad families to see families like mine reflected in the literature they read. Kids notice everything. All our kids will notice if every single book they read is about a family with a mom and a dad, and they will naturally extrapolate that families like mine, which are not in the books, are lesser than, not worth featuring.

The same goes for race, ethnicity, culture, and (dis)ability. Kids notice skin colour, whether parents like it or not. If all the good guys on TV are white, and the bad guys are Black, kids will absorb that and it will become part of their worldview.  I need my able-bodied, neurotypical white kids with blue eyes and blond hair to access books that feature main characters including those in wheelchairs, or who are nonverbal, who are indigenous and people of colour. This is one of my most important parenting jobs in my journey to raise decent, anti-racist (simply non-racist is not good enough) human beings.

Today I’m writing in celebration of my little collection of diverse children’s books, magazines, and music. I have built it thoughtfully over the last few years. It is by no means exhaustive but I do feel that each work on this list is valuable in its own right as a piece of literature and art, as well as including and centering marginalized voices. Sometimes it can be hard to tell from a glance online whether a “diverse” book is truly as diverse as it claims, or even if the story, writing, and illustrations are decent. I hope that sharing some of the legwork I’ve done will be helpful to others.

Do you have favourite diverse kids’ books not on this list? Please mention them in the comments!

Indigenous

All the books on this list have indigenous authors. (Yes, white people are still publishing books about indigenous people written by white people. Beware of those.)

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox by Danielle Daniel

Ages 2 and up

This book is dedicated “to the thousands of Métis and Aboriginal children who grew up never knowing their totem animal.” Each page spread depicts a different totem animal in the Anishinaabe tradition and describes the animal’s character.

My toddler, like many her age, loves animals. “Fox Book”, as she calls it, was her first true favourite book. My 6-year-old gets a lot out of the rich, descriptive vocabulary, including words like, “confident”, “purposeful”, “delicate,” and “intuitive.”

My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith, illustrations by Julie Flett

Singing, drumming, baking bannock, and holding hands are among the beautiful (and easy to sound out!) activities that “fill my heart with happiness.” My toddler loves it and my six-year-old is capable of reading it to her. Win/win. Illustrations show kids who indigenous children will notice look like themselves.

Indigenous Dwellings of Canada: A Colouring Book published by Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre

This booklet states it may be copied for educational, non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given to the publisher, so you can order a copy and share with friends. Each page spread depicts a different indigenous dwelling and includes a written explanation of the dwelling’s features. We’ve read it and looked at it at length with our six-year-old because there is so much to explore, but he hasn’t coloured in it yet.

The Raven and the Loon by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, illustrated by Kim Smith

An Inuit story told by Inuit story-tellers. A toddler can begin to grasp the narrative through the bright pictures and direct emotional language, but there’s plenty going on to keep my six-year-old interested.


The Thundermaker written and illustrated by Alan Syliboy

Most amazing illustrations ever! The artist lives in Millbrook First Nation in Nova Scotia, and draws inspiration from the Mi’kmaw petroglyph tradition as well as mixed-media work. In this story, Little Thunder learns about the importance of making thunder for his people, and makes some dramatic mistakes along the way. The simple sentences are packed with action, like throwing around thunderbolts, holes that open up to swallow monsters, and animals and objects that change form.


The Rainbow Serpent by Dick Roughsey

I picked up this book at an airport in Australia. It was the only book in the store about an aboriginal story that wasn’t written by some white guy descended from colonizers. Despite being published by an imprint of HarperCollins, it has a few obvious typos. Nevertheless, my six-year-old and I LOVE this book. It tells an exciting story, in Aboriginal tradition of Australia, about how the land was formed into the hills and mountains of today, and how some people turned into different species of animals. The narrative explains that since animal species originated from humans, we must always protect them; these animals came from us and are our relatives. This offers a way of understanding the human relationship to the environment that contrasts sharply with assumptions inherent in capitalist, Christian-dominated society.

Missing Nimama by Melanie Florence, Illustrated by Francois Thisdale

Parents need to pre-read this one before deciding if it is appropriate for their kid. The story is about a child whose mother is missing, like far too many missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. The narrative shifts perspective subtly between the child, the missing mother, and the grandmother in a way that will probably be confusing for most kids under age eight or so. I hand this book (and a tissue) to most adults who come to visit us. It’s a hard, sad read that we absolutely must read to bring awareness to the crisis of missing and murdered aboriginal women. This book reminds us that these women have families – they are daughters, sisters, and mothers who are deeply missed.


When the Rain Sings: Poems by Young Native Americans edited by Lee Francis

The poems in this collection, published in 1999, were written by Native kids ages 7 to 17. These young poets tackle a wide range of topics from sunshine, sunset, and raindrops to missing family members, changing or lost culture, and police. A photograph accompanies each poem (examples include a traditional cradleboard, a camp scene from 1890, and dancers in 2006). One direct and brutally honest poem by a 17-year-old begins with, “My name belongs to a dead white woman. How it got down to me?” The poet goes on to describe the meaning of her aboriginal name, Spotted Feather.

LGBT

Daddy, Papa and Me, by Leslea Newman, Illustrated by Carol Thompson

Daddy, Papa, and Me are a Caucasian, two-dad family that have a busy day full of activities. By the end of it, Daddy and Papa are exhausted. This board book has decent rhymes and is suitable for babies, toddlers or kids learning to read and sound out simple words.

And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, Illustrated by Henry Cole

Based on a true story about two male penguins that hatched an egg and raised a chick together at a zoo in Central Park, New York City. The illustrations are beautiful, and the story is interesting and informative. The human families depicted visiting the zoo are ethnically diverse.

What Makes a Baby, by Cory Silverberg, Illustrated by Fiona Smyth

We relied heavily on this book to explain the creation of baby number two to our first child. Silverberg explains about the uterus, sperm, and eggs, but doesn’t connect them to genders or “mommy” and “daddy.” What Makes a Baby works for everyone, including folks who make their families using assisted reproductive technology or surrogacy, as well as lesbian couples and transgender men who carry a pregnancy. The narrative also explains both vaginal (“through a part of the boy that most people call the vagina”) and surgical births.

My only (slight) complaint has to do with consent and medical procedures. One sentence in the book reads, “Sometimes a midwife or a doctor will be the one to say it is time for the baby to be born.” Ideally, I’d prefer a more nuanced phrasing that includes some mention of the parent whose body is doing the gestating and birthing.

Rainbow Train (CD) by Chana Rothman

The music on this album is of such decent quality that the professional musicians in our household can mostly tolerate the fact that the toddler insists on listening to it on repeat in the car (for months now). Musical styles include hip-hop, pop, folk, and disco. For those who need to know, the pitch and rhythm are excellent and phrasing is capable.

The songs celebrate gender diversity and also provide kids with some words to deal with dogma they might encounter. For example, a kid on one track explains that, “there’s no such thing as boy colours or girl colours.” Songs also mention historical figures who challenged norms and changed our society.

We’ve been listening to Rainbow Train for a few years, and the kids get more and more out of it as they mature. Both my kids thought for a LONG time that the lyric “gender, gender gender, put it in a blender” was all about blending up some ginger. I recently explained to the six-year-old that the lyric is, in fact, GENDER, and we talked about the difference between gender and sex.


(Dis)Ability

Gina’s Wheels, by Mary Harelkin Bishop

Gina’s Wheels addresses disability explicitly. As in, the whole book is entirely focused on disability, which is okay-ish, though I ought to hunt around for some books that simply include disabled characters being who they are.

Gina, an able-bodied young girl with orange hair, becomes fascinated with wheelchairs after meeting the Paralympian Colette Bourgonje. We learn about Colette’s injury and her tremendous athletic achievements, which, again, is okay-ish. However, I need to find some stories with disabled characters that aren’t all about achieving physical prowess despite disability (known as the disabled hero, or “supercrip” narrative).

When Gina goes to kindergarten and meets a classmate in a wheelchair, she is ready to be friends. D’aww. The classroom includes a girl wearing a hijab and a Black boy, but they don’t say words or have roles in the narrative. All the main characters are Caucasian.

Hmmm.

Books that fit into more than one category!!!

What?! What will we do?

Yes, it’s true. There are some books that celebrate a wonderful range of diversity on more than one level.

Everywhere Babies, by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee

This sweet board book is lovely for babies, toddlers, kids who are learning to read, and those expecting new siblings. The text highlights all the different ways that babies are loved and cared for by their families and caregivers. The illustrations include two mom and two dad families, grandparent caregivers, teenage caregivers, and male caregivers in addition to the more common mom-and-dad family unit. There are depictions of Asian, Brown, Black (some with natural African hairstyles), and Caucasian children and families. One of my favourite pages describes the many ways babies are fed, including pictures of breastfeeding, bottlefeeding, cup feeding, spoon feeding, and beginning solid foods (along with giant messes!).

Under the Love Umbrella by Davina Bell, Illustrated by Allison Colpoys

This is a story about feeling connected to our loved ones, when we are excited, scared, shy, hesitant, tired, or even apart. No matter where you are, you’re always under your loved one’s “love umbrella”. The illustrations are bright and detailed. The main characters depicted include people of colour and a two-mom family.

KAZOO Magazine

This is sold as a “magazine for girls age 5 to 10”, but we all need to get it for our boys, too. My boy needs to see representations of strong, intelligent, creative, powerful women just as much as my girl does. If we’re ever going to improve on our patriarchal rape culture, surely we must educate our boys.

I LOVE this mag. It comes out 4 times per year and includes stories, poems, articles, word puzzles, colouring, and lots of suggested activities. Every item in the magazine is girl or woman-focused. For instance, January’s issue was all about building stuff, and included an interview with a female engineer.

The editor’s approach is obviously intersectional, and care is taken to include women from typically underrepresented groups. In the last issue we received, a story featured a girl in a wheelchair as a main character. Unlike Gina’s Wheels, disability was not the focus of the story, but was incorporated into the narrative. As readers, we got a sense of how disability made the girl’s lived experience different from the world of able-bodied folks – without making her into a rarified hero or a pitiful dependent.

Fair warning to parents: My 6-year-old needs plenty of help in reading this mag and trying out the various projects. There’s lots to discuss and not much that he can do alone at his age. 

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5 Apr 2017

Parenting Survival: When My Toddler Can't Sleep

The Toddler was up at 2am so we went out to listen for frogs. Unfortunately, the frogs in the ditch seemed to be fast asleep. We settled for waking up all the animals in the barn. We got the rooster crowing nicely and the goats got up to pee and poop. Then we turned off the barn light and went out again, leaving them all wide awake. None of it woke the frogs.

Inside the house, we cooked plantain because the Toddler was famished. 
 
Toddler: Friends X and Y were here, but not right now.

Me: No, not right now. You know why?

Toddler: X and Y are sleeping!

Me: YES!!!

Smiles and cuddles. Yawn.
 
ALL this started because Toddler woke up wanting to nurse and in my groggy state I didn't notice that the damn supplementer tube was pulled out of the water and not working, which led to much screaming. Not your average breastfeeding problems, yet somehow I am certain every parent has been there done that in some similar fashion.

Now she has nursed back to sleep and is using my belly for her pillow.

Supplementer? Toddler? Yes. After relying on it heavily when she was an infant, we just have not been able to shed the tube. It is part of our nursing relationship, even though the "supplement" is water. She is about the best hydrated kid I know, and I suspect the water is alright for her teeth, too.

27 Sep 2016

La Leche League Celebrations!


2016 is La Leche League’s 60th anniversary, so this worldwide breastfeeding support organization is having some big celebrations. I’m honoured to be participating in two of these events, one online and the other in Chicago! 

Here’s the info:

We’re having an online global LLL meeting for 24 hours straight on October 1st.  Any person, regardless of gender, who is breast or chestfeeding or planning to breast or chestfeed in the future is welcome to join us. This is just like a local chapter support meeting, but online. The meeting is happening on Facebook, and you can join the group for it here. LLL leaders from around the world are hosting different hours, including volunteers based in Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Slovenia, Italy, France, Israel, USA, Mexico, Korea, Netherlands, and more. We’ll post discussion threads, and folks can ask questions, comment, and share information and support. My hour, with co-leaders Melissa Kent and Linda Mellway McIntyre, is taking place at 10pm Greenwich Mean Time.


An in-person celebration is taking place in Chicago on October 15th. I’ll be speaking on a panel with five other leaders, talking about my journey with LLL and why I’m so passionate about this amazing organization. I’m extra super excited about the evening dinner with LLL founders, including Marian Tompson. We’ve talked on the phone a few times, and Marian has been a staunch supporter of my path to breastfeeding. I have long been inspired not only by her work founding LLL, but also her advocacy around breastfeeding and HIV. This will be my first time meeting her in real life! I’ll leave you with my favourite Marian Tompson quote from an interview by the Pioneer Press for the Wilmette Life:

When Tompson gave birth to her third child, a group of 17 hospital employees—externs, interns, even the receptionist—came to watch. "They circled my delivery table," Tompson said. "After it was over, one of the residents walked up to my doctor and said, 'Doctor, how did you do it?'"

23 Aug 2016

Publishers Weekly: Ultra Queer Book Review

I'm excited to report that Publishers Weekly reviewed my book, Where's the Mother: Stories from a Transgender Dad.

And, the reviewer appreciated the ways that I draw attention to varying degrees of privilege, including my own. It's a rad, queer review!

From Publishers Weekly: "MacDonald’s debut memoir tells a tale noticeably absent from the plethora of parenting and breastfeeding books available: that of a transgender man in a gay marriage to a cisgender man who was himself adopted, both desperately trying to feed their biological child nothing but human milk... MacDonald owns his identity, using his elevated platform to call attention to issues faced by transwomen and transmen, people of color, and those living in poverty. Most importantly, his story of transitioning is frank, clever, and easy to process, providing plenty of parallels to his later struggles with nursing for curious cis readers... a refreshing and insightful narrative."




16 Jun 2016

Parenting Through a Vigil for Orlando



As queer parents, my partner and I carefully discussed whether to attend our local vigil in Winnipeg, Canada for the LGBT people of colour who were victims in Orlando. I’m a gay, transgender man, married to a gay man, and we are privileged to be raising a five-year-old boy, Jacob, and a twenty-month-old girl, Emily. We needed to consider how to talk to our children about what happened, if the event would be safe for them, and if we could convince our kids to behave appropriately given the circumstances that were the reason for the vigil.
 
Our twenty-month-old toddler is going through painful teething and prefers my arms at all times, so leaving her with someone else during the vigil was not an option. The event started at 8:30pm, when our kids would usually be winding down for bed. But we wanted desperately to be there, to find our community and exchange hugs, and to show our support for the victims who were mostly young, LGBT, Latinx people.

My partner and I decided that we must get there. We talked to our five-year-old about what happened using simple but honest language. We emphasized that the violence occurred in another country, and that as white people living in Canada, we are lucky to have more privilege than those who were killed or injured in Orlando. It is important for us to stand up in support of our queer siblings of colour.

But as we said these things, we were also aware that other LGBT events could be targeted. A trans friend of mine who lives in Philadelphia told me that he and his partner decided not to risk taking their own young child to any pride events due to safety concerns. One parent or the other might go, but not both, and never their child. The calculations we make about personal safety and risks feel dramatically different now that we are parents.

At the vigil in Winnipeg, hundreds of queer people and allies gathered, surrounded by a heavy police presence as well as ambulances and fire trucks that lined the block. I felt deeply moved by the words of an officer who spoke on behalf of police to let us know that they and other first responders are here for our community, doing their best to keep us safe.
Simultaneously, I thought of trans friends I know who have experienced discrimination and violence at the hands of police. I’m not talking about decades ago at the Stonewall riots, but personal friends in Canada and in the US who continue to endure police brutality.

As politicians and community leaders spoke and lit candles, we struggled to find the right balance as parents at the event. A family sitting next to ours on the grass had brought ninja turtles for their children to play with. After a few minutes of trying to listen to the speeches whilst our children gazed with rapt attention at the other children’s sickeningly inappropriate gunplay, we moved elsewhere. My toddler needed to pee about half a dozen times, so I kept whisking her over to some nearby bushes and then returning to the crowd. She and her brother ran up and down a small hill, but didn’t make too much noise, and hopefully didn’t disturb others. At one point, a man with a walker came through and I hastily grabbed both children to prevent them from tripping him, while listening to a community organizer speaking out against Islamophobia.

After the main speeches were over and some balloons released to the sky, our kids were absolutely finished. It was 10 pm. A lawyer we hadn’t seen for years approached to greet us but we had to hurry away. During the car ride home, when all I wanted to do was reflect quietly, I sang cheerfully to our toddler who was constantly on the verge of screaming from exhaustion but could not seem to fall asleep.

After becoming parents we got busy and our priorities changed. We haven’t been to a gay bar in years. We connect to our queer community much more easily online than we do in person. Other queer parents we know posted to Facebook to say they were at the vigil in spirit but needed to stay home for bedtime. For any parent, often already tired from sleepless nights and working during the day, it takes a huge amount of energy to get kids out to an event like this one and address their many questions and various behaviors while paying one’s own respects. Add to this the daily stresses of being a trans or non-binary person and it can become overwhelming.

Yet, my partner and I are fearful of what our kids will face when they enter the public school system http://www.milkjunkies.net/2016/04/teaching-my-child-about-transphobia-our.html and broader society. Now more than ever, we feel motivated to do our best to be involved in our community and to promote tolerance and diversity. First, we must take care of ourselves and survive. And then when we can, for the sake of our own children and LGBT youth everywhere, we must attend the vigils, we must speak out, we must stand up for vulnerable people, we must lead by example, and change the world for the better.