Sometimes I am pretty cavalier about my unusual family situation. I can find myself telling some stranger on the street, "oh, no, my partner is a man, my husband. I don't have a wife. I'm actually transgender. I birthed my baby myself, and I can even breastfeed him some. Great, isn't it?"
If I have plenty of time, and I feel safe, I'm pretty willing to explain what we've done. Most people respond very well, with mild curiosity or amusement. Sometimes though, it just isn't the right moment to get into explanations about how transgender folks give birth. One evening Jacob had just fallen asleep in a coffee shop and we needed to get going when somebody asked us if we used a surrogate. Neither Ian nor I like to lie about anything, so we kind of mumbled something confusing yet agreeable and walked away. "Ah, yes, isn't it wonderful that people can do that nowadays? Well, we have to go!"
On another occasion we were eating at our favourite restaurant in Winnipeg, a small, family-run Ethiopian joint downtown. We had our wedding dinner there, and we love the friendly staff. However, communication is a considerable challenge due to the language barrier. I thought I'd booked the dinner only to find out a week before our wedding that the restaurant had no record of the event. Luckily, they hadn't booked anything else either, so I simply booked again, this time in person. The actual day went well except for that there had been a misunderstanding over the number of guests, and there weren't enough chairs for everyone. Then the restaurant Momma forgot to include samosas on our bill and we didn't notice either. Weeks later, she mentioned it to us while her son pleaded with her to forget about it. We apologized and paid for what we'd had.
So, after all this, Ian and I both instinctively felt that there was no way we could successfully explain the origin of our child, even though I'm sure the well-meaning restaurant owner would have been delighted to hear all about it. She cooed over Jacob for a good five minutes. Then she asked, "So, you get him in Canada, then? Or international?"
She was assuming that Jacob was adopted. Ian responded quickly, saying, "yes, he is a local Winnipeg boy!"
The restaurant Momma approved heartily. "Very good, very good," she said. "Have a good night! See you again soon!"
I vowed that the next time I saw her son with his much better grasp of English, I'd explain everything to him and ask him to tell his mother in their language.
27 Nov 2011
22 Nov 2011
We often meet people who don't value breast milk anything the way that we do. Yesterday, for example, we ran into somebody I'd met a few months before at a local play group. In the course of normal chit-chat, she happened to ask me something or other about bottle feeding Jacob at night. I gave her a quizzical look and said that our baby was entirely breastfed. Then I realized that perhaps I'd never told her that I was transgendered. I know that my personal history is fascinating and highly memorable to most people, but it is also my normal life that I live every day. I don't always bother to mention it, and sometimes I just can't recall if I've come out to someone in particular or not. I quickly explained myself to this woman using my usual spiel. "I was born female, transitioned by taking hormones... I make some milk myself... we use a supplemental nursing system, know what that is?"
She caught herself up remarkably quickly, hardly missing a beat. She said we should get together some time soon, and I agreed. But then she said the unthinkable. "Yeah, my guy gets mostly the breast. Luckily he takes formula though, so his Dad can feed him too. I mean, I could pump my milk but I don't want to feel like a COW! My first would never take formula. Ugh, that was difficult. Sure glad this one does."
|Cow's milk is designed for baby cows; human milk is for baby humans.|
I responded, "Well, I guess it tastes different, doesn't it?"
"Oh yes, formula tastes pretty gross while breast milk is so sweet."
I tried not to let my jaw clank too loudly when it dropped all the way down onto my chest. If only this woman had any idea the way that we search, scrounge, and beg for breast milk for our baby. She could just pump some out if she wanted her boy to have breast milk when she's gone, but formula is easier, so she doesn't.
18 Nov 2011
The night before, Jacob's temperature spiked to just over 103 degrees. Still, he seemed to be managing ok with it. In the middle of the night he threw up all over our family bed, and then he smiled at us.We didn't mind as long as he wasn't too miserable. By morning his fever was way down. He was quiet but not unhappy. We had a lazy at-home, in-bed kind of day.
At 8pm, Jacob woke up screaming from his nap. I tried to breastfeed him, I bounced him, I walked him up and down the stairs, I walked him in circles around the house, I took him to see the dog, I let him have a whiff of the crisp November air, all to no avail. He cried all out as hard as he could for about a minute, and then would pause, sobbing those huge, full body sobs, for thirty seconds, and then would cry all out again for a minute, and so on.
Finally Ian walked in the door, home from work. I told him how things had been, we deliberated for a few minutes and decided to head to the hospital. Our little guy was in pain. There was something seriously wrong.
I could hear their questions already in my head. So who is the mother? How much formula has he taken today? You don't give him formula? Well, where do you get this donated breast milk? I imagined explaining first to the intake nurse, then to the doctor, then to the next doctor when the shift changed, then to some other nurses, then to another doctor all about how I was transgendered, I'd birthed Jacob myself, and was breastfeeding him using a supplemental nursing system and donated milk from generous women we'd met online.
The hospital we were headed for, only two blocks away, is notorious in our city for being breastfeeding unfriendly. Women and their newborns regularly leave with soothers, bottles and formula in hand after receiving muddled or no advice on breastfeeding. How were they going to cope with a breastfeeding man using donated milk?
Health care providers are supposed to be trained to cope with queer individuals and families. They should know the basics of what it means to be transgendered or gay, and they should at least get their pronouns straight, so to speak. (If you don't know what "transgendered" means, click here to see how I define it for myself) One doctor I encountered confirmed that yes, he knew what a transsexual is, no need to explain. I went on to tell him about my health problem only to realize that he had no idea what it meant to be transgendered. He had my anatomy, well, if not inside out, then certainly backwards. From that day forth, I vowed to always explain myself from the beginning, whether or not the health care professional in question claims to know what I'm all about. "I am transgendered. This means that I was born female, but transitioned to male. I did this by taking hormones..."
As we walked over to the hospital with our seven month old baby, I wondered what kind of conversations this evening would bring. I held him close to my skin underneath my coat. And, as we walked over to the hospital, our baby magically stopped crying. By the time we got to emergency, he was looking all around him and smiling coyly at the intake nurses. They took his temperature and found it to be perfectly normal. We walked around the hospital for about forty-five minutes and then went home with our baby who was fussing over having to be bundled up in the cold. He wanted a better view of where we were off to and his toque and my jacket were getting in the way. But at least we'd finally had the good sense to get out of the house and do something social for a few minutes...