It’s Christmas eve. Chilly Gonzales’ contemplative yet comforting festive album fills my English seaside living room. Our TV is wearing tinsel. Golden fairy lights shine in the corner of my eye. The tree my almost-3-year-old and I decorated is festooned with seahorse ornaments—a symbol affectionately adopted by trans dads such as myself, because male seahorses are the ones who get knocked up.
It finally feels Christmassy at home, if not outside. Our town, our entire county—all 1.9 million of us—is in Tier 4, the highest level of Coronavirus lockdown in the UK. The new restrictions were imposed with less than 12 hours notice on December 20th. I still hadn’t got anything for my mum, and now, all non-essential shops are closed.
I’m not worried too much on that front, though. Yesterday, I was able to give her an early Christmas present of sorts: I did a pregnancy test and the result was positive. I immediately rang to tell her the news. It’s early days, but still, there it is. For now, it worked, and on first attempt at that. If all works out, I will be having my second child via IVF embryo transfer.
Just like the first time, I’m using my eggs and sperm from a donor who can be contacted later on. Anonymous sperm donation ended in the UK in 2005 and donors are now only reimbursed for expenses, up to around $50.
Like many queers who seek fertility support, I did so for practical reasons, not because of infertility. I have been medically transitioning since 2013, but so far I’ve retained my reproductive ability. I’ve been on testosterone (T) for years, but this hormone has never been shown to harm trans male fertility, despite what you may have heard. My ovaries don’t bother me and I don’t bother them, most of the time.
Some quick context: For a wide range of reasons, many trans men choose not to have hysterectomies, be that ever or until many years into transition. We used to be told that retaining our reproductive organs would likely give us cancer, but thankfully, that has since been debunked. It’s common knowledge in our community that many of us continue to ovulate or have light periods, even while taking testosterone. And, because the idea that we all hate our entire bodies is only a reductive and insulting generalization, it is worth clarifying that we can enjoy all kinds of sex, penetrative or otherwise.
If we pause our hormone treatment, we can, and increasingly do, become dads who give birth. So, given all this, it’s not quite a Christmas miracle that my recent fertility treatment was successful. It was just the best Christmas gift I could have dared hope for. In terms of IVF, after creating healthy embryos and waiting for my body to give all the right signals, my chances were as good as they get.
Many prospective queer parents go the DIY route, meaning they simply… have sex. Or they do at-home insemination, aka the turkey-basting method. But I chose to attend a clinic because, well, I’m a pragmatist. First, I’m (happily) single and I don’t have a known donor with semen on tap. Despite donors no longer getting paid, frozen donor sperm is still expensive—around $1,400 a pop—so creating multiple embryos with just one vial was cost-effective for me. Second, I find being off T really hard and with my first pregnancy, the uncertainty of how long it would take to conceive was truly agonizing. This time, knowing more about what my mental health can withstand, I chose IVF. Insemination (IUI) is noninvasive and affordable, but IVF success rates, round for round, are generally much higher.
I know it’s unorthodox to share news of a pregnancy this early. In fact, I am hyper aware of this (thanks, anxiety!). I’m not immune to the phobia of pregnancy being somehow “jinxed” by being announced early on but, at the same time, I am sick of it. Part of my reason for doing this column is to push against the normative assumptions surrounding pregnancy, and that includes superstitions. Does any good come of keeping this a secret for any length of time? If not, why do we do it?
Historically, misogyny has told us that miscarriage is an individual failure and therefore, should be a private shame.
When a cis, straight couple tries for a baby, they might mention it to close friends or family. Or they might well not. Beyond that, the fairly universal norm is for silence to enshroud the process, until, at the very earliest, a 12-week scan is safely navigated. That potentially means months and months of having no one, or perhaps just one other stressed-out person, to confide in.
Such a tangle of social mores, ancient superstitions, and personal comfort levels is impossible to tease apart. Still, I’ll hazard a guess that the fact pregnancy has been understood as an “essentially” female experience is mostly to blame for the secrecy. It would also explain the stigma that accompanies being open about this stuff “too soon” or “too much.” Whoever is going through it might worry that if they do not abide by The Rules, they are inviting judgement, or worse, blame if something goes wrong.
Historically, misogyny has told us that miscarriage is an individual failure and therefore, should be a private shame. That means, too often, people experience miscarriage or baby loss in complete and devastating isolation.
Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that secrecy or shame around pregnancy and pregnancy loss is less of a thing in LGBTQ+ communities and certainly in online community spaces. On the contrary, people often actively reject these concepts, perhaps having already realized the power in rejecting them in relation to their sexual and gender identities. So, finding that other queer parents have shared their experiences before me is not in the least bit surprising.
I get that it’s something of a matter of necessity. Queer people who are Trying To Conceive (TTC as the lingo has it) would have no where else to turn if we didn’t find each other and get candid about our family-making methods, hacks, and struggles. In short, we are usually our only source of information and support. One of the few upsides of not being reflected in mainstream society might be avoiding, or at least having space to unlearn, its neuroses around fertility.
I want to share the nuts and bolts of this process, both the highs and lows, because before I started my own family, all the media about people like me was sensationalist and left me with the same unhelpful questions: Am I a freak? And not the good kind?
There should never be another trans or nonbinary person relying on luck, or the difficult unlearning of shame, to fulfill their dreams of family, whatever form it takes.
I had no positive role models and no practical advice. The very possibility of creating a family the way I did was something I learned about totally by accident. Today, when I look at my beautiful kid, this detail in particular makes my heart lurch. What if I’d never been put straight about my fertility and my options for becoming a parent? What if that doctor who assumed I didn’t want kids had also managed to convince me that I could never really be me without a hysto? I know people who were robbed of this knowledge and these choices and it has to stop. There should never be another trans or nonbinary person relying on luck, or the difficult unlearning of shame, to fulfill their dreams of family, whatever form it takes.
I also want to use this space to explore lots of other ideas and questions relating to gender, fertility, family, parenthood, and the society in which they currently, somewhat unsteadily, percolate. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that, regardless of gender, prioritizing starting a family makes me a bit of an outlier as a Millennial. If it’s true more broadly that my peers—both straight and queer—have different priorities, is it out of choice or economic necessity? I’ve also learned firsthand that, while more parents are trying to free their kids from the chains of gendered expectations, those expectations seem to have an ever greater influence on us from before we’re even born. Why do “gender reveals” and the pink/blue binary still dominate?
So, here I am, carrying on this fine queer tradition of oversharing. As I write this, I am four weeks pregnant. I feel nauseous all the time and I hope beyond hope that this poppy seed-sized life finds its way earthside in 40-ish weeks time to meet us. I am also conscious that it might not and that if it doesn’t, that I will not be alone, nor will I feel like a failure.
It’s a privilege to be able to share this experience with you, whether you’re here to see yourself reflected, out of pure curiosity, or somewhere in between. I hope you will stick with me, too.
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