Freddy and his child against a barren tree
Collage by Cathryn Virginia | Photos from Getty and Freddy McConnell 
Health

Confronting the ‘Failure’ of Miscarriage as a Trans Man

“The loss I’m experiencing is, in fact, mostly that of a story I was telling myself.”
January 25, 2021, 2:13pm
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A column about being a pregnant trans dad, and all the prejudices, healthcare challenges, personal dilemmas, and joys that come with making a family in 2021.

Here it goes, the difficult second column. I’m no longer pregnant. The little IVF sapling I initially told you about did not stick (I’m allowed to mix metaphors this week). I would have been coming up on six weeks; still early, but also the point at which an ultrasound scan can first detect a fetal heartbeat.

That five-day-old embryo gave it a good go after being transferred from its delicate cryo suspension. It implanted where it should have and triggered the release of the tell-tale pregnancy hormone, HCG. 

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Then, about a week after the transfer, I saw blood. Braving the cold shower of dysphoria-inducing language that accompanies any resources about pregnancy (you never get used to it), I searched endlessly for definitive answers. But I found nothing. What is the tell-tale difference between first-trimester bleeding and an early miscarriage? Readers, there isn’t one.

“Implantation bleeding,” as described in lots of places, happens when an embryo beds into the uterine lining. I read so much about it, including, helpfully, that there’s no scientific evidence to prove that implantation is actually where the bleeding comes from. Still, it functions as a catch-all term for the often-unexplained bleeding that around 20 percent of pregnant people experience, at least half of whom go on to have safe pregnancies. Either way, my confirmation bias embraced the term and I tried to relax. 

A week later, more spotting. This time it didn’t go away. On New Year’s Eve, I drove for two hours for a blood test to check HCG levels. They were low. My kid and I found ourselves drawn in closer to our COVID support bubble, which consists of my mum, stepdad and my 22-year-old brother who lives with them. We took cold walks together and shared warming meals, helping time pass quicker until a second blood test. You need two for comparison and hopefully, a conclusive answer; HCG rising = still pregnant, HCG falling = miscarriage. Our stoic bubble waited patiently.

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On the morning of the second blood test, the bleeding was heavier. In the underground  parking structure near the fertility clinic, I chose a shadowy, corner bay, where no one would accidentally glance over. I checked my boxers and saw a clot. No—my eyes swam, so I closed them and took a deep breath. I saw the gestational sac.

That was my definitive answer. 

I felt like a medical student, observing. I was awestruck, sad, and at slight risk of maniacal laughter. I didn’t cry, but I wanted to. I felt grateful to be alone and like I needed to exclaim to another human being: “What the fuck!?” Mostly, I sighed. 

The blood test only confirmed what I already knew and had, in truth, been letting crystallize in my mind for over a week.

Six years ago, as a newly out trans man, pregnancy was none of my business. Five years ago, when I first learned that some trans men do start families this way, it terrified me. “If I did that… on purpose… in public… would I survive?? Would I still be trans?? Am I allowed?? Would everyone I love reject me and say they’d had enough of my bullshit??”

When I thought of pregnancy in general, I thought of alienating stereotypes and a particular, culturally-constructed experience with the word WOMAN emblazoned across it in neon. I was never repulsed, I was raised in too much of a body and pregnancy-positive household for that. I’d just never imagined it beyond its social and historical limits. In fact, everything cis society taught me about gender roles, and everything I learned from doctors about transness, encouraged me to leave the entire idea of nurturing parenthood behind. 

The loss is also made easier by admitting that being pregnant is something I dread, even as I work towards it.

Back then, being trans meant making my body fit a template; hairy, lean, V-shaped, neat chest, deep voice, big hands. Of course, pregnancy had no place in that image, but more than that, my transness demanded physical manifestation. This was so that it could be validated by others whose opinions, unlike my own, I valued. Don’t get me wrong, these physical changes still bring me joy and comfort, yet they no longer define me and nor do the opinions of others.

Over time, thanks to transition, my sense of self galvanized and my confidence bloomed, and my desire for a family strengthened, too. I sought and found more examples of queer and trans parenthood, of cis women refusing to let reproduction define them and of cis men (often gay dads) talking about their broodiness. With all this, the scary, distant idea of pregnancy morphed into the simple, pragmatic, and valid option of carrying my own child in order to start a family. “Pregnancy” as an idea both expanded and became smaller; a small word to denote something so broad, that each one of the millions of people who go through it experience and relate to it differently. 

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Now, I understand that I am, and therefore my body is, trans, regardless of what it does or what I do to it. I understand my healthy fertility as simply one of countless functions of my trans body. Deciding to make use of it is emblematic of my autonomy and my equal right to exercise it. It all may sound radical, but it sure as hell doesn’t feel radical. It feels like the logical endpoint of my life-long desire to be a dad. All trans people are different because all people are different, but for me, this is just a part of, not apart from, being trans male. 

Still, that doesn’t mean I find pregnancy easy or enjoyable. For some women, trans men and non-binary people, it can be both physically empowering and psychologically affirming. I remember once hearing a trans man describe pregnancy as the experience in his life that had most affirmed his masculinity. I could not fully empathize with him and even felt a little envious. The best I can do is stare straight ahead to when it’s all over—when my new addition is here to prove that it was all worth it—and to tell myself a naive story about what getting there will look like. 

Because the loss I’m experiencing is, in fact, mostly that of a story I was telling myself. It started with textbook IVF treatment. Then, I would be pregnant at the same time as two friends, one a fellow seahorse dad. I would have a summer baby. That sounded easier, I figured. The baby would arrive and complete our family before I turned 35. Why that mattered, I honestly cannot articulate. Now that there’s at least a couple more months to wait, I’m realizing how arbitrary much of this “plan” was and I’m letting it go. 

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Letting go is easier when you have no choice, even if the lack of choice is a rude awakening. In my heart of hearts, I know I never properly considered miscarriage a possibility. On some level, having heard from a young age that I come from a “fertile family” (gross, I know), I think I felt invincible to that. 

I can’t help look back to my first column and what I wrote about the insidiousness of miscarriage shame. It was my honest and sincere opinion. Equally, though, it was purely theoretical. Now that it’s actually happened to me, is the queer liberation I spoke of actually manifesting? 

Mercifully, yes. I’ve searched my heart and consciousness and feel no resentment towards two-weeks-ago me, for setting present me up for this public “failure”, which is, of course, no kind of failure at all. I think the writing itself has helped; the putting of my full self where my theoretical words were. So, the column continues. 

The loss is also made easier by admitting that being pregnant is something I dread, even as I work towards it. I’m confident I’m not alone in this paradox. Yes, I’d still rather be pregnant after the first attempt; I’m impatient and on a budget. Nevertheless, I feel I owe it to my dysphoria to admit that what I’m experiencing is a profound, short-term liberation. There is joy in getting back to my regular, grounding, hard-physical-impact life; in all the gender-branded meds and vitamins going back in a drawer; in having a beer with my stepdad after we’ve spent a day carrying heavy shit up from my basement. 

I love being a dad. I even loved giving birth the first time. But you know what else is great? Feeling free and at home (alone) in my body. So I’ll hold that consolation close and make the most of it, until it’s time to knuckle down and try again.

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