Grow, Falco, grow!

We’ve been going into our reproductive endocrinologist’s office twice a week for regular beta tests to monitor K’s HCG levels. In early pregnancy, watching these levels is one way of determining the viability of the pregnancy. The thought is, in a healthy pregnancy, that the beta levels should at least double every 48 to 72 hours. We will continue these regular blood draws until K’s beta level reaches approximately 10,000.

There’s quite a wide range in what’s considered “normal” in beta levels. One great resource we’ve accessed is the BetaBase, a searchable compilation of user-entered HCG beta results from pregnancies where heartbeats were eventually detected. You can filter beta levels by age of gestational parent and whether the pregnancies are singletons, twins, or triplets+.

So far, K’s betas have measured the following:

  • 16 days past ovulation – 102
  • 19 days past ovulation – 349
  • 23 days past ovulation – 2,167
  • 26 days past ovulation – 7,092

Despite being very much in the “normal” range, and we only have one more beta test at the RE’s office, it’s difficult to feel fully calm. I think K and I will feel a small sense of relief when we’re able to see the first ultrasound. Luckily, it’s not too far into the future. We’ve scheduled it for September 11th. Until then, we’ll continue to take this process one day at a time.

Path to pregnancy, a retrospective

The journey to become pregnant for the first time has been a roller coaster for the past 9 months. Since we started our blog just recently, I thought I would share some of the highlights month-by-month to tell the story of how we got to this place.

December 2011
Took my final shot of testosterone on December 23, 2011.  C and I talked constantly about baby making and our plans for 2012!

January 2012
Started charting with Fertility Friend and felt obsessed and empowered by all of my bodily data.  We also began researching sperm donors and narrowed down our choices to our top 2 or 3. Our friends tease us about a Google spreadsheet we created to track pros and cons of each donor option.

February 2012
Still waiting for my cycle to return.  Waiting and waiting, and was getting scared that it would never come back.  On Valentine’s Day, I went to my regular OB/GYN and discussed my plans for getting pregnant.  The doctor and nurse practitioner are excited for C and I and are more than willing to work with us for my pregnancy.  C teased me about showing my bits some love on V Day.

March 2012
March 4 2012–my period returned.  I was overjoyed and grouchy at the same time.

We also had our first consults with reproductive endocrinologists (RE) this month.  We selected one RE based on the fact that they advertised in a LGBT local paper and the other based on good word-of-mouth feedback.  Before scheduling the appointments, C and I drafted long, detailed letters explaining our situation and identities.  They both sent me 30-40 page packets of forms to complete ahead of time, most of which I had to respond with “does not apply.”

The prices were really somewhat shocking, especially that of Dr. W, which were about $750 more per cycle than Dr. MB.
We both felt really excited about going with Dr. MB between his better pricing and REALLY compassionate and nerdy personality. This is somewhat surprising because we both anticipated liking Dr. W more, based on some good experiences we’d previously had with her staff. However, she seemed very judgmental toward C. For example, when I asked directly how queer/trans friendly she was, she responded, “I’m sitting here talking to you, aren’t I?”  Ummmmm….What?!
Looking back, I can honestly say that we couldn’t have made a better choice.  Dr. MB’s staff are so kind and I feel very relaxed and safe at their practice.
April 2012
First month of testing at the RE’s office.  I was introduced to the joy horror of the cycle day 3 vaginal ultrasound.  If I had any issues with being a bleeding man, I was going to have to get over them quickly.  We also had tons of blood work to check hormones, thyroid, FSH, and a bunch of other things.  I had a HSG, which is uncomfortable both physically and emotionally, as it turns out the resident performing the test was in my degree program and remembers me—-as a different gender.  At the end of the testing cycle, we met with the RE who diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s and refers to me another endocrinologist.  Other than my slightly elevated thyroid, all other systems were a go.

May 2012
I was disappointed because I was hoping May would be our first month to try.  Instead, I met with the new endocrinologist, Dr. B.  He’s young and did his residency at the medical school where I do research.  Somehow this makes him more approachable. He prescribed synthroid and wanted to see my TSH levels below 2 before we began trying to get pregnant.

C and I took a trip to Philly to visit our best friends and attend the Trans Health Conference. We attended a half-day intensive workshop on trans-masculine pregnancy and it was amazing! I was still charting this month and also practicing with ovulation predictor kits (OPKs).  While on the drive to Philly, we stopped somewhere on the Ohio turnpike so I could pee on a stick.  I got one of my first smiley faces in a men’s public restroom!

June 2012
My thyroid levels were good and were finally ready to start trying!  This month, we had our first IUI attempt.  We decided to try one natural (un-medicated) cycle.  We did OPKs and went in for back-to-back (24 hours apart) IUIs once we received a positive OPK result.  The first IUI went great, but the second one was physically and emotionally uncomfortable.  We had a nurse we didn’t like as much, she mis-gendered me and spoke about me in the 3rd person.  Plus, she had difficulty inserting the catheter through my cervix and I had a lot of bleeding, camping, and backaches afterward.

We tested after 2 weeks and a got a very faint positive.  After going in for blood work we discovered my HCG (beta) had dropped and I wasn’t pregnant after all.  I was unprepared for how crushed and disappointed I would feel.

July 2012
Because I don’t want to be off T for longer than I have to, and was hoping to be hugely pregnant during the winter months, we decided to move ahead with a medicated cycle for our second attempt.  Doing the medicated and monitored cycle made me feel like we were at the doctor’s office every other day (and we were for two of the weeks).  I did a baseline ultrasound and blood work, took Femara, did 4 or 5 additional ultrasounds (with blood work each time) to check on how my follicles were growing.  We ended up with two mature follicles and did a trigger shot of Ovidrel to initiate ovulation.  Again, we went in for back-to-back IUIs, 24 hours apart.  4 days later, I had another follow-up appointment to confirm ovulation. Two weeks after taking the Ovidrel shot, we got our good news! 🙂

I’m feeling fine, thanks.

Inevitably, whenever someone assumes we’re expecting a child, unless they were previously aware of our planned method of conception, they assume I’m the one who is cookin’ little Falco.

Just this weekend, when checking out a mass supply of baby and parenting books from our local library, the librarian asked if the books were for us. When I said yes, she asked if we were expecting. As that is technically correct, I told her that we were. Next came the obligatory congratulations, questions about due date, and inquiries about how I was feeling. I used my typical response, “I’m feeling fine, thanks!” After all, does this random librarian need to know whose uterus in which our firstborn-to-be is residing?

As K’s abdomen gets larger, John and Jane Q. Public’s comments and questions could get a bit… sticky. It doesn’t help that I have a larger frame and carry my weight at my abdomen. I could likely pass as preggo for a while longer than the average non-gestational mom-to-be, but I can’t imagine it feeling very good to have my ample gut, something I’m admittedly insecure about, interpreted and discussed as a growing fetus. I also can’t imagine that K will feel very good about this lack of acknowledgement and level of invisibility, especially given all that he’s experienced in order to conceive and now carry Falco.

Then there’s the issue of consent and agency over having our bodies analyzed and discussed. Obviously, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Women experience objectification. Transgender people’s bodies are assessed in terms of bodily changes with transition and whether or not they “pass.” People – strangers, friends and family alike – grab at pregnant people’s bellies and liberally converse about their expanding waistlines. Individuals scrutinize the bodies of fat people, people of color and people with disabilities. This isn’t our first time at the rodeo in this regard, but knowing that certainly doesn’t make it any easier.

K and I have always said that we will divulge the information about how we’re growing our family on a need-to-know (or in some cases, want-to-know) basis. For now, this means medical providers, immediate family and close friends and allies. Eventually, likely in K’s second trimester, we will tell our extended family members, friends and supervisors and human resources management at our jobs.

Obviously, this extraordinarily short list means we’re leaving a lot of people in the dark, which makes for a lot of awkward interactions with people we don’t see often or will likely never see again. We haven’t yet developed a fool-proof strategy or script for these situations, but I’m certain we’ll somehow find our rhythm. At the very least, we know that at the end of this awkwardness and processing of body image and gender triggers, we will end up with our dream come true: a wee one.

DNA decisions

The month before our first insemination, we attended the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, mostly so that we could attend an intensive workshop about transmasculine reproduction. There, the presenters described the process of reproduction in the following inclusive way: In order to reproduce, you need an egg, sperm, and a place to gestate the embryo. If you don’t have one or more of these things, you’ll need to decide how to obtain it. Luckily, we had the egg and the place to gestate Falco, but making decisions about sperm was more difficult. We considered many options and their pros and cons in our specific set of circumstances.

A known donor:

  • Pros: The sperm would likely be free and we wouldn’t have to pay for shipping.
  • Cons: We’d need to find someone who was willing/able to do this and engage in some likely, awkward conversations around STI screenings, agreements about paternity and donation logistics. We wouldn’t have options when it came to physical characteristics in our donor and, thus, our child might not look as much like me.

A willing to be known donor from a cryobank (sperm bank):

  • Pros: The sperm bank would do all of the screenings for us and the donor would not have the ability to consider himself the legal father of our child. Our child, at age 18, would have the option to decide whether or not s/he wants to meet the donor.
  • Cons: This sperm tends to be more expensive than anonymous donors at a cryobank. There are fewer donors and thus, fewer options when it came to physical characteristics. Again, the child might not look much like me.

An anonymous donor from cryobank (sperm bank):

  • Pros: The sperm bank would do all of the screenings for us and the donor would not have the ability to consider himself the legal father of our child. There is a wide array of anonymous donors at cryobanks around the world, which would allow us to find a donor that had physical characteristics like me, allowing for a greater likelihood that our child would look like both of us.
  • Cons: Sperm from a bank isn’t cheap and our child wouldn’t have the option of one day meeting the donor.

The major factors for me were based on my identity as an adoptee. I didn’t look much like my parents and I struggled with feeling like I fit into my family. I also think it is critical for children, to the extent they wish, to understand their origin, and desperately wanted our child to have the ability to meet their donor if that was something they wanted. Because finding a sperm donor who looked like me was very challenging, we ultimately had to choose between having a willing-to-be-known or known donor who could produce offspring that would not look like me but would be available to our child for future questions and relationship OR having a donor who was not available for questions or relationships but had the ability to produce offspring that looked like both me and K.

Ultimately, K and I decided to go with an anonymous donor whose baby and childhood photos looked just like mine, which just felt right when we saw them. While I feel really confident that we made the right choice for our family, a part of me feels a sense of grief for Falco that s/he will likely never have the ability to meet someone who helped to create him/her. I hope that one day, s/he will know that we made the best decision we could with the very limited options available.

Product Review: What Makes a Baby book

K and I were very excited when we saw a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publishing of an inclusive book that would teach children about reproduction. Below is a description of the project, in the words of the author, Cory Silverberg:

What Makes a Baby is my response to the fact that books about where babies come from leave many of us out.  They tell a nice story (mommy + daddy + intercourse = you!) but the truth is that more and more of us are acknowledging the help we get to bring children into our lives.  That help might be a doctor, fertility clinic, adoption or foster agency; it might be a turkey baster and a friend; it might be a sperm donor or a surrogate.  What Makes a Baby helps parents tell children a story about where they came from that isn’t just true for them, but true for everyone.

Crafted for children roughly from pre-school to 8-years-old, What Makes a Baby is written and illustrated to include all kinds of kids, all kinds of adults, and all kinds of families – regardless of how many people were involved, what the orientation, gender identity, or other make up of the family is, or how it came to be that way.  It’s a social justice approach to sex education.  Like all picture books, it’s meant to be read to a child and gives the adult reader the opportunity to fill in as much detail as they would like.

What Makes a Baby Book Trailer from Cory Silverberg on Vimeo.

What’s not to love about this project? As a transguy who is the gestational parent and a queer woman who is an adoptee and non-gestational parent of Falco, K and I are obviously going to one day need to answer the question of our children’s conception and we plan to teach them about this in inclusive and age-appropriate ways. What Makes a Baby, written by certified sexuality educator Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth, seemed like a logical and exciting resource for young kids, and we happily backed the project at the “Flash Mobber” level, which came with the benefit of receiving a first edition, hard-cover copy of the book.

We were elated when the Kickstarter campaign exceeded their funding goal and even more so when we received our copy of the book. It is vibrantly colorful and appropriately addresses the concept of conception and birth for young children.

Cory Silverberg accurately professes that What Makes a Family is “a book for every kind of family and every kind of kid.” I personally loved that the people all appear to be happy, gender neutral beings and that the language follows suit with treasured sentiments like, “Not all bodies have sperm in them. Some do, and some do not.” Silverberg includes questions such as, “Who was waiting for you to be born?” which leaves room for caregivers to provide additional or personalized information about the child and family’s stories, and to celebrate the unique ways in which families come together.

In a nutshell, K and I love this book and can’t wait to read it to our little Falco. We hope you’ll consider purchasing What Makes a Baby to read to the children in your life!

Gratitude, week 5

I’m sitting here in a quiet house, K still snoring away while I consume a piping hot bowl of pumpkin pie spiced oatmeal, our loving companion animals snuggling peacefully, and I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I decided, as a part of this journey, which is certain to be filled with many bumps along the way, to start a weekend gratitude series.

During our fifth week of pregnancy, I am grateful for:

  • K not (yet?) exhibiting some of the more uncomfortable signs of pregnancy.
  • Having the ability and privilege to be able to be on this journey toward forming the family we wish to have, when so many people are struggling, unable to feed and house their families. These families are definitely in my heart.
  • K and I being patient and kind to ourselves and each other. While we’re both so tired from twice weekly early morning RE tests and K being in his first trimester, some of our weekly chores and some of the fun things we’d like to do have fallen by the wayside, and that’s okay. It’s important to remember that it takes a lot of effort to grow a human, and we only have so much energy to go around.

I was about to conclude this list when my cat just fell off of our table, which reminded me of another item for which I’m grateful: the simple joy and uplifting nature of laughter. Thanks, kitty!

Trans Baby Boom

When I first started searching for a supportive (online) community of other transguys who have been or want to be pregnant I didn’t expect to find much.  I was really surprised at the number of folks embarking on this journey.  I really feel like there is a trans baby boom underway! 

I came across an article about this trans baby boom by Miriam Perez who blogs at radicaldoula.com

“Within the needs of trans people in pregnancy and birth is the challenge of addressing what seems like an obvious connection: between pregnancy and femaleness. Trans people are often neglected in the arena of pregnancy and birth because of the strongly-held notion that only female-identified people experience pregnancy and birth. While not all trans people, whether they were assigned female at birth or not, can experience pregnancy (because of infertility or hysterectomy), some can and do, prompting the need for our pregnancy and birth providers to accommodate.”

Coming out as a pregnant guy

Before starting this pregnancy journey I gave a lot of thought to coming out.  What would it be like to come out as a pregnant man?  Family and friends are one thing, but I think some of my biggest fears and challenges will be at work and in general public.

I’ve read some other stories about guys who traveled this path before.  Many of them say most people in public perceived them to be just a chubby guy getting fatter.  I may be able to avoid stares and questions for a while since I have a larger frame.  I’ve also noticed that many folks work from home or work independently, so coming out in the workplace doesn’t always apply.

However, I ride everyday in a 7 person carpool.  I work with large teams of people.  I also work with a lot of patients in a research capacity.  This is my reality and I know that I am going to have to discuss the pregnancy and come out eventually.

I thought about  it for a while before I told anyone about my desire to be a birthdad and physically carry a baby, our baby.  Before I spoke the words (that were in my heart) I wanted to be sure I was strong enough to do it.  When it finally did come up back in December 2011, my wife and I were having a serious conversation about the various ways we could bring children into our lives.  I finally said something like, “What if I carry the baby..?”  I was fearful she would be shocked, but my ever-practical wife C responded something like, “It makes sense….you have the working parts and it is cheaper than some of the other options!”

When she said that she would be on board I was exhilarated.  My heart was racing and full of joy.  It just blows my mind sometimes how I thought so little of the life I dreamed of could even be possible because of my identities.  The more love we share and the more strength I find, I see that we can do all of it…our way.  To experience pregnancy and birth has always been an interest of mine, although I think I pushed this away.  Even genderqueer trannies can let gender norms get the best of them!

There was something magical and safe about keeping it between us.  I hate to say it, but I had some fears that even our closest queer friends would think I was nuts!   So far we’ve told many of our queer friends, who were overwhelmingly supportive and very excited for us.  C has also told a few close friends at work.  We feel so blessed to have all these awesome people in our lives.

It’s good to know that whatever challenges I face navigating the world as a pregnant dude, I will have lots of support from C and our supportive circle of friends and family.

Safe (trigger alert)

I was married before. My ex, also a transguy, was (and still is, from what I can tell) a terrible, abusive person. He isolated me from friends and family, constantly put me down, and made me believe what he was saying – that I was a worthless whore. He stole my money, literally took my paychecks and spent them however he wanted, took my debit cards, ruined my credit, and refused to hold down consistent jobs, while I meanwhile worked two part-time jobs just to make ends meet. He told me that he would leave me or kill himself if I didn’t try to have his children, that I “owed” him that as his partner. By that point, in the depths of despair and isolation, I believed him.*

We couldn’t afford to use a donor through any of the cryobanks he researched (remember? my ex couldn’t be bothered to hold down a job), so my ex decided that we would use a known donor: his loafish, virgin, socially awkward, pothead friend. We’ll call him Benny. Benny’s hygiene was somewhat suspect and even before my ex coerced me to be inseminated with Benny’s DNA, just being near him made my skin crawl. Each attempt to conceive was horrific. I felt violated and completely dissociated from my body. After several revolting, unsuccessful at-home ICI attempts, my ex finally gave up.

It took about six years of deep depression, isolation and sheer terror at the hands of my ex husband before I finally began to realize that I was the victim of domestic violence and that I deserved better. With the help of a local domestic violence agency’s toll-free hotline, as well as the support of K, who was becoming a dear friend at the time, I made a plan to safely leave my relationship with my ex.

It has been seven years since I left and I wish I could say that the past horror is behind me. It is not. A part of me struggles with it quite literally every day. Luckily, I am more often reminded of the fact that I am now safe, with a partner who respects and encourages me, and have a wide net of loving friends and family.

Looking back, I am certain that I found a way to will Benny’s sperm to leave my body so that I wouldn’t conceive my ex’s child. I’m also certain, while I wasn’t fully aware of it at the time, that my initial and longterm boundary of being child-free throughout the majority of my relationship with K was very much tied to the trauma of being a survivor of domestic violence, especially as it relates to reproductive coercion. Even though I felt safe with K, it took me many, many years to truly believe and feel it. And let’s face it, who wants to (willingly) build a family with someone when they’re not sure they’re safe?

* Everyone deserves to feel safe with their loved ones. If you feel like your partner exhibits any of the traits I describe in the first paragraph or any of the ones listed here, you may be experiencing abuse. Domestic violence takes many forms and can happen to anyone of any age and identity group. For confidential help and hope, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233).

Never say never

This was never something I wanted. From the time I was a little girl, an only child isolated in an island of boring adults, I never liked children. They seemed tedious, simple. Children never talked about politics or strategy. They existed in an alien world of make-believe. Don’t get me wrong. I was a creative child, but instead of pretending to be a princess – or worse, mommy – I spent hours reading and writing tales. I knew that when I grew up, I was going to focus my energy on realizing the adventures that only existed in my imagination and the pages of my stories, not on wiping poopy bottoms.

K knew this from the start. He’s much more of a nurturer than I, though he might claim that we nurture in different ways, and always viewed children as a part of his life story. Yet, as the loving and open-minded person that he is, he accepted that he would not be a parent if we were together.

My parents were never really what I’d consider to be warm. While I think I’m a fairly charismatic and giving person, I’ve always felt like I was emotionally prickly like dear ol’ mom and dad. When I saw my peers’ relationships with their parents, how they could tell one another practically anything, that their parents would show up and cheer them on at school functions while I wondered where mine were, I felt lost and sad. I didn’t learn the skills that seem to come intrinsically to the openly loving families I envied and was certain that I would parent in a similarly hurtful way as my folks.

My heart leapt the literal moment that I met her. We’ll call her Mae, the bubbly, brilliant sprite who is our dearest friends’ daughter. When we went to visit our friends in the hospital, literally hours after Mae’s birth, I was afraid to hold her. I did not want to break someone or something that I had immediately sensed was perfect. As Mae grew older, reached different milestones, and turned into a leggy, athletic, creative toddler, my love for her also grew. I felt myself changing and surprising myself. When Mae looked like she was on the verge of stumbling, I instinctively reached out to steady her. When she seemed fussy, I would sing or talk to her, and my heart would swell as she smiled back in return. I was connecting with a young person. Mae had changed everything.

After several brutally honest and tearful conversations with K and Mae’s parents, and a lot of self-examination, I came to the realization that I couldn’t wouldn’t risk missing out on a life-altering, amazing connection with a young person because I was fearful of being like my parents. I am a strong, self-assured woman who has made my way in this world with the help of chosen family like K and our dearest friends, and the journey of parenthood would be no different in that regard.

This was never something I wanted, and now, I can’t imagine wanting something more than this.