New Parenthood Pet Peeve

One of the most difficult things we’ve experienced so far about being a new parent – despite battling reflux – has been the near constant unsolicited advice. This is not to be confused with resource sharing from veteran parents when asked for help, though sometimes there’s some grey area between these things when a new parent’s venting is interpreted as a request for help. It’s also differentiated from comments such as, “This is what worked for us.” “I” statements are so very different from “you.”

In my previous update, I referenced a common theme of unsolicited advice we’ve received: that we should change formulas to a dairy-free variety. Again, some parents have said, “We had similar symptoms and eventually discovered that our little one had a dairy sensitivity, so we switched,” and that’s so different. I mean, flat-out, judgment laced, “Why haven’t you tried another type of formula?” as though it would be the simplest thing in the world and is clearly our fault for having not yet solved the problem of reflux.

It is especially annoying when this judgy, unsolicited advice comes from people who haven’t parented a newborn in several decades. It’s also hurtful when these people are family members, which, in turn, reopens any sort of outstanding wounds from familial baggage. This was very much the case when we recently visited my parents.

To give a little context, it is important to note that my parents are kind of anti-medicine. In order for the use of medicine to be considered valid and appropriate in their minds, it must be some sort of very grave or emergent diagnosis, in which case, it must be swiftly handled so someone can move on with their lives (read: without medication). For the majority of their lives, my parents have not taken any sort of medication, and when they have, it’s been for very short periods of time. They visit doctors regularly and believe very strongly in preventative health, but will judge the dickens out of someone they think is “resorting” to medicine when they don’t think it’s necessary.

My parents also have a really messed up relationship with food. They rarely eat, sans a small breakfast and a large, late dinner. Sometimes they have a snack during the middle of the day. In keeping with their judgment of others who do not share these practices, anyone who eats differently or more frequently in their presence is the subject of their scorn. Throughout my entire life, being a larger kid, then teen, then adult, my parents have judged me for my weight and have attempted to police the frequency and contents of my meals.

I’m not sure why I thought this, but, before I became a mom, I had assumed that their prejudices related to food and medicine would only extend to their daughter and the rest of the world, and not bleed onto their perfect, few week old only grandchild. Clearly, that was delusional.

During our visit, I kept hearing little barbs about the frequency of his meals:

  • “Again?! Didn’t he JUST eat?!”
  • “I swear, we didn’t feed YOU this much.”
  • [While E was rooting and starting to fuss] “I don’t think he’s hungry ag-aaaaain! He’s probably just bored.”

I did my best to keep my cool and diplomatically educate them as much as possible, but I really wanted to just scream, “YES! He’s hungry again! I’m his mom and know all of the hunger signs and patterns for my child. If you didn’t feed me ‘this much,’ it probably explains a lot about why you just said that I used to cry all the time.”

I had previously explained the laundry list of E’s reflux symptoms and told them all about our reasoning for advocating that the pediatrician prescribe medication for him. During dinner on our last night there, I had to leave the dinner table to administer his evening dose of medication. When I announced the reason for my departure, my father made some judgy statement along the lines of, “Meds?! Who puts such a tiny baby on MEDS?!” as though it was the first time he had heard about it and clearly didn’t approve. I continued to administer the medication and when I had completed, even though the conversation had already moved onto other topics, I brought the subject back up. I said, “I told you all of the reasons why this child is on medication and i don’t appreciate you questioning my parental decisions on the matter.” He made another comment about whether or not it was really necessary, and I said, “If you’d watched your baby writhing in pain for days in a row and changed multiple outfits each day because of projectile vomiting, you’d make the same decision.”

I was infuriated by their questions, unsolicited advice and judgment of our decisions, and was very glad that we were leaving that very next morning. When texting back and forth with a very dear friend about the problems with my folks, I told her that the experience was extraordinarily triggering to me, given past conflict with my parents about these very matters. I also told her that, in advocating for our little one, it felt like I was also standing up for the little C inside me.

Important note: Baby E ate twice during the time I was drafting this post. Yes, Mom and Dad, TWICE.

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On privilege

[This post was written on December 28, 2012, but since we weren’t yet making Falco’s sex public, I couldn’t post this until now.]

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it will mean to be parents of a small person who, from the time of his entry into the world, will already be gifted a whole lot more privilege than either of his parents received and experienced. Falco’s privilege gift basket includes but is definitely not limited to:

  • Being a cisgender male. Sure, Falco, your daddy walks through the world as a man and, as such, receives a lot of unearned privilege as a result. It is so very different to be a cisgender male, to have your biology and body match your gender identity, and to have a penis in a world that seems obsessed with the phallus. How in the hell are we going to deal with this when neither of your parents can relate?
  • Being a white person in a world that values whiteness, equates beauty with white standards, and routinely and systematically oppresses people of color. Your mommy and daddy believe that parenting around white privilege will be quite a challenge, but as people who have experienced white privilege their entire lives and actively and carefully work to consider and address issues of racism, we feel prepared for this particular challenge.
  • Being a person whose parents are perceived to be a heterosexual couple. Nevermind that you were birthed through your papa’s vagina, Falco, or that your mama will not yet have legal recognition as your mother, as the majority of the world will never know this. Once you are here and in our arms, the public will see what they perceive to be a mama and papa wearing you, carrying you, and loving on you. They will interpret our family unit as “normal,” which is gross and unfair. Luckily, you will have a lot of people in your life who are queer, have queer parents, and love queer people. Your father and mother also grew up with parents who were perceived to be heterosexual, and we will make sure that you have access to all sorts of family structures and thoroughly understand that family is not about biology, gender, sexuality, or number of adults that one might have in their lives.

Everytime someone tells me how I will soon see that raising a son is “easy” – and trust me, it happens with shocking frequency – I want to scream at them, “If raising a son is so ‘easy,’ you’re fucking doing it WRONG!” One of our friends, badass feminist blogger Cristy C of UpRoot fame, has uttered the following many times and it really resonates with us: “It is easier to teach someone to resist their oppression than it is to teach someone to refuse their own privilege.”

Raising a son who understands and rejects the nuances of the privilege he is handed simply for being born who he is will quite literally be the largest challenge we will ever experience. Bring it.

Honoring Dr. King

I wanted to take a moment today, on this annual remembrance of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to share my favorite of his quotes:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

To me, this quote is the very definition of what it means to be an ally. When allies are witness to injustice, oppression and prejudice, we make the conscious decision to act and be a part of the solution. Sometimes it’s tempting to sit back and wait for someone else to respond. Sometimes I think, “I don’t always have to say something…” I know that if I do not speak or act in that moment, I am a part of the culture of intolerance. Being an ally means that I am willing to be viewed as “that crazy lady,” eccentric, deluded, etc. if it means that I am actively communicating my support for people who experience oppression and making an effort to show bigots that people who may look or identify similarly to them do not all agree with their thoughts and actions.

What does being an ally mean to you?

Internalized Transphobia

Being pregnant is bringing up all sorts of feelings of internalized transphobia that I haven’t felt or even thought about for YEARS.  At first I was surprised and felt disappointed in myself.

I’ve put in a lot of effort in formal and informal therapeutic work to address some of these issues and I (although irrational) feel like I should be over and done with these feelings.

Throughout this pregnancy I’ve been trying to power through everything with a happy face, but lately I think everything is finally catching up to me.  I’ve been trying to tell myself that everything is great and being a pregnant man is easy!

The problem is things are getting harder.  There are rumors about me at work, I’m starting to be read as female more in public, my family has been annoying me……..And I’m not feeling very strong right now.  When I think about being vocal and addressing some of these issues, even simple things like correcting pronouns, I just want to hide and seem to turn into this weak, apologetic person whose gender identity doesn’t deserve to be validated.

I found this interesting activity online that one transman did to work though some of his internalized transphobia.  Rather than focusing on defining transphobia and how that played out in his life he focused on his individual beliefs and myths that comprised transphobia.  He made a list of myths that diminished his self-esteem and self-worth.  Next he rewrote his personal myths, picking them apart and making his personal belief system more positive.

For example:

Myth #1
My lack of a penis means I’m not really a man.

Rewrites:
My lack of a penis means that I’m not a typical man.
My lack of a penis has no bearing on my manhood.

I really like this idea so I wanted to do some transmale pregnancy related work.  Here are some of my Myths:

  • My desire to be pregnant means I’m not (or was never) a real FTM.
  • Because I don’t hate every minute of pregnancy I’m not really a man.
  • I shouldn’t expect others in public to use male pronouns for me (or when I ask) because I am obviously pregnant and no “real” man can be pregnant.

Rewrites: 

  • My biological ability to be the gestational parent has nothing to do with my gender identity.
  • Pregnant people come in all gender identities and gender expressions.
  • My desire to have a family (and go to great lengths to make that possible) does not diminish my male identity.
  • I deserve to have my gender identity validated in public settings.

This is just a starting place, but I’m going to keep thinking about my rewrites and make them part of some mental affirmations or something.

In memoriam

My maternal grandma, my only surviving grandparent, has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years. She has been living in a nursing home near my parents, which is located on the other side of the state. When she came to our wedding last year, she was in a wheelchair because she had become prone to occasional falling. In the last few months, she had lost the ability to form complete sentences or, at times, coherent thoughts, and was unable to feed herself. When K and I visited her after Thanksgiving, one of her nurses had asked her how she was doing and her reply was clearly her desperate wish, “Dead.” With her last, shallow breath yesterday afternoon, her long suffering ended and she is finally at peace.

Mimi and Papa Joe

My grandma, whom I had called Mimi, was always one of my favorite humans. During my childhood, I easily considered her my very best friend. She taught me many of my favorite and most treasured lessons about life, like the importance of being thrifty, caring for the environment, creating beauty out of anything you have on hand, and never taking anyone’s shit.

During my early childhood, my mom was a substitute elementary school teacher, and my grandparents watched me on days when my mom had to work. One of my favorite foods at that age was fish, which I pronounced “tish,” and Mimi readily fried it up, day after day, even though she knew that the ocean perch would stink up her entire house. We would dig through her packed basement for all sorts of objects that were just begging to be transformed into fun new games and activities.

I spent long summers with Mimi and my grandpa, Papa Joe, at their rustic cottage in Ontario, where we fished for hours on the placid lake, took long walks, picked and preserved wild raspberries, and appreciated the simplicity of what life can bring. I played endless games of Gin Rummy with my grandparents and pleaded Mimi to stay up late each night, telling me stories by kerosene lamplight about her childhood. I would spend sunny days on the hammock, writing stories as wild as my young mind could conjure up, running back to the porch to show my grandma my creations. She always encouraged my writing and I like to think that I am honoring her memory by maintaining this blog.

Outside of the home, Mimi’s first and only job was as a bra fitter in the lingerie department at the original Hudson’s department store in downtown Detroit. As my body matured, she used her experience as a large-busted woman (like me!) coupled with her knowledge gained at that job to teach me all about how to find the perfect bra. One time, we spent hours in the TJ Maxx fitting room, trying on bras and laughing our asses off at the ones that were completely ridiculous. One bra was teal with almost entirely sheer mesh cups and a lace pattern of a singular rose over each nipple. She squealed when I showed her, declaring, “Everything’s coming up roses!” and we laughed until we could barely catch our breaths.

One of the most meaningful things about my relationship with Mimi is that she taught me about family and culture. Each summer and again at Christmastime, we would set aside an entire day, filling the house with the scent of butter and sauteed onions, to make pierogi with my mom. As an adopted, red-headed Irish/German (with a dollop of Italian for good measure) kid, she gave me the gift of her Polish heritage, teaching me all of the best swear words and her top-secret recipes. One of the largest compliments she ever paid me as an adult is when she told me how tender my pierogi dough was when I surprised her with my first solo attempt. I decided to make pierogi today – my first time making them gluten-free – because nothing taps into a memory quite like the senses of taste and smell.

One of my largest regrets is that I never got the opportunity to tell her that we plan on naming Falco after my late Papa Joe, but I am choosing to think that, wherever she is now, she already knows this in her heart. Seeing her and my Papa Joe with little Falco would have been such a gift, but I know that they’re now watching over us and our baby-to-be.

I love you, Mimi, and I will deeply miss you and will always keep you in my heart. Please give Papa Joe a big squeeze for me.

We remember

Many of our readers are aware that November 20 is the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day devoted to honoring and memorializing individuals who were killed due to hatred and prejudice against transgender people. It is important to note that many of the people we remember on this day are people of color, having experienced marginalization and stigmatization beyond what was related to their expressions of gender. This is a very somber day for those of us who identify as – and love – transgender people.

K and I were acquaintances for many years, but we actually attribute the Transgender Day of Remembrance as the beginning of our relationship because, 7 years ago today, a TDOR event brought us together. Across a crowded room of understandably solemn faces, K and I locked eyes and began down a path that has brought us to the joyful place we are today.

I can’t help pondering the extremes that this day represents: the elation and hope of a new relationship and the sadness and rage behind the losses of life that occur, year after year, because of the hatred of gender diversity. Like life itself, this day is filled with such complexities, reminding me that something wonderful and amazing can happen when you least expect it and that it is critical to celebrate and appreciate the beauty in this world while we mourn and speak out against injustices.

Raising a son

With 12 days until our anatomy scan and likelihood of discovering Falco’s sex, topics related to sex, gender and parenting have been swirling through my head. In conversations with friends last night and throughout the previous weeks, I have disclosed what I am about to tell you: raising a child with a penis terrifies me. My goal is to unpack some of that here.

I feel that raising a feminist son is one of the hardest and most important jobs in the world. I have no doubt that if our child ends up being a boy, K and I are equipped and motivated to raise him with respect for women. This job, however, feels really daunting at times. K and I have spent the majority of our lives experiencing gender privilege from the side of the have-not’s. I understand what it’s like to experience white privilege and I feel confident in my ability to parent our children as intentional, thoughtful allies to people of color, but some of my internalized gender oppression creeps into my confidence to parent a feminist son and translates into self-doubt.

I know that surrounding ourselves with like-minded parents will help me to express and address some of these issues, and that our collective consciousness will help us all to better raise feminist children. That’s why I am super grateful to have feminist parents in our lives that we respect, admire and trust. Some of them even write really phenomenal blog posts on the issue, and I highly suggest that our readers who want to parent feminist sons check out this link. I hope you find it as motivating and thought-provoking as I do.

Beyond the topic of feminism as it relates to raising a son, and I feel silly admitting this, I truly fear having a child that is born with a penis. Neither K nor I have penises, and our past experiences with people who were born penises have all involved circumcised ones (our decision would be to not circumcise our child), so there are some large limitations to our real-life experiences with this anatomy. Starting from early on, this presents some challenges, though not insurmountable ones, such as making sure we don’t hurt what I’ve heard can be a rather sensitive part of one’s flesh. As a child grows older, we’ll then address some awkward yet critical topics like sex drive, consent, safer sex, etc., and I really only know first-hand how these topics relate to having a vagina.

I’m sure that as parents, regardless of Falco’s sex, we will have moments of humor, doubt, hesitation, joy, outrage and more. It’s wonderful to know that we have this healing and cathartic space in which we can openly air and process it all so that we can be the very best parents we possibly can be.

On Being Queer

When I was first coming out, it took me a really long time to find an identity label that felt comfortable for me. Elements of various identities felt like they’d work, but nothing fully felt right or described my attraction to people who do not conform to gender norms. Were there women I found attractive? Of course. Did I find certain men hot? Yep. Did my motor run for some who identify as none of the above? Hell yes! Nothing really felt like home until I discovered the label queer.

To me, queer means deliciously atypical. It’s a celebration of my attraction to people who are gender non-conforming.  It’s a pride parade of my own gender nonconformity. For many, many years, “queer” just felt right.

While I’ve hung onto the label queer like a pair of prized jeans that once made my butt look fab but now kind of sagged, the label hadn’t felt totally right for the past several years. I found myself asking, “What’s queer about K mowing the lawn while I do laundry?” and, “What exactly is queer about this life we’re living or this white dress I’m choosing for our wedding?” Part of these feelings, I’m sure, had to do with being perceived as a heterosexual couple living in suburban, middle-class America. This naturally happened more frequently as K began reliably passing as a guy. That’s not the entirety of it, though. There’s something so inherently novel and exciting about queerness, whereas everything in our picket fence lined lives began to feel routine and expected.

Throughout the process of trying to conceive and now progressing through pregnancy, I’ve been shocked to discover that my queerness started fitting again. Women sat alone in the lobby of our reproductive endocrinologist’s office while we became known as the non-conventional couple who actually attended appointments together. We we reached out to and began building intentional community with other gestational transguys and partners. Suddenly, our gender non-conformity seemed more visible and celebrated.

Those who know us well will attest that our gender non-conformity (or love for it) never waned or disappeared, but it is fascinating and empowering to feel like we’re tapping into that level of uniqueness again in order to blaze this trail and build the family we want. It makes me feel grounded, inspired, and poised to take on the massive challenges I’m certain we are about to encounter as a visibly pregnant dude and his loving, supportive, non-pregnant wife.

Control

When we first told his parents about our plan to conceive, K’s mom’s immediate reaction was anger, which was mostly turned in my direction. She said, pointing at me, “You’re controlling and when you’re a parent, you can’t control anything.” Looking back, I’m certain this was a reflection of her anxieties about herself and the fact that she couldn’t control her first-born kid’s gender and reproductive choices, which confused and upset her.

I knew what she meant, though. She and I have a lot in common, though you will rarely hear me admit this. We’re Type A and demand appreciate a lot of structure. When things don’t go according to plan, it upsets us. These traits are definite challenges when it comes to parenting and I knew when we started this journey that finding a way to let go of control was going to be a large area for growth in my life.

As we only just begin our pregnancy journey, control is already rearing its ugly head. From the moment we received the first positive pregnancy test result, my mind began reeling with the endless list of to-dos in order to prepare for wee Falco. First and foremost, I needed to clean out our extra bedroom, which is mostly being used as storage and a craft area. I need to find a way to move some furniture and my pregnant husband is no longer in a position to help me move it. Then comes the decision on paint colors and nursery decor. Because two regular sized cribs will feel crammed in the nursery, the main choice of cribs will need to wait another week until we’re able to determine whether Falco is one or two embryos (did I mention that the reproductive endocrinologist saw TWO mature follicles at the time of ovulation during our successful IUI cycle?). The nursery prep list alone could take up several blog posts, and I’m sure it will.

Then there’s the growing list of appointments, tests, ultrasounds, decisions. Do we want to do any sort of prenatal testing, or will that just drive me crazier than I already feel? Our first ultrasound will happen next week and that’s when we’ll determine how many sacs are in K’s uterus. We may see the heart(s) beating at that time, or it might happen a few weeks later at a subsequent ultrasound.

I can’t seem to focus at work. All I can think about is this list of preparations and the number of weeks we have left seems to be ticking away so rapidly. I feel like there is only so much time left for me to research and prepare to be the mother-of-the-year. Logically, I know that I’ll be fine, have good instincts, and that our love and capacity will carry us through, but my anxiety is really getting the best of me. The only thing I can really do is take a deep breath, take this one step at a time, and relinquish control, which is significantly easier said than done.

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.