Family reunion

Yesterday, K, E and I attended an event that’s hosted by the reproductive endocrinologist who helped us conceive E. It was held in a park with a bouncy house and free ice cream from an ice cream truck, and was meant to be a sort of family reunion for families who have expanded because of the staff’s loving expertise. K and I wanted to attend because our lives had gotten busy and we had never gotten the chance to take E into the office and thank the staff.

It was a lovely park that we didn’t even know existed, and the weather was perfect for the event. Staff members ooed and ahhed over E and other babies in attendance. The oddest part was an unofficial receiving line of sorts where parents and babies waited to speak to the doctor. It felt a little bit like an unintended “meet your maker” sort of moment, but likely only because there were so many thankful parents (like us) who wanted to say hello to the doc.

The doctor’s practice is located in a very upscale nearby community, so K and I weren’t sure what sort of crowd to expect at this gathering. I was pleased that so many of the families seemed down-to-earth and friendly. We chatted with some of the parents about each other’s babies, milestones, etc. K and I confessed to each other later that we each spent time wondering about each of these family’s experiences with infertility. Thoughts of, “I’ll bet you were a cycle monitored, fertility med sort of family,” and, “IVF with egg donor for sure,” kept swirling through my head.

There was one family that was among the demographic I expected to see at this event: a privileged blond woman with her equally privileged mother and baby. They were, as K put it, a spectacle. The baby’s grandma clearly had a lot of plastic surgery and the entire family was decked out in a wide array of upscale clothing brands. The baby was cruising in a $5 bajillion stroller and had no short of seventeen toys dangling in front of her glitter beret topped head. I imagined that the mother had been married to a very wealthy older gentleman and, upon his death, had a doctor harvest his sperm so that she could conceive her miracle baby and secure a larger part of his estate for her and his postmortem spawn.

I wondered what others assumed our fertility journey was, and mused that they were all likely very far off from the accurate story.

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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! 🙂

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.

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).