4 Trans men talk about pregnancy
At the mention of ‘pregnant trans men’ many people over thirty will think of Thomas Beatie, the American who obtained publicity in 2007 with his pregnancy and turned the world upside down. Despite the many other pregnant trans men who followed or came before him, the topic is still taboo. After all, how can someone insist that he is male and still do something as ‘hyperfeminine’ as getting pregnant? Or even want to do so in the first place?
trans men and pregnancy —
Twenty years ago, when I still lived life as a heterosexual woman, I was pregnant with my oldest daughter. If I could have had my then-husband carry her to term, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. Wishfully, I would ask him: ‘Can’t you do the pregnancy? Start working part time?’ Once I was pregnant, I wore normal clothes for as long as I could. When those did not fit over my belly anymore, I went to shop in the men’s department because maternity clothes were out of the question. I cut my hair short. I had no idea what I was doing; I only knew that a pregnancy was much too feminine for me.
Jeff (26), Michael (28) and Ryan (26) know they are men, and (yet) they want to become pregnant. Jesse (36) gave birth to a daughter five years ago and only started transitioning after. They talk openly about their considerations, hopes, and expectations.
Why did you want to become pregnant?
Jesse: ‘I have always known that I was a boy, and my wife, who I have been with for sixteen years, has also known from the start of our relationship. I kept postponing my transition because we wanted to marry, buy a house, have children. When we had two children, we wanted another, but my wife didn’t want to be pregnant anymore. Then we decided that I would take on the pregnancy. It took two years before I conceived. The insemination was worse for me than the pregnancy. I have been inseminated about twelve times, that was tough.’
Michael: ‘I had and have the desire for children. I was able to bring this up with the gender team of the UMCG (University Medical Center Groningen). Getting pregnant myself is plan B for me, in case I want children in a relationship with a man. To keep all options open, I wanted to freeze some of my eggs. Four weeks prior to my appointment to arrange this, I got the green light for my transition process – along with a prescription for testosterone. The psychologist said there was a 50% chance that I would wait to use the testo until after that appointment. Apparently, she expected me to immediately want to start male hormones, but I waited patiently. In the end the freezing process took a year: I had had the green light for a year before I could actually start with the testo.’
Ryan: ‘It’s my plan A. As a kid I didn’t want to have children later, because I didn’t want to be a mother. I didn’t see myself with a husband and kids. During my transition I was in a rush to become a man as quickly as I could and wanted to have my reproductive organs taken out as soon as possible. But suddenly I thought: ‘Wait a second, how badly do I really want this? I’m a man now, I understand myself better, is it wise to take such a radical step?’ I searched the internet for information and spent a lot of time watching the YouTube channels of trans men in other countries. I discovered that you can also be pregnant as a trans man. I would like to have a biological child and carrying it myself seems beautiful. Society views pregnancy as something for women, but to me pregnancy is linked to the physical body. I would like to become pregnant myself, even if I have a relationship with a cis woman.’
Jeff: ‘I have wanted children my entire life. As a kid I pictured myself becoming a mother, simply because I didn’t know any better. But when playing house, I was always the dad. I was against getting pregnant myself. The thought alone made me dysphoric. After a conversation with a gynaecologist on the gender team at the Amsterdam UMC, I started to think differently. He said that, medically speaking, getting pregnant yourself is the easiest way to have children. I have pondered this a lot and talked to others. After a while I no longer saw pregnancy as something very feminine, but as something very physical. With that thought I revisited my feelings around wanting children. It is a blessing that as a trans man I can become pregnant, whereas cis men can’t.’
How do the people around you respond?
Jeff: `The reactions of people I’ve discussed this with were positive. Only my mother worries because I have health concerns. She wonders if I can handle having a child. I ask myself this as well. In any case I am far from ready to have children. The ideal age for me would be in my mid-thirties, I think, so in about ten years. I’m not afraid of the response of others to a pregnancy. I am very open toward everyone about my being transgender. I enjoy it when people ask questions. I would carry the same openness during a pregnancy.’
Ryan: ‘In Facebook groups for trans men they don’t understand my wish to become pregnant at all. I’ve stopped expressing it in these circles. The responses are a mix of honest astonishment and judgment. People especially respond in judgmental ways in groups that are rather binary and masculine. The outside world reacts much more positively. People are surprised when I say that I – as a trans man – am bi and hope to bear children someday, but I exist so far outside of labels that they can hardly react negatively anymore. That is always kind of a pleasant surprise. My parents have a problem with the trans part, and so they also condemn the fact that I want to have a child. But I see how much they adore my sister’s child, so once my little one is here, things will be alright.’
Michael: ‘Sure, that’s how it goes with parents. My mother would love to have grandchildren. When I told her years ago that I liked women, one of the first things she asked was if she would still have grandchildren. And when I later told her I’m transgender, she asked again. In this regard I could reassure her! My friends and I talk about it openly, and they are fine with it. It’s most important to them that I am happy; they just joke about poopy diapers. But that I can handle.’
Jesse: ‘When I got pregnant, only my wife knew I was/am a man. Others, who saw me as a pregnant woman, responded with enthusiasm. After my pregnancy it was time to start my transition. My parents and sister did not accept it, and I am no longer in touch with them. It’s as if a thousand kilos fell away. They always had something to complain about: my clothes weren’t right, nor my children’s upbringing, and they thought I was lazy for staying at home to take care of the kids while my wife was the breadwinner. Now that we are no longer speaking, space has opened up to make friends. I never had friends before and now I do; it adds so much value to my life.
‘My voice becoming deeper turned out to be an important prerequisite for my kids starting to call me ‘dad’’
The kids always called me ‘mom’; after my transition it became ‘dad’. My wife is a nurse, as am I, and she injected the first syringe filled with testosterone, as the children watched her. The next morning, they came running straight from their beds to see if I had already become a man. They only started calling me ‘dad’ from the new year, three months in, but for the youngest it was taking too long. In school, they never said ‘my mom is becoming my dad’, but they talked about the changes they saw in me, and how it was fine with them. My voice becoming deeper turned out to be an important prerequisite for them starting to call me ‘dad’.
How will you get through your pregnancy?
Jeff: ‘As I said, I am very open, and during my pregnancy I want to be just as open. Express a lot, explain often. I think that’s the way I will be able to handle the situation best, for example when interacting with a midwife. Chances are that I will mostly be seen as a pregnant man and not as Jeff, and that the response will be: ‘You’re a trans man and you’re pregnant, interesting!’ instead of: ‘You’re pregnant, congratulations!’. But I will just have to accept that. I find myself very feminine, am a feminine man, and thus don’t mind being part of such a women’s space that much. As a gay man I kind of tend to be ‘one of the women’, without being one myself. Lately I am more accepting of who I am, which has reduced my dysphoria. I’ve started seeing myself as a man, but as one who is different from most. I need that mind-set to be able to deal with it. I should not compare myself to a cis man.
I am, however, afraid of the fluctuation in hormones that comes with pregnancy. I suffered a lot mentally during the first months of using testosterone. To get pregnant, I need to go off the testo and then the estrogens will gain the upper hand. Since I’m not that stable in my hormone balance, I am dreading this. I’m afraid it will cause more dysphoria, and that I will experience it even more strongly due to the female hormones. I would like to have more information about this. It might be best to ask trans boys who have been pregnant before.
I am also dreading childbirth. I hope I don’t need a c-section; I’ve had an operation on my intestines before, and don’t know if a c-section is still possible.’
Michael: ‘If I get pregnant, I am not staying in my current place of residence. They talk too much here. Maybe I will live in a city for some time, then return with a child. I’d mind the gossip surrounding that less than I’d be bothered by talk about my pregnancy. My mother said that I could also go abroad for a year, to complete the pregnancy there. I’m a writer, and could use that time to write. I don’t know if it’s really what I want. It could take a long time before I get pregnant, and maybe I wouldn’t be comfortable as a pregnant trans man in another country.’
Ryan: ‘I am now more open about being trans. I’m a volunteer at the COC (a Dutch organization for LGBT people) and am a board member there. At my internship, however, most people don’t know that I’m trans. On the one hand I enjoy it because they fully see me as a man. But on the other hand it means that I can’t express that I want to become pregnant. I do want to be able to talk about these things, so I don’t think it works for me to live in stealth (live according to my gender identity and be invisible as transgender).
I’ve heard of other men where, if they grow a beard while pregnant, people don’t consider there might be a child in their belly – they assume it’s a beer belly. I don’t drink beer, but if people think I have a pot belly for six months, that’s fine with me. I’ve also thought about clothing. I am half Hindu, and men of this tradition wear kurtas: dresses for men. That’s definitely an option during my pregnancy. I’ve just ordered several to see if I would like to wear them now as well. I’d also like special maternity wear for men. I’m not good with the sewing machine at all, but I want to approach students pursuing a degree in fashion. After all, they always have to do a project for a specific target audience and this seems like a nice one.
I’ve thought about pregnancy and childbirth a lot. I’m okay with having a child in my belly, but I’m glad I no longer have breasts because I wouldn’t want those to start growing. I don’t see pregnancy as feminine, but the entire setting around natural childbirth… No, I can’t picture myself doing that.
Recently I realised that both my mother and my sister had a c-section, so within our family it’s completely normal. I see it as a reasonable option.’
Jesse: ‘I enjoyed pregnancy, but six months in I was already very heavy. It was very special to feel the baby move. My gender dysphoria didn’t bother me much, I just couldn’t stand people wanting to touch my belly. My uterus has emotional value for me. If I don’t need to get it removed, I want to keep it. I’m happy I got to experience pregnancy. Now that I’m living as a man, I wouldn’t want to get pregnant again. It’s not a problem for me if people want to see pictures from when I was pregnant. That I’m a man now doesn’t mean I am denying my entire past. I got married as a woman, had children as a woman, and I don’t want to lose those memories.’
What are you going to tell your kids?
Jesse: ‘My kids experienced my entire transition, they know how things are.’
Michael: ‘My life has not yet crystallised. Do I want to live in stealth or not? I don’t know yet. I don’t think that’s a good idea with children; the constraints might make them very prudish. I would never be able to take showers with them, they wouldn’t be able to see me naked – and they would adopt this.
Ryan: ‘I want to be outspoken with my children from day one, to keep the conversation open and explain: ‘Most children come from the mom’s belly, and some come from the dad’s.’ They can know about my transition, and that it’s important to be yourself. I think it will also make them stronger. At first they won’t understand much, but it’ll come. I think it’s good education.’
What do you want to pass on to other trans men?
Michael: ‘Talk about your desires with the gender team. And look for the right information, because many people – even some people from the gender team – are just guessing. If you rely on that, there’s a chance you’ll make the wrong choices.’
Ryan: ‘Don’t let yourself be led by the perception that pregnancy is something for women. Look at what you want – what pregnancy means to you.’
Jesse: ‘Only do what you are 100% sure of. It’s a substantial change, and during pregnancy it’s clear that you are ‘female’. So think it through, because it’s emotionally and mentally taxing. But if you are certain that this is what you want: you have the body for it, so utilise it. There is no cis man who knows what it’s like to be pregnant. It’s an advantage that we may experience it.’
In addition read the interview with Amsterdam based gynaecologist for trans men, Norah van Mello: Fertility choices for trans men