Could you tell us about yourself and your family?
My funky little family consists of my son (Little Padraig), and my two partners (Big Padraig and Nic), and me. All three of us adults are some flavor of gender non-conforming–I am a trans man, Nic is non-binary trans masculine (identifies as masculine-of-center but not male), and Big Padraig is gender-fluid (identity and presentation shifts around the gender spectrum). We don’t do “normal” in this family AT ALL, and it’s kind of wonderful.
What was your experience with perinatal mood or anxiety disorders?
I mostly remember feeling frantic all the time. I was always terrified of what was going to go wrong. I would wake up 20 times a night to make sure my baby was still breathing. It completely freaked me out if he was out of my sight. Everyone and everything was a threat, and I had horrible intrusive thoughts about the people around me hurting him.
I also constantly felt like I was a failure. My son had a very severe tongue-tie that wasn’t caught until he was almost two months old, so he had trouble gaining weight and was frequently ill. In my mind, it was all my fault–I wasn’t trying hard enough at breastfeeding, I was failing to keep him healthy. These thoughts quickly degraded further–I thought that I was an awful mother, and that my son was better off without me.
What was your recovery like? What were the keys to your recovery?
There was this moment–I was sitting in the nursing chair in my lactation consultant’s office and she was trying to figure out why Padraig wasn’t latching properly. I was so frustrated and exhausted. She took him out of my arms to look in his mouth and I just started shaking and sobbing. She asked me, “How are you doing?” and it just all came out–that I felt like a failure, that I was scared, that I wasn’t sleeping. She calmed me down a little, handed Padraig back to me, and stepped out to call my doctor. I remember hearing her tell the scheduler, “This is an emergency. We need an appointment today.” I saw my doctor that afternoon. She wrote prescriptions for an anti-depressant and an anxiety medication, and gave me a referral to a therapist.
For me, the most important pieces were the medication, and getting connected with a great support group. The mothers I met there, the space that was created… it was amazing. There’s no feeling in this world like feeling safe enough to talk about the scary stuff, and then realizing that you are not alone. After my first meeting, I felt like I could breathe again, like maybe everything really was going to be okay.
You mentioned that gender dysphoria about being pregnant and breastfeeding played a role in your postpartum depression and anxiety. Could you explain a little more about that?
So, it’s important to know that I did not identify as trans until my son was almost a year old. I always knew something was “off,” but I didn’t have the tools or language to describe it.
Everything felt so foreign and strange. I had always been very uncomfortable with my body, very disconnected from it. When pregnancy made my hips get wider, my breasts get larger, and I started to get a visible baby bump, everything just felt wrong. I was already uncomfortable with the “female” parts of my body, and pregnancy put those parts center stage. The expectation is that pregnancy is supposed to be this time where we take joy in all of the changes, and I just couldn’t. I was stuck in a loop of feeling awful about my body, and feeling awful about feeling awful. I was worried that I didn’t love my baby enough, that I wouldn’t love him after he was born.
Then, when we had so much trouble breastfeeding, it was very easy for me to feel like it was my fault. I couldn’t be present during breastfeeding; it wasn’t a bonding experience at all. I felt like that was why it was so hard for Padraig, that he could tell I hated it so much. It all turned into more of the same loop; I’m supposed to feel this way, but I actually feel horrible, and I’m a terrible mom because this makes me feel horrible.
Is parenthood what you expected? Why or why not?
Haha–parenthood is not at all like I expected! It’s so much harder than I thought it would be, but it’s also much more beautiful, and interesting, and funny than I thought it would be.
What is your parenting “support system” like (people, family, online resources, groups, etc.)?
I am very lucky to have not one, but two amazing partners. We work as a team, which is great–Padraig is now 3½, and has seemingly endless energy. Big Padraig’s parents live very close to us, and love spending time with their grandson, which gives the rest of us a break. My parents live a state away, but we talk/message/Skype frequently. I also have a great chosen family–people that have been an important part of my life, people who my son calls Auntie, Uncle, or Oontie (gender-neutral version).
What would you like providers–doctors, therapists, midwives, etc.– to know about caring for a transgender pregnant person or parent?
First, most providers don’t seem to realize that not all birth-giving parents are mothers, and not all are women. I know that 99% are, but for the rest of us, that assumption leaves us feeling very othered and alone. Also, there’s a lot of inner-goddess, earth-mother kind of talk in birth communities. This can be really powerful for mothers that identify as female, but can be actually very damaging for those who don’t. Motherhood/birth is not inherently feminine, which is great! We can reframe empowerment to be flexible, and fit each person individually, which is actually helpful for everyone.
The other is that providers need to be aware of the specific risks and struggles for transgender parents. The dysphoria that can accompany pregnancy can be devastating. Transgender men who give birth have to stop necessary gender-confirming hormones, which can make emotional/mental health struggles even more of a possibility.
What would you like fellow parents to know about being a transgender pregnant person or parent?
That even though my family looks very different from yours, we are probably more similar than you realize. Parenthood is parenthood–it’s still potty training and runny noses and adventures and mischief and love. Also, when you hear my son say “My Mommy, he…,” it’s okay to ask (polite) questions! I would much rather field questions than suffer that awkward/confused look people get.
What’s your ideal Mother’s Day like?
If we are talking true fantasy land? I wake up to a clean house and breakfast–eggs over medium, fruit salad, 12-grain toast, coffee. Then all four of us go on an adventure–maybe a hike, or go to the beach, something outdoors but not super strenuous. We all come home muddy and happy.