What would’ve been different if trans woman Bruce Jenner — who fathered multiple biological children and stepchildren — had been able to mother his children instead, at least in a strictly biological sense?
Here’s what I know of womanhood, and by default my experience of motherhood:
Experiencing the power and crutch of moontime cycles…
Decorating the inner baby house with plush crimson drapery for a steady few weeks at a time…
Releasing the most promising of eggs each month…
Shrieking in joy (or hyperventilating into a paper bag like I did) at the unplanned sight of a positive pregnancy test…
Watching one’s body morph into the full, roundness of full-circle woman over the course of three trimesters…
Bringing the now bowling ball-sized egg into one’s world in a way that both destroys and reconstructs the life-bearer’s soul…
Welcoming that new life to the breast and feeling the recently-severed umbilical cord connection live on; it’s there through the heave of every breath beneath the churning milk wells that flank both sides of the mother’s heart.
Bruce Jenner, as a woman herself, did not and will not walk in those same boots. But alas, a real woman she is.
I don’t watch the Kardashian show and I’ll admit, I didn’t watch the Bruce Jenner interview with Diane Sawyer either (we don’t have a television. Here it is if you don’t either and wish to keep up with the Kardashians even more closely). However, I do know the baby-rearing times can be especially tricky for a transgender parent — sometimes anatomically, many times legally, and oftentimes socially.
It’s time to include transgender parents in particular discussions about childcare topics that typically neglect their perspectives. Thankfully (hopefully?), Bruce Jenner’s “big reveal” gives us an opportunity to spotlight some of those issues.
For instance: A man born into a female’s body must consider whether he is willing or wanting to breastfeed or express breast milk for his baby.
Do you remember father and then-husband Thomas Beatie, a man who carried and birthed three children? Known at the time of his book Labor of Love as “the world’s first pregnant man,” Beatie’s story fired a lava-storm of controversy.
Court battles connected to his family situation raised concerns about transgender parenting issues that had been previously ignored by the nation’s legal, political and social systems. The kind that can make or break a person already struggling so intensely in his or her own skin with gender identity — for instance, the rights to marriage validity and one’s reproductive system.
Thomas’ then-wife Nancy breastfed at least two of their children by way of induced lactation as he’d undergone gender reassignment surgery on his breasts prior to their marriage.
Next came California man Scott Moore (who the media branded as the world’s “officially second*” pregnant man) who conceived a child in 2009 via artificial insemination from a male friend, to be raised with his legal husband Thomas.
*This 2006 documentary follows the lives of 19 trans-parents, showing that biological family-building among female-to-males is not otherwise unheard of.
According to news dated around that time, Scott underwent surgery on his then-36DDD breasts after beginning rounds of hormone therapy at age sixteen, which greatly decreased his chances of successfully breastfeeding his child. TMZ photos show the new parent lovingly bottle-feeding.
Trevor MacDonald, a trans dad who famously documented his breastfeeding experience on his blog Milkjunkies, garnered much attention in the trans community with his inspiring story. Check out an awesome video interview here (yep, he’s breastfeeding while answering the questions!).
His most recent post was in 2014 when he began the breastfeeding journey with his second baby, but his story is still shared on mainstream media like this Huffpost article.
He credits La Leche League for supporting and helping him with his breastfeeding struggles as his transition surgery involved removal of most of his breast tissue. Upon learning that “mere drops” of breast milk would offer irreplaceable benefits to his baby, he “became passionate about breastfeeding” and made it his mission to learn to breastfeed without breasts.
“Some trans men who give birth do not want to chestfeed at all, in some cases for reasons to do with mental health. Others do, and opt to postpone desired top surgery so that they will be able to produce a full milk supply. Others who have had top surgery may still wish to develop a nursing relationship and may do so using an at-chest (at-breast) supplementer.” – Trevor MacDonald
Trevor succeeded by inducing lactation and using a supplemental nursing system (SNS) and breast milk donations from generous friends. He even nursed his child into toddlerhood! Don’t you kind of want to pummel this guy with high fives?
Now let’s consider a female born into a male’s body. She may wish to breastfeed but must accept that such a feat would be extremely challenging (not impossible, though).
As you can see, the circumstances for every transgender parent are unique and complex — like any family, really. Do you know a family with a transgender husband, wife, child, sibling, etc? What pressures or obstacles did they face when child-bearing and breastfeeding years?
- “Co-Nursing: How Two Moms Can Breastfeed Baby” – Medela Moments
- “Guidelines for Heathcare Providers Working With Same-Sex Parented Families” – The Bouverie Centre at LaTrobe University in Victoria
- “Induced Lactation for the Nongestating Mother in a Lesbian Couple” – a commentary on ethics from the perspective of Lance Wahlert, PhD and Autumn Fiester, PhD
- Milk Junkies – an eye-opening blog about breastfeeding and parenting from the transgender perspective
- “Tips for Transgender Breastfeeders and Their Lactation Educators” – Trevor MacDonald
- Birthing and Breastfeeding Transmen and Allies (Facebook group)
- “Why I’m a Breastfeeding Dad” – Trevor MacDonald
- “Mothers’ Milk: Two-Parent Co-Nursing in Queer Families” – Jules Moon, Bachelor’s Research Project in Midwifery