I'm a transgender parent: not the parent of a transgender child, nor a parent who transitioned after having kids. Rather, I transitioned from female to male, and then later became pregnant--as a trans man. I had a healthy pregnancy, and birthed my baby naturally. And in that first moment when I saw my baby and held him in my arms--smelling his amazing, newborn baby smell--I became addicted to him.
Just last week, my little guy turned 1 years old, and I can say that my initial intense feeling toward him has only become more powerful over time. Part of its effect is to make me highly sensitive to my child's needs, despite the awkward moments we sometimes endure in public as a nursing couple.
I was on an airplane a few months ago and my baby began crying during the descent. I unbuttoned my shirt and latched him on; from what I've read nursing can really help to ease the pain in a baby's ears due to changes in pressure on a flight. When we landed, a fellow passenger came to stand in front of me and said, "Why are you breastfeeding this baby?"
I looked around and reminded myself that, on a crowded airplane, she probably couldn't do us any physical harm. I explained, "Oh, I'm transgender. I birthed him myself, and so now I'm breastfeeding him."
"Well you're going to ruin his ears flying with him like this. This baby needs a real boob, man."
I was born female but transitioned to male at age 23 by taking testosterone. My voice dropped, I grew facial hair, and my body shape changed. One year later, I had male chest-contouring surgery that removed most of my breast tissue. I retained my female reproductive organs, but I felt (and still feel) fully male, and anybody seeing me on the street would never guess that I'm anything but a regular dude. This is how I'm happy.
In fact, after my transition, I was so very happy and comfortable that I quickly settled down with Ian, the love of my life (yes, I'm that complicated - I'm not just any old transgender guy, I'm a gay transgender guy, and it is perfectly right for me). Soon we decided we'd like to have a family together. We looked into adoption, but then decided that the homegrown variety would be best for us. We consulted with a few doctors who suggested that I stop taking my testosterone and wait for my cycles to return to normal. They did, and we married and got pregnant. We were so traditional, even, that our due date was exactly forty weeks from the day of our wedding.
I chose to breastfeed our son as best I could. Due to my previous surgery, I don't make all the milk that he needs, so I use what is called a supplemental nursing system (SNS) to feed him donated breast milk. The SNS consists of a long, narrow feeding tube that sits in the donated milk in a bottle. I place the tube just by my nipple so that my baby latches on to the tube as well as my nipple. He then gets all the breast milk that I'm able to produce simultaneous to the supplement that he draws from the bottle. All of his feedings are done at my chest. After one year of this, we are still both enjoying our breastfeeding relationship.
My breastfeeding journey has not been easy. It's physically very challenging to latch a baby on when you have next to zero protruding breast tissue. Learning to juggle the SNS in addition to this made nursing even harder for us. So why do I bother? Why don't I just give my baby his donated breast milk in a bottle and call it a day?
I started out nursing purely for the health benefits. I read that any amount at all of my own milk would contain antibodies specifically designed by my body to protect my son--unique from any other substance in the world. I also learned that the mechanical action of breastfeeding promotes normal jaw development. Who doesn't want a normally developed jaw? I thought. But looking back on this last year, I have come to believe that breastfeeding, for us at least, is far more than this. Breastfeeding is the easiest way for me to comfort my child when he is upset, tired, hurt, or scared. It works well for us and keeps him happy.
I wish I'd been eloquent enough at the time to explain these things to the woman on the airplane, but what I said was, "I hope you have a good vacation." I wanted her to leave us alone.
She returned with, "Well, you should know that Jesus loves you."
After this, I focused on Jacob and babbled at him endlessly as if I were a child myself. "I'm so sorry that your ears hurt on the way down. You poor little thing. I love you soooooooo much. Now that we're in Vancouver we'll get to visit your grandparents who are very, very excited to see you."
I kept hugging my boy and chatting to him until the woman left and then I sobbed, fumbling for my things while the other passengers quietly filed off the plane.
I'll never forget the kind words of a fellow traveler who witnessed the whole episode. He came to find me at the luggage belt, looking terribly serious. "Don't you ever let anyone take the joy of this baby from you," he said. Then he repeated it one more time, with emphasis, "Don't you ever let anyone take the joy of this baby from you."
Wherever you are, gentle stranger, thank you, and I won't.
Trevor MacDonald lives in Winnipeg, Canada, with his partner, baby, and dog. He is currently a stay-at-home dad, and has an honors BA in political science from the University of British Columbia. While remaining secure in his identity as a gay man, he breastfeeds his baby boy because of the zillions of studies that prove that breastfeeding is a healthy, biologically normal choice for babies. He writes about his queer breastfeeding adventures on his blog at www.milkjunkies.net.