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When daddy is pregnant

Trans fathering course explores all options

PATERNAL INSTINCT. Trans parenting working group member Syrus Ware tries a bump on for size while Nik Redman looks on. Credit: Chris Ablett

When Evan Smith approached her doctor with irregular menstual cycles and weight gain, the doctor investigated a number of possible explanations relating to her use of testosterone for two years when she transitioned to be male. (She’s since transitioned again and now considers herself a genderqueer femme.) Smith worried that her previous use of testosterone was having ongoing side effects, like polycystic ovaries or even cervical cancer.

It turned out she was five months pregnant.

“My doctor missed it during a pap smear and never gave me a pregnancy test,” she says. “I think that there’s a lot of misinformation about the ability to get pregnant after being on T.”

Combating this sort of misinformation is the purpose of a new group being held for trans men who are considering parenthood. TransFathers 2B is an 11-week pilot course presented by the Queer Parenting Program at the 519 Community Centre and the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans] Parenting Network. It’s the first course of its kind in Canada.

The idea for the course evolved out of public discussions held in the past year on the subject of trans parenting at The 519. A working group was formed to gather information and share it with daddies-to-be.

“I had been talking with other trans guys who were considering becoming parents,” says working group member Nik Redman. “Unlike myself, who had only considered adopting or coparenting, my friends talked about giving birth. We started to explore what would that look like and talked about the barriers that we would be facing: the health system, adoption process and body changes. The list of questions we had was endless.

“We only could come up with one or two trans guys who had actually given birth after transitioning and no one knew anyone who had successfully gone through the adoption process. Yet we did know of guys who were parents or coparents.”

Putting together the course meant finding answers, and that meant doing primary research.

“It wasn’t immediately clear where to go to get answers to our questions,” says fellow working group member Syrus Marcus Ware. “People aren’t exactly sure how hormones and surgery impact on other health issues in general, much less on pregnancy and parenting. There wasn’t enough data there to put together a course.”

In many ways, parenting for trans men is still new territory and full of potential barriers. For example would OHIP fund pregnancy services for someone whose health card says they’re male?

“We did a lot of research around info around trans healthcare and we developed a list of healthcare contacts,” says Ware. “We talked to a trans doctor [and] some sex-reassignment surgeons who seemed knowledgeable about how it might impact breastfeeding, as well as midwives who were trans-positive who could extrapolate and figure out some answers.”

The new course will parallel existing courses for queer men and women who are considering parenting and will examine the broader challenges of being a parent who faces discrimination. Ware says butch and genderqueer women will also find the course relevant.

“If you’re a woman who’s read as masculine, you’ll be facing many intersections when you interact with caregivers, family members, teachers and other professionals,” says Ware. “The course will look at how we engage with others with respect to parenting and will teach us how to plan and advocate for ourselves in those contexts.”

While the physical component may be different for someone who’s transitioned, the social aspects of finding masculine clothes to wear while you’re pregnant, applying to an adoption agency or dealing with people’s judgments of your ability to parent will be the same.

“There have been a lot of people in our lives who are saying they will never be able to see [trans boyfriend] Leeum as the dad because he didn’t get me pregnant,” says Smith. “Not only is it transphobic, but it’s also placing a lot of value on genetic ties. I’m now realizing the pressure faced by anyone who coparents or uses a donor or adoption.”

Discrimination among adoption professionals and at fertility services may also pose barriers to trans parents.

“No one is going to say to you ‘yes, we have a policy against trans people,'” says Redman. “However, there are barriers in place, and barriers borne out of ignorance.”