Gender Predictions and Celebrations

Moving to the city has been incredible for our pregnancy. I can’t believe I’ll be 8 months next week!

We’re settling into queer-friendly and feminist midwifery care, and I’m trying to get my head around labour and parenting now that the baby-making process and most of the pregnancy are behind us. I’ve read a few books on labouring, watched what feels like a million youtube videos of water births, and I have even begun reading about parenting strategies, sleep ‘training,’ and baby sign-language.

Here is a short version of my reading list:

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth: Updated With New Material*

Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding 

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting by Janet Lansbury 

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame

The Baby Signing Bible: Baby Sign Language Made Easy by Laura Berg 

The Sleep Sense Program — Proven Strategies For Teaching Your Child To Sleep Through The Night by Dana Obleman 

In addition to these books, I am following the Baby T.Rex blog on Autostraddle. Clearly, I am procrastinating every other to-do I have on my list, such as answering work emails and finishing that half-written article.

We’ve had some wonderful queer and feminist friends offer us completely solicited advice on both labour and parenting, and we couldn’t be happier with the knowledge being shared.

That said, we’re also in the stage of receiving unsolicited pregnancy and parenting advice and gender predictions. Now that I am visibly pregnant (without question) in public space, we’ve found ourselves battling normative gender assumptions about our relationship, our pregnancy, our parenting future, and of course, the ‘gender’ of the fetus (by which, people mean the sex designation). *

When people ask us if we know what we are having, we tend to answer with the following: “A human!” or “A baby!” Sometimes, I say “Hopefully a cute one and a good sleeper.” Some people respond to these answers by asking if we are going to find out the gender before birth (i.e. sex designation) and either congratulate us on our patience and our willingness to be surprised, or say “interesting” (with judgement).

I used to really despise these answers until I was at a small (and otherwise delightful) family function of Norse’s where the entire table began to make gender predictions. Gender predictions are so much worse than both the “wow, you are patient” or  “interesting” response.

The trouble with gender predictions is super complicated. When it happens in front of a trans person, and about their baby, it is pretty comical–not in a funny way, but in a how is this happening? kind of way. Have people learned nothing from Norse’s experience?

Additionally, gender predictions have happened to my body nonconsensually. Gender predictions (save the wedding ring on a string  and salty vs. sweet craving tricks) are based on whether a pregnant person is carrying high or low, and about how fat has accumulated on their body. So, when this gender prediction was happening around the kitchen table, everyone was guessing gender (a social construct, so joke is on you!) on the basis of the high/lowness of my baby belly and where I’ve put on weight.

Of course, in this moment, the pregnant person no longer exists as human. Instead, they are merely a vessel for a baby (objectification is a serious pregnancy issue), and no matter what, the prediction it is meant to be “good fun” and “not to be taken seriously.” But, on what other occasion is it ever “harmless fun” to stare at a person’s belly and talk about what might be inside?

The only fun I’ve had talking about what might be inside a pregnant person’s belly is with my chosen family. My sister is pregnant with her fourth child, and her second oldest is convinced she is giving birth to a ninja turtle. He, apparently, has frog-minon babies growing inside of his belly. How fun!

In the case of gender predictions, all I feel is body shame, regulation, judgement, fatphobia, and insecurity. Zero fun.

I also think it is really weird to talk about a fetus’ vulva and/or penis in a culture where such subjects are otherwise taboo. Are people asking us because they want to know how we are going to raise our child? Do they need to know this information to make choices about how to care for and love the child? Will they treat me differently based on whether I am carrying a fetus with a penis (‘a boy’) or a fetus with a vulva (‘a girl’)? And where do intersex babies fit into this mess?

Thankfully Twitter and Tumblr via Buzzfeed came to my rescue and provided me with some solid laughs about the whole thing.

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The gender pressure continued with our baby celebration. After experiencing this in the party store:

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we opted for rainbow streamers and Beyoncé/Lemonade-themed napkins.

In the end, we held a lovely picnic in the park for friends and family to celebrate the almost-here babes and to thank our community for their love and support of our growing family.

No one guessed the ‘gender’ (in front of us, anyway), and we revealed our babes’ gender-neutral name in green icing. It was delicious.

***

* I went down a bit of an internet rabbit-hole reading about “The Farm” and it was worth it.

*As a side note, I am currently working on updating an article I wrote on racism and sex-selective abortion panic in Canada for a public presentation, so the gendering of our fetus based on sex- designation is a very interesting subject for me academically and personally at this moment.

We moved: An update

It has been a long while since I blogged, and for good reason.

Norse and I moved.

Since trying to become pregnant, we have been struggling with the idea of raising our child in a rural location. The short version of this story is that there is a reason why queers migrate from rural spaces to larger cities. It is not that cities are less homophobic or transphobic than rural spaces, but there are more queers in cities and the importance of community should not be underestimated when building a family.

At a conference recently, I presented a paper on rural queer reproductive justice that, ultimately, argued that rural queer studies and reproductive justice have particularly interesting intersections that have yet to be fleshed out by scholars. My intention of sharing our story online, and in my research (via autoethnography), is to make connections and feel through these two theoretical and experiential sites. Concerned with questions of homonormativity and anti-normativity in family-making, I was, and still am, theorizing my own relationship to hegemonic narratives of queer migration from rural to urban spaces, and what it means/has meant to be queer in the rural Canadian prairies. For this presentation, I wrote:

At the time I was writing this, I was reading Maggie Nelson’s Argonauts for the fifth (or seventeenth time), obsessing over autotheory, and thinking about the queerness of pregnancy—identifying with the “hormonal soup” of her at four months pregnant and her Harry, a butch on T, undergoing top surgery, where emptying drains and shopping at Motherhood Maternity are nestled into the same transgressively domestic frame. While I was surviving the mundane reality of teaching undergraduate feminist theory and suffering the ‘morning sickness’ of first trimester (which, for me, was an all day hangover on repeat, minus the whiskey), my own butch on T was consulting on a policy document for the human rights commission on trans* experiences and needs in rural Manitoba. I was, and still am, trying to figure out my own experience of what Nelson terms trangressively domestic frames— trying making sense of my experiences of queer pregnancy and the queerness of pregnancy, thinking about queer theory’s “reproductive futurity,” and working through my (relatively new) identity as a rural queer.

I keep reading this part of Nelson’s work over and again:

I was wrong on all counts—imprisoned, as I was and still am, by my own hopes and fears, I’m not trying to fix that wrongness here. I’m just trying to let it hang out.

So here, again, I am just letting it hang out.

We moved because we need to move. Norse’s job was becoming unsustainable (no one has stayed in the position for longer than two years, and now we know why), our social circle was complex and small (as social circles are in small towns), our radical feminist and queer politic was not shared by the small community of activists and advocates (with a few solid exceptions of amazing people also getting their asses kicked by the town), we were fighting battles on every front and at every turn, and we felt less and less welcome the more we tried to settle in. Any space that was “safe” for us became so because of the work we did to make it safe. We had to create these spaces ourselves (e.g. advocating to make the local gym’s family change room trans*-accepting) and in the process, we had to put our hearts, minds, bodies, energies, stories, and safety on the line. Unsurprisingly, we burnt out. We stopped knowing what it was like to have leisure time or have conversations that didn’t start with “So, I had a shitty day.”

We were having too many shitty days.

We are resilient individuals. We could have kept on surviving the rural prairies, but we decided that our child should not have to. And so, we packed up and left.

We returned to Norse’s hometown, and settled into an apartment in an urban area. We have a new midwife team that did not squirm at the mention of our queerness, and we have a social life that is much more affirming. We are surrounded by Norse’s birth family and a chosen family of queer and trans* people who are ready to love and care for our child. We no longer have to drive 2 hours to go dancing.

We made a little nursery nook in our master bedroom.

Now, we nest.

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Don’t believe the queers

Today, we had an ultrasound.

In Manitoba, the first ultrasound is normally booked for around 20 weeks, but we were booked for a dating ultrasound by our midwife. Dating ultrasounds normally happen between 12-15 weeks, but for whatever reason, we did not get a call until yesterday afternoon to book us in for first thing this morning.

As expected, we are 17 weeks.

Why did we need a dating ultrasound? We didn’t.

We were booked for an ultrasound by our midwife who was, apparently, unable to accurately calculate our date because we miscarried right before getting pregnant. Since the medical system counts from the first day of your last period, it wasn’t clear to our midwife when we would be due to give birth.

However, queer-trying is very specific. We knew exactly when we got pregnant because we inseminated one time. There is no other possibility.

While midwives are meant to be patient-centred, and empower folks to lead in their pregnancy and birthing experience, the fact that we are the first queer couple to work with our local midwives has presented challenges to our care. For many people, an early ultrasound might be seen as a bonus. It is an opportunity to get a clear image of the fetus, and to hear from a technician that everything is going well. For us, it was a bit of a bonus. We got to see the little in action! However, it was also a reminder that our pregnancy is “not normal,” and midwives and obstetrician don’t seem to know what to do with us.

In the examination, the technician remarked, “well, this is a good sized baby,” to which I replied, “that is because we are 17 weeks.” She asked me about the date of my last period, and when I had a positive pregnancy test. I told her the date of our insemination, and she asked if we got pregnant via IVF. When I told her that we had inseminated with donor sperm at home, she became quiet for a long time, and then later confirmed that we were 17 weeks pregnant. It took all of my willpower not to say “told ya so!”

Now that we are home and the excitement of seeing our little has worn off a tad, I am thinking a lot about this dating experience. What if our midwife had analyzed my very detailed fertility charting? What if she counted from the date of insemination?  What if, instead of spinning a pregnancy dating wheel or sending us for an ultrasound, our midwife (and the technician) believed us?

The ultrasound experience was soured by the fact that we were booked a day before the appointment, and the person who booked us did not enter our appointment into the system. I spent all morning drinking water (a full bladder is recommended) and then waited an extra half hour while administration and technicians loudly fought over who had made the mistake while I tried to hold my pee in the hallway. At one point, someone actually asked to see my phone to ensure that someone from the hospital had, in fact, called me.

When it was finally time, I was separated from my partner and they had to sit out in the waiting room while I stared at the ceiling, and apologized for the overbooking (which was obviously not my fault). At the end of the exam, the technician asked me what my husband’s name was, and invited Norse into the room. Really?!

In the end, we saw our little together for the first time, and got print-outs of pictures to take home. We have images of our little’s feet and a seriously creepy image of their face to put up on our fridge.

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More on Pregnancy Loss

I read a beautiful article via The Belle Jar on Facebook tonight. It moved me to post something very personal and painful. Most of my close friends know that we had a loss, but sharing our story more broadly felt important.

Here is the article:

http://www.thestranger.com/feature/2016/04/27/24011632/what-i-gained-from-having-a-miscarriage

My response:

A solid post on pregnancy loss, which is surprisingly hard to find.

“I picture pregnancy loss as a primordial river rushing through me; it carries forces so big, they eclipse my imagination. It runs through my femoral artery and vena cava, through my spleen, my brain, and the chambers of my heart. At first, this force is strong like rapids, flooding everything. With time it slows, but it never goes away. It rearranges my cells like stones in a riverbed. It never stops running, even after I can no longer see or feel it.”

We experienced a loss in late January. Pregnancy loss will take all your wounds, open them, and stretch them as far as they can go. I blamed myself for having a stressful job, taking on too much at work, not being healthy enough (and thin enough), and for pushing myself too hard at a cycle fit class. Mostly, I told myself queer and trans folks like us don’t deserve to parent. I mean, it is damn hard and expensive to make a gaby. There are numerous legal and medical twists and turns that remind you what a family ‘should’ look like, and yours isn’t one of them.

People don’t know what to say. Part of this is the language of ‘miscarriage.’ Part of this is about stigma and silence. My (former) best friend wrote “my sincerest condolences” by email and never called to check in. She disappeared from my life. A doctor told us it wasn’t a big deal and to try again. Another doctor told us it wouldn’t have been a big deal if we had a ‘normal’ pregnancy.

I have no idea how I continued to teach, to answer emails, or just get off my couch.

“Someone once suggested that if I hadn’t lost a pregnancy, I wouldn’t have the beautiful baby I have now. She was trying to make me feel better, I think, or to help me make sense of things. It was a mistake. I remember looking at her face and thinking that if I hadn’t had my miscarriage, I wouldn’t be the person I am now. ”

What did I gain through loss? For me, pregnancy loss reminded me of who I am as a person, full-stop, in addition to a person who is carrying, or desires to carry, a pregnancy. It helped me build boundaries and limits at work, and to think carefully and clearly about who I let into my life and my family’s life. It allowed me to sink into the support of the people who showed up. It was another reminder that I am resilient, and I will pass this flesh-knowledge to my child.

Midwife in the rural 204

We met with the midwife coordinator this week for our first appointment. Upon settling into the office, she exclaimed that the midwives were very excited to work with us because we would be their first “transgender couple” (and their first LGBTQ couple, full stop). We outed ourselves as queer and trans while explaining our isolation and lack of a wide-social support system over the phone prior to our acceptance into care. I think it got us through the door.

Instead of speaking about my medical history and the pregnancy, we spent the first 45 minutes explaining our bodies, identities, relationship, and how we got pregnant to an older British woman who claimed to have a gay best friend (they always do). We talked about how she once saw a trans dad breastfeed and couldn’t make sense of it. Don’t get me wrong, she was very sweet and well-intentioned. I probably shouldn’t be surprised that the office had not educated themselves about the LGBTQ community prior to our appointment, but as I sat there, I kept thinking that they had 12 weeks to at least do some Google-ing in preparation.

Finally, I decided stop the conversation and said “So… babies?!” to try and move on. I promised them videos and resources at our next appointment. I let her know that we expected to knowledge-share;  she needed to help us to have a healthy pregnancy and birth, and we would help the office learn about the needs of our community in relation to prenatal and postnatal midwifery care.

The midwife struggled fill out her “mom” and “dad”-based form, record our donors medical information (what we have, anyways), and to date our pregnancy because of our miscarriage the cycle prior to getting pregnant. We briefly spoke about genetic screenings and toured the office. We found out that there is a male midwife (a big deal in our tiny, conservative town) who she described to Norse as a “woman in a man’s body,” which was hilariously inappropriate.

At the end of the appointment, I laid back on the comfy pillow-filled examination bed and we heard the baby’s heartbeat. A heartbeat! Sure the “morning” sickness was an incredible sign of pregnancy, but there was something so very real and special about having a sign of pregnancy outside of my body and to be able to share the experience with Norse. We both teared and high-fived.

When we returned home from work later that day, we posted our news on Facebook. It is now public and I couldn’t be more relieved. We made a baby.

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The First Trimester

I’ve spent much of the first trimester googling the following:

“how to survive the first trimester”
“what helps first trimester nausea?”
“when does nausea subside in pregnancy?”
“pregnancy sucks”

My first 7 weeks have been interesting to say the least. To start, my body experienced pregnancy twice in a just over a month. That is a lot of hormones.

At 5 weeks, I was diagnosed with a sinus infection, but was not given antibiotics right away because of the pregnancy. I tried to fight the infection for a week before taking medication, and it was literally the worst week I have experienced in a long time. After taking medication, I began feeling incredibly nauseous all the time.

It is very difficult to be in the world when you are always hungry, but all kinds of food you normally enjoy looks disgusting to you, and you are simultaneously nauseous and don’t want to eat at all. I have tried a few different things to combat nausea, and have found that lemons, sparkling water, walking and fresh air seem to be doing to trick. Also, I have to spend extra time in bed in the morning with some kind of carb-heavy snack. I go to bed before 9pm on most days.

I miss the world and my friends. I miss being my full-self at work. I remember the days where I could teach 3 hours without passing out immediately afterwords, and the days I didn’t have to take naps under my desk at lunch.

I miss having something theoretical, political, or humorous to say about getting queer pregnant.

For now, I will just try to survive the next 5 weeks and hope that second trimester brings some relief.