Our local hospital canceled tours of the birthing centre the week we were to go due to concerns about H1N1. I ended up however having my own tour due to some early third trimester cramping. The cramps had lasted hours and my midwife said they could be nothing, they could be preterm labour, or they could be a UTI. In any case, she had me come in to the birthing centre for monitoring. It was during that visit that we first talked about "what if we have to transfer to the hospital during birth?". At that point, it seemed like an outside possibility (my determination and pain tolerance are high), but it still felt like a prudent conversation to have.
For many people, this would be a conversation about how to prepare the person in labour, and how to physically go about the transfer to hospital. For me, this conversation was about how to prepare the hospital. Apparently, transmen having babies is not the norm around here, and a pair of transmen, one pregnant, one not, are, shall we say, unusual at our local hospital.
My partner and I are both professional trainers, who specifically do work in health care, so we felt well up to the task. We had also had training conversations with a number of service providers already in this process.
We had started at the fertility clinic - scheduling an initial appointment where we came in, talked about who we are, the Ontario Human Right's Policy on Gender Identity, and what kind of service we expected. We brought materials, left hand-outs, recommended readings and took questions. We were not apologetic, we were clear, and clear that we deserved excellent service. Both fertility clinics (Toronto's Centre For Assisted Reproductive Technologies and Burlington's New Life Fertility) we ended up going to were very supportive and treated us well - as they should.
Our next stop had been the midwives'. Our initial contact with them, by phone, was worrisome - the receptionist insisted that they would have to refer to me by my full female first name. She must have been overheard by the head midwife though, because by the time I had gathered training materials and was on my way out the door to educate them by brute force, we got a call from them apologizing and committing to do better. We still had the "who we are, what the law is and, what we expect" conversation with them, but it was friendly and they became people we trusted and big advocates for us.To be fair, our midwives are fairly skilled at advocating for all their patients, including establishing a secret code that the person in labour can use to get them to clear all visitors out of the room.
With the midwives support and encouragement we drafted a birth plan that talked about our desires for at home, for at the hospital and finally for in the event of a c-section.
We started our birth plan with a section on language. We made a single page copy of just this part in large print both for our hospital file, and for the door of our room in the birthing centre.
Some language before we go further
- j wallace identifies as a transman. ONLY male pronouns are appropriate when speaking about him.
- At no time should anyone ask about the mum, the mommy or similar words. At no time should anyone be called lady, mummy or any similar words.
- j will be the baby’s Abba (Hebrew for Dad) and Bear will be the baby’s Papa.
- Bear and j are each other's husbands. Husband or partner are appropriate words.
- Bear is to be j’s alternate decision maker if j is unable to make decisions for some reason.
One of our midwives found an article by Ellise D. Adams MSN, CNM In the American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing If Transmen Can Have Babies How Will Perinatal Nursng Adapt?* She made copies of this, distributed it to all the staff in the birthing centre and the maternal/child unit and had them read it. The article focus on Thomas Beatie's experiences in giving birth. The big boon to the piece is that it says yes, transmen exist, yes they can get pregnant and have babies, and yes, you should still use male pronouns for them when they do. On the down side, because it only used Thomas Beatie's experiences there were some odd things about the article. Odd thing one was a lengthy section about controlling the media - it made it sound like it was inevitable that the media would flood the hospital and turn things into an absolute circus - it recommended that, the hospital hire security for outside the room. Odd thing two was it assumed that all transmen would be partnered with ciswomen, who would then be breast feeding. If the staff at the hospital were waiting for the media to descent, I'm sad to say they would have been disappointed. Unlike Thomas, we had note written about my pregnancy in The Advocate, nor had we gone on Oprah to talk about it, nor had we publicly been crowing about being
the first pregnant man, no, t he first legally male pregnant man, no, the first legally male pregnant husband, no, the first legally male pregnant husband to give birth with an m on his i.d. bracelet. Also, shocker, yes we are queer and trans at the same time. Oh Thomas, is there no escaping you?
When I signed consent forms, I always altered them to say that I was not consenting to students coming in to observe. This reduced the number of people we came in contact with, which made me feel safer. I made sure to let practicioners know that I had done this, and they were consistently respectful of this choice.
Our midwives had also put in a medical request that if we had to stay longer than the birth we have a private room. This meant we were not sharing a room with a new mum or two, and did not have to deal with other patients, or their families. It felt good to have space that was free of scrutiny. It also meant that my husband could stay with me and the little person - and I am clear he also did a great deal of advocacy on my behalf.
The staff at Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital were great. Having our midwives, who have privileges at the hospital with us during labor and delivery advocate for us made a huge difference. It meant that hospital staff had trans issues explained to them by a colleague, not by us. Staff always knocked before entering the room, introduced themselves, used the right pronouns and were respectful. There were a couple of places were the forms/paper work was not up to our reality. My hospital bracelet just did not mention sex (which was fine by me), although my bracelet tying me to the baby said "mother" on it. My husband's just said "partner", so it felt like they were half way there. On the identity card for Stanley's bassinet it said "mother" and "father" and as the staff gave it to my husband, they apologized and encouraged him to "alter it as appropriate". We did.
We only had two tranny-fail moments in the five days we were there:
One was the public health nurse, who came in to the room to see Stanley and I, and after looking at me, in the hospital bed, and him twice asked "Where's the mum?". The other was a lab tech who came in while I was in the bathroom and asked my husband where is wife was. Both were confused when corrected, and we sent them away to read our file. In some ways the public health nurse was a relief - it was nice to be read as Stanley's dad, in a number of ways being read as his mum would have been more upsetting.
I'm grateful to our midwives and to the hospital for their attention and care. I'm grateful to have had such a positive experience. I'm telling it here, in part because I think it is important that we tell the success stories. That we talk about how with the support of friends and allies we can set our selves up for success and receive the respectful care we deserve. It means that at this point, we can thank our care providers and get on with the tasks of being new parents, which is as it should be.
* I can not find a full free copy of this on-line - sorry. This is a link to the abstract and the full text can be downloaded for a fee.