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I was going to introduce this article in a cute, witty, and clever manner but there really is no way to make “here’s how much twin pregnancy and the first year sucked as a trans parent” sound less depressing. Oh well, strap yourself in, we’re doing this thing.
My parenting journey really started when a 13-year-old version of myself watched “12 Kids and Wanting More”, the original TLC special featuring the famous Duggar family. She (at the time it was “she”, despite getting mistaken for a boy quite often) bravely announced: “I’m going to have 12 kids too.” A year later, a more mature, logical teenager decided 6 was more sensible, and my then boyfriend, now husband, agreed. We had an interesting relationship with him being 5 years older, making me eager for his attention and sparking that cross-dressing kid of a year ago to grow their hair out long and put on a short skirt – all in the name of being liked.
Liked I was, maybe a little too much, and I found myself pregnant a month shy of my 17th birthday. After having my daughter, I conceded 4 was a more appropriate number of children for someone to have. At the same time, I invented an idea in my head that I had to act and look a certain way for people to take me seriously as such a young mother. Between that, and the pressure my husband and mother (unknowingly) placed on me, I played along best I could. This role-play continued until my third child was a year old, when everything broke down.
Long story short, I finally, after many years of denial, repression, and self loathing, came out to my husband as transgender. If you’re not sure what that means, basically it’s when the brain’s gender identity doesn’t match the body’s physical one. Transgender people usually experience something called gender dysphoria, which for me is a depressing and self-loathing feeling towards my body’s physical characteristics and a disconnection between my appearance and my brain’s expectations, specifically related to primary and secondary sex characteristics. Think of it like when you catch yourself in a store window and think, “Wow, do I really look like that?” only it’s your gender, not the extra baby weight. In my case this has led to quite a few interesting… let’s call them “quirks”… about how I feel towards my body that have been difficult to overcome in my marriage.
After many tears, we eventually came to the conclusion we wouldn’t have any more children for my mental sake. Eight months later we conceived our twins. It was a planned pregnancy (we really like babies, ok?) although the twin thing not so much. Identical too!
Eight months is not a long time to accomplish much when it comes to being transgender. My hair was short. I dressed mainly in men’s clothing. I would bind my breasts. All of this went out the window as soon as I found myself expecting a couple of peanuts. I spent my pregnancy combating both the physical illness of hyperemesis gravidarum and the mental fatigue of gender dysphoria. They don’t make a lot of maternity clothing, especially the sort that could accommodate a twin belly, in the men’s section. You cannot bind growing breasts. The sickness and exhaustion made it difficult to even so much as cut my hair.
I tried to join some online support groups for female-to-male transgender people who are pregnant or breastfeeding but I have a bad habit of saying the wrong thing in overtly PC communities, making myself easily targeted for backlash. Instead of finding comfort in those going through something similar, I ended up finding it more stressful and left quickly. Thankfully, I discovered a few really positive women who were expecting children around the same time and they welcomed me with open arms. I can honestly say their support, encouragement, and acceptance made the world of difference.
As most of us twin parents were quick to find out, a double pregnancy comes with a slew of other medical issues. At 20 weeks we started getting monitored for twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, symptoms began developing around 22 weeks, then subsided a couple weeks later, only to be followed by intermittent absent umbilical arterial end diastolic flow which resulted in a huge growth disparity between the twins. I spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital for ultrasounds, monitoring, and eventually became admitted at 33 weeks due to HELLP syndrome.
Legal names being, well, legal, gave plenty of opportunity to be called the wrong thing and misgendered. “Twins, so hard on the mom,” my doctor would say. Sigh. I never did tell them about my transgender status for fear of my care being needlessly complicated at best and met with awkwardness and judgment at worst.
I haven’t yet mentioned I’m one of those people who have always wanted twins. That’s what kept me going through what I would consider to be one of the most mentally unhealthy times of my life. Between the hyperemesis, which is grueling on its own, twin pregnancy physical problems like pelvic pain and hip dysplasia, and the anxiety over very real complications with the babies, I was severely depressed and borderline suicidal. My medication made me sleepy, and far too many times I wondered how much I needed to take in order to never wake up.
If that tiny baby in my stomach only getting food half the time could survive, so could I. We made it to 33+5 weeks before my own health deteriorated and the boys (I called them my little squishes) made their appearance in this world. Wouldn’t you know it, the tiny little 3lb 8oz baby came out not needing a vent and latched onto the breast for a good feeding before being snatched out of my arms and wheeled away to the step down nursery. The bigger boy (only half a centimeter longer than his brother but owning an extra 2 lbs of chub) lay hooked up to a CPAP machine, comforted only by my hand reaching desperately inside before he too was taken away, this time to the NICU.
That shellshocked feeling I experienced after our separation went on for next 24 days. Having two babies in the hospital with 3 older children at home was by far the most emotionally difficult experience of my entire life. I won’t go into details here, but if you’ve experienced a similar situation you know, and if you haven’t I am truly happy for you – I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. The emotional stress was very different to my depression, more of a frustrated impatience and ‘we can do this’-gusto all rolled into one. It is also so all consuming that gender presentation doesn’t matter in the slightest and dysphoria fell to the wayside.
I occupied my time at home feverishly pumping, keeping an adequate enough supply for the twins to be completely fed by breast milk, even if it was through a tube. Unfortunately, we were never able to transition to full breastfeeding and my supply dried up around 3-4 months due to exhaustion, something that continues to be a point of regret for myself today. It’s quite peculiar, really, but giving my breasts such an important function makes having them much more bearable. Along with all the other benefits, for me breastfeeding is a short break from utter disdain for my chest.
After bringing the boys home, we quickly became overwhelmed with twin parenting and continuing the trend of not having much time to worry about me.
Issues on the backburner does not make them go away, it seems. The twins came home on Mother’s Day, but it was October when I started to badly crash mentally. Finally, the fog began to lift and sanity returned as the twins figured out they could, in fact, hold their bottles, and even better, sleep at night. It was now time to pursue medical transition! Only, I had twins and a 3 year old at home with me full time and no one to watch them. Have you ever tried taking your kids to an important doctor’s appointment alone? Not going to happen. They did a pretty good job of slowing me down, and it doesn’t help that it takes awhile for medical transition to get rolling; Referrals, assessments, blood work…
“You probably want to get started on this right away, hey?” asked the nurse as I sat holding one of the boys, him grabbing at the paperwork I was supposed to sign to consent to hormone replacement therapy. I can’t remember what I said, exactly, but probably something to the effect of, “Give me the drugs yesterday”. All I can remember is the babies kept dropping their soothers on the floor, and I questioned my sanity with dragging my husband and twins along. I just didn’t want to do it alone. Another nurse practitioner popped in halfway through the appointment, staying to hang out and hold the baby for me so I could, you know, actually sign my paperwork.
Normally the process is to come back for one more visit after signing consent to get your prescription, then another for training. Clearly my wit charmed the nurses, or perhaps they took pity on my husband and I having to drive almost an hour and juggle children to make these appointments, but I left with that paper in hand. That was a Friday and we returned that Monday to be educated on self injection, only to have my husband miss the most important part when the twins started fussing.
Now, as we approach this last first birthday, things are getting a whole lot easier. The babies have become more independent and play together and we’re all settled into a routine that works pretty well for our family. My husband has most unfortunately found himself unemployed, but in some ways this is advantageous to my situation – the amount of medical appointments I undergo is unreal and will only increase as I get closer to “top surgery”, something that likely won’t happen for another 6 months.
Socially, I’m still very challenged. Having twins gets you a special kind of attention, one I would sooner avoid and go about my day, and leads to a considerable amount more misgendering in my life. Already I had found myself struggling to make friends, but being isolated with not one but two babies increased that challenge tenfold. When presented with the opportunity to socialize and become closer with someone, I pull away in fear of having to discuss my gender identity, or avoid it and grow tired of being misgendered.
Give me another year and you won’t know at a glance I was the one who gave birth. Yet, despite how far I come, I will always be met with confusion and forced to breach a subject I’m still too afraid to even approach with people I know pretty well. Unlike many trans people who are either in straight relationships or haven’t had their children personally, I will never ever be able to stop “coming out”, simply because I gave birth to my kids.
I don’t know what the future will bring or how the children will feel going forward, but despite all this and all that I must change for my own sanity, I wouldn’t trade my twins for the world.
Kal is a dad of 5 little kids living in small town, Manitoba. When not writing about his family or LGBT issues, you can usually find him working freelance jobs or playing video games. If you would like to follow along with Kal’s gender transition check out his blog at www.smalltownnerds.com