Navigating Maternity Care When One Of You Is Intersex And The Other Is Trans

Firstly, Happy Pride! June happens to be our favourite month of the year, not only because it’s pride month, but our anniversary also happens to be today! Yes, we got together on the 28th of June, the same day as the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. For the LGBTQIA+ community, it’s the month where we celebrate how far we’ve come thanks to those who came before us, but at the same time raise awareness that there is still much more to be done. Even in 2021, the world isn’t a safe place for everyone, especially when there are still countries in the world where being your true authentic self is dangerous. There’s also those in power who keep trying to take away our community’s basic rights, rights our elders fought for.

2021 for us is special though, it’s the year that we become parents and a family of 3. But being LGBTQIA+ parents is far from easy. The journey to parenthood has been tough on us both. There have been moments of heartbreak with repeated miscarriages, and the system itself is full of red tape and discrimination. In addition, it’s been exhausting having to deal with people who don’t understand what we’ve been through, which is why for us, it’s so important that we’re visible, not only to challenge the outdated views and myths that you can’t have children if you’re intersex or transgender, but also to provide hope to other LGBTQIA+ people who want to become parents themselves. This year, we’re honoured to be part of The Positive Birth Company’s #ProudParent campaign, sharing our story alongside some other amazing LGBTQIA+ parents and parents-to-be, and you can read all the stories here.

Being LGBTQIA+ in a maternity environment throws a whole host of emotions at you. So often misunderstood, Alex and I were extremely guarded and protective of each other until I met my community midwife, who, with her compassion, empathy, and determination to get it right, broke down every single barrier in the space of two hours. Unfortunately, she left when I was 16 weeks, but our new midwife is just as caring and empathetic, and it’s meant that we’ve felt welcomed, included but above all, safe. How did they manage it? By asking open-ended questions, not making assumptions, and giving us the time and safe space we needed to open up. It takes a lot to trust someone in the medical profession when you’ve been subjected to medical trauma in the past.

For me, my medical trauma started as a young child. Put on hormones at just 9 years old because my body didn’t ‘conform’ to the not so lovely little tick box that doctors have. I struggled with body image, being bullied and even comments from some family members regarding me being on hormone replacement therapy. When I moved in permanently with gran at 14, one of the first things she did was attempt to get me off the hormone tablets that I didn’t want to be on. We went to the doctors, only to be told that it was in my ‘best interests’ to stay on them despite horrific side effects, mood swings and further down the line, a blood clot. Intersex kids are seen as medical emergencies, our bodies over-medicalised and decisions on surgeries, hormones etc., made before we’re even old enough to voice our own opinions.

For Alex, on the other hand, it was a case of not being believed by healthcare professionals. When Alex first went to ask his GP to refer him to the GIC, he was told he needed therapy instead (he didn’t). That wasn’t the only issue; once the GP finally did the referral, rather than changing gender markers and details on his record, they completely deleted his old NHS record and set up a new one. It meant that vital medical history was deleted, putting Alex at risk, and even now, any medical problem he has is often blamed on his hormones rather than actually investigated. It’s resulted in Alex becoming so guarded that we’ve often gone to walk-in for medical attention instead of the GP. The only time he now goes to the doctors is for blood tests and testosterone shots, as these are handled by the nurses with who he has a better experience.

We had this conversation about our struggles with healthcare professionals a while back, and a few things became super clear. Firstly, those who stop trans people from accessing the healthcare and referrals they need are often the same ones dishing out hormones to intersex kids causing irreparable damage. Secondly, those in power trying to restrict trans healthcare are often the same ones who allow doctors to perform cosmetic surgeries on intersex kids before they’ve even been able to voice their opinion. Not only is it hypocrisy at its finest, but it’s a massive issue because cosmetic surgeries on intersex kids are irreversible and come with lifelong consequences, especially when they’re performed before the child has even had a chance to explore their identity and tell the world who they are.

Back to our journey to parenthood, and as you can probably already tell, my decision to be the gestational parent wasn’t an easy one. Alex would never even contemplate carrying, so we knew straight away that if we were going to do this, it would be me doing the carrying. So naturally, I felt excited but nervous because of my past experiences. However, I found focusing on the end and having our bundle of joy helped me through the appointments and hormone courses.

What no one prepares you for, however, is the heartbreak of pregnancy loss. The one in 2019 shattered me, and my mental health took a massive hit. It’s difficult enough to deal with miscarriage alone, I was away with work at the time, and Alex was working as well, so he couldn’t come on this trip with me. No one on the trip knew I was pregnant. We’d all been at pride the day before, and my excuse for not drinking was that I was on antibiotics at the time. Not a complete lie, as I actually was! But it meant that when I realised I was miscarrying just before boarding the flight, I didn’t feel able to tell any of them. I took the flight, got to the hotel, checked in and then made an excuse as to why I wouldn’t go shopping before making my way to the hospital. From there, it was confirmed that I was miscarrying. I had Alex on the phone in a panic and feeling guilty that I was going through it alone, but nothing could’ve prepared me for the lack of empathy and support from one of the nursing staff. When they looked through my notes, realised I’m intersex and had repeated miscarriages, they took it on themselves to tell me that they were surprised I’d even gotten pregnant in the first place and that Alex and I should look at other options. Anyone who’s suffered miscarriage or baby loss will know that it destroys you inside. To have that comment thrown in the mix sent me to an extremely dark place. It was the very thing that caused both Alex and I to become guarded about what we shared and whom we shared it with regarding maternity care after breaking down the walls we’d previously had built up from our individual experiences with healthcare professionals.

Back to now, and to be so close to meeting our baby fills us with joy, hope and a sense of achievement. Joy because we knew that one day, we would become parents; it was something we’d spoken about early on. It was just a case of when would be the right time not only work-wise but also allowing a new team of healthcare professionals into our lives when we’d both had previous bad experiences. Hope for the future, that the world is a more welcoming place and more progress is made, so that future generations don’t have the same struggles that we do now. Finally, a sense of achievement in that my body isn’t a failure, and we’ve proven the person who made that shocking comment almost two years ago wrong. Being intersex or transgender doesn’t exclude you from becoming a parent; we’re living proof of that fact along with many others.

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