When it comes to transgender and nonbinary parents becoming parents, giving birth, and receiving proper healthcare, there are a lot of misconceptions. And it’s no wonder, considering we live in a world full of binaries — bathrooms for women and bathrooms for men, having two gender options (which is why third-gender options are so vital).
It can be especially challenging in the medical sphere — and especially, around pregnancy, birth, and nursing — with many health care professionals lacking knowledge about nonbinary, genderqueer and transgender people (which is why many turn to midwives who specialize in helping LGBTQIA-identified families).
Trevor MacDonald, a transgender man who gave birth, said how being in a hospital felt awkward:
I knew early on that I really wanted to have a midwife. The idea to me of walking into a hospital, in labor, and trying to explain to every single person I met who I am, was very scary to me. So I called the intake number for a midwifery practice. And the admin person said to me, “Congratulations, but I will need to speak to your wife or girlfriend.” And that was the first person in a long, long line that I would have to come out to.
LGBTQ people, queer people, have been building their own families however we possibly can for as long as there have been human beings — people on the margins who haven’t had access to family have found ways to build families. We’re just carrying on that sacred tradition. It does not feel that strange, odd, or different to us. For queer people, our story is not shocking at all.
In a recent piece for New York magazine’s The Cut, Tori Truscheit wrote a piece about the anxieties Truscheit had for Truscheit’s partner, who is nonbinary, as they prepared to give birth. Truscheit wrote how they both get misgendered all the time, without much care or thought given to pronouns (and really, how simple it could be if someone just asked). Truscheit also explained that many of the doctors they encountered just weren’t inclusive or educated with LGBTQIA parents:
Except for [our OB/GYN], we’ve had no indication that anyone in our Northern California hospital chain has experience with queer or trans people giving birth. We are always the only queer couple in birth class, and we’ve never seen anything but straight, gender-conforming people in the waiting room or in the birth-prep videos. In class, the nurse showed a picture of condoms and explained we’d all need birth control, even while breastfeeding.
That being said, it’s also not Truscheit’s job to teach the hospital staff what to do, going on to say:
All of which is to say that I’m not wild about the idea of having to teach hospital staff LGBT 101 when my partner goes into labor. I want this to be an experience that feels safe, and a doctor making stupid assumptions about gender could throw that feeling of safety off entirely. And in a long labor with multiple shift changes, I might have to explain “birthing person does not identify as a woman but it’s okay if you use she and her pronouns” many times.
Truscheit echoed the Reese’s sentiment that affordable, safe healthcare should be accessible to all, not just those who comfortably fit in a binary. Many people can’t afford midwives or doulas, nor should a family feel as if they aren’t welcome in most hospitals, or won’t be called the pronoun they want because it’s “not normal.”
This is also why transgender dad, Rafi Daugherty, put a sign on the delivery room door when he gave birth to his daughter: “I am a single transgender man having my first baby. I use he/him/his pronouns and will be called ‘Abba’ (Hebrew for father) by the baby. Papa, Dad, Daddy, Father … are also ok.”
Truscheit, however, put it perfectly when they said how LGBTQIA people “are extra vulnerable in an institution like a hospital. All I can do is hope that when we show up on labor day, someone who gets us shows up, too.” Putting a sign on the door, like Daugherty did, is a great solution, but the onus shouldn’t be on the patient; it should be on the hospital staff and institutions to be better.
One thing to remember: Appearance doesn’t determine someone’s gender. So instead of making assumptions about people’s gender or pronoun usage and preferences, just ask. Making mistakes is OK, but it’s about making effort to change. Asking shows empathy, and empathy makes people feel safe, seen, and more comfortable — something that every person, every patient, is entitled to.