When it comes to giving birth, and being supported during that time by medical professionals, expectant parents face a world full of binaries, like being a woman or a man, mom or dad. What about the people who don’t fit into either one of those categories? What about the people who consider themselves non-binary, or genderqueer?
Thankfully, there is a group concerned about queer parents, particularly parents who consider themselves non-binary but are treated as women in our current culture. Cora Beitel, a registered midwife, co-founded the Strathcona Midwifery Collective in Vancouver, which is an organization that seeks to help queer and trans families.
Beitel, who was recently profiled in Jezebel, has apparently cared for 15 trans-identified pregnant clients, many of whom wanted home births. Beitel explained how viewing pregnancy and “motherhood” as strictly female can be damaging to people who consider themselves outside of the binary, both emotionally and physically–and to parenthood in general:
“The act of getting pregnant and giving birth is held so tightly as a female domain. Pregnancy and birth is a physically and emotionally vulnerable time, and that experience can be heightened when your gender identity does not conform with societal norms. As a health care provider we are trying to create a safe and affirming environment for clients who share this experience.
At the triennial congress of the International Confederation of Midwives this month, where Beitel was interviewed, she was joined by transgender man Trevor MacDonald. Even though, he had chest masculinization surgery, he can still breastfeed his children, a situation he deserves to have support regardless of not being a woman, as he described:
“One interesting effect that I did not anticipate was that transitioning allowed me to have room in my life for wanting to have a family. I had never dreamed that I wanted to have children. I didn’t even have a partner before I transitioned… When I started taking testosterone, and those physical characteristics began to match how I felt inside, I fell in love with somebody. I met a partner who I married. Honestly, surprisingly soon after that, we realized that we wanted to raise kids together. So then I stopped taking testosterone. My cycles returned regularly. I talked to my family doctor about doing this, and our plans to maybe conceive. He said, quite simply, a lot of people want to have a family, and you should take folic acid. That that was it! I spoke to my endocrinologist about it. And they said, well, when your cycles become regular then I think it would be safe to conceive.”
Because of a lot of misconceptions about transgender and non-binary people when it comes to healthcare, and birth, there is more of a natural inclination to want midwives as opposed to seeing typical healthcare professionals–as a way to create a safe space. MacDonald echoed this opinion, stating:
“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.”
Even accessing gender neutral bathrooms–which shouldn’t be difficult–is an uncomfortable situation for people like MacDonald, as Beitel explained:
“One client had to give a urine sample at a hospital, but the only bathroom he had access to was the women’s washroom, because the patient washroom is a women-identified washroom. So this was a problem both for him—a bearded man—and the women who are accessing the washroom. Why not make it a patient washroom, rather than a woman’s washroom? Why should you have to be a woman to walk into this space?”