Parenting can be a stressful journey for any individual, but when you’re part of the transgender community, there can be several barriers to even giving birth.
But one Portland-based family is on a mission to show transgender people can give birth and raise families. Trystan Reese, who made headlines earlier this year as a pregnant transgender man, recently welcomed a baby boy, Leo.
“Literally the first breath he took and his lungs filling with air and the giant cry he let out was the most amazing experience of my life,” he tells Global News. “I was completely overwhelmed with love for this tiny human, and for [my partner] Biff for believing in me throughout this process.”
Born on July 14 in Portland, nine-pound baby Leo’s birth was very textbook, Reese says. “There were no complications or medical issues that came up at all. A long, early labour, lasting about 24 hours, and then about eight hours of ‘active labour’ and then an hour of pushing.”
Having not spent much time with newborns – Reese and his partner adopted their other two children – the 34-year-old non-profit professional born in Vancouver, says he is learning every day.
“To watch him slowly develop, as he grasps mastery over focusing his eyes and turning his head and using his neck… and to watch our family evolve into one of five people instead of four, has been such an incredible blessing,” Reese said.
Both Reese and his partner Biff have a strong following on social media – the couple run a blog about their experience as gay adoptive parents and now, new parents. For the most part, Reese says the feedback has been incredibly positive.
“I think everyone is relieved to see that yes, a transgender person can give birth and have it go perfectly. We tried to tell them that throughout this whole process, but now that they can see it with their own eyes… hopefully they will believe us.”
But the flip side of being so public with your personal life is opening up space for negative commentary and hate.
“Anything that we post publicly runs the risk of being snagged and posted on tabloid sites and magazines where the comments section is just a free-for-all. I don’t troll the internet looking for those articles, but I know when they’ve gone up because I get a slew of negative messages sent to my personal Facebook account,” Reese says.
“But for every critical message I receive, a dozen supportive ones come in as well.”
While there are some differences between transgender parents and non-transgender parents, when it comes to raising kids, Reese says his advice applies to anyone who wants children.
“Work hard to ensure that your relationship is totally secure, and that you’ve thought through every element of pregnancy and what it can mean for you as a couple,” he says. And for transgender parents specifically, it comes down to finding a supportive medical team.
“You have to make sure your body is ready to carry a pregnancy to term, and that you’re able to do everything possible to ensure a healthy pregnancy, including having supportive people around you,” he says. “Being pregnant and having to advocate for yourself within a medical system is too hard – find a team of experienced professionals who understand trans issues.”
Reese says he understands why some transgender parents may have fears about parenting in general. He has also heard horror stories, from other transgender parents, who dealt with uninformed medical teams or professionals who mistreated them.
In 2016, after giving birth to a baby boy, Evan Hempel went through the challenges of accepting his masculinity as a transgender man and the feminine act of labour, People reports. He also had difficulty getting his insurance to cover things like pregnancy tests, because he was registered as a male on most of his documents.
“My sex is female, and my gender is male,” he told the magazine, eventually changing his gender to “female” for the sake of insurance.
And with the recent news of U.S. President Donald Trump’s statement on transgender individuals not being allowed to serve in the country’s military, Reese is well aware of the adversities and privileges he has experienced as a transgender man.
“While we have each had our own privileges, being white and having jobs and living in a progressive city, we have also had many challenges. And it’s not our goal for our children to avoid difficulty,” he tells Global News. “Instead, it’s our goal to help them be strong enough and smart enough to withstand bigotry and hatred when they are forced to face it.”
But for now, he is going to focus on being a new dad, and all the firsts.
“Reading to him, singing with him, teaching him piano, birthdays… and answering all of the tough questions he’s going to ask about the world.”