R’s journey to becoming a seahorse dad

“R you have to accept that you’re pregnant” my friend E (they/them) told me after I’d gotten 4 positive pregnancy tests.

At the time that I found out I might be pregnant my whole life had been turned upside down. Me and my (now ex) partner had split up and I had moved out and was living part time at my parents’ house in Manchester and part time at a friend’s house in Stoke so that I could work my notice period at work. So as you can guess I was not in any prepared state to have a baby. Typically I am very careful and use protection, I’ve had various different ones like the pill, the implant, the 3 monthly injection and the copper IUD, however I was in a monogamous long term relationship with my partner(assigned male at birth they/he) who had been told by doctors that they were infertile, so because I was sick of the agonising side effects of the injection I decided to come off it feeling relatively safe to do so.
I couldn’t believe that I was pregnant, so my friend E and I went to a family planning clinic, believing that they would confirm, or deny, the pregnancy and then they would offer support on what I could do. As soon as we got the sign in sheet, I realised that it was in fact a clinic where people go to terminate the pregnancy because there were questions asking me why I wanted to terminate which was a surprising question for the fact that 1) nobody should need to give a reason and 2) that I wasn’t a hundred percent that termination is what I wanted. The questions were hesitantly answered and begrudgingly having to put my old sex because the option wasn’t available to select trans man.

About two hours went by and they finally called me and E in to have a scan, the woman turned the monitor away from me and confirmed that I was 11 weeks pregnant. Part of me still didn’t believe so I asked that I could see the monitor and the nurse said brashly “You are here for termination, right?” to which I responded “well yes, but I still want to see it” the response was more of a noise as she turned the monitor towards me.
There it – he – was. A small baby shaped figure that resembled one of those gooey alien toys you can get that come in an egg. It became real. I was in shock, so much so that I barely remember speaking to the next woman where they arranged me an appointment to go to a hospital and get him suctioned out. All I remember is feeling sick and crying in shock as she wrote the appointment, it was scheduled for about two week later.

Once I came around from the shock, I still had a part of me that believed that no, it must be E playing an elaborate trick on me and that they must have somehow gotten the nurse staff to put on a fake video of a baby to prank me – but then why hadn’t they owned up to it yet?
The appointment got closer, and I still did not know what to do. I spoke to my friend, “L”. L had told me a few weeks before I found out I was pregnant that she had had a termination, that she had to have the same termination scheduled for me, so I confided in her that I was pregnant but that I did not know what to do. L told me that she regretted it, that all she wants now is to be pregnant and she is so upset and broody, but to do what is best for me, that she would even come with me if I needed her to.

When I realised I was transgender, I pondered putting off transition so that I could have my own child, because like many other trans masculine individuals I was wrongly under the impression that testosterone makes you infertile.

Eventually I decided to begin my medical transition privately because the mental and physical pain I was going through daily was unbearable and I had come to terms with the idea that I would adopt or foster – something I still wish to do in the future.
Understandably when I found out that I was pregnant at 22-years-old I believed that it was now or never, that this was my only chance of having my own biological baby and some other-worldly force decided that I would get pregnant the week before I started testosterone. I don’t believe in one God but I’m a massive believer in fate and despite knowing now that many trans masculine people have came off testosterone years later and managed to conceive, I still believe that I was intended to have my son. I struggled greatly coming to the decision that I wouldn’t go to that appointment because I was meant to be going into my final year of Acting at university that September and I didn’t have a partner, or my own house, but I knew that if I did struggle to have a biological child in the future then I would always remember what I could have had, had I not gotten a termination.
I spoke to my mum, in her car in our local supermarket carpark, telling her that I was pregnant and that I didn’t know what to do. I know that my mum only believes in abortions for very specific reasons, so perhaps on reflection I had probably made up my mind that I wanted to keep the pregnancy when I asked her for advice, I was more asking for her consent to do so. She was happy with the idea, when I came out as trans she also believed that I wouldn’t be able to have biological children so I think that she felt the same way that I did, and she told me that she would support me in any way that she could.

Throughout the pregnancy I was concerned that my having used testosterone for 10 weeks of his 11 weeks of life would have had negative affects on him, so the NHS gave me extra scans and did my blood work until my testosterone levels were back within a “normal” range for a birthing person. With my first set of bloods, I had a phone call asking me whether I could come in and have them done again, I was concerned about this and agreed that she could come and take them that afternoon, when she was taking them, I asked her what had happened and she told me that they had gotten lost somewhere. At a later appointment a lead came in and told me that what happened with my first bloods should not have happened, she explained that they arrived at the lab for testing and the technicians saw a male name and discarded them believing that they had been sent there incorrectly, she then put down a piece of paper and said that they have updated their guidance for maternity blood testing and showed me that they had changed it to reflect that regardless of what gender sounding name it is they should test them, this I was thrilled about knowing that despite the minor mistake they had actually taken action to prevent it happening again.
Unfortunately the NHS Pennine system won’t allow for a pregnant male to be selected, so my midwives and other health professionals involved worked around it in hopes that something would update or change on their systems before it was too late in my pregnancy. At around thirty weeks one of my midwives sadly informed me that I would have to go on the system now because the risk would be that I could turn up at hospital without a computer record. They put me on as female, apologising profusely. I had someone ring me from higher up apologising and saying that only two people would be involved in doing it and that it wouldn’t affect me being marked as male on other systems. It sucked, but I knew that it was coming because change is something that doesn’t happen fast, but hopefully them working with me will be a part of it changing for the future birthing people.
Mostly the pregnancy went well, aside from the sleepless nights and pain from wearing a binder – Still I was constantly worried that I would lose him, I kept checking how young a baby has been born and still survived, it’s typically considered viable after 24 weeks however some babies have been born before then and still survived, the earliest a baby has been born and survived is 21 weeks and 5 days.

Once that milestone had passed, I was relieved, I think the initial shock of being pregnant had just turned into fear of losing him, but as the weeks passed the more his survival rate went up and I became slightly more hopeful.

I’ve always struggled with mental health, I was on Sertraline before I found out I was pregnant and came off it cold turkey despite being told not to because I didn’t want to put anything in my body that might affect my baby. For anybody who doesn’t know, Sertraline is an anti-depressant, because of this I was worried that I might not bond with my baby, that I would have post-natal depression or that I wouldn’t be able to look after him and he would be taken away from me because I’m transgender.
All of this changed on the 30th of September 2019, H was born at 37 weeks. I had told my midwives the whole way through I would have him at 37 weeks because I couldn’t stand the idea of having to be pregnant much longer than I needed to and 37 weeks was the earliest you could go into the birthing centre instead of the labour ward. They would just laugh at me and tell me that he would come when he will come.
In the birthing centre at Royal Oldham there were beautiful fully enclosed rooms filled with lots of different options for birthing, a ball, some rope pulley thing, a bed, a couch and most importantly a birthing pool. At 4 o’clock on Sunday the 29th, I started to feel a weird niggle in my back and side, and I wondered to my family whether it might be labour starting – they all didn’t know because it wasn’t painful at all yet and it seemed to happen so randomly. As usual me and my mum went round to my grandparents’ house for tea and after my cousins had left around 8pm it was just me, my mum and my grandparents sitting around the dining table as I secretly had been timing the very mild cramps that had been happening more frequently.
I told them that they’d happened almost on queue every 20 minutes or so and seemed to be getting stronger, my mum and grandma both told me that it could be Braxton Hicks or it could be labour. When we got home I was in pain so I tried going for a bath because I’d heard it can help, I was only in for about half an hour, I’d messaged my best friend A so that she was aware I could be in labour and her and her mum told me I definitely was and A asked whether she should come up, but I told her that it was probably just Braxton Hicks despite being in that much pain that I couldn’t stay in the bath.
My mum had work in the morning so she told me to wake her up if I was in labour as she didn’t want to be tired for work. I have quite a high pain tolerance so I hadn’t shown any external signs of pain whilst in front of anyone, though when I went upstairs to my bedroom I put on Netflix and I couldn’t help but writhe in pain when a contraction happened so when I realised I was missing all of the episode about 15 minutes in, I went downstairs to sit with my dad.
My dad is not the type of person I would tell that I am in pain, not in a bad way but we just don’t have that kind of relationship and that is okay, when he could see me unwillingly tense up in pain he even said “it must be painful because you don’t normally come down to sit with me when your mums in bed”. By midnight, two hours after the bath, my best friend told me she was coming up whether I wanted her there or not and if it was a false alarm it didn’t matter.
A was amazing, she supported me through the pain and timed contractions for me as we had googled and it said you need to have 4 strong contractions within twenty minutes for it to be active labour. A kept telling me that I need to ring the midwife but I declined and said that I didn’t know if I was actually in labour yet, despite having had four in ten minutes multiple times.
Eventually she told me that if I didn’t ring them then she would, so I said I would ring them. Y, a continuity midwife, answered and told me to try breathing through the contractions instead of tensing up – something I wish I’d have known hours beforehand as this made things much easier. She also told me to ring her back when I’m having ones that come about every 5 minutes and last for 60 seconds. Again I didn’t believe that I was in labour so while I had been having them come every 5 minutes almost precisely and lasting for 60 seconds or longer for an hour I still was reluctant to call the midwife before my best friend pushed me again and said that I need to do it otherwise I might end up having the baby at home. My midwife said that she would come and check me out at home first, I assume because I have a high pain threshold I didn’t sound like I was in labour as far as I was – she arrived around 5 in the morning, Y was kind and asked my permission whether it was okay if she felt my cervix to check how dilated I was and told me that I was already 4cm. She cheerily told me that I was in labour and that I would be having him today.
We rushed to get all of my bags and meet her at the birth centre, when we got there she had already checked us into a room, me, my mum and my best friend were there around 6AM and we asked Y when she thinks the baby would be born and she guessed around midday, I laughed and told her there’s no way I can be in this much pain for that long. She gave me gas and air and my mum ushered me into the birthing pool because she could tell that if I didn’t get in now then I wouldn’t be able to use the steps by how much pain I was in. H’s other dad arrived and my grandma did too, Y said that they were okay to come in for now but that they can’t all stay in with me, but throughout my whole pregnancy I’d said I would be happy if I could have my mum, best friend, my grandma and the other dad in for the birth.
Within ten minutes of them all being in the room with me, H was born.

After only about an hour of having been at the hospital I had him, so my best friend was right to get me to call my midwife when I did and for that I am so thankful for her. When he came out Y caught him and passed him to me and all I could feel was this small fragile weight on my chest, so in shock I blurted out “oh, a child” as if I wasn’t expecting a baby to come out at the end of it. I think partly I didn’t, between my worries of losing him I don’t think I allowed myself enough hope to believe that I would have an actual baby in my arms. Everything was perfect, I was in that much of a haze that the midwives asked me whether I wanted an injection to help the placenta to come away or whether I wanted to birth it and before I’d managed to decide what I wanted it had already passed, but they were both extra patient with me and didn’t try to rush me to decide.
They helped me out of the pool and onto a chair, everybody had a cuddle and everyone except me, my newborn and A were left in the room. I decided I wanted to get up to put some clothes on or something along those lines but as soon as I stood up blood started pouring down my legs, it was like something out of a slasher movie, me and A freaked out and hastily pressed the buzzer for help – turns out that is something that tends to happen but they hadn’t expected me to try and get up so they hadn’t warned me and my mum and grandma weren’t there to tell me that it was normal.
Y my continuity midwife clocked off because her shift had ended and believed I was in safe hands. However when she had left a doctor came in and asked where ‘mum’ was which could have been prevented had there been communication or pronoun stickers, or anything to let that doctor know that I am a trans man – luckily I didn’t hear that and it was A that did and said “Dad’s over here”, it was only after that I knew what had happened, which again I couldn’t be more thankful to my best friend for being my strongest ally. I did get somebody refer to me with she/her pronouns and I didn’t have the energy to correct them because I had been up all night, so I just let it go. This again could have been solved had they been more trans inclusive in their training, which is why it’s so important to have birth workers that aren’t only aware of but are active in their support for transgender parents.
H is two on the 30th of September; it has been a wild journey, but I wouldn’t change anything for the world. I’ve now been back on testosterone for a year and 9 months because I chest fed for 3 months before moving onto formula and now cow’s milk.
Since he was born we’ve found an awesome community of Seahorse parents and allies, it’s astonishing that before I had him I thought that I was weird for being a man whilst also wanting a biological child but the community is wide and support is vast, all of us connected because we’ve done something that no cis man ever has and in that way I feel we’re more man than any of them. (trying a bit of irony because most of the hateful comments I get is that I “could never be a real man” because I’ve birthed)

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