Why shouldn’t we have a say in what kind of care we received during this enormous transition?
The first time my partner Charlie gave birth was in a hospital. He wanted a home birth, and we hired a skilled, compassionate midwife, someone who was affirming toward our queer family and Charlie’s identity as a transmasculine birth father. But our daughter was a full two weeks late (she does NOT like to be rushed) and despite having no other complications, that meant we became parents in a hospital room, surrounded by nurses whose names we didn’t know and doctors who didn’t like us.
Hospital birth was everything we feared it would be. It was impersonal, queer- and trans-antagonistic, and totally disempowering. Our care providers were rushed at best, hostile at worst. After Charlie had a postpartum hemorrhage that almost definitely could have been avoided, our doctor wrote in his record that he refused a blood transfusion. In fact, the transfusion was never offered. The experience was physically scarring for Charlie, and emotionally damaging for us both. We were determined not to go through that again.
When Charlie got pregnant for the second time, we knew we wanted a home birth not just for ourselves, but for our daughter. In the books we began to read her about becoming a big sister, children frequently woke up in the morning to find their parents gone, a grandparent or babysitter in their place. The birth of the new sibling happened somewhere off the page.
That wasn’t going to work for us. We are very open with our daughter — to a degree I know many parents find disconcerting. She knows what a period is, and why I take Prozac, and the correct anatomical names for all the body parts she can see or feel. We want to teach her respect and awe for the things bodies, including her own, can do, not to be afraid or ashamed to talk about them.
So she was part of the process from the very beginning. Our IVF clinic is out of state, and Charlie flew out alone for the embryo transfer, but our daughter Skyped with him during the procedure. She came to every appointment with our midwife Jen. As she got more comfortable, she’d sometimes ask to hold the tape measure while Jen checked the fundal height, or push the button to turn on the heart monitor. Once, she twirled around the office, announcing that she was “dancing to the baby’s heartbeat.”
When our daughter was born, I felt like a spectator, pushed to the side while doctors talked about my partner as though he wasn’t even in the room. Even Charlie, the one doing all the hard work, was treated like he was getting in the way. We wanted the birth of our second child to be something our whole growing family could be part of. Why shouldn’t we have a say in what kind of care we received during this enormous transition? Why should we have to settle for being treated as interchangeable?
We hired a birth doula — a friend of ours, also a trans man, someone who wouldn’t have to be reminded what Charlie’s pronouns are while he was in the middle of a contraction. Our daughter knew and trusted him, and even our extremely crotchety old cat occasionally allowed him to pet her. His presence would be a balm for all of us, but first and foremost, he’d be there for our daughter. Her baby brother’s birth would be transformative for her, as well as for us; she deserved support and attention through that massive change.
The morning Charlie went into labor, our doula came over and took the kiddo to the playground while I timed Charlie’s contractions on our couch. They returned just as Charlie was climbing into the birth tub. Our daughter offered her dad sips of water and handfuls of pistachios while he rested and breathed in between pushes. She found the noise and activity of birth too overwhelming to stay long, so she’d spend a few minutes next to the tub, then go into another room to play with her doula. The midwives called her back in time to see her sibling come into the world. As Charlie pulled our tiny newborn son up to his chest, our daughter and I rushed to his side, all four of us hugging and crying and thrilled.
After that, our midwives heated up a pot of Charlie’s homemade soup, and we all ate soup and toast in between cutting the cord and getting Charlie from the tub to the bed and trying out names for the baby. The four of us curled up in bed while our midwives sang a birth song to our son, and then everyone hugged us and went home, and our new family of four ordered delivery and watched a movie in bed. I won’t say we slept wonderfully that first night, but it was better than a night on a cot in a hospital room.
That night, and many times since then, our daughter said, “I’m so proud of Daddy for having a baby.” She has seen and admired the effort it takes to bring a new person into the world; it’s all the more impressive to her because it’s not a mystery. It’s a part of her life, something that can happen in the same room where she colors and watches movies and makes block towers.
Having the home birth we wanted on our second try was more kinds of healing than I can name. It was crucial that our daughter be part of that experience, not just for her, but for Charlie and me as well. Everything we wanted for her — trusted care providers; an affirming environment; ongoing emotional support; good food — were things we needed but didn’t have the first time Charlie gave birth. By prioritizing her needs, we also found ways to make sure our own were met. We crossed this threshold together, as a family, and it was messy and scary and painful and weird and absolutely perfect.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, two really cute kids, and two very spoiled cats. She is the author of Ask A Queer Chick (Plume, 2016).