Modern families are created in many ways today. This includes families that have transgender parent(s) who are as committed to parenthood as any other person who values having a family. And yet, there’s little information and support available for transsexual men and women who yearn to have children of their own.
According to the study, “Transgender Men Who Experienced Pregnancy After Female-to-Male Gender Transitioning” by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, there is a lack of assistance and support available to men who undergo fertility treatments in order to have children.
Seth (last name withheld), who was assigned “female” at birth, but has always know himself to be male, once thought that he’d have to lose the opportunity to have biological children when he transitioned. This was a heartbreaking reality, but one he tried to accept as he could no longer authentically live as a woman.
Today, Seth is the husband of a longtime friend, and the proud father of a 20-month-old baby boy. According to Seth, the road to parenthood was certainly bumpy, but worth every step.
When did your journey to parenthood start?
Our conception story started many years ago. I transitioned from female to male when I was 25 years old, and had really resisted doing that for a number of reasons, one of which was that it was really hard for me to feel I was giving up my fertility. But, it became clear it was something I had to do, and I kind of thought that when I did that [transition to male], I had given up my shot at having biological children. It was really hard to feel like I had lost this opportunity.
My wife and I had known each other for almost 10 years when we started dating. The first night we got together, we talked about the intricacies of all of “this” and she admitted, “I had kind of hoped not to date another trans person.” I understood what she was saying and it was reassuring to know that she understood the complications of this. Some people see being with a trans person as a fetish. We were in a relationship. She knew that building a family would be complicated, and it was really helpful for us to talk about this.
It was hard to be on lady hormones, but we really wanted this to work.I said to her, “I’d like to use my eggs and have them fertilized with sperm and have my wife (you) carry that pregnancy.”
Right away she said that that’s what we would do. We had no idea how we would do it! And, financially it was out of reach for us to try this, but we wanted to start exploring it.
Once you made that decision to use your eggs, what was your next step?
One of the steps that I took was to take a job that was headquartered in Massachusetts, because insurance there covered fertility clinics. I thought, “I’m going to take the job and fertility preservation will be covered.”
I submitted the claim and we got denied. Ultimately, I went through three rounds of appeals and levels with the Massachusetts Department of Health. Their definition of “fertility preservation” only included those who had cancer and were preserving their fertility. It didn’t apply to me, “pre-op”.
At this point, I was off testosterone and it was tough. I really only needed to be off of it for about three months to do the egg retrieval procedure; but there was a lot of waiting and back-and-forth. (Editor’s note: This sometimes happens with the fertility treatment process because of authorizations, appointments, cycle timing etc).
So, I was off of it for about a year. I didn’t want to go back on it because I wanted to be ready to do the procedure. But, it was the hardest thing to go off testosterone. I had been on it for about seven years at this point!
Where did you end up doing your retrieval? How did it happen?
My wife and I joked that we had a “mail-order science baby.” We lived in Virginia at the time, and ended up doing it in New York. Basically, they [the clinic] prescribed all the meds that we got in the mail, and we went up there to do the procedure. It was kind of like a factory in New York.
It was really hard to be on lady hormones, but we really wanted this to work.
I was adamant that I didn’t want to do the retrieval straight to transferring the embryo into my wife’s body. I worried, ‘What if we only get one egg?’ I knew we needed to get her uterus ready just in case.
I had the egg retrieval and we got 21 eggs. I couldn’t believe it!
When did the transfer happen?
Well, the first night we were there, there was a state of emergency in New York! There was a power outage. Talk about stressful! Of course they had a backup generator.
At this point, we had 16 embryos frozen, and waited about nine months to do a single embryo transfer. It didn’t work. About nine months after that, we did a double embryo transfer (even though we were wary of multiples), and that took.
Now we have a healthy little boy who looks exactly like me. I never thought that was possible.
What was your wife’s experience?
My wife had a relatively uncomplicated pregnancy with the embryo, thankfully.
We recently got a letter from our sperm bank that they’re low on sperm for the donor we used. We still have 13 embryos in the freezer, and we’ve wanted to possibly conceive another child this time with my wife’s eggs. So, now we have to make a decision about this. If we want to do this, we need to buy more sperm soon and freeze it!
My wife knows that whatever happens is fine with me.
Were your friends and family supportive while you were going through this process to parenthood?
We didn’t tell anybody while we were doing it for a number of reasons. It’s so complicated to explain all of this; and while I’ve become much more open about my trans status in a world that needs a lot of change, I disclosed [the story of how we conceived our son] to only a few people on a need-to-know basis.
My wife did talk to her co-workers about it in a very broad sense. She didn’t explain why we were undergoing treatment, but shared the fact that we were undergoing treatment.
We have very close family friends who have three beautiful children. We talked to them. They were the only other trans family we knew that had done family planning.
How important was it to speak to people who understood what you were going through?
Very important. For trans dudes, there’s very little information about fertility. I couldn’t access information, research, stories or anyone who could really relate. I didn’t know anybody who had done it this way, so that’s a very isolating experience.
It was a very, very, very strange, difficult, isolating experience to go through this process of fertility treatments as a trans-man. I think about the hours and hours I spent looking for some kind of story about this.
Fertility treatments are tough enough, but when you’re trans there is another layer to it. And when you have a child, you have to explain this to all of the doctors because your medical history isn’t easy. I’m lucky now to have connected with trans dudes who are parents. (And, this is why I’m glad you’re interviewing me!) There was maybe one other person that I met who did reciprocal IVF, who had at least some connection to building families.
Fertility treatments are tough enough, but when you’re trans there is another layer to it. And when you have a child, you have to explain this to all of the doctors because your medical history isn’t easy. Our son is my genetic child and we used a sperm donor and my wife carried, so that’s complicated! Luckily, we’ve had good luck with doctors.
For trans people, fertility stuff hits us on many levels. So many of us have trauma around interacting with the medical system because there aren’t many culturally competent providers. Parenthood may not be something some trans people consider doing because it may seem impossible.
Today there are some trans-masculine parent groups on Facebook. I’m happy to connect people who need the support and resources I needed.
(Editor’s note: please contact us at info(at)pregnantish.com, and we’ll help connect you if you want to connect with Seth.)
What about all the hormones? It’s one thing to be on them while undergoing fertility treatments, and another to have to get off the hormones you were on for so many years. How did you navigate that tough experience?
It was a huge relief to stop the lady hormones once they retrieved the eggs. It took a while for things to settle back and for me to feel like I had recovered from that in a lot of ways. To be honest, it was a longer recovery period than it should’ve been, but this is the issue with insurance coverage for trans care. It’s hard sometimes to get the care we need.
I was 12 years into transition when we did fertility treatments.
It was tough because my body fat and shape changed. The estrogen made me more emotional. I hadn’t cried in about 7 years and once I went off testosterone, it was waterworks. It’s hard not to feel out of control when you’re going through this as a trans man. It’s physical but also psychological.
It’s tough to think about that time now; but it was worth it. I always knew I’d do this one time. I said to my wife, “If they get no eggs, it’s fine. If they get 20 eggs, it’s fine. But I’m doing this once.”
I see a lot of people who don’t have an articulated end-point when they’re going through fertility treatments. I knew my limit. I wanted the opportunity to try to make this happen, and I felt like if it didn’t happen we would find another way.
My wife and I had talked about adoption for a long time. I just wanted to know that that I had the opportunity to see if having a biological kid could work. And fortunately, in the midst of all our bad luck, we got really lucky.
What got you through the experience of becoming a dad when things seemed impossible or insurmountable?
This was the hardest thing we’ve ever done (and I’ve done a lot of hard things!); but I kept reminding myself that the specific baby we got depended on all of this. There’s no world where I look at my kid and wish that he were a different person.
With all the changes, bumps, delays, so many would people say, “This will all be worth it one day.”
I had to remember that the circumstances of all of this led to this sweet baby we have. Today my wife looks at me and says, ”How did we get so lucky?’ I say, ‘We had a lot of bad luck.’ I add, ‘All of this bad luck brought us this specific person who is our child.”
Everything about doing this has actually sealed a significant wound for me around what I gave up to transition, and some of the “normalcy” that I have lost to this experience. I have a real binary identity. Because I’m such a dude, I felt like a dude with infertility while I was going through it.
Going through the experience and having this amazing baby has healed significant things for me. I’m so grateful for that. In a way, having this child resolved something for me that would’ve been unresolved otherwise.
We are so lucky.
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