Image Description: Amber, a femme non-binary person with long brown hair wearing a blue shirt and black and white check trousers holding a newborn baby who appears to be waving.
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, Hendrick 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 Amber so that she was aware I could be in labour and her and her mum told me I definitely was and Amber 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.
Amber 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. Amber 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. Rachel, 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, Rachel 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 Rachel 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. Hendrick’s other dad arrived and my grandma did too, Rachel 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, Hendrick 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 Rachel 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 Amber 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 Amber 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.
Rachel 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 Amber 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.
Hendrick 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)
Image description: A selfie of a white man with two tone hair and dark facial hair reclining on a green cushion with a young white child with blonde hair. Both are smiling. The white man is wearing a dark t-shirt and the child is wearing a coral t-shirt.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this and want to see more, I’m active on Instagram at RyanCharlesJacob where I post cute baby adventures to my story and overshare about my journey as a trans man.