For transgender parents, the path to parenthood can be far more complicated. Cleo member Mac discusses his decision to be a birth parent, finding inclusive providers, and the support he received from his Cleo Guide.
Can you please share a bit about yourself and where you are today in your family building journey?
My name is Mac, and I live in the Pacific Northwest with my spouse, our 8-month-old daughter, two dogs, and a cat. I’m my baby’s biological and gestational parent, which means that I carried and birthed her from my body—in trans communities, this is called being a “seahorse dad,” as male seahorses give birth to their babies.
Being her daddy is the greatest joy in my life, and also my proudest accomplishment! I was able to grow my family in this unique way because I’m transgender. While I transitioned from female to male over a decade ago, I still have a uterus and ovaries, so carrying a pregnancy and having a biological connection to my child was always part of the plan.
This path to parenthood has been quite intentional for my spouse and me. It started with many conversations very early on in our relationship. Then, about 3 years ago we asked our good friend to be a sperm donor. From there, we began the long process of trying to conceive, which involved legal contracts, a fertility doctor, acupuncture, a sperm bank, an OBGYN, a miscarriage, fertility medications, a chemical pregnancy, multiple intrauterine inseminations (IUIs), and eventually (finally!) a “sticky” pregnancy! Once we got to the second trimester of that pregnancy, things started to feel real and we shared the exciting news with our family and friends. We found an inclusive care provider, started to build a community of other transgender and queer parents-to-be, and basked in all of the hope and possibility our little one inspired.
What considerations did you talk through with your partner as you decided whether or not to gestate your child?
When my spouse and I first started dating, we talked about what we envisioned for our future together, and knew that included building a family to include a child. From the very beginning, she said, “I’ve always wanted to be a mom, but I have no interest in being pregnant.” I knew that my body could get pregnant, so it was never a question in my mind that I would gestate our child. There isn’t anything inherently feminine about pregnancy. Being pregnant, for me, was simply a means to an end: my goal was to become a dad, and I chose to do the work of carrying and birthing my child. By keeping my baby safe within my own body, I became a powerful embodiment of the traditional masculine gender role of father-as-protector.
How did you navigate building your support network and birth team once you became pregnant and what advice do you have for others?
As a doula, I have the advantage of working within the prenatal and postpartum support world, so I was able to ask within my networks for referrals to the most inclusive providers in my area. I did not expect that the very first obstetrician I met with would be the perfect fit, but she turned out to be wonderfully supportive, kind, and also a fierce ally!
Well before getting pregnant, I knew that I would have a planned cesarean birth. For me, this choice gave me the most autonomy possible, so I looked for a provider who would support my desire for a family-centered cesarean birth. My OB supported me by setting up a special meeting with the surgical team several weeks before my baby’s birthday so we could all meet. She did a lot of behind-the-scenes work to ensure I was treated respectfully by everyone involved. Allyship like that can make a huge difference in the experiences birthing people have. I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to educate my birth team about trans bodies and experiences. On the day of my daughter’s birth, the focus was entirely on my spouse and me becoming parents, and ensuring the baby and I were completely safe.
How did Cleo support you during your pregnancy and postpartum journeys?
I had a wonderful Cleo Family Guide who was a safe space for processing all of my pregnancy emotions and fears, planning for birth, and talking through postpartum challenges as they came up. I relied on the support of my Guide at every step, and shared both big and small moments with her. When I was nervous about planning for the postpartum recovery period, my Guide connected me with a mental wellness expert, who helped me craft a detailed postpartum plan. When questions about feeding or diaper rash came up, my Guide was the first person I reached out to for input and support. I knew that she would give me truly non-judgmental support, and that I didn’t have to explain myself to her.
What would you want other transgender individuals who are thinking through family planning to know?
I want other transgender individuals to know that the family of your dreams is within reach! There were moments along my journey to becoming a dad that felt unreasonably hard, like the cards were stacked against me. But my vision all along was to meet my baby, enjoy those early parenting experiences, and go on to raise an incredible kid. I’m so glad I took the path I did!
There are so many ways to become a parent. Whatever your path looks like, know that there are likely others who have gone before you and can offer support. Having “possibility models” for what my pregnancy would look like was so important to me, so I sought out communities of other “seahorse dads” (trans men who have been pregnant). I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a wide range of other queer people who became parents in a variety of ways, and all of those stories enrich my own experience of parenting as a trans and queer person. I hope that you are able to find that, too!