My kids are five and one and I have carried and “worn” them both perhaps more often than your average dad. That’s partly because I am a transgender man and had the privilege of giving birth to them. It’s also partly because I’m a solo parent by choice, so if someone needs carrying, look no further.
As rare as this experience may sound, I don’t think my path to parenthood and our life today is that different to many people’s. I went through all the standard emotional highs and lows (just with a few extra trans-themed ones), the familiar-to-many slog of fertility treatment and now, the extremely relatable challenges of raising tiny humans.
First, I probably should go back to the beginning. I came out as trans and started to transition medically in 2010. It wasn’t until 2015 that I discovered pregnancy was an option for people like me, when I stumbled across a YouTube vlog. I saw a trans man sitting in his bedroom, healthily and happily eight months pregnant. For someone who had been told by doctors and people in my own community that testosterone (T) would make me infertile, this was something of a bombshell.
It took another couple of years for me to firmly decide on pregnancy as the way I would start a family. During that time, it wasn’t always on my mind. I was also busy, enjoying my late twenties, working abroad and doing well in my career. I became an uncle twice and loved that role with all my heart. I knew I did want to start my own family, someday, somehow. I’d always known that.
I can’t remember ever not wanting kids. I was lucky that, as a child, my mum spoke in positive terms about pregnancy and how, in an ideal world “wouldn’t it be great if everyone could experience it – especially men!” Back then, I didn’t imagine myself as a mum or a dad, and I never thought much about pregnancy itself. I just knew that there would be kids and that I would be there caring for them, even if I couldn’t quite ever see myself in the scene.
After realising trans men could have healthy pregnancies, regardless of how long they’d been transitioning, whenever the idea popped into my head, I’d ask myself the same series of big, intimidating questions: Why not just do it by myself? Might pregnancy actually be the simplest option? Could I hack it?
“Simplest” might sound counterintuitive but all I had to do was stop my T shots, wait for my cycle to return, find an inclusive fertility clinic, and then give it a try. I was learning that plenty of trans men – relative to the size of our community – had done and were doing this. If I had opted to adopt or go down the route of surrogacy, so many more people, organisations and, ultimately, gatekeepers would inevitably become involved.
Pregnancy was not an appealing thought – both because it meant stopping T and because I was terrified of other people’s judgement and incomprehension – but at least I would be in control and could be as private about it as I wished. Many trans people who carry and give birth embrace the process from the start, even more so now that it’s an increasingly known option. But for me, it was a pragmatic means to an end. I was so glad to know that I had this option but still, it scared the hell out of me.
Emotionally and physically, pregnancy was by far the hardest thing I’ve done. The baby-growing bit – the bump, the scans, the kicks, birth itself – was fine, often wonderful. I got very lucky on that front, with a water birth in 2018 and even with a calm and memorable emergency c-section in 2022. What I found hard was being off T for over a year each time. Gender dysphoria, around the rest of my body and how the world perceived me, returned as a constant, almost tangible ache, heavier than ever before.
Of course, it was worth it. Hopefully that goes without saying. I was meant to be a dad and the way I did it was right for me. I’ve never questioned that since getting to the other side and, thankfully, it was easier in some ways the second time. Part of the reason I share my story is to carry on making it easier still, for trans dads who come after me. Hopefully their hospital visits and midwife care are smoother and less anxiety-inducing than some of mine were. Hopefully, future trans parents are able to explore their options, own their choices and celebrate their experiences even more freely than I was.
Being a parent, for all its exhausting challenges, is the best, most rewarding full-time job I can imagine. Getting to know my kids is a gift that has the power to stop my heart one minute and melt it the next. Pregnancy as a transgender man is scary, confusing, transcendent, and empowering. It can bring you into a new community and make you feel like a total outcast. You can resent and cherish the ability all at once. In short, as us trans dads sometimes like to remind each other, it’s kind of our superpower.
Freddy McConnell is an award-winning journalist, writer and speaker. In 2018, he became a dad and shared his experience of pregnancy as a transgender man in the BIFFA-nominated BBC documentary, Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth. In 2023, Freddy is now nominated as a Top 10 Outstanding Contributor to LGBT+ Life in the British LGBT+ Awards.