The Trans Man Who Enjoyed Most of Pregnancy

By

Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email gotbaby@thecut.com and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

“Amazing” is the word Trystan uses to describe life three weeks after giving birth to a baby boy named Leo. Trystan, a trans man, and his husband, Biff, aren’t first-time parents: About six years earlier, Biff’s 3-year-old nephew and 1-year-old niece came to live with them (their family’s story is covered in a series on the podcast The Longest Shortest Time). Once the adoption for their older children was finalized two years ago, Trystan approached Biff with the idea of him carrying a biological child. Trystan discusses the moment he knew he wanted to have a baby with Biff, what he didn’t expect about being a pregnant trans man, the financial aspects of expanding their family, and what makes him want to get sassy when discussing his family.

On imagining a family. When I first came out as trans, I definitely did not know any trans people who had families — who even had any healthy, functional relationships. I really thought, when I came out as transgender, that I was closing the door on even having a partner or getting married — not to mention settling down, having a house, kids. I thought that if I chose to live my life authentically, it meant not having those things. Boys Don’t Cry was released around the time I came out, so that was the sort of narrative I’d seen — that relationships were dangerous for transgender people and that my path forward would be one of independence and solitude. I didn’t even imagine any kind of a family, much less adopting kids and having a biological child.

Then I met Biff. And I started to think: Oh my god, I could have this — I could have someone love me exactly the way that I am and be kind to me and also happen to be someone that I really like. I wanted to have his baby from pretty much the first time that we met, but I didn’t tell him that because that’s weird.

Before Biff, being pregnant was not something I thought about. I knew transgender men who’d had babies, but I was like, that’s not for me. I didn’t understand why you’d want to have a baby, why you wouldn’t just adopt. Meeting and falling madly in love with someone gave me that aha moment — I wanted a part of him to expand and grow and take up space in the world and become a person.

On bringing up the possibility of a biological child. It was about two years ago, this summer. Our adoption had finally gone through, after about five years of parenting our kids. We didn’t have to worry about that anymore — when you just have guardianship over kids, even if there’s only a small likelihood, there’s always still a tiny chance of something happening to throw your family into jeopardy. I did not want to bring up the possibility of having a biological child while that was still looming over us. Once the dust had settled, we got our finances in order, we paid off the attorney — I very gently brought it up with Biff.

We were at a retreat, and the kids were off playing with other kids. I just asked him if he would ever consider a biological child coming into our lives, one I carried and birthed. I think it was a real shock to him, that it was not something he’d ever considered. Even though he’d seen other people in our lives do this, I don’t think it was on his mind at all.

This was something I’d been thinking about since we met. To get ready for our conversation, I did a lot of medical research — I wanted to be prepared. And of course, I’d talked to my best friend. I went over the conversation a million times in my head before I actually opened my mouth and said the words.

On deciding as a couple. Finances were a big part of the conversation. We both work at nonprofits; we’re not independently wealthy. I think we’re solidly in the Portland, Oregon, middle class — we can’t go on extravagant vacations or renovate our house unless that means Biff following along to YouTube tutorials (which he has done). Quite frankly, this is one reason we decided to have a biological child.

Adoption is so expensive. It’s emotionally difficult, and it’s financially difficult. We know that because we’ve already been through that with our other two kids. We know that we’ll figure out the financial part as it comes, though, and we’ll figure out ways to cobble together side income — right now we rent out our garage studio. Eventually, Biff would really like to stay home, so that’s our goal.

We went back and forth for quite some time — Biff had a lot of hesitance around actually having a baby. This will sound super woo-woo, but what we finally decided to do we called “removing the barriers” to getting pregnant. If we did that and if a baby decided to walk through that door, metaphorically speaking, then we would let that happen. If not, we agreed that after a year of trying, we’d close that door and stop trying. If it was meant to be, it’ll happen, we thought, and if it’s not — we have these two beautiful, brilliant, funny kids in our lives already. We’d accept that, I’d go back on hormones, and that would be it.

On pregnancy expectations. Before I got pregnant, I had a lot of people close to me who’d been through pregnancy and birth — including a lot of transgender men who’d been through pregnancy and birth. I did have a sense mostly about what could go wrong — especially because I’m the kind of person who always thinks about the worst-case scenario. I thought about things like high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, going past term, being bedridden for a month. My father’s a physician; I come from a medical family. We were so prepared for things to be difficult overall, but not quite as hard as they were during the final few weeks.

On the emotional side, I was really expecting pregnancy to be a lot harder. A lot of my transgender friends who’d given birth experienced severe dysphoria. It was very difficult for them, psychologically and emotionally, to see their bodies changing and to feel a sense of betrayal, from their bodies. I kept waiting for feelings like that to come. Biff would ask, and my therapist would ask — but I was so geeked out by the science of pregnancy that I never had thoughts like, Oh my gosh, I’m growing breasts. Oh my gosh, my hips are growing wider.

I just really got deep into what was happening developmentally at every stage. I thought it was so cool, that my body was changing to sustain what was inside. Leaning into that geekery saved me in a lot of ways, from feeling discomfort and disconnection — or even profound grief or loss, the way some transgender feel when they’re pregnant. I was just so excited for each week: Now he can hear our voices, now his lungs are starting to form. For me, it was more of an intellectual experience and less of an emotional one.

On his pregnancy and birth. I can say I had eight months of a really wonderful, fun pregnancy. Everything was textbook: I didn’t have high blood pressure, I didn’t have gestational diabetes — I had no complications. I was still working full-time, up until the end. But in the last few weeks, as he continued to grow, I started to have really, really painful rib separation. He was a pretty big baby, and I’m a very narrow person — my body is physically narrow. My ribs were actually separating from the cartilage in my sternum, from each other on both sides, and eventually, they started splitting from my spine. There are such limited options for pain relief when you’re pregnant, and this was excruciating. I wasn’t sleeping more than an hour a night — I couldn’t find a good position, I couldn’t take a deep breath.

Finally, after me practically begging, they agreed to induce me right when I hit 40 weeks — a medically indicated induction because of rib separation. I went in to be induced the day before my due date. My dad was there, my mother-in-law was there, and Biff was there, to coach me through everything. There were moments of extraordinary pain. But I had one incredibly blissful moment when all the adrenaline and endorphins kicked in, when all the oxytocin kicked in — about an hour before pushing. I was laughing and crying at the same time. It was the highest high.

My labor lasted about 36 hours, with about an hour of pushing at the very end. I was right, he was big — eight pounds, six ounces.

On life with a 3-week-old. I don’t mean to rub it in or anything — he just seems to be a super-easy newborn. I’m sure that will change in the coming weeks and months. But he eats really well, he doesn’t have colic or reflux or anything — he even sleeps pretty well. Since Biff and I have lots of experience parenting already, we’re not really going through the adjustment-to-parenting period that I think most parents of newborns have. We already know which of us is best at which household task. We’re used to interacting with each other on little-to-no sleep — we already have good patterns of communication going.

Of course, having a newborn has been a brand-new experience, a brand-new adventure. Our other kids came to us when they were 1 and 3 years old — Leo, though, can’t tell us what’s wrong. But for me, interacting with Leo is so instinctual, which I’ve actually really appreciated — that’s a part of myself I rarely get to exercise. I’ve been appreciating being really present, and problem-solving through instinct. Older kids really need you to do stuff. A newborn doesn’t really need you to do anything — just hold him and sing a little song and he’s totally blissed-out.

On introducing a new baby into the family. The shift has been going well overall, so far. Our son is a little bit bored by the baby. I think he was expecting more interaction and less sleeping. He’s 9, and totally a typical 9-year-old boy. Recently he asked me when the baby was going to laugh during peek-a-boo — I was like, “I’m so sorry, but not for three more months.” Our daughter has been super-involved; she’s like Jr. Mom. She wants to hold him, help feed him — she wants to help us change his diaper, which has not been so successful. She just turned 7 — a diaper is a little advanced for her. There have been a few poop incidents.

On sharing aspects of his family’s story. We’re very thoughtful, intentional people. We do few things by accident. Initially, we wanted to do this the same way almost every transgender man has done: Basically don’t tell anyone until the baby is here.

But the more we thought and talked about it, and the more we saw transgender people torn apart in the media, the more we wanted a positive story about love and family and hope, at a time when things felt pretty desperate for trans people. Our heroes are Jnet Mock and Laverne Cox, who’ve found a way to talk about love and authenticity and hope and family. We have so much privilege and fortune, compared to many trans people — it’s a responsibility, one we take very seriously. If we have the ability to be public, and take some of the heat, so it’s easier for the next trans folks who come after us, we want to do that.

We’ve been trying to figure out what parts of the story are helpful to share — and what parts are more likely to spur a higher level of controversy. So for example, how we’re feeding him: That’s not a conversation we’re having with anyone. Because even if you’re not trans, breast milk vs. formula is such a heated discussion. This is just something we haven’t told anybody.

Initially, when Leo was born, I was like, I don’t want to tell anyone about anything. I’m done being public, period. But Biff was the one who said that it was important — for people to see us, see Leo, and hear the story. They need to see that being pregnant isn’t just possible, but having the baby is possible — that he’s great.

On the future of his family. I know that for me, carrying another child is not something I want to do. Right after he was born I said, “This is the most amazing thing that I will never do again.” Having Leo was an extraordinarily profound gift, one that he gave us. I think carrying him is the most amazing gift that I’ve ever given to Biff. I have no regrets at all. It was an extraordinary experience and more than I could have ever expected. I feel like I’ve done it. In that way, carrying a child has given me a sense of completion. I did it; it was amazing, and he’s a wonderful, healthy baby.

But in terms of our family being complete, I don’t feel that way at all. I feel that the door will always be open for anyone, babies, children, teenagers, anyone who needs a healthy, supportive situation, our door is always open. That was how it was in my family, growing up. Every gay kid that was kicked out by their parents came to live with us. After I moved out, my parents had foster kids that came to live with them. There are still wayward teenagers that are circling in and out of my parents’ house — and they’re in their 70s. We feel the exact same way. When we feel called to be parents to kids, we will always say yes to that. They’re just not going to come out of my uterus.

On the differences in early life for his kids. Becoming parents to Hailey and Riley was very different. The first year was very difficult. Riley used to have night terrors — he would wake up in the middle of the night, screaming and crying. When Hailey came to live with us, she had diaper rash that was so bad that it became a profound yeast infection requiring antibiotics — all because she hadn’t been changed enough.

We’ve been curious to see how different Leo will be, with his early years being so different from his older siblings’. There was one night when Riley crept out of his room and came to where I was sitting on the couch, burst into tears, and said he was worried we were going to love the new baby more than him, because the new baby would be born to us and he wasn’t. The way I put it to him was like, well, this baby is coming along and we don’t know this baby. This baby was just randomly put in my body, basically. But we chose you. We knew who you were and we chose you. You will always be our chosen child. That was how I could frame it to him in a way that made him feel more comfortable and confident, about his role in our life and not being displaced by the new baby. It’ll be interesting to see how they turn out, how things might or might not be different. They’re big, tough questions.

On being a trans parent. In some ways, it’s hard to not be a little sassy sometimes — in interviews, people want and need me to be perfectly honest and straightforward. But it’s hard not to be like, Look, we’re just two people who wanted to have a fucking baby. Why is this such a big deal? We happen to have all the parts necessary to do it, so what’s the big deal? I mean, I kind of understand, but the vast majority of me is like, dude, who cares? This is not anything big.

LGBTQ people, queer people, have been building their own families however we possibly can for as long as there have been human beings — people on the margins who haven’t had access to family have found ways to build families. We’re just carrying on that sacred tradition. It does not feel that strange, odd, or different to us. For queer people, our story is not shocking at all.

The Trans Man Who Enjoyed Most of Pregnancy