Ask DadPad, Parenting Advice

Ask DadPad: Support for transgender and LGBTQI+ parents

Posted on 2nd April 2021

This week, DadPad focused our #WednesdayWisdom social media post on increasing awareness of transgender pregnancy and parenthood, as 31 March also happened to be International Transgender Day of Visibility #TDOV.  This day celebrates the resilience and success of transgender and gender non-conforming people and aims to raise awareness of transgender rights around the world.

Over the last few years, LGBTQI+ pregnancy and parenthood has been more publicly discussed and researched, highlighting many disparities for LGBTQI+ people in the world today.  One of those disparities relates to accessing health and social care services, including gynaecological, fertility and pregnancy services.

Transgender Pregnancy and Parenting Experiences in the UK

Back in 2017, the media reported the story of Scott Parker and Hayden Cross, a couple who claimed to be the first transgender men to have a baby in the UK.  This was the first time that anyone in the transgender community had publicly discussed fertility, pregnancy and parenthood, and it was clear that more research needed to be done to be able to provide appropriate care for and support of transgender people accessing fertility and pregnancy care.

Then, in 2019, Jeanie Findley released a film entitled “Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth“, which following Freddy McConnell’s journey to starting his own family as a transgender man. The film documentary followed Freddy over the course of three years, from his conception preparation right through to birth and his early days of parenthood.  It  showed in detail how challenging it was for Freddy to navigate fertility and pregnancy services, not just as a transgender man, but for LGBTQI+ people in general.

More recently, in 2020, Channel 4 released an intimate documentary, directed by Gussy Sakula-Barry, called “Our Baby: A Modern Miracle“. The film followed the journey of couple Jake and Hannah Graf, a transgender man and woman, as they sought to start a family via surrogacy and prepared to become first-time parents, with a bit of lockdown thrown in, too.

Whilst Scott, Hayden, Freddy, Jake and Hannah may have been the first trans folk in the UK to have publicly shared their journeys to parenthood, trans and non-binary people have always existed in society and had been accessing gynaecology, fertility and pregnancy services before the public exposure – we just weren’t paying enough attention or doing enough to ensure inclusivity.

So what’s happened since then?

Stonewall’s “A Vision for Change – Acceptance without exception for trans people 2017-2020” report identified that:

...the UK has played an important role in the journey towards trans equality, particularly benefitting from the brave and dedicated efforts of a few individuals and organisations. As a result, legislation developed, affording the first specific legal protections from discrimination for trans people. Trans communities themselves evolved because of this, with individuals and groups providing mutual support and empowering each other. This has led to a greater presence and visibility in day-to-day society.

A three-year international project to provide an in-depth understanding of the feelings, experiences and health care needs of trans people (including trans men, transmasculine people and non-binary individuals) who wish to, or become, pregnant was completed in 2020.  Funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the research was headed by Dr Sally Hines, from the University of Leeds, as Principal Investigator, alongside an international team of researchers.  The findings will soon be disseminated to policy makers, health and medical professionals and practitioners, stakeholders, and interdisciplinary academic audiences at international conferences.

In 2020, it was announced by The LGBT Foundation that they are partnering in a new research project, called ITEMS – Improving Trans Experiences of Maternity Services. This NHS England-funded project will collect both existing and new evidence to see how pregnancy services can be improved to meet the needs of trans birthing parents. They are bringing together the National LGB&T Partnership, LGBT Foundation, the Trans Learning Partnership, various members of the Health and Wellbeing Alliance, and trans men and non-binary people with lived experience.  In doing so, they hope to amplify a diverse range of voices, and generate discussions across the public health and charity sectors.

What do we know so far?

Trans men and non-binary people often report challenges when navigating medical services, due to the gendered language used within these spaces, or because of the common occurrences of personal misgendering by healthcare professionals. Additionally, there are also instances where healthcare professionals have not had opportunities for LGBT+ competency training and may not have considered that trans men and non-binary people may want or need to access their services (e.g. cancer screenings, gynaecology, fertility and pregnancy services).

Making trans and non-binary people explain, or having to ‘out’ themselves repeatedly, can:

  • have a detrimental effect on their mental health;
  • make them feel unsafe and legally unprotected’ and
  • potentially prevent them from accessing vital medical care in the future

Everyone deserves and has the right to equal access to services and the opportunity to be the happiest and healthiest that they can be, which is why more needs to be done to highlight and transform trans and non-binary experiences in our society.

What’s changing?

More transgender and non-binary people are openly documenting their experiences of gynaecology, fertility and pregnancy services across the world, using social media and LGBTQI+ online support groups. This, in turn, is paving the way for more trans and non-binary people to explore a number of options on their journey to having children and to challenge health and social care services to ensure inclusivity.

In 2021, Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust publicly announced and shared their gender inclusion policy in maternity care, which gives clear guidance to pregnancy care professions on how to care for LGBTQI+ service users. Their Gender Inclusion Team is able to offer specialist care to LGBTQI+ parents and also to provide support and training to other medical professionals on how to care for LGBTQI+ people appropriately.

What are DadPad doing to help?

Last November, we published a blog post which attempted to explain why the DadPad is written exclusively for male partners of female birthing parents, but we noted at the same time that this didn’t mean we didn’t recognise or acknowledge that there are other parent demographics out there.

Because we do appreciate that point, and because we also recognise that we can’t simply rebrand DadPad as (say) a ParentPad and make it instantly useful to all, we’ve spent the last year working with: LGBTQI+ parents, birth workers, and medical professionals; birth workers and medical professionals with experience of supporting LGBTQI+ families; and commissioners with an interest in inequalities, diversion and inclusion (especially within maternity services) to draft a brand new resource, specifically for non-birthing partners who don’t fit the demographic for our traditional DadPad products.  We’re looking forward to this resource being available later this year, and we’ll definitely be sharing more about it at that point.

In the meantime, though, we’re encouraged to see that there is already a good amount of advice and support available for trans and LGBT+ people relating to all aspects of fertility, pregnancy and parenthood, and we’ve shared links to some of these below:

Documentaries, Podcasts and Books etc:

Seahorse film

Channel 4 documentary: Our Baby: A Modern Miracle

BBC Radio Podcast: Pride & Joy – The Hardest, Most Rewarding Thing

Gendered Intelligence Podcast: TransForming Spaces – Making Space for Trans Pregnancy

Where’s the Mother?: Stories from a Transgendered Dad by Trevor MacDonald

Freddy McConnell’s blog

LGBT+ Education in Maternity Care:

https://queerbirthclub.co.uk/

http://www.birthforeverybody.org/what-we-do (USA based, but excellent links to educational videos, information and research for maternity professionals)

Information on LGBT+ Fertility and Maternity Care:

NHS web page: Having a baby if you are LGBT+

BSUH web page: Support for Trans and Non Binary People During Pregnancy, Birth and the Postnatal Period

HFEA web page: Information for trans and non-binary people seeking fertility treatment

Gov.uk blog post – PHE Screening: Ensuring pregnant trans men get equal quality care

LGBT+ Infant Feeding:

La Leche League GB web page: Support for Transgender and Non-binary parents

LGBT+ and Trans-specific Support Organisations:

https://www.stonewall.org.uk/

https://transliving.co.uk/

https://mermaidsuk.org.uk/

http://www.proud2bparents.co.uk/home.html

https://www.intercomtrust.org.uk/

https://www.allabouttrans.org.uk/

UK Reports and Research:

Stonewall: A Vision for Change – Acceptance without exception for trans people 2017-2022

LGBT Foundation: ITEMS – Improving Trans Experiences of Maternity Services

Leeds University: An International Exploration of Transmasculine Practices of Reproduction

GIRES – Gender Identity Research & Education Society

 

It seems fitting to end this blog post with a final, first-person perspective from Freddy McConnell himself:

Hey, I'm a person. I am a transgender man. I gave birth. I love my kid. I need access to healthcare, including appropriate cancer screenings, just like everyone else. My inclusion does not exclude anyone, nor would I ever want it to. You may not understand. You may insist that my "body is female" and that's all that matters. But, luckily, when push comes to shove, you are legally and ethically obliged not to exclude me either.