I have a confession to make (old Catholic habits die hard). I don’t have my s*%t together, not at all. My daughter came out to me April 13, 2016. Do you know when I finally felt like I had reached the point of acceptance? October 2017. A full year and a half after she told me. That’s not to say I didn’t support my daughter, I did, in a half-assed sort of way. I used the correct pronouns. I did not say the deadname, preferring to call her “hun” (short for honey) instead. I took her to weekly appointments with various professionals. However, I was also praying for God to bring my son back to me each week at church. When the kids left for school each day, I pored over the Creative Memories albums I had lovingly assembled of their childhood, searching for clues. I looked at the pictures, and, as I analyzed my oldest daughter’s face, I tried to gauge her level of happiness as the gender she was assigned at birth. Did the boy in the picture really like his Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake or did I force that? I saved both my kid’s best K-4 artwork in little suitcase boxes that came with the purchase of school sponsored supply kits. I had a stack of them in the closet. One day, I pulled each year’s art suitcase down and began to scrutinize the drawings. Did I miss a picture my child had drawn of a boy wearing a dress or carrying a purse?
Our first session with the psychologist was interesting. Convinced this was a phase, I went to the session with the mindset the psychologist was going to help our daughter realize she was not transgender. I had already decided, based on what I knew of my child, her being transgender was entirely impossible. My internet research told me less than 1% of the population identified as transgender. Not only that, but this child was all boy growing up. I watched him play with trains, build Legos, delight in digging with Tonka trucks, and later, his hands. My cisgender daughter, who is two years younger, was all girl – Disney Princess, Polly Pockets, dress up costumes, all things pink and glitter. My “boy” had every opportunity to play with “girl” toys and never once showed any interest. I was confident the psychologist would confirm my beliefs. The first appointment was longer than most. She took time to meet with our daughter, and then, with my husband and me. We conveyed our concerns and doubts about our daughter’s claim about her gender identity. Do you know what the psychologist had the nerve to say? Most people who say they are transgender, usually are. WTH? This person has met with my child for 40 minutes and thinks she knows him better than I do?!
No one, and I mean no one, not even my husband (in my opinion), knew this child better than me. I knew I was pregnant with this child even when the doctors told me I wasn’t! At the time we conceived, I had been taking a mild fertility drug that required me to have a blood test done each month. If I did not become pregnant, I received a new prescription, and began the process over again. August 1999, my third month of doing this process, I knew I was pregnant. I went to the doctor, they took a blood test and a urine test, and told me I wasn’t. They gave me the new script, scheduled my next blood test, and sent me on my way. I wasn’t feeling right, so I did not rush to fill the script. That weekend, I still wasn’t feeling right. Instead of filling the prescription, I went to the drug store and bought a pregnancy test. I peed on the stick, put the cap back on, and waited. This test showed I was pregnant. The positive symbol was extremely faint, but it was there. My intuition was right.
Fast forward a few months. At 17 weeks pregnant, I was just beginning to show. I hadn’t felt well all day. I was having a weird pulling sensation on my right side that was mildly painful. I called the obstetrician, who assured me the pain I was feeling was my uterus stretching to accommodate the baby. I decided to take it easy that weekend, but by Saturday evening, the pain had worsened and I could no longer put any weight on my right leg. I called the obstetrician again to ask if I should go to the ER. The doctor assured me again that it was stretching pain. My pregnancy bible, What To Expect When You’re Expecting, did not mention uterus stretching pain at all. I was certain that, even if it did, any pain bad enough to make me cry, should probably be checked out. My husband drove me to the ER. Diagnosis – appendicitis. My intuition was right, again. The ER doctor told me my appendix had to come out. I would not be allowed to leave the hospital until it was removed. The ER doctor also said, unequivocally, at 17 weeks, my fetus would not survive the surgery, I would go into preterm labor in the OR, my baby would be delivered, and not survive. I always say that was the exact moment my husband’s hair began to turn gray, or maybe it just looked gray after the color drained from his face. I was wheeled into surgery with tears running from my eyes. As they prepped me for surgery, I closed my eyes and began saying Our Fathers and Hail Marys. The anesthesiologist instructed me to begin counting backward from 100, I said a Glory Be instead, and then I was out. In the recovery room, the first thing I asked my husband was, “am I still pregnant?” And, against insurmountable odds, I was.
I’d like to say our life as parents was smooth sailing from there, but, alas, that was not the case. I was in labor for 22 hours. After two hours of pushing, we welcomed a 9 pound, 8 ounce baby. Our baby was sick all the time. We were at the pediatrician every week of her first winter. She never slept unless we were holding her. The week after her first birthday, she had a surgical procedure to place ear tubes. I quit working full-time, so we could keep her home and avoid daycare germs. The age of two brought frequent hospital visits. On one trip to the ER, her pulse oxygen ratio was 78%. Our child struggled to breathe! After a week at the children’s hospital, they ruled out cystic fibrosis and sent her home with asthma medication. Finally, things calmed down for a few months, until, the first dentist visit, at age 3. One look in her mouth and the dentist immediately sent us to a pediatric oral surgeon because her molars had erupted with no enamel. This poor kid! Age 8 brought the surgical removal of a benign tumor on her toe, followed by a diagnosis of weak hand muscles to explain why she could not write legibly. Age 14, learning differences. Age 16, gender dysphoria.
It took some time, but I slowly came to realize the psychologist did not know my child better than I did. She did, however, know more about gender identity and dysphoria than I did. So, instead of resenting the psychologist, I decided to listen to her, learn more, and ask questions. I also accepted that someone did know my child better than me. Do you know who that person was? My child! As well as I thought I knew her, I could not say how she felt inside. And, so, I listened to her too.
The knowledge I gleaned over that year and a half, coupled with personal reflection on my daughter’s childhood, led me to the following realization: God could have taken this child back to heaven at least twice during my first 17 weeks of pregnancy, He did not. Instead, He prepared me for this journey by throwing 16 years of parenting challenges my way! I was chosen to be this child’s mother. Being transgender may account for 1% of the population, and, in my mind, it is the top 1%. I may not have my s*%t together, but I do know my daughter is one in a million. My job is to make sure both my daughters have every opportunity to be healthy, happy, and live their best life. With that in mind, I will continue this journey, and be an accepting parent, regardless of any other challenges these beautiful girls bring my way!