Transgender father Trevor MacDonald, who breastfeeds his son with the help of a supplemental feeding tube, is reeling after a rejection from the motherhood support group that helped him overcome his challenges.
La Leche League Canada (LLLC) told the Winnipeg man that he cannot become a group leader because he identifies as a father, quelling his ambitions to guide other transgender members and mothers who do not produce enough milk.
MacDonald, who has undergone chest reduction surgery, initially struggled to breastfeed his child. He credits the LLLC with providing him the support and resources he needed to nurse.
The stay-at-home dad has trouble lactating and supplements his own milk with donated breast milk, which is fed to his baby through a tube.
He now loves breastfeeding and chronicles his experiences in his blog Milk Junkies, where he writes under the pseudonymous last name “MacDonald” to protect his family’s identity.
On Thursday, the 27-year-old dad posted his leadership request to the group as well as their rejection letter.
"I understand that LLL's current philosophy emphasizes mother-to-mother support, and that the idea of a breastfeeding dad is entirely new territory," he wrote, adding that the group has evolved over the years to help people in "controversial" situations.
He stressed the challenges he overcame in order to breastfeed and that he believes, "this background, combined with leader training, will enable me to effectively help others."
LLLC responded by thanking MacDonald for his interest and unique contributions to the group, but dismissed his request.
“[T]he roles of mothers and fathers are not interchangeable,” a spokesperson for the organization replied. “Since an LLLC Leader is a mother who has breastfed a baby, a man cannot become an LLLC Leader.”
The group also suggested some women would not be comfortable working with a male leader, that the organization does not “accredit specialty Leaders,” and that there are alternate ways MacDonald can share his experiences with other members.
Situation a 'first' for breastfeeding group
MacDonald targeted the policy, not the organization, in expressing his disappointment. He asked his readers to remember that he loves the group.
"[LLLC's] books, meetings and online resources made breastfeeding possible for me. My experiences with my local LLL chapter have been fantastic and I am extremely grateful for this."
He added that the organization includes many “amazing, forward-thinking Leaders” but that it’s time the group changes its rules to become more inclusive.
“I think that the interpretation of the policy should evolve," he wrote. “It is your experience that counts in peer-to-peer support. At the time the policy was written, the authors assumed that men wouldn't/couldn't breastfeed, so they defined a leader as a woman.”
MacDonald was born female but began transitioning with testosterone treatments four years ago. He stopped the treatments when he decided to become pregnant and was able to give birth because he never underwent "bottom surgery," he explains on his blog.
MacDonald says his own use of the term "fatherhood" is mostly for lack of a better word.
“I suppose I use the term because it’s what we have going in our society, not because I think it’s fantastic or I think it’s really accurate."
For its part, the group is sticking to its decision.
Fiona Audy, chair of the organization’s board of directors, told the Toronto Star that the group’s response to MacDonald’s request was not based on gender.
“This has made us all stop and think,” Audy told the newspaper. “This is the first time in 55 years [of LLLC history] this question has come up."
"La Leche League is about supporting parents who wish to breastfeed their babies," she continued, "and we don’t want to get drawn into a discussion about gender issues, which is not our focus.”
MacDonald is in the early stages of building his own breastfeeding support, which plans to interface over Skype. The related Facebook page — Birthing and Breastfeeding Transmen and Allies — has so far attracted more than 120 members.