This story was written in 2013 and was originally published May 16, 2016, in Breastfeeding Today, a magazine of La Leche League International
I can hardly believe I've been nursing my child for 23 months. I wasn't sure if I would be able to breastfeed at all -- during my pregnancy, most people told me it wouldn't be possible. When my son, Jacob, was born, we took it one feeding at a time, and here we are, celebrating two years of sharing "nay-nay" [Jacob's word for nursing] and looking forward to more.
I am a transgender parent and a gay man. I was born female but transitioned to male in my early twenties by taking testosterone and having male chest-contouring surgery. These changes made me feel comfortable in my own skin and happy enough to settle into a loving relationship with my partner, Ian. When we decided to start a family, we consulted my doctors, who felt that I could safely become pregnant after stopping my testosterone treatment.
During my pregnancy, I learned through a friend of mine who was a La Leche League Leader (volunteer), Meran, about the possibilities of breastfeeding after reduction surgery and using an at-breast supplementer. My surgery was much more extensive than a woman's reduction surgery. Even so, I am able to make a small amount of milk.
From the baby's perspective, breastfeeding is breastfeeding. When my son was born, he didn't care that he had a transgender dad, but he sure wanted to nurse!
I had a healthy home birth, and with some hands-on help from a midwife and Meran, I was able to latch my baby, Jacob. The supplementer enabled me to provide all of Jacob's feeds at my own chest. We still make heavy use of it now, nursing several times per night and frequently during the day.
There are some aspects of being a nursing dad that are unique -- latching and milk production presented major challenges due to my surgery, and nursing in public is always an adventure.
Recently my son and I attended a crowded winter festival. Poor Jacob got tired and desperately needed to nurse, so I obliged, but (and I mean this literally, I live in Winnipeg, Canada) the only non-frozen place to breastfeed was directly on the woodchip floor of the heated souvenir tent, amongst the vendors. I couldn't have nursed in a bathroom stall even if I wanted to (perish the thought!) because the festival had only outdoor porta-potties.
Almost immediately, a festival-goer approached and said, "Since you are doing this so openly, I have to ask: Are you gay? Do you have a wife? What's this thing you're using?" She motioned at the supplementer.
I felt like clarifying that I was not, in fact, part of the display, but rather taking care of my child the way he needed me to.
I felt like clarifying that I was not, in fact, part of the display, but rather taking care of my child the way he needed me to. I explained how the supplementer worked but really just wanted to avoid her personal questions. She persisted, asking me, "But why is it so important for a father to breastfeed? Why would you do this?"
I asked her if she had nursed her own children. She said yes, that she had even nursed the second until age two. I told her I thought that was wonderful, and then asked, "Why was it important for you to breastfeed?"
I think she got my point: from the baby's perspective, breastfeeding is breastfeeding. When my son was born, he didn't care that he had a transgender dad, but he sure wanted to nurse! He knew what he needed then, and he still does.
Recently, Jacob had a terrifying (though harmless, as we found out later) febrile seizure. We took an ambulance to get him checked out at the hospital. He was scared from the seizure and unsure of the medical gadgets around him.
All my little guy wanted was to nurse. At first I hesitated. I felt awkward about breastfeeding in front of the various health care providers who were taking his temperature and monitoring his oxygen levels, but I couldn't refuse my desperate, whimpering little boy. He needed to nurse.
We breastfed nearly continuously for the next hour and a half, in front of three paramedics, two nurses, and countless other hospital personnel, thankfully without eliciting any questions or comments. When it was all over, my partner, Ian, said to me, "I don't know how we would have done without nay-nay!"
In addition to enjoying the many rewards of our nursing relationship, we experience some of the same problems that any other breastfeeding dad might face. Nipple twiddling, famous as the bane of nearly every parent with a nursling over the age of about six months, was the subject of a recent tearful phone call of mine to my good friend and LLL Leader Melissa. That day, we had reached an impasse: I refused to let Jacob pinch my nipple, and he seemed to believe that nipple twiddling was an essential part of nursing.
In addition to enjoying the many rewards of our nursing relationship, we experience some of the same problems that any other breastfeeding dad might face.
"I'm scared that making him stop twiddling will bring on a nursing strike," I cried to Melissa. "I don't want him to wean yet."
"He is not going to wean because of this! He loves nursing too much," said Melissa. "He is old enough to understand what you are saying to him. He might not like it, but he can understand. This has happened to everyone I know who has nursed an older child. I remember that age being really tough with my own daughter. The nipple twiddling drove me crazy! I was constantly reminding her not to do it."
As Melissa predicted he would, Jacob accepted the limit that I insisted upon and didn't give up his "nay-nay." He still tests me on a daily basis; he's a toddler, after all. For me, having an experienced breastfeeding parent to turn to has been essential, from pregnancy to the present. My tête-à-tête with Melissa was invaluable, and I have since realized that learning how to breastfeed a newborn can gradually evolve into learning how to parent a toddler through nursing -- both of which are skills that are much easier to acquire in the presence of a supportive community.
Trevor's book Where's The Mother? was published last month.
Marian Tompson, one of the seven Founders of La Leche League International, had this to say about the book:
"Do you find yourself uncomfortable with the idea of a transgender man breastfeeding a baby and then being certified as an LLL Leader? Or are you just curious as to why someone would put himself in that situation? You will want to read, "Where's The Mother?" by Trevor MacDonald.
Blending facts with the feelings that have been part of his journey, MacDonald will help you to better understand a revolution that is taking place, as transgender people receive the support they need to be true to their gender identity."
For more information on breastfeeding after reduction surgery, see Defining Your Own Success: Breastfeeding After Breast Reduction Surgery, by Diana West (La Leche League International, 2001).
A message from Diana West, May 25, 2016
A ginormous congratulations to you, Trevor, on your accreditation as an LLL Leader! Your gentle spirit, passion for breastfeeding, and dedication to LLL values will help breastfeeding parents all over the world. It is such an honor to be your fellow Leader!
Diana West, IBCLC, co-author of Sweet Sleep and the 8th edition of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.
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