I Set Out to Document My Pregnancy. Things Haven’t Gone as Planned

I Set Out to Document My Pregnancy. Things Haven’t Gone as Planned

We’re not in Kansas anymore, folks. Or rather, I’m not. My second embryo transfer didn’t work and now I’m processing the fact that things aren’t going to plan. From this point on I’m in uncharted territory.

When I conceived the first time, in 2017, it was straightforward. I had the extra wait of coming off testosterone and letting it clear my system but that was only a few months. The whole thing took six months from start to conception.

I expected round two to pan out roughly the same. In fact, because I opted for IVF this time, I thought it would be more predictable and reliable. IVF has, on average, roughly double the success rate of IUI, the less invasive treatment I had before.

Guess what: the universe isn’t playing ball. In trying to grow our little family, I’ve had two embryo transfers so far. The docs said my microscopic blastocysts looked top notch but I have nothing to show for it except payment receipts. I know twice is not a lot in the grand scheme of things but I’ve been without testosterone for a year and every day feels like a spiritual step in the wrong direction.

Not only that but an early miscarriage and other strange symptoms raise questions in my mind about how and why it’s not working. Have I suddenly developed an unexplained fertility issue? Is there something about IVF my body is taking against in a way it did not with insemination? Is it my age? I was 31 when I conceived for the first time and I’m now 34. As of yet I have no answers, and I’m trying not to drive myself mad with speculation in the meantime.

When I pitched this column it was to write about pregnancy as a transgender man. Call it arrogance or naive optimism, but I started writing before I conceived because I thought this stage would only take a couple of months. And at any rate, I thought it was important to share this part too, because conceiving as a trans man is a specific experience that people don’t get to hear about, and because assisted reproduction is also an LGBTQ experience that’s often marginalized.

I knew going in that there might be bumps in the road and I was prepared to share them. I found writing about that miscarriage a healing experience. Sharing on my own terms felt cathartic and it also helped me forge connections with a surprising number of great people and organizations. Of course, I hoped it would be helpful for others and my DMs suggest it has been. I’m both proud and grateful for that.

However, I think there is a limit to how much heartache and frustration I can form into sentences that are useful or interesting for others to read. There’s a point at which it no longer feels cathartic and instead feels like an exploitation of self. All this is why I’m hitting pause on Dad Bod. I’ll be back and I hope you come back to read more when the title is no longer just a pun but a statement of joyous, queer fact.

Despite all this, there’s lots I’m feeling grateful for. I want to share a few of those specific things before I peace out for a little bit.

I recently “virtually attended” the British Film Institute’s LGBTQ+ film festival, Flare. I watched a diverse range of films both by and about trans people. In the case of the latter, at the very least trans characters were played by trans people. It’s good to see that even in high-profile contexts like this, trans casting is now a given rather than a site of controversy or fanfare. It was a rare joy to be able to see two young trans actors take on starring roles in dramas with such skill and confidence, namely: Sasha Knight in Cowboys (alongside the reliably excellent and excellently hairy Steve Zahn) and Thiessa Woinbackk in Valentina.

My personal highlight was the historical biographical documentary, No Ordinary Man, about trans jazz musician Billy Tipton. Like Disclosure before it, it shows once again how American trans storytelling is strides ahead of what we are accomplishing over here in Europe, both in scale and quality. In the UK especially, trans story consultants are now fairly common but trans directors, producers and screenwriters still unheard of. We’ve been restricted to cheering from the sidelines, as a core of trans creatives gained a foothold in LA and became recognizable names over the past ten years, including the likes of Zackary Drucker, Yance Ford and Sam Feder.

I found the final section of Chase Joynt and Aisling Chin-Yee’s Tipton documentary particularly moving, wherein the talking heads (all trans) share what they would ask Tipton if he was still alive today. I couldn’t help imagining how our own conversation might go. I’d have to start by asking him about fatherhood, a privilege I sensed he held as protectively and tenderly as I do.

Speaking of a cultural blossoming, this looks set to become a watershed year for books by trans authors that are anticipated and acclaimed in the mainstream. One of the first things I did after realizing I wasn’t pregnant was to treat myself to a hardback copy of Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters. I had been waiting to borrow a friend’s copy but this was the first bit of self-discipline to fall by the wayside when the “nothing is going my way: fuck it” mood kicked in. I’ve heard Peters talk tantalizingly about her novel on podcasts and in particular, one character’s analogizing of trans women, who have lost a generation of elders to AIDS, substance abuse and suicide, to juvenile elephants who lose their mothers to poachers. The elephants–born into a complex matriarchal social order–are, therefore, robbed of necessary socialization. I can’t wait to crack the spine.

While on my extremely tame “fuck it” spending spree, I also pre-ordered Shon Faye’s The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice, a nonfiction “manifesto for change”, which could not be coming soon enough to UK and U.S. bookshelves. I’ve never pre-ordered a book before. I really felt like I was sticking it to the fertility gods.

Lastly, what will I be doing with this self-preservational writing hiatus, besides mounting some shelves and repotting some plants? Gentlefolk, I will be falling over, with purpose, again and again and again.

A while ago, when my “outdoorsy dad” Instagram persona started to gain a following, a slackline company sent me a contraption for setting up a line without sturdy trees. I did a bit of climbing in my 20s, with very memorable trips to Mount Arapiles in Australia and the Rockies in Colorado, but I never slacklined.

This box arrived at the start of winter, back when I figured I’d be pregnant in a month or two. I didn’t think I’d be able to actually try out their elaborate kit for well over a year—and then, everything that happened happened.

Now, it’s April 2021 and the only sensible option I can see is to set up the slackline in my back garden, throw myself around while I still can and do my best to master it. As is my general approach to hard things, I will get up and try over and over again until I crack it. Even when it gets unbearably hard and I want to scream, I won’t give up.

Follow Freddy McConnell on Instagram.

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