The last time I tried to write this column, I found myself constantly getting stuck: how can I express all that I have learned from almost 1.5 years of trans motherhood in one blog post? At first, I wanted to rant about cis-het couples and the patriarchy, but it didn’t feel good.
In fact, my wife Luise and I have experienced so much joy in the last 1.5 years, joy that almost all cis-het parents told us we wouldn’t have, that I am now consciously making the decision to write a positive blog post about our experience. Of course I will criticize heteronormativity throughout, but I want to feel good whilst writing. I want to share the joy that we feel through my writing. And in any case, I strongly believe that queer parenting is simply better. Period. Punkt. I believe queer parents are happier, and that children raised in queer families are as well.
I must also preface this column by acknowledging that we were and are in a very privileged situation to have and raise a baby. Many people don’t have the choice to take so much time off work, breastfeed, travel, etc. But the people I find myself criticizing the most are the middle class/wealthy cis-het white folks – because I have noticed that they seem the least happy with their families and relationships. I know it is a bold claim to make, and I won’t try convincing you otherwise. So, I’ll just repeat: I believe that queer families are happier.
This is the first installment in a three-part series on queer pregnancy, birth, and child-rearing. As inclusive as I wish to be, I do not address birthing people as such in this column because I am generally talking about the experience of womanhood as related to me and my wife, and in general. To trans men and enbies, I see you, and I love you.
The Surprise (content note: abortion)
It came as a surprise. To me, it didn’t feel like a surprise, but to Luise, it was a terrifying surprise. She called me telling me she was going to get an abortion. I told her I was on board for whatever she wanted to do. Her body, her choice.
I remember going to the abortion consultant that spring day, we biked there together, Luise in her golden helmet and oh-too-cool sunglasses. We sat there talking to the lady who turned out to be incredibly insightful and helpful about everything from the “rosarote Brille” (rose-colored glasses – we were in love), to what most people and couples experience when making such a life-changing decision. The main point we took away was: “Take a week to think about what you want to do, the two of you. We notice that in most cases, couples can clearly decide after five days”.
We left, and I somehow knew that we both wanted to keep the baby.
I had met Luise only a month ago, in my non-binary identity before I came out as a trans woman. I was clear from the beginning that I was queer, she was clear that she was a feminist. We talked a lot on Bumble before we met in person during lockdown. I was adamant about not being called her “boyfriend”. She cooked me a vegan bolognese.
Luise, the badass feminist who vowed never to have children, now pregnant. What ensued after the news of her pregnancy was a whirlwind of… gender. Gender was all around us. Suddenly (well, not suddenly, I don’t think most people took my non-binary identity seriously), I was a man, and Luise was a woman.
Navigating Sexism and Stereotypes in Parenthood
She was warned by people to be careful of me, that I would leave her and go back to San Francisco. She was encouraged to be independent and have the baby, because that’s what “all women want.” I was encouraged to lead her towards an abortion. I was told that should we break up in the future, I would be screwed. Luise had a female support network which I found beautiful, despite this sexist belief that Luise’s purpose in life was to have children.
But none of these things made any sense to me, because no one ever actually cared to listen to me, my desires, and what I can now proudly say are my womanly desires. I have always wanted a family. I’ve always wanted to be a mom. But no one saw me that way. No one could possibly imagine that Ariella would become a mother. She was so good at hiding. Behind a beard. Behind smiles.
Someone told me that Luise was using me just to have a baby. I got paranoid one night and asked her if that was true. I immediately regretted it – how could I ask such a sexist and horrible question? Why were all these people around us trying to split us apart? And why didn’t people believe me that I was genuinely excited to become a parent?
Breaking Societal Expectations
There was a certain point in our relationship when a clear shift happened, and I can’t tell when it was. It wasn’t immediately after we decided to keep our baby (there we were, sitting on the Spree in Moabit eating Big Bascha), but sometime after that. So many people expected us to break up. But everyone came around in the end. I told people close to me that they said some hurtful things to me, sexist things, and they listened and apologized.
We came together even stronger. We spent the entire 9 months talking about how we want to exist as a family. Not everything was written as rules, but we talked about gender roles in the family and what it could possibly mean if I was “socialized male,” (I don’t believe that I was socialized male, whatever the hell that means, but it was important to talk about nonetheless), and Luise “female.” We talked about raising a baby in a gender-neutral way, so that they could choose their own gender and destiny. I didn’t want our baby to suffer through being assigned a gender so strictly at birth like I was. We talked about being Jewish and German, and how there might be some issues in the future. About circumcision.
We even had an initial consultation with a circumcision doctor because I was convinced that should our baby have a penis, we will circumcise it, as Jews do! I had come to this position after experiencing too much antisemitism from white Germans, indirectly calling Jews, Muslims, and black people child abusers for the ritual of circumcising boys. As time went on, I found myself being strongly against circumcision but also understanding and accepting the fact that other parents and cultures choose to perform this ritual.
We had to find our own way to break through all of the societal expectations put upon us. These questions pounded in my ears daily: What does it mean to be a Jew? To be a parent? To be a… person??
Feminists in the City
We moved to Berlin together because Luise already had an apartment here before we met and got pregnant. I needed leave to Leipzig. It was too white. I needed to be closer to Jews and queers, to more diversity. We spent all our time together, and I slowly stopped pursuing my music professionally. I was in transition but didn’t realize it until Esra was born, which catapulted me into my trans womanhood. We talked about how we would be together for Esra’s first year of life. I’m a freelancer and had no real ambition to continue my career, especially after feeling burnt out by Covid.
The timing felt right. Luise is a pediatrician and can always find a job, and in Germany, the system is built for people to have children (compared to other countries.. in Berlin daycare is free, which is so helpful). Neither of us would have to go back to work, and we’d both be there for each other, all the time.
We got married in Denmark for custody reasons (yet Luise still picked up seashells on the shore to use as symbolic rings), and as much as we tried to not make it romantic, it ended up being incredibly romantic. We ate so much food during those nine months, making sure that Esra would be a nice and plump baby. We were both changing, and we didn’t realize it.
When you’re transitioning, you don’t notice it most of the time. Just as I don’t fully realize that I have a completely different face or two tits on my chest, when you’re in the moment, it just feels normal, it’s just happening. Only after can you look back and see how positive it was to transform, how everything marked as “before” was clearly worse than what is now. I was becoming a woman, Luise was becoming a dyke. And we would soon be two mothers of a beautiful baby.
We talked about everything that we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to fall into the trap of heteronormativity, even though the whole world expected us to. Everyone expected me to pursue my work even harder. Everyone expected Luise to give up on her career. We talked about sharing the feeding (a topic that is ruled by “breast is best” in Germany), about how it’s my right to be able to feed our baby as well. I remember hanging out with some friends before coming out, and talking about the possibility of physically transitioning, and being able to breastfeed in the future.
Someone told Luise that I was stealing her “womanhood” with how involved I wanted to be. I felt unseen by the world, the hidden woman with a quiet voice and no real say in what she is allowed to do as a parent. Is that not such a depressingly womanly trait? To be told what I’m not allowed to do as a mom? Some friends told us how cool the idea of shared feeding was, but I don’t see most straight parents sharing feeding. Feminism is about choice, and we wouldn’t stand to be shoved into a box. Luise and I decided that we would share the feeding, both freeing her from being a full-time “stay-at-home-mom” and giving me an equal opportunity as the non-birthing parent to bond and nourish our baby. I knew that I wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom.
All we talked about during those 9 months was feminism, gender, and Judaism. We discussed how we find white-attachment parenting to be awful, how we see most moms suffering silently while their husbands or partners enjoy themselves or pursue their careers. We decided that feminism isn’t dead. And we also learned that by reclaiming our rights as women, people would be confused. People were perplexed by the idea that I would be a stay-at-home mom once Luise resumed work (once again, the world saw me as a man, something that I truly hate), and that Luise would be the working mom. (Just to be clear, even now, I am seldom perceived as a mom, only amongst our friends and family can we truly be understood as a lesbian couple).
We talked about women who can’t breastfeed and are told that they are failures. About women who get c-sections and feel like failures. About women who use painkillers and epidurals during birth and are seen as less than the “natural” mamas. We talked about how very sexist it all is, the pressure placed on women to do things a certain way. Luise decided that it was her womanly right to use pain medication during birth, and that if she had a c-section, it would not make her any less of a woman or mother.
We wondered why people don’t talk about this more, why so many women are caught in this trap of a narrow view of womanhood. What did we see in the queer families we met? I think we saw more equity, more sharing of responsibilities, of tasks, because in a queer relationship, gender roles are thrown out of the window. When two women, or two men, or two non-binary people, or any other combination come together, there comes a time when they must actively choose their roles in a family.
I still look at us and feel like we are choosing this life. And sometimes I am a bit ashamed that it’s taking me a while to get back on my career path, but honestly, I love being a full-time mama. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Plus, you’re never too old to rock and roll. Being a mom comes naturally to me, and to Luise as well, though we have different definitions of what motherhood looks like, and these two forms of motherhood coexist in such a beautiful way.
I remember the unsolicited diet tips that Luise received from strangers, and how we said “fuck it” to most of them. How we stuffed our faces with focaccia and buratta in Italy before the birth. How white women gawked at how large Luise’s belly was, while foreigners bragged about their wives’ 5-kilo babies.
I remember being co-pregnant for 2 months, a phenomenon that I still can hardly believe but is real. The brain fog, nausea, stomach aches. It didn’t go away until the end of the pregnancy. I felt connected to Luise and Esra. We had nicknames for Esra, from buratta to schnuki. We chose the name Esra because it is somewhat gender-neutral. Esra is a Turkish feminine name and a Jewish masculine name, so depending on who we’re around, there are different assumptions of gender for our baby, which we love (and which still confuses nearly everyone we meet).
Self Work and happy beginnings and endings
Esra was born after 72 hours of labor. They were welcomed into the world with Luise’s favorite song, Africa by Toto. Never have I felt so much joy in my life. Fast forward 1.5 years later to the present day, where we have all grown so much, and I can’t help but cry and thank God for how far we’ve come.
To be yourself means to fight. To be a woman means to fight for your right to choose. And through all of the fighting, and damn, it really is a fight, it’s all worth it. I wouldn’t trade being trans, being a parent, being a wife, a Jew, for anything in the world. I love it all, the joy, the love – if there ain’t beauty in the fight, then what’s the point of this all?