GCP & the Hospital
Let me put a disclaimer here: First, I want to acknowledge that the US healthcare system has a long way to go in regards to there being an understanding of the complexities of biological sex and gender identity. Second, my story is a good story and I understand not all hospitals are created equally. Zoomer was born in a teaching hospital in a relatively progressive city, which improved my chances of encountering medical staff who were respectful of Gender-Creative Parenting. So without further a-due-date…
Since I was 12, I knew I would have a home birth if I ever decided to have children. Turns out, what you want doesn’t always matter – as was the case with my pregnancy with Zoomer Coyote.
At 20 weeks, I felt Z kick for the first time. We were in Australia, visiting Brent’s parents and I was sitting on their cozy, red sofa when it happened. It was a pretty magical moment. We got back to Utah and at every prenatal appointment since that night, Zoomer was in the same position – head up in the middle of my tummy, bum down near my pelvis, and feet right near their face – breech, breech, breech. We joked that Zoomer hadn’t realized that we had returned to the Northern Hemisphere, and thought they were in the right position!
At 35 weeks our midwife told me she would not bring the supplies to our house for the homebirth until Zoomer was head down. It was time to take matters into my own hands and try to get Zoomer to flip. I saw a chiropractor and an acupuncturist – nothing. I went swimming and did front and back flips – and while fun – nothing. I tried moxibustion a few times – nothing. Laid on an ironing board head first off my bed – nothing. Kneeled on the couch with my head on the floor – nothing. Sat in a hot bath with a cold gel pack pressed on my belly near Z’s head – nothing. We made a playlist of “turning” and “flipping” themed songs and I danced my heart out – nothing. I also had a lot of conversations with Zoomer, asking them nicely to please get their head in my pelvis –nothing. Then at 37 weeks, we headed to the hospital to see a specialist for an attempted External Cephalic Version (ECV) a procedure where a provider tries to turn a breech baby from the outside – nothing.
Licensed midwives in Utah cannot legally deliver breech babies in homes. Zoomer would have to be born in a hospital. Our doctor who tried to flip Z is a renowned specialist when it comes to breech babies. He told me my options; I could attempt delivering Z vaginally or I could schedule a cesarean section. After weighing the options, I decided I wanted to schedule a C-section.
A big reason of why I was so excited to have a homebirth was because we weren’t assigning a gender to Zoomer. Having Z at home would make things a lot easier for us in that respect. Our midwife and doula would be the only people besides Brent and I who would know Z’s sex and Zoomer would bypass the immediate gendering that would occur in the hospital… or so I thought. I allowed myself one night to have an epic meltdown and mourn the loss of my homebirth dream. Then I researched the shit out of cesarean section births and prepared myself emotionally and physically for Z’s birthday and our hospital stay.
I won’t sugar coat it – it was a tough discussion.
We were scheduled to meet our little Zoomer on a Sunday morning, the day after their due date. I was probably the only 40-week pregnant person in the world who was desperately hoping NOT to go into labor. Two nights before Zoomer was born, Brent and I walked… well… Brent walked, I waddled to a restaurant for dinner. We discussed whether or not we should bring up our Gender-Creative Parenting approach to the hospital staff and ask them to use gender-neutral pronouns. I won’t sugar coat it – it was a tough discussion. Should we just go with the mainstream flow and allow Zoomer to be gendered at the hospital? Or should we be the change we wish to see in the world and be honest about our parenting intentions? We decided on the latter.
The day before Z’s birthday, I wrote an e-mail to my doctor (whom I’d only met a few weeks earlier) and explained our Gender-Creative philosophy, I told him we would not be assigning a gender, we would be using gender-neutral pronouns and I asked him not to disclose Zoomer’s sex. My finger hovered over the ‘send’ button a little longer than usual. I was nervous. A bunch of gender-creative butterflies somersaulted in my stomach as I finally pressed send.
It was official – we were Gender-Creative parents.
My doc had told us to be at the hospital around 9 a.m. on Sunday morning. Typically, the hospital doesn’t schedule cesareans on the weekend, but my doctor made an exception for me (I think it was my special treatment for being one of his very few failed ECVs). For about three hours, Brent, me, and our doula hung out in the room cracking jokes while we waited for an available operating room. During that time, we laughed our way through the prep work for ‘seeding’ (Google it) and had a calm and lighthearted time. My doctor came into the room and smiled.
“I got your email.” He said, “I promise we’ll be very discreet about the bottom bits and respect your wishes.”
I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I was being validated. This wasn’t weirding him out. He trusted me.
After a painful IV insertion which ended up being the worst pain of the whole birth process and a quick ultrasound check to make sure Zoomer was in fact still breech – (it could not have been more obvious with that noggin protruding out from under my ribs) – it was time to head to the OR. I walked to the OR entry and smooched Brent goodbye, he had to wait in our room until they were ready for him. I felt completely prepared for the next hour of my life in regards to the surgery, what I was not prepared for, was the loving acceptance of Gender-Creative Parenting that awaited me on the other side of those OR doors.
“I hear we are welcoming a free spirit into the world today.”
An anesthesiologist and a couple nurses were in the OR waiting for me. The anesthesiologist helped me get up on the table, gave me a spinal, and had me lie down. He asked how I felt and as my lower half became numb, I excitedly admitted, “Not pregnant! It’s great!” He smiled and told me to let him know if I felt any discomfort at all. His nose and mouth were covered by a mask, he looked at me with smiling, blue eyes, and said, “I hear we are welcoming a free spirit into the world today.”
I blinked a few times as I registered that he knew.
“Yes,” I said, “And I can’t wait to meet them.”
He asked, “What’s their name?”
I replied, “Zoomer Coyote.”
His eyes smiled again, “That’s a perfect name.”
My doctor had taken it upon himself to inform the operating team about Zoomer and our Gender-Creative Parenting approach – and they were on board.
The next half hour was an oxytocin fueled blur.
Doctor said, “Incision.”
I said, “Where’s Brent?”
Someone said, “He’s almost here.”
Brent walked in looking real sexy in scrubs, with one hair net on his head and another containing his beard.
I said, “I feel seasick.”
Anesthesiologist said, “I've got something for that.”
I said, “That drug cocktail helped.”
*Feels like someone is crawling on my torso*
“Who’s crawling on me?”
Anesthesiologist said, “It’s just their hands helping Zoomer get in the right position.”
Doctor says, “Here we go.”
And then I heard Zoomer cry, and it was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.
Within a couple minutes, Zoomer was brought over to me, and placed on my chest. We locked eyes and time stood still as I fell in love.
After my tummy was stitched back up, we were rolled back to our room.
Zoomer was born on Sunday at 1:13 p.m.
We left the hospital on Tuesday at 9:00 p.m.
Throughout our entire stay – Zoomer was treated like a gender-creative baby.
At the top of our charts was the line, “Parents are using gender-neutral pronouns.” (Which I found out when I looked over our paperwork a week or two after we got home from the hospital – and believe you me I did an ugly, happy cry when I discovered that).
While we were in our love-drenched recovery in the hospital, the nurses from the Labor and Delivery ward informed the nurses in the Mom and Baby ward about us and Zoomer and gender-neutral pronouns. (I wish they would change the name to something other than Mom and Baby, because not all people who have babies identify as moms – but that can be another post #seahorsedad). As shifts changed, nurses informed the next nurse who would be caring for us. Some nurses had greater ease using gender-neutral pronouns than others, and whenever anyone ‘slipped’ and apologized, we said, “Please don’t feel bad, we appreciate you trying!”
Over the course of our three day stay we interacted with dozens of staff, doctors, residents, medical students, nurses, and nursing assistants; and everyone – and I mean everyone – was respectful and professional and gave it their best efforts! And not one person questioned our request.
On the first day in the hospital, two pediatricians checked Zoomer out, a supervising faculty member and a first year resident, who I’ll call Dr. R. Dr. R asked us who our pediatrician would be. Finding a pediatrician had been a task that was weighing on me – I wanted to find someone who would be respectful of our Gender-Creative Parenting approach, but we were also in a weird limbo period of health insurance plans so we hadn’t decided on anyone, which I told Dr. R. I had been afraid that pediatricians would think we were weird and not want to take Zoomer on as a patient.
Dr. R said, “I’d really like to be Zoomer’s pediatrician, and I am on board with your parenting philosophy.” Seriously… I don’t think our hospital experience could have been any dreamier. It was, dare I say easy to be gender-creative parents. People were treating us like it was no big deal, cool even, and a pediatrician wanted to be in Zoomer’s life.
I look back on Zoomer’s entire birth story with such fondness, gratitude and awe. We could have not said anything – we could have just let Zoomer be gendered by strangers for their first three days of life. They were a newborn; they wouldn’t know the difference.
I am so glad that is not how it went. I’m not one for “destiny” or “fate” – but I can’t help but think Zoomer knew exactly how they needed to be born, and that it needed to happen in the hospital, a very gendered, binary institution. They knew I needed to be put to the test – if I was going to be a Gender-Creative Parent and put myself out there as a resource for other Gender-Creative Parents and an advocate for change – then I couldn’t just talk the talk, I needed to walk the walk.
While I wanted to be in the tiny percentage of people birthing at home – Zoomer wanted to be in the tiny percentage of babies who are breech on their birthday. Zoomer taught me early, kids don’t always turn out the way you assume they will. What an appropriate lesson for a Gender-Creative Parent.
*A note: I want to reiterate that not all Gender-Creative Parents use gender-neutral pronouns for their children, and not all people who use gender-neutral pronouns for themselves or their children feel comfortable asking hospital staff to use their pronouns. That said, a system won't change unless individuals demand it. Creating change on an institutional level is going to take work from both the patient and the provider side. In our hospital, there were only pink or blue informational index cards available for the bassinets, and newborns either had a beanie with a bow, or no bow. Are these distinctions really necessary? I asked one of our nurses if there was a gender neutral option, maybe a green index card lying around? There wasn't. I asked what the staff do in the case of an intersex baby. They didn't know.
My point is, we have a long ways to go, but we'll get there in baby steps.
From a patient side, we must inform our providers, not only about our own preferences, but about the possible preferences of others who may not feel safe speaking up.
From a provider side, we must never get too comfortable or set in our ways. The world is progressing quickly and we need to keep up. Providers must ask the questions...
- How does this healthcare system accommodate transgender and gender non-conforming patients?
- How does this healthcare system accommodate intersex patients?
- How does this healthcare system accommodate gender-creative parents and children?
- How does this healthcare system collect name and pronoun information and share it within the system so that patients don't have to continue being misgendered?
If we are vigilant, by the time Zoomer's generation becomes parents, we can have this whole system running like a smooth, socially conscious machine.