My experience of being intersex and pregnant
As an intersex non-binary person, I want to share parts of my personal experiences with pregnancy and parenthood. Gender identity is independent from being intersex. Not all intersex people are non-binary, though I am. I can sometimes relate in some way to the experience of trans fathers or non-binary parents, but not entirely. While their stories with parenthood need to gain visibility, the stories of intersex people and parenthood need to be more visible too. There are many ways for intersex people to become parents!
The moment I had the positive pregnancy test in my hand, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I was shocked, I was afraid, I was happily surprised but felt stupid and ashamed. I didn’t expect that this test would turn out to be positive. I even felt stupid to do a test in the first place as it felt unnecessary and ridiculously absurd. At first I just sat in the bathroom staring at the plastic stick with two stripes in my hand. I felt like I was in a movie—it seemed like a joke to me. Then I lay down on my bed and stared at the ceiling. I lay there for a while thinking, ‘What? What?! No! This can’t be really happening!’ Later, I called my best friend. Saying ‘I am pregnant’ felt wrong. Instead, I said, ‘I just took a pregnancy test and it is positive.’ We were both shocked. It seemed so absurd, so unreal. We were in shock but laughing. When we hung up, I sat thinking on the sofa. Two or three hours later, the reality broke over me like a cold wave and I couldn’t stop crying. I felt so afraid and ashamed.
One doctor once told me that if I ever want to get pregnant, I should directly come to see her and not to bother trying. Another gynaecologist claimed that winning the lottery was more likely. I thought I would probably never be pregnant and told myself, ‘I am fine with that’. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. At the time, I didn’t want kids anyway. I thought about co-parenting with queer friends or having a child with a girlfriend who could become pregnant, but later adoption also crossed my mind. This was a hypothetical option and not urgent. Even though I really like kids, I knew this was not the only life-fulfilling plan. I tried not to worry about never having a child. I thought that becoming pregnant, if even possible, was going to be a complicated procedure and I disliked the thought of taking even more hormonal treatments than what I used to take. In the past I had stopped taking hormones several times despite my doctors’ disapproval since they didn’t make me feel good. So, you can imagine my surprise at finding out I was pregnant.
At the time, I was a 25-year-old student. I used to have depressive episodes sometimes and I was in therapy. I had only just met the intersex community and learned about this aspect of my life. Connecting with intersex people was essential for me. I am so lucky to have met these amazing people who empowered me. I was also in the process of figuring out more about my gender identity which I was struggling with. I assumed that being more open about my non-binary identity and taking some steps to transition in a more ‘masculine’ direction, like having a mastectomy, would be my next life-altering experience. My boyfriend and I were also in a one-year long relationship. He was 23 and lived abroad. As we didn’t want to be apart, he came for a few months to where I lived. It was the first time I had a good and healthy relationship with a cis guy, but we were young and hadn’t known each other for a long time.
I discovered I was pregnant because one day I started feeling weird. At first, I didn’t really worry about it. I was convinced I couldn’t get pregnant and we were mostly using protection. After a while I realised I felt even worse than usual about my breasts. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head, ‘What if I get pregnant without realising it, because I am convinced it’s impossible?’ I decided to do a test. I was convinced it would turn out to be negative and I just wanted to stop worrying. When I saw the result, I first felt shame that I wasn’t careful enough about contraception. I felt I had behaved irresponsibly. I felt guilty for ending up in this situation. I thought everybody would judge me for being pregnant in my situation. I felt dumb to have trusted the doctors. I thought I probably misunderstood the risk and should have known better. I believed I was unable to raise a child due to my mental health, my struggles with my identity and body, my financial instability, my studies, and the uncertainty about my relationship. I thought everybody would judge me unfit to be a parent. I was afraid of all the responsibility and the prospect of raising a child alone. I had contradictory emotions. Sometimes, I was happy and in a weird and illogical way almost proud to be pregnant. I liked the idea of having a child, but there were too many reasons not to keep it.
Two days after the test I went to a new gynaecologist to confirm the pregnancy. I didn’t want to go back to my old one. I changed gynaecologists many times in the past as I felt uncomfortable with the way they treated me and talked to me. The pregnancy was confirmed and I was told I was in the 6th week of pregnancy. I was shown the heartbeat, given an ultrasound image and the contact details of the doctor doing the abortions. It took me one month to decide. It was a hard month and probably the most difficult decision in my life. I had to figure out what I really wanted—I was afraid I would regret the abortion. My new doctor told me that it was unbelievably unlikely that I got pregnant. She said, ‘You never know, but it might be your only chance.’ While I worried I would never get pregnant again, this wasn’t the only thing that influenced my decision. It did however influence my perception of the pregnancy. I had three appointments in the abortion clinic and I cancelled the first one a day after making it. I went to the second one a week later. After talking to the doctor, he gave me a pill to take the day before my third appointment. The evening before the last appointment, when the operation should have happened, I decided to have the baby. The decision felt right for my boyfriend and me. I was lucky that I had the time until the 12th week to make up my mind. I am grateful for the important work the people at the abortion clinic are doing. Thanks to them, I really had a choice. While making my decision I realised how supportive people around me were. I felt like I could overcome all difficulties. I made this decision because it felt right at that moment—the positive feelings overcame the doubts and fears. Everybody should have the option to choose and make an informed decision.
Once I made my decision, I was afraid to lose the pregnancy due to my intersex variation. My gynaecologist and endocrinologist told me not to worry but I didn’t trust them. It felt as if they just didn’t want me to be afraid. I scrolled through the internet to figure out the risks and read about people with the same variation struggling to get pregnant or losing multiple pregnancies. I also found information online about what disorders or problems children of mothers with my variation might have. I didn’t worry about having an intersex child but there were worrisome health issues mentioned. I didn’t know which sources to trust. I was worried during pregnancy and on top of all of that I was struggling with my identity.
There has never been a time in my life where I was perceived and addressed as much as a woman, a mother and as feminine. This made me feel uncomfortable. I also felt bad about my breasts. I felt wrong both in medical settings and birth preparation classes. The latter was very cis-heteronormative and binary. It amplified ideological ideas about what was supposedly natural in birth and what was the best and right ways to give birth. It reinforced sexist ideas of the role motherhood entailed. The misogyny in the class and in society was not the only reason I felt uncomfortable. It isn’t the reason I don’t identify as a woman or mother either. I was uncomfortable in my body, being continuously addressed as a woman, a mother and called by my wrong name. It made me feel sick. Instead of being empowered and out as an intersex nonbinary person and figuring out the next steps for my transition, I felt like I was stepping back inside the pathologising and cis-heteronormative closet. Generally, I felt out of my body and out of control. I didn’t like going to all the doctor appointments. I didn’t feel like myself and often felt deeply unhappy and ashamed. In moments where I was most aware of my body like in the shower or during examinations, I felt a deep disgust and nausea. But I liked the baby belly and feeling the baby move. And although I was afraid of the birth, I was looking forward to meeting the baby. Therapy helped a lot as well as my supportive friends and boyfriend.
I finally made it through pregnancy. After 21 hours of labor, I could hold my sweet baby in my arms. I felt a lot of pressure from the nurses and midwives in hospital, and from society in general, to breastfeed. Everyone gave me the impression that ‘breast is best’ no matter what. It was almost like you were harming your child if you do not breastfeed. I tried for the first three days but I felt very uncomfortable. It made me feel sick, sad and so frustrated. It made me want to slip out of my body and disappear. When I went home from the hospital, I stopped breastfeeding. I felt much happier. I loved giving the bottle. As my boyfriend could do it too, we shared the care work more equally.
At home I started feeling better. I was relieved about the birth of my baby. After a while I also felt as if my body was my own again. I tried not to care about the judgemental looks and unsolicited advice and comments. Talking with other feminist mothers was very helpful. I would love to further connect with queer, intersex or trans parents. I love my child and I am very happy about the decision I took. My toddler calls me by my name and not ‘mama’. We talked about it to family members and daycare workers. Sometimes it’s not easy to navigate the heteronormative and binary expectations of society. As a parent, I am still figuring things out and try to be seen for who I am. For my child, I am trying to give them the support and love they need so they can find their own way, be strong the way they are and do what they like with pride. This should be the case for every child, whether they are intersex or not.