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Little Bird

Little Bird was originally published as a limited-edition zine by A CLEARING: A Maine Arts Community and is currently included in their book A POSSIBLE PRACTICE: Etymologies.

Little Bird

*****

What God criminalizes creation?

—Kristin Chang, “Etymology of Butch”

No matter the circumstances of how we arrive into this world, someone breaks their body open for you to be born. Birth is ritual—faith, blood, and sacrifice. My first act of devotion: I willingly gave up my body for you. My baby, you are the child of queer and trans ancestors, created with intention and deep longing.You will inherit the grief, living in our cells, passed down from generation to generation. But you will inherit our resilience, too. Our community has always found ways to exist and to thrive in a world that has tried to extinguish the sacred light that shines within us. My Birdie, we knew exactly what we were doing when we chose to create you with our queer and trans bodies. Some people will not see this as a gift, but trust me that it is.

*****

We are on a paddling trip with friends, camping on a remote island, to celebrate mythirty-second birthday. I take myself for a walk and stand quietly on the rocks jutting out into the lake. To my right, the sun is beginning to set. The sky is painted a deep rusty orange, red fading to a bright pink. I close my eyes and press my palm firmly on my heart. In the other hand I hold a small, round stone in my fist. I make small circles with my thumb, feeling its calm smoothness. I speak the words out loud, ​I am ready for you.​ I stand silently until the sun descends behind the horizon of pine trees. I let my heart fill with the idea of you. Throwing my rock into the dark water, I watch it sink into the unknown.

Six weeks later I am standing in front of the bathroom mirror staring at my own reflection. After so much anticipation for this moment, I’m afraid to believe that it’s real. Holding the test in my trembling hands, it feels dangerous to be so hopeful. When I show Daddy the two pink lines, neither of us speak and both of us cry. We fall to sleep with our heads spinning and hearts racing, wondering who you might become.

The next day we take ourselves to the woods. We don’t tell anyone about you yet, and even alone we only talk about you in hushed whispers. The birds and early rays of sun wake me up in our tent. I lay quietly watching the changing sky through the mesh ceiling and I talk to Grandpa Bill. Telling a ghost feels like the safest place to start. I tell him my fears, worries, and cautious excitement. I let myself imagine for a moment that he and I are standing side by side under the canopy of birches and evergreens. He is listening and smiling, a proud Grandpa. I lean back into Daddy and he wraps his arms around me in his sound sleep. Rubbing circles on my soft belly, I try to imagine how it’s possible that you are true.

Watching your limbs move under my skin now, I tell you all of the ways that you are loved. At night Daddy sings you to sleep. I tell him I can feel you dancing. We give you a name and paint

your room soft yellow. We make you a blanket and wooden blocks. We collect books, impossibly tiny socks, and place a small bear in your crib. We build our nest and wait for you.

*****

You begin to tell me you’re getting ready to be born as we harvest fiddleheads along the banks of the Presumpscot River. It’s late mud-season and I’m awkwardly hiking the sloppy, winding trails. Every few feet I’m out of breath. The cramps start and I’m sure you’ll be born right there in the dirt. I lean against the mossy bark of a nearby tree, wrapping my arms around my full, wide belly. I imagine your small body curled inside of me like the fiddleheads all around my feet. Please wait​, I whisper. You answer with gentle movement, then stillness, and I know you are resting. I sit on the ground and harvest until my container is full.

Two days after your due date, just after midnight, I’m wide awake with cramps. They come. They go. Staring into the black, I count the long minutes between contractions. I feel anxiously excited, like when I was little and threw up every single Christmas morning. Everyone else is sleeping. I’m pacing, watching the sun rise and turn everything golden and warm.

I don’t pray, but I talk to Great-Grandma Jackie, who birthed seven children. She died when I was five. I didn’t get the opportunity to know her well enough, though I remember with clarity, the soft folds of skin on her arms where I would rest my small head when she hugged me. As I ask for her strength and guidance, I wonder what she would think of who I have grown up to be.

Nudging Daddy awake, I tell him, ​She’s coming today.​ We walk: down the block, across the apartment, in circles, talking, laughing, and sometimes crying. We walk until I can’t anymore and I only focus on taking big, deep breaths. We stay home until the contractions are so close, I’m not sure we’ll even make it to the hospital.

The nurses stick me three times before they get my IV in, but they are kind to us. I’ve learned to be wary of florescent-lit rooms, scratchy paper gowns, doctors I can’t quite trust. But these nurses smile with their eyes. In this room I feel safe. I feel cared for. Right now there is nothing extraordinary about me or our family. I am just like any other patient, heaving into the plastic container they hold under my chin, surviving the throes of labor. ​You’re doing great, ​they tell me​. I’m in and out of the birth tub. The warm water brings relief until it grows too cold and murky to stay in. I want to curl up in bed. I want this part to be over so I can hold you. Outside, the sun has long since set. Daddy holds me and assures me you’ll be here soon.

Breath, pain, breath, pain, pain, pain. I’m sure I can’t go on another minute. Then I feel you moving down into the birth canal, like a little fish swimming downstream. For a split second no one else knows what’s happening. I’m afraid to say it out loud and make it true. ​She’s coming​. I reach for the nurse’s hand and she squeezes mine back. Our midwife is gentle and encouraging. ​Keep going.​ Daddy can see the full moon circle of your head. He’s telling me you have hair. On the other side of this moment a cord will be the only thing tethering me to you.

Your head is pressing down; there’s a blinding flash of white-hot pressure and I think I will be split wide open. Then I let go.

10:24 p.m. You come out slick and screaming, landing safely in Daddy’s arms. Your head is cone-shaped and covered in so much wet, dark hair. Your eyes, almost black but wide open, staring at us. I look at you and think, ​Oh! You’re here. It’s you​. Daddy lays you on my chest and nothing hurts anymore because all I feel is overwhelmed by the enormity of my feelings for you. You are brand new but so familiar. Haven’t I known you forever already? In this moment I imagine you have crossed lifetimes to return to me.

It’s just the three of us now, skin to skin to skin, in the quiet dark. We’re crying, holding each other, sleeping in fits and starts. When the sun rises the first morning of your life, we still haven’t put you down yet. Daddy rocks you to sleep. I watch him become someone new, ​your Daddy.​ Falling for him all over again, I marvel at what we created—you, our baby. He’s whispering to you the names of the plants and animals in the salt marsh outside the window. The Red-Winged Blackbirds call out to announce your arrival.

When you are born you eclipse every negative, ugly word uttered about us. You rarely cry and sleep often so I am sure the other shoe will drop. You can’t be this easy. I cried so much during my pregnancy I envisioned that you would ride down the birth canal on a river of my salty tears. But instead you are balm, you are light, you are my solace from the world. We’re in awe of you. So small and delicate, and covered in downy hair, like feathers. Our Birdie.

*****

I’m standing in the shower, cradling the stretched and sagging skin of my belly that had protected you all those months. It’s been a week since your birth. Watching blood trickle down my thigh and turn the water pooling by the drain to pink, I let myself feel tenderness and acceptance towards my body. I think of what I endured and all that it took for you to get here, for me to get here to this place of surrender. I sit down and rock myself while I cry and cry and cry. I grew you, birthed you, and we both arrived safely to the other side. But I’m not the same person anymore.

I start to feel a growing, low rumbling anger at the rejections of the past and present. When we finally shared our pregnancy news, some people couldn’t even offer us their congratulations. Their silence speaking for them instead. I know enough by now that tolerance isn’t acceptance, and it definitely isn’t celebration. I can’t hold the weight anymore, the dam breaks and waves of grief wash over me.

You don’t have the right to give birth. It’s weird. What will I tell my kids? My coworkers? My hairdresser?​ Other voices join in. Though their numbers are few, their words are a chorus louder than all the others. The private choice made in the dark of night between my partner and I deserves to be ours alone, but I can’t block out their ignorant ringing opinions. They are wolves

who believe they are sheep. They don’t deserve to be a part of this sacred, intimate time. We can’t shield you from their bitter words, but we can wrap ourselves around you, cocoon you in comfort and protection. I cover my ears and close my eyes, promising to be stronger than their voices. I put my faith in us, in you.

Everyone admires you now that you’re here. But no one asks how I am really doing. Their hands reach for you but I hold you closer. I don’t pass you around. If I could have put you back inside of me to keep you safe, I would have. I try to keep my guard up, but since you arrived I have no more walls. My heart—wide open and vulnerable. Anxiety slowly creeps and crawls its way in and I am powerless to stop it. Heightened instincts leave me constantly on edge, claws and teeth ready to defend. I want to retreat into the woods and leave behind everyone but you and Daddy. I want to be lost in this ethereal devotion for you. I don’t want anyone to need anything from us.

I start isolating myself because I feel so lonely no matter who I am with. ​Is this self preservation? There is no one around me who understands this intersection where I find myself. My friends have babies too, babies they grew and birthed with their female bodies. It’s not the same for me. I can’t explain to them the shame I feel for the impossible, secret desire I have to feed you from my body. How I dream one night of holding you to my nipple and feel the milk flowing to your wet, rosebud mouth. How I wake up sobbing into my pillow, my flat, scarred chest swollen and tender with milk that has no release.

I am drowning in a hopeless sea of estrogen and progesterone. I’m treading water and anytime I slip under the surface I hear them. ​You’re putting yourself and your baby in danger. What you’re doing is wrong. It’s not normal. You’re not normal.​ Every time I go under it’s that much harder to pull myself back up for a breath of air. I’m buoyed only by oxytocin and your sweet gummy smile. ​My perfect baby, how is it not enough to keep the darkness away?

It shouldn’t matter what other people think of us. I ache for community but there is no one like me where we live. I want a space of unspoken understanding to be already carved out for me. Instead I feel invisible. I should find a therapist but I can’t. I don’t want to explain myself. I’m afraid of being rejected again. Instead I settle, making myself smaller and smaller so no one can see what’s going on under the surface. I stare into the mirror, thinking ugly thoughts about myself. The reflection looking back is very far away, out of reach. ​If I focus hard enough I can make myself disappear.​ I don’t feel special or brave or strong. They make me believe I deserve to feel this way. The ones who couldn’t see the beauty in every step of this journey that led us to you.

*****

When you see my face, I watch your eyes grow wide. Your whole body squirming and wiggling. Your skinny legs stretch and kick. You coo and squawk, calling to me. I practice seeing myself through your gaze. I want to memorize you, to create a map the shape of you. I kiss your

forehead, your eyelids, your mouth. I press my lips to the center of your palms and the bottoms of your feet. Our queer and trans bodies came together to create something too beautiful for anyone’s stinging words to reach me here. Immersed in your absolute perfection, I worship each part of you.

You fall deeply into sleep with your hand on my skin, always craving the touch of my body to yours. Your delicate fingers with their half-moon nails rest against the swirls of hair on my chest. In this intimate space between us, the soft landscape of my body is comfort to you. You don’t ask who I was before or what it took for me to get here. With you, I don’t need to be anything more or less than who I am in this moment. ​Your Papa.​ If I lean far enough into this singular purpose of caring for you, where I am always enough and exactly what you need, maybe I will be alright.

Lost in your dreams, your eyes dart back and forth under your fluttering eyelids. I place my hand on your chest. The thin skin covering your ribs, as delicate as the hollow bones of a bird. Your breath catches, and then you sigh and settle into a patterned breathing again. My own chest rises and falls in unison with yours. I imagine our hearts drumming to the same beat.

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When it’s time to fly, you know.

[part one of a two part essay]

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Watch me, Papa! I can go really really high, all by myself!

And Oh, how you do. You grip the swing’s chains in your fists and pull yourself up, without my help. With the toe of your sneaker you push off the ground one, two, three times. Now, pumping your legs back and forth, you soar higher and higher into the air. Looking down, you make sure I am still watching you.

I make my hands into binoculars and watch you through the circles of my fingers. I can barely see you way up there in the sky! You smile back so wide, the space shows where your two front baby teeth used to be .

But also, your R’s still sound like W’s when you say really, really. And when you have a bad dream you crawl into our bed and snuggle into me, whispering, I just needed you, Papa. Soft and warm as when you were still new; your hand searches for a patch of my skin, instantly reassured when you make contact. In these moments, you are still so impossibly small to me.

How can I let you go into the world?

I never kept you close because I wanted to keep you from experiencing the richness of life. I just wanted to be there alongside of you to help you navigate it. I wanted to revel in the joy and wonder of those first five precious years of your childhood. And when I think about the countless hours we have spent talking and the millions of questions you have asked me, I feel so lucky to have been your first teacher. I watched you test and explore the boundaries of your confidence, resilience and curiosity. I helped you grow your capacity for critical-thinking, and empathy. You have always exceeded what I thought was possible for a young person to understand and I suspect I have learned more from you than you have from me. I have no expectations of who you are or will become. Just love yourself, and be a good person. 

In a few days we will prepare a lunch and tuck a sweet note alongside it. We will pack it into your hedgehog backpack with your trusted Bear-Bear. We walk with you to to the little building where you will spend six hours a day, three days a week with your friends and teachers. After we say goodbye and walk away, my hand will feel so empty without yours in it.

But you are not mine to keep.

I am so excited for you, Bird. That should not be lost or eclipsed by the bittersweet ache I will feel when I watch you go out the door. This sadness is my own and only one piece of the complex patchwork of my heart’s feelings about parenting you. You will thrive. You are ready for this.

When I go to school, Papa, I won’t be with you. That will be different, and kind of sad. Wonder if I need to cry? Wonder if I miss you? Wonder if I just need you?  

I don’t cry in front of you when you say this, but it takes several big deep breaths not to. I feel it right in the bullseye center of my chest. Putting my hand on your heart, I tell you I am right there, every minute of every day no matter where you are. It will be different and sometimes it will be really hard. Growing is like that. Crawling onto my lap, you surround yourself with my arms and ask me to rock you and sing. Like when I was a baby, Papa. Later, when you have finally fallen to sleep in your own bed, I stay curled around you, crying big silent tears into your back. I have to give you this chance to see just how high you can soar, even if letting go feels impossible.

15A2C7C3-DF0C-483E-9389-07CE3A196917You got this, kid. 

5

I dreamed you were real.

I don’t always remember my dreams, but when I am able to recall a dream, or hold onto pieces of my dreams, they tend to be vivid and visceral- they feel more like memories, or messages than they do dreams. Some dreams haunt me with muscle memories I never truly had; a smell, or a touch, or the unshakable feeling that I am missing or have lost something. Often I will wake up, unaware that it was just a dream, and there are several minutes of confusion as I try to wake up and place myself back in reality.

A year ago I had a dream that I still carry with me because it refuses to go away, a year later it still carries a sadness I can’t seem to shake anytime I think of it. At the time it felt so raw and real that I wrote it down [something I rarely do but probably should more often]. I had a baby boy, with dark, dark hair and my Papa’s blue eyes. He is quiet and petite and I can’t stop staring into the bright, clear pools of his eyes. Birdie is spooning him on the bed. They nap together like this while I watch in awe and adoration. But everyone else around me seems ambivalent to him, like he is nothing, like there is nothing significant or important about his arrival. Whenever I try to show him to someone he gets smaller, and smaller, and smaller, until he is the size of my hand. I try to hide him but I already know that I am losing him and I am powerless to stop it. He turns into a wooden doll I hold in my palm. I wake up and try to memorize his face. We never gave him a name. I cried secretly for days after I had this dream, it felt like a such a real loss, and I never told anyone about it until now.

A few days ago I dreamed about that baby again. In this dream a Barred Owl was sitting in the pear tree in our yard. It was either very late at night or very early in the morning; the kind of deep dark that makes the time of day feel ambiguous. The owl blended in to the sky and the tree, all except his wide and bright eyes, which were looking curiously back at  mine. I stood below the tree, in pajamas and barefoot in the garden that was just barely covered, though not entirely, with a light snow.  The owl didn’t move or make a sound and we just stared at one another. He was there to give me something, that much I knew, and when I looked down in my arms a baby had appeared. A baby boy with dark, dark hair, wrapped in a grey blanket, staring up at me with big blue eyes, framed with beautiful eyelashes like feathers against his skin. I held him and I felt his weight, his warmth, his heartbeat against mine. I inhaled the smell of his head and felt dizzy and glad. As I stood there I knew he was both real and not real, that I was holding him now but that I would have to let him go. I woke up with empty arms and could only remember the face of the owl. It wasn’t until days later that I remembered the baby and could suddenly so clearly recall the texture of the soft, faded blanket in my fingertips, and warmth of his face pressed against my chest.

No, we are not having another baby. I wish that was what I was writing about but it isn’t. But I don’t think it is a coincidence or surprise that my most vidid and lasting dreams are about babies, because they always have been. Little tiny omens are often visiting me in my sleep, delivering some sort kind of message and leaving me feeling a heavy sadness upon waking. They started when I was a child, they became more frequent and intense when I was in high school, and they continue, even now- maybe even especially since having Birdie. I don’t always know what they mean, sometimes they are metaphors, sometimes they just represent a longing, sometimes I think they are more literal, but almost always, they appear as babies.

Every year I make a commitment to myself that I will write more, that I will finally start writing the stories I really want to tell, that I will be more diligent about sharing my writing. I think that this dream arrived, just after the new year, because that owl was delivering me an invitation, or maybe a gift, to see that I need to treat my writing practice with the kind of love and tenderness that I would a baby. I need to nurture my writing, to get it ready to stand on its own two feet, to help it communicate something to others. To give it my time, energy, and devotion, and when the time comes, to let it go out into the world.

Something I struggle with is making the time and space for my writing to take up space in my life, to treat it as though it is important and valuable. So this year I took a leap of faith in myself and I signed up for an online writing class, taught by a writer I respect and admire. It felt like a really big deal, not because I am nervous to write or share my work, in fact I am feeling really excited and energized to be communicating with other writers and pushing myself outside my comfort zone. The hard part was investing, even a little bit, in something that is just for myself, and that feels embarrassing admit. As a parent and as a partner  and, to be honest, just generally as a person I tend to place my needs as the least important, the first to be brushed aside or forgotten along the long list of things that need to be taken care of. This is just as true for the little things as it is for the big things. And there are a million reasons for this, some of which I have been working on my whole life, some of which I am actively working on in therapy, almost all of which are entirely self imposed.

But here I am trying. I am starting by trying to treat this blog a little bit more like a child- giving it care and attention and priority in my life. I am trying to hit send even when my writing doesn’t feel perfect, even when it feels scary to share a piece of myself that feels so vulnerable, even when I fear what other people will think about it. Maybe someday I will dream of that owl again, and I will offer it a gift back; a book wrapped in a worn blanket, a collection of all the things I was able to say when I gave myself permission to invest in my own story.

3

 

I have stopped paddling and our kayak is floating and rocking on the water. Your arm just barely reaches over the side, nevertheless you dip your fingertips into the water, then you pull them out and suck the cold salty water off and smile. We see a horseshoe crab, long since dead and smelling of decay. I pick it up and show you. You touch its shell, you ask, Will it pinch me, Papa?  No, honey, it’s dead. It’s not alive anymore? No, it’s gone back to the earth, that’s just it’s shell. We touch the crab and talk about it’s texture and when we have had enough you throw it back and say, go back to nature.

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I paddle us on and you lean back into me, now your palms are rubbing and patting my legs, reassuring yourself with the contact of your skin against mine. You ask, What dead mean, Papa? This is not the first time we have talked about death, but today your questions feel different, there is something more under the surface that you want to say. How old were you when Grandpa Bill died? A teenager. Why he have to die papa? He was very very bad sick. How old were you when great grandpa buddy died? A grown up, a few years before you were born. Why he die? He lived a very long life, almost 100 years, it was just time for his body to be done living. What it mean to die, Papa? It means your body no longer works. You can’t talk or feel or think. You go back to the earth, sweet pea. I answer your questions as I best imagine you can understand them. I try to be gentle and honest. I am sure my answers are imperfect but they are enough for you, for now.

The question is forming in your mind, I see it behind your eyes but I can’t bear for you to ask it yet. What will I say to you? You don’t ask it tonight, but I can feel it coming.

Weeks later we are in the comfy chair in your bedroom, you are snuggled on my lap. It is getting late and I am trying to get you to sleep but you are unsettled and restless. It is dark in the room and I can’t see you, but I feel your weight against me. I know that one of your hands is rubbing the well worn paw of your bear-bear, the other hand is fingering the collar of my shirt. When you fall asleep you will lay your palm against the skin of my chest.

 Papa…will I die? I am caught off guard by this, I take a breath and I say, yes, sweetheart, some day everything that lives dies. But not tonight. Not tomorrow. Not for a very long time, you have a lot of life to live first. I feel sad about dying someday Papa. Oh buddy, it can feel sad to think about dying. It’s ok to feel sad about it, I feel sad when I think about it too.

Papa? Yes Birdie? Will you die someday? Now my heart is nothing but a lump in my throat and if I open my mouth I think no words will come out at all, just a rushing river of tears. I don’t know how to tell you this. I don’t want to have to tell you this.
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What I want to tell you, my sweet one, is that I never ever want to leave you. That I would do just about anything to never have to leave you. But this is not how life works. This is the balance of exactly what makes life so precious and beautiful- that is it not forever, that it is out of our control.

I swallow as hard as I can and I make my voice sound calm and collected and I tell you the truth. Yes, someday I will die too. You don’t answer with words, you just reach up and hug me, you bury your face in my chest and maybe you can hear me or maybe you can’t but my tears are rolling down my cheeks now onto the top of your head- which smells like lavender shampoo and that only makes me want to cry harder. I tell you I love you, I tell you again and again that I love you. I want to fill you entirely with love so that whenever the day comes that I have to go, you will never wonder or want or search for my love. You will only have to look within you, there it will be in your blood, in your bones, in each and every beat of your heart.

You are mostly quiet after that and you fall asleep heavy against me while I sing you the same lullaby I have sung every night since you were born. I sit there still holding you, long after you fall asleep. Everything is fleeting and impermanent, but here in the dark you can still be my baby, and I can be your Papa forever, and I will never, ever leave you.

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5

Welcome, welcome.

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Our Birdie arrived eight weeks ago and nothing has been, or will ever be, the same since. In the past two months I have tried to write so many times, but after a few sentences I am stopped short by overwhelming emotions. I feel like I don’t have a context now- what is there to compare this to? Nothing. I feel very limited by language Love seems like such a very small word now. It is not nearly big enough to contain the way I feel about her. What I feel for her is greater than any other love I have ever known and comes from somewhere so deep inside I was unaware it even existed before her. Many people have asked me what it is like to finally be a parent and I have yet to come up with an accurate answer. Even in the hardest moments it is still the very the best gift I have ever received. It is amazing, terrifying and humbling. It is everything I ever dreamed of and far beyond anything I could have ever imagined or hoped for.

When I think that she has been here now for almost two months it seems impossible. I am quite sure just yesterday she came into the world, slippery, screaming, and looking up at us with dark, wondering eyes. But then again, how has it only been a couple of months? Already I can’t remember what it was like before her, I feel like I have loved her forever. And I suppose in a way I have. Before we made her, before we planned for her, even before I met Josh, I thought of her- my baby. I dreamed of her and hoped for her and so desperately wanted her. She was woven into the fabric of my heart so long ago that I have been practicing loving her forever.

I want to always remember clearly the day we met her. While we had a trusted team of a midwife, a doula, and nurses, the only person I can really remember clearly that day is Josh. I remember his gentle support and encouragement, how he said just what I needed to hear to keep me going. I remember him holding me as I leaned hard into him to get through the toughest contractions. I remember looking at him and seeing his trust in me and my ability to bring our daughter into the world safely. I remember him smiling at me with so much love in his eyes and feeling so deeply connected and close to him during our very last hours as “just us two.” Through my labor I focused a lot on Birdie, during each contraction I took big deep breaths for her, when I started to lose myself I remembered that she needed me to be strong for her. I didn’t worry about what I looked or sounded like, I just trusted that my body was capable of knowing what it needed to do and I listened as it guided me through labor. Towards the final hours I remember asking when it would end, and Josh would just say, “When we get to meet Rowen.” Anytime I felt like I maybe I had reached my limit, that thought reminded me that there would eventually be an end and it would all be worth it. Then, after ten hours of very hard work, I felt her body moving down through me getting ready to enter the world. There was a split second just before she arrived when I was scared and excited and on the edge of so much possibility…and then suddenly there she was. Like a little fish she slid out of me and was born into Josh’s arms. He placed her on my chest and I looked at her and thought, Oh there you are, it’s you. Finally, there was my baby that I had waited so long for. I looked from her to Josh and nothing else mattered or existed in those first moments together as a family.

These first months of parenthood are such an intimate and personal time, Josh and I are navigating completely new territory in our relationship and trying to figure it all out together. We have had to trust each other on an entirely new level. We have had to learn how to balance caring for our baby, ourselves, and each other. On nights with little sleep and a lot of crying we have had to practice forgiveness and patience with each other. The transition from being individuals within a couple, to being individuals within a couple within a family has not been flawless but I would like to think we have handled it with grace, love, respect and a sense of humor. I know that there is no one else I would rather be on this journey with than Josh. What is so incredible to me now is when I look at Rowen’s face I can see Josh. I see his eyes and his chin and his expressions looking back at me through her and it is amazing to see. I am looking at this person that we made together and I am falling in love with him all over again.

My relationship with myself has changed completely since giving birth. I have had to adjust to postpartum hormones and anxiety in a way I wasn’t entirely prepared for. I knew that the months following her birth would be challenging, but it hasn’t been difficult in the way I imagined. We are lucky in that so far Birdie has been a pretty mellow person. I don’t feel insanely deprived of sleep and we haven’t [often] had to spend hours pacing, bouncing and rocking an inconsolable baby. Instead I have struggled with a love for Birdie in that sometimes takes on a certain fierce, protectiveness and comes from a deep instinctual place within my body that feels out of my control. I have a hard time being away from her at all, even when being apart from her just means that she is on a walk with Josh- who I trust completely as an equal and capable parent. I sometimes have a hard time letting other people hold her, even when they are people who I love and trust. I know that this separation anxiety won’t last forever and doesn’t come from a rational place in my brain. I know that when my body begins to react to our being separate I can take deep breaths and talk myself down and remember that she is safe, that she is ok, and that I am too. After nine months of her growing inside of me I am still learning how to separate my body from hers- slowly and carefully without feeling like my heart is going to break apart completely. I know that in quiet moments where I am holding my baby, her hand a little fist clutching my shirt collar, her hot breath against my skin, her small body curled against mine- my heart feels as peaceful as it will ever be. I have waited my whole life for these moments, for this person to arrive, and sometimes it is all I can do to never let her go.

Now, so many weeks later from that very first day, I am still in absolute awe of her. When I look at her sleeping I feel like I have happened upon a deer in the woods. In those moments my love for her is quiet, calm and full of wonder. I watch her with held breath and a hand pressed against my chest, over my heart. I look at her and think, how is it possible that we made you? That once you were a wish that I had and now you are an absolutely perfect person. When she has periods of wakefulness she will lay on her back and lock eyes with us, her body will wiggle, and she smiles at us with her tiny toothless mouth. My heart skips a beat when I see our happy baby looking back at us with starry eyes. I watch her strong kicking legs running a phantom race to nowhere, her hands like little starfish swimming around in the air, and her mouth opening and closing trying to tell us all her big important stories. I feel like in those moments we get a little glimpse at who she will be as she grows, what she will look like and how she will move through the world. I try not to think too much about how quickly time is passing and instead savor all of these perfect first new moments we have with her. I try to remember that as she grows there are so many things to look forward to along the way. Someday she will laugh and giggle at us when we make silly faces at her, someday we will get to hear her voice and she will use it to say  Dada, Papa and so many other things, someday she will reach her arms up at us and will ask to be picked up and snuggled, someday she will stand up on her own two feet and take steps forward. Some day she will do so many big and small amazing new things and just maybe if we can focus on all those individual moments as they come, it won’t feel like it is all going by in the blink of an eye.

What I know for sure is that we are incredibly lucky that this baby picked us to be her Daddy and her Papa. I feel blessed to have carried her though my pregnancy and to have brought her into this world the way we did. I know that Birdie wouldn’t be here or be exactly who she is if we didn’t take this giant leap of faith in ourselves, in each other and trust that this was the right path for our family regardless of what anyone else had to say about it. I feel honored to have been entrusted as her caregivers as she grows and I feel hopeful that we will do our very best for her. Every single day I am amazed by her. Every single day I am grateful for her. Every single day we tell her how much we love her. I know being a dad is not always going to be easy, I know that every age comes with its bliss and its struggle, but I think that is all part of this journey we are on so I welcome it. I welcome Birdie to this world in all her perfection and flaw, in all her sweetness and rebellion, in all the magnificent little bits that make up her own unique individual character. Welcome, welcome, our little bird, we are so happy you have arrived.

 

4

The Waiting Game

Tomorrow is our due date. Which feels pretty significant in some ways, like- I grew a full term baby, like- Josh and I have survived the emotional/hormonal roller coaster that has been this pregnancy and we are still very much in love at the end of the ride, like- we have waited nine long months to meet this little person and whether it happens today or tomorrow or sometime next week, we are finally going to get to meet our baby. We are also trying to be patient and realistic around here and not pin all our hopes that Birdie will make their grand entrance tomorrow, we know that they will come when they are good and ready and there is no amount of want or worry that will make them come any sooner.

I have felt pretty patient and present through this pregnancy, until a couple of days ago. I think it is because we made it to the 39th week, I wrapped up work on Wednesday, and now we are literally just waiting. Yesterday I took Rigby for a long walk around the neighborhood and had a little talk with Birdie. I told them how much we were looking forward to meeting them, how we are so excited to see their little face for the first time, to touch their tiny fingers and toes, how I can’t wait to feel them against my chest and how I cry every time I imagine watching Josh hold our baby for the very first time. And much like my last birthday, just a few weeks before Birdie became a little cluster of cells growing inside of me, when I whispered a prayer to the universe and said, I am ready for you. I am also not ready for you, but mostly I am ready for you to be here whenever you are ready to be here. There is a place for you here and it will be here waiting for you and only you, yesterday I held my belly and whispered aloud to Birdie, We are ready to meet you, we are terrified and excited and probably wholly unprepared for the ways in which our lives will change in the coming months, but we are ready to be your dads as soon as you are ready to be born and be our baby.

This is a strange place to be right now, to be constantly ready for labor to start and to also try and not be overly focused on, when is labor going to start? But we are as ready, the car seat is installed, the nursery is set up, the hospital bags are packed, and Birdie and I are both healthy. Today we are enjoying a slow quiet rainy morning knowing it may be our last one for a long time. I wrapped up things at work last week and I have spent the few days sewing and cleaning, walking and resting, everything is as is in place as it can be and now we are just waiting…

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A few weeks ago, my dear and talented friend, Erin Clark, took these lovely photos for us. And though I am not personally feeling at my most photogenic these days, I am glad we have these photos to someday share with Rowen and to remember this precious time by.
[please do not post/print/use these photos in any way without written consent from me. thank you!]

 

pregnant 3

pregnant 5

pregnant 2

4

April showers brings May…

Spring has not entirely arrived yet in Maine, it keeps dipping a toe in the water- hesitant, cautious, not ready to take the plunge quite yet. But April is upon us now, and despite the light snow shower last week, I feel hopeful that the warmer weather is ready to stick around for a while. All of this changing of seasons and quick passing of time caused me to stop the other day and realize that we have recently reached our 9th month of pregnancy. It seems like just yesterday with trembling hands and teary eyes I passed the stick with two little lines to Josh and we looked at each other and said, “holy shit.” Now my belly is a visible hill under my tee shirt, a little mountain for the kids I watch to climb on or drive cars across, where I can see the little movements when I look down and can feel a little bum sticking out. Now when we go to bed at night and Josh sings or talks our baby moves at the sound of his voice. Now there is a crib and a sweet nursery all set up waiting for this little one’s arrival. Now this growing person has a name, Birdie, and we are counting weeks not not months until we get to finally meet them. And now I still can not believe this is happening.

9 months!

9 months!

When I was younger holidays were a mix of excitement, anticipation and anxiety- so much so that I threw up every Christmas morning due to my over abundance of holiday joy. I remember though, much of love of holidays stemmed from the mystery and possibility that they held. At birthdays I wanted to wait to open my presents last because I wanted to savor the feeling of what could and might be under the brightly colored paper and bows. It wasn’t a lack of gratitude for what I had or got, but there was always a little let down when it was over and the magic and wonder had passed. I feel just a little bit like that about this pregnancy right now. I am so excited and a little impatient to meet this baby, but I am also so happy to be right here we were are now. Right here where I haven’t made any big parenting mistakes yet, where Birdie is safely cocooned inside of me, where we don’t yet know the sound of their little voice, or their array of facial expressions, or if they have long skinny legs or chubby cheeks, if they will be easy to soothe or if we will spend hours pacing the floors of the apartment rocking, swaying and bouncing, if I will look down at their face and say- oh, there you are, or if there will be days and weeks of getting accustomed and familiar to this little strange being. There is so much possibility, so much that will happen and grow in the next  year, and the year after that, and the years beyond, this time right now is precious and as it draws to an end I am holding it a little closer. I know when the time comes I will be ready to open my heart and let go so I can let in all the new and beautiful changes that will come with our baby’s arrival, but until then I am holding sacred and staying present in what a miracle this in-between place is.

Recently we had a party to celebrate our growing family and warm our new home. It was a whirlwind of family, friends and community all gathered together in person and in spirit to share well wishes and welcome this new life. I keep saying it, but I still can’t say it enough- we are so lucky and so grateful for the people in our life who support and love us. The day after the shower Josh and I read the welcome notes that everyone who attended the shower wrote to Birdie [which we will save and read every year on their birthday], I cried at least three times, then later we sat in the nursery and opened the thoughtful and beautiful gifts people brought us, we found out that the paternity leave fund that our friends created for us surpassed the goal they had set [thank you, thank you], and I cried some more. I remember in the early days of the pregnancy, when the enormity of what we were undertaking started to sink in on a new and heavy level, both Josh and I took turns having panic attacks and melt downs saturated with; how are we going to do this, are we really ready for this, and who is letting this happen? But under all that self-doubt and worry I kept saying, it’s going to be alright, we are going to be alright, and Josh kept saying, we are ok, we are going to be ok. And here we are now, and we are more than ok or alright- we are beyond blessed, we are full of joy, we are as ready as we will ever be to jump head first with eyes wide open into everything wonderful and terrifying that is parenthood.

Lately, despite the aches and pains of 9 months of pregnancy, and the challenges of navigating the world as a man who is pregnant, I have been feeling so glad that I have had this opportunity to experience this pregnancy. There was a time in my life when I assumed I would never want to, or be able to carry a child. There were times during the planning stages, when Birdie was still an idea and not yet a person, when I wondered what we were getting into, and could I handle it, and was I strong enough. But now I have no worries or wonders, this was absolutely the right decision. I know not everyone who wants to have a baby this way is able to, I know that there are so many beautiful ways to create a family that don’t involve growing one yourself, I know that if this didn’t work out we would have found another way to become parents. But right now, I just feel so lucky, I feel so connected to this person who woke me up at 3:30 this morning kicking and moving and has kept me up to watch the sunrise out our apartment window on Easter morning. I feel perfectly content to be right where we are right now, and also perfectly ready for the moment that Birdie is ready to enter this world and everything changes.

2

blessed: [adj.] 1.supremely favored, fortunate; 2. blissfully happy, contented.

*Big sigh of relief*

We moved. To be more specific, we moved with the help of more than a dozen of our friends who showed up, packed their vehicles, carried our things up a tricky flight of stairs, and helped me clean our old apartment. They maintained good senses of humor and positive attitudes and were paid only in gourmet doughnuts and our endless thanks. I also can’t imagine how this move would have happened without Josh. Seriously, he was a packing, cleaning, organizing machine. At one point [with the help of an energy drink] he sawed the legs off our broken, too-big couch and hauled it out of our old apartment, single handed. He did the work of both of us and then some, without complaint. I don’t mean to gush, but that guy is the best.

And now we are in our new home which, despite the boxes piled up in every room still, feels very much like home. It is clean, and spacious and freshly painted. Our super sweet landlords put so much work and effort into making the space beautiful for us, and it shows. [Have I mentioned yet how blessed we are?] While we still have so much to do to really settle in, I am so glad we made this transition pre-baby arrival. Moving was a lot of work and both physically and emotionally. We left a house with a lot of collective history, full of people that we really love, and it wasn’t easy to let go of that. But our new space feels like the very best place for us to be right now, and I absolutely feel like we made the right choice in moving. I am looking forward to the months of nesting ahead and making a home with my sweetie, and our dear friend and housemate, and eventually welcoming our baby into our space. Already in the last few weeks I have felt a great sense of relief having the hard work of the move behind us, it feels like a giant box has been checked off the to do list, and now, even though there are still a hundred more little boxes to check off in the next couple of months, I feel like there is more room to breathe now and appreciate this journey a little bit more fully than before.

In the last few weeks I have found myself in a random moment in my day, caught up and stopped by the thought of just how very lucky we are, and how blessed I feel by all the love and support in our lives. As I mentioned in my last post, too much time during this pregnancy was spent caught up in negativity, worry and stress, both outwardly and inwardly, and going forward I made a commitment to myself to immerse myself in all the goodness that this pregnancy has been, continues to be, has brought us, and especially very soon what it will bring us- our baby. Because really, what else matters? What I have found is that the more I open my heart to see the blessings, large and small, the more they reveal themselves.

Months before we were even discussing actively trying to get pregnant I had become frustrated with the waiting for this process to start. So I took a coffee can out of the recycling bin and started putting money aside for our eventual “paternity leave fund,” we may not have been ready to make a baby yet, but at least I was doing something to support that goal. As time went on and the baby became something that was actually happening and not an abstract idea both Josh and I got serious about saving money, the coffee can grew into a savings account and we began discussing how much unpaid time we could afford to take off of work. The truth is, probably not enough [how much time to spend with your newborn is “enough” really?], because as soon as we had money put aside in savings we began thinking more realistically about the need to keep more money in savings now that we would have a child. Emergencies and unexpected expenses come up and both he and I know we will feel more comfortable knowing we have savings to fall back on when/if that need arises. A big part of our discussion in choosing to bring a child into this world was around the responsibility we would be taking on, and part of that responsibility is being able to financially support our family. Let me be clear- we can support our family, but we had been stuck feeling like we had to choose between using all our savings to stay at home with our baby as long as we could, or go back to work too soon after baby’s arrival and sacrifice important bonding time as a new family and recuperating time for me post-birth.

And then a few of our close friends approached us with an idea they had to fund raise money for Josh and I as a gift of time off with our new baby. Our first response was hesitation- we worried what people might think, we worried that it was asking too much of people, we worried that it was our responsibility to come up with this money ourselves…and then my wise friend Sage said, “Just say yes.” So humbly, we did. Our friends punched the numbers of how much we make, what our cost of living is, and came up with a goal of money to raise. In the end whether or not that goal is met is not important to Josh or I, we are enormously thankful for every single dollar that has been and continues to  be gifted to us which will help us both take off a much more significant amount of time post-baby than we would be otherwise able. When it was shared how much was raised in the first day both Josh and I were taken back by the generosity, kindness, and support of our circle of friends/family, our greater community and even complete strangers. I think of those first few months and the time we will be able to spend together with our baby, no matter how sleep deprived and exhausted we are, and I am overcome with gratitude for everyone who is making that possible.

Probably at least once a day now I go and stand in our baby’s room, which is set up with nothing but boxes, yellow walls, and a crib- and cry. Happy tears, overwhelmed tears, I still can’t believe this is happening tears. The nursery is something really tangible, more so than the clothes and gear we have collected that was piling up in our spare room pre-move. It is a space that we are putting intention and love into to create for our child and there is something special and sacred about the space. It is the same way I think about the local and greater community we are welcoming this baby into. We have been blessed with so much kindness, in the form of  emotional support, hand me down baby items, thoughtful homemade gifts, much needed baby supplies, offers for donated breast milk, and most recently- financial support for time off after birth. When I look at step back and look at the people in our lives who are our support network, who will be our baby’s support network, I am caught with a lump in my throat and a hand on my heart and I think- what a beautiful, special, sacred circle we are welcoming our baby into.

People keep saying this baby is going to be so lucky to have us for parents. But to be honest, we are the lucky ones here, we have so much goodness already, and this baby is going to bring more joy, love and wonder than I can imagine our hearts even know how to hold. Thank you all, for reading, for supporting us, for loving us, for donating…for everything you have given us and continue to give us on this journey, it is my honor to share it with you in whatever small way I can. Thank you, thank you, thank you…

5

The beginning of the end.

This past Tuesday marked 3 months until our due date and all I can think is, Woah there! Let’s slow this all down a little. I realized the other day how much I have begun to enjoy this pregnancy, and then I immediately thought, how can it almost be over? It is not that I wasn’t enjoying it before, but because of a lot of complicated and layered factors, I felt like I wasn’t able to even make room for the joy, the bliss, and the amazement at what was happening with this little person growing inside of me.

The first couple months I was wrecked with anxiety about something happening and losing the baby, I was battling nausea all day every day, insomnia,and pregnancy hormones were in full swing leading to hours of unexplained crying. We also weren’t telling many people about the pregnancy so there wasn’t much support for why I was feeling so terrible and worried and anxious. In short, I was a disaster.

Then the second trimester came and everything settled down for a little bit, the wanting to throw up and also eat only bagels every day all day subsided, as did the long bouts of crying. But then we started sharing our news with people outside of our immediate and protected circle of family and friends. And, for the most part, we were met with so much excitement, joy, love and support, but not always, and that was [and continues to be], really hard and disappointing. I also struggled with how it felt unjust to have to worry about what people would think about our family, about this very private and personal choice, and especially to already feel like we are having to defend this kid we created and rally against a world where not everyone is ready to accept them with open arms and no questions asked about how they got here. The pregnancy began to feel less like it was our special secret, and more like another coming out that everyone we told got to weigh in and have an opinion [good or bad] on. As the months went on there were big changes happening in our personal lives, which were not entirely baby related- but let’s be honest, everything is baby related these days, like it or not. Due to increasing aggressions and fights between our two dogs, we had to re-home one of our dogs- which was heartbreaking and one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. We decided to move before the baby came, which meant finding a new space for our growing family and finding people to take over our lease so we don’t loose our security deposit. And while the decision to move was overall a positive and necessary one- it added a layer or two of stress into an already stressful time. Then out of the blue my car died, on the side of the road on the way to work and I began to think maybe the universe was against me. Then I thought better of it and realized that the universe was just getting all of this out of the way before May, so that when the baby arrives perfect and healthy and never crying, we can just enjoy it all with absolutely no undue stress. Ok, that might be an exaggerated pipe dream, but it got me through some of my darker days.

And now here we are at the finish line of the second trimester and the start of the third trimester, or the beginning of the end. I feel huge, sore, and it is getting harder to find ways to mask this growing belly and find any comfortable position to sleep in. But I also get to feel this little baby moving, kicking and punching all time time now. And though it may feel inconvenient- the belly is tangible evidence that this baby is growing and getting bigger and getting more ready every day to join the world. The other night I couldn’t sleep and I lay in bed counting kicks and pokes and I suddenly felt very sad that this part would end. There is something so precious and intimate about pregnancy, something magical about a person growing inside of me who will someday be independent of – and yet, still a part of us, something amazing about what my body is capable of, and something so beautiful about what has been happening for these past six months.

I have also started caring less and less about what other people think about this pregnancy and about our choices. The more real this baby becomes the less space I have for people who aren’t able to be overjoyed, excited and as in love with this little person as we are. There just isn’t room for anything else these days, and I refuse to make space for negativity about our child or their journey into this world. At some point I realized that we aren’t becoming parents, we already are parents- we are already worrying about and protecting this baby, making big and small decisions that will effect the quality of our lives together, loving and taking care of this baby since the moment we found out we were pregnant. Part of me feels cheated that I wasn’t able to relish this kind of particular joy sooner in the pregnancy, but I also take responsibility for what I allowed in and what I allowed out during the harder months.

The good news is that at some point I realized this kid was coming and that I could spend the rest of my pregnancy with them worried about everything else, or focused on them, and that either way at some point the pregnancy would end and there would be a baby and all the time spent in anxiety and frustration would be time lost when I could have been filling up on feelings that were nourishing to my spirit and energy. I am grateful that I have a network of support around me and within me to know how to take care of myself, where to draw hard lines, and how to get myself to a better place.

So here we are, three months to go. I plan to relish every last bit of this pregnancy and this magical time we have to share with our baby before they come into this world. Then they will be here and I will have practiced letting go, I will have practiced welcoming this beautiful change, I will have practiced protecting this child, I will have practiced learning how my heart can possibly grow big enough to support the love that I will have as we welcome this tiny, new, incredible person into our world.

6

And so it begins…

Two and a half years ago, on the eve of my thirtieth birthday, I had a meltdown of epic proportions. There was a lot of crying, self pity, and a general feeling of being tethered to nothing and feeling ready for things that I neither had nor knew how I was going to get them [namely- a dog, a boyfriend and a baby]. That night I made a pact with myself that in two years time, whether I was partnered or single, I would actively be on the path to fatherhood. The next day I adopted a dog, and a few weeks later a cute boy asked me on a dog walk date. Eventually that cute boy [Josh] and I fell in love and slowly and steadily we began to build a life together. I don’t remember the first time I brought up having children, but it was very early on in our courtship and still I didn’t scare him off. As time went on and our relationship grew so did our conversations about parenting, about family, about values, about how and when and why we wanted to have children. In some ways we were on the very same page, in other ways- not so much, but in the most important ways, we absolutely saw eye to eye. In Josh I had finally found a person who I completely trusted to co-parent with me, to learn and grow with me as a partner and as a parent, to have faith that wherever life should take us- we would always be connected by this shared honor and responsibility of parenting.

Through the course of many conversations, after much soul searching and exploring of our options we decided that what felt like the best and most right decision for us would be that I would carry a child for us. I am transgender [i.e. I was born and raised female, grew up to identify as male, and as a young adult medically and socially transitioned to male] and Josh is not transgender. For us that meant that when it came to how we would create a family there would [hopefully] be no fertility treatments, sperm banks, or adoption paper work, I would stop taking my hormones [under the care of and with the support of my doctor], and we would try to make a baby. There were many factors that brought us to this place, and while I support all of the beautiful and diverse ways in which other people choose to create a family, having a baby this way was not only something I hoped we would be able to do, but it was something we really wanted to do. So, in November of 2012 I stopped taking my hormones and started putting my faith in that if we were meant to have a child this way, we would.

On my 32nd birthday [August, 2013] Josh and I went on a weekend paddling and camping trip with some friends. Even though I had been off my hormones for nine months we hadn’t begun actively trying to make a baby and were stuck in a sort of cycle of “when is the right time/is it ever the right time?” I recalled the pact I had made with myself two years prior, and in so many ways knew it had already come to fruition- I was indeed on the path to becoming a father, if not actively in some ways, at least we had a plan and an end goal. But still, I went alone to stand on the rocks and face the water, I took a big deep breath and rooted myself in the spot where I stood and opened up my heart to ask for the wish that was laying in the deepest, most sacred place inside of me. I said, I am ready for you. I am also not ready for you, but mostly I am ready for you to be here whenever you are ready to be here. There is a place for you here and it will be here waiting for you and only you. Then I closed my eyes and stood still and quiet with that truth, I really let go of how and when my baby was going to come, and I started to trust that however and whenever it happened, my baby would find me.

Two weeks later we made a baby.

baby!

Now it is nearing the end of January 2014 and I am 24 weeks pregnant. Some days I can still hardly believe it, but it is happening. The weeks are going by so quickly now, my belly is getting bigger, we saw all the tiny perfect parts on the sonogram screen, and recently the little person growing inside of there began kicking and poking at me, reminding me gently that they are very real and that this really is happening. As much as I could know before that I wanted to have a baby, I was wholly unprepared for how it would feel to actually have one growing inside of me- which is nothing short of amazing. This baby shares bits of Josh and bits of me to create an entirely new, unique and incredible person and I can’t help but feel lucky, blessed, and honored to be carrying this life. I can only hope, and try not to worry, that the rest of this pregnancy will continue to go smoothly and come May 18, 2014 we will be welcoming this new person into the world and into our family with so much joy, love, and utter amazement.

Every day now I wake up early and I feel like there is a little fish swimming around in my belly, I say good morning baby and Joshua reaches over in his sleep and wraps his arm around me, so we are all three snuggling in the bed quiet, content and perfect. Right then I feel like the absolute luckiest person in the whole wide world…and it is only going to get better and better.