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.