This is an edited version of an essay that first appeared on The Iron-On Line
Although my baby’s still a few months away from eating anything other than amniotic fluid, my midwife has already asked whether I’ve decided how I’m going to feed him or her when the time comes. Knowing several mothers who fully intended to breastfeed but found they couldn’t, I’m not willing to carve a decision in stone until I have experience to draw on, but I’ve made my provisional decision. It’s at once straightforward and complicated: unless it proves physically impossible, I’m going to breastfeed.
Of the many benefits of breastfeeding, the one that sways me most is the amount of equipment I could then manage without. Bottles, teats, sterilisers, bottle brush – on my budget, anything I can cross off my shopping list is one less thing to worry about. By contrast, I already have the equipment I need to breastfeed, and it seems wasteful not to use it.
Convenience is also a factor. Making up a bottle sounds as though it needs a great deal of care and precise measuring, which is not at all my strong suit. Breastfeeding, once you’ve mastered the technique, doesn’t require any preparation, and your body adjusts the supply without conscious effort. And if I want to continue with activities I’ve enjoyed pre-parenthood, my baby carried along in a sling, I don’t need to haul the full bottlefeeding kit everywhere I go. I just need to find a comfortable place to feed, preferrably out of sight of people who are offended by the sight of a breast being used for the purpose nature intended rather than to sell deodorant.
The complications only come in because of my gender identity. I don’t enjoy having larger breasts that can’t easily be hidden, but the swelling is a result of pregnancy, whether I choose to breastfeed or not. Now they’re swollen, I can put them to good use, or I can have them sitting uselessly on my chest. Not the most difficult decision I ever made.
Other people insist on seeing difficulty there. I can understand why breastfeeding is seen as such a female thing, but men can breastfeed too. Breast tissue is pretty much the same in both sexes, so with the right hormones, anyone can theoretially produce milk. I know most men would be disgusted if they lactated, but how much of that is simply down to the fact that breastfeeding has “girl cooties”?
And in any case, I’m hardly a typical man. I’ve considered taking hormones to make me look and sound a little more male, but I never wanted surgery. I was born with a female body, and no matter what surgery I undergo, it’s never going to be capable of all the things a male body can do. I’ve made my peace with that fact, and I can appreciate all the female things it can do as a kind of compensation. If it weren’t for my female parts, I wouldn’t be getting this baby, and I happen to believe that being able to feed said baby using just my own body is a skill worth having.
Other people, of course, will see me differently. When they look at me, they’ll see a classical picture of mother and child, a symbol of femininity and motherhood in action. And within their own heads, they’re perfectly welcome to see that. It’s only if they start forming expectations of me based on that image or getting angry because I fail to live up to those expectations that there’s a problem, and I see it as their problem rather than mine.
Deciding how to feed my baby shouldn’t be a big deal. I shouldn’t have to explain myself to psychiatrists who can’t break out of the pink-box/blue-box view of gender for long enough to understand that gender dysphoria is not incompatible with a healthy pregnancy. There shouldn’t be any suggestion that my gender identity and the best interests of my baby are somehow in conflict. That the suggestion recurs so often makes me both angry and sad, but I see it as a problem with the world and not with me.
For myself, and for my baby, I know which way I want to go. And at least for the time being, that’s good enough.