Dear New Parent,
As I sit down today to write, I find my thoughts coming to you. They have been coming to you for a while now. Each time I see a new baby picture on Facebook. Each time I smile as I pass a pregnant stranger in the store. Every time I see a tiny tot just starting to walk and reaching for their parent's hand for support.
I think of you often.
I think of your excitement. It is an amazing time in your life. Whether you are carrying your first child, your third child, your fifth child. Whether you are a year into your parenting gig. Whether you await the finalization of adoption papers. I think about you and how Rudy and I felt as our lives were about to shift into a gear and detour to a highway we had never driven.
Like you, we picked out a crib, a rocking chair, chose bedroom colors, stuffed animals, a perfectly coordinated lamp, a mobile. Our friends held a baby shower for us and we spent long hours holding up the tiny clothes and imagining them filled with a perfect little human. And poop.
Like you, we were also scared. Shitless and witless. The total lunacy in handing the keys to a human being over to two people who had no idea of what they were doing was not lost on us. It is akin to handing the real keys to a Ferrari over to a six year old and saying, "Have fun, good luck!"
We read, we planned, we plotted. We day dreamed, we nightmared, we held our breath. (Well, I held my breath in labor - he tried reverse psychology by telling me how great my breathing was. It worked. I would instantly remember to breathe.)
And then she was there.
It is everything you dreamed of, and nothing you could have imagined. Your heart practically explodes from your chest as the emotions of immeasurable love collide with the innate, instinctual knowledge that you would instantly kill in order to protect this person you only just met. You will cry, you will laugh, you will whisper tender words to your child.
And you will spend long minutes that will turn into long hours just staring. Visually dissecting every perfect tiny feature. Marveling at how small a toenail can be. And you'll drift off into the days ahead, imagining them playing dress up, playing with Legos, learning to ride a bike, going to school, perhaps playing a sport, and on and on and on.
You know what you won't think about?
You won't think about where they may fall on the human spectrum. No matter how open minded you are, or even how rabidly biased you may be, it simply will not be a thought in your head. And why would it be? If all goes according to biological design, your babe will have clearly designed genitals that lead to a clearly designated indicator on a birth certificate that lead to a clearly understood set of pronouns, etc.
You will take your cherub home, and family life will begin. Pink, blue, yellow, hair bows, jeans, tutus, Barbie dolls, dump trucks.
And the days will move you all forward down a fairly predictable path. Well, most of you.
For many of you, however, there will come a day when your child begins to express themselves in ways you did not predict, design, approve. What's this? This is not the script in my head!
It may happen when they are 3, 6, 16, 20. They will say something, indicate something that will throw you off balance. They may be gay. They may be bi. They may be non-binary. Or they may be transgender.
And you will again find yourself thrown in to a gear and down a highway you have never driven. Only this road has no helpful billboards or road lights, just a long, dark, ribbon of highway you will either illuminate on your own, or crash into a ditch of your own making.
I think of this a lot these days when I see you. When I admire your family pictures on Facebook. I don't know who will be the ones, but I know that some of you will be.
Just like me.
I remember holding my youngest baby in the hospital. Just as I had held his siblings before him. Cuddling, crying, marveling, and promising. Promising to be the best parent I could be. Vowing to always love him no matter what. Swearing an oath to protect him with my life.
Only he wasn't he. At least not that we could see, not that he could say. So we took home our third child, and ponytails, some dresses, and female pronouns flowed. Through the years, our youngest differentiated himself from his sisters - no big - kids are all different. Strong, adventurous, hated dresses, was a hardcore tomboy who grew into a kickass athlete, eventually being recruited to a women's collegiate soccer team.
Life changed roughly three years ago as that tomboy came to me and told me he was a real boy, transgender.
What I tell you now is important. I have always spoken and written that a baby is a blank slate, and I still believe that, to an extent. Obviously, like a new car, there are certain items that come standard on the base model - eye color, hair texture, left/right handed, easy going or hardheaded. These traits reveal themselves in pretty short order. That part of the slate is filled in for you and you get no choice in the matter. Just as if they are born with a birth defect, asthma, cystic fibrosis, deafness, suffer from a mental illness. Just as if they are born with Down's syndrome, Williams syndrome, any genetic syndrome.
Just as you get no choice in their gender or sexuality - which again, I stress to you, are mutually exclusive in every human being.
The part of their slate which is blank and is impacted by what you and society write upon it is the part that will determine pride vs self loathing, understanding vs frantic confusion, tolerance vs condemnation, and love vs the pale imitation that so many find when they dare utter their inner truth.
New parents - I implore you - as you gaze upon your precious angel in their crib, truly think about what love entails. What it means to you. Look at that gift you made or brought into the family of your heart, and imagine a day when they are struggling, different, afraid. Imagine if they could tell you right then, as a tiny, helpless baby, "Mom, I am a lesbian." "Dad, I am transgender." "Please don't stop loving me."
What will you do?
I wrote this today because I am asked so often about how I felt when Toby came to me. Have you struggled? Do you feel shame? Do you wish it wasn't happening?
Have I struggled? Of course I have. But not with him being transgender. That is not what keeps me up at night. No, I struggle with my fears of him vs society. I struggle with knowing I will not always be at his back to have his back. I struggle with now knowing how long he struggled before he found the courage to say the words to me.
As for shame? Not even a millisecond. This is my child, my amazing, talented, skilled, compassionate, creative, loving child. I made him. How could I ever be ashamed of him for being who he is?
Do I wish it weren't happening? Yes. Surprised by that answer? Well, let me clarify. I do not spend time wishing Toby were not trans. My only thoughts when I gaze into the distance have to do with the pain this has caused him. I wish I could stop that from happening. I wish I could go back and erase the years he spent "dark," knowing but not understanding his own struggle. I wish that a lot. I am a parent - my birth vow to him was to protect him at all costs. Finding out that you are not the parental Harry Potter you envisioned yourself to be is hard to digest.
I just know that the moment I held him to my chest in the hospital, as he took his first breaths in this world, that love I felt practically suffocating me for the third time in my life, still threatens to end me today. The way I cherish him, his bravery, his journey, his everything sometimes hits me like a tsunami and I am swept away on waves of my own tears.
That perfect baby is still a perfect young adult. There is no difference in his humanity, his personality, everything that makes him, HIM.
I thank God, the universe, love, and light every day that when this blank slate came into my life, with blue eyes, blond hair, and the spirit of a tiny Tarzan, that we wrote upon him daily with unconditional love, unwavering support, pride of self, dignity, and humanity. We never wrote on him with fear or expectations, or demands to fulfill our personal unfulfilled dreams, or hopes for him to be anyone except who he is.
He is today, like his two older siblings, still the baby I held, cherished, loved, and nurtured.
New parents, you will not get to choose your child's life any more than you will get to choose their eye color. It may run a predictable course, but it may not. I tell you now - either course is ok, even better, either course is GOOD. You just have to be willing to walk the walk - all that talk you do on their first day in your lives has to carry through with meaning and intent every day that follows.
Do that and you will be the parent I know you hope to be.
Your child, no matter where their spot on the spectrum may ultimately lie, wants only to be loved, nurtured, cared for, and treasured. For the unique, one-of-a-kind human being they are.
Just like you.
Love them fully, freely, fearlessly. The rest will fall into place. All the best as your adventure begins,
A Mom Many, Many Miles Down An Unexpected But Exhilarating Road