Pregnancy is never easy, but giving birth as a trans couple during a pandemic is a new level of difficult. Six months ago, D.C. couple Ahanu and Petrona gave birth to a baby after an arduous emotional and physical struggle they chronicled on the Facebook Watch show 9 Months With Courteney Cox.
Ahanu, who identifies as transmasculine and nonbinary, carried the baby, with their transfeminine Indigenous spouse Petrona by their side at every moment (something necessitated by COVID). Ahanu and Petrona bravely bared it all for the cameras, sharing emotional family struggles emanating from transphobia, along with the physical challenges, including initially being told (wrongly) by doctors that their hormone therapy meant the couple could never conceive.
For most queer people, Ahanu and Petrona's decisions to have a home birth, not assign their baby a gender, and have Petrona attempt to breastfeed were not that radical. But for vampiric right-wing politicians like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Sen. John Kennedy, their private choices were scrutinized and defamed — Greene even called Petrona's breastfeeding "child abuse."
We spoke with Ahanu and Petrona before Republicans pounced on them, and they sounded like typical young parents navigating their first child (while the world tries to recover from a pandemic). They were sleep-deprived and battling some postpartum depression, but it was clear the couple's first concern was their baby and ignorance on anyone else's part was not their problem (except when it involves health insurance; see below). Read the conversation here and click here to watch their journey on 9 Months With Courteney Cox.
The Advocate: Were you both on board with sharing your pregnancy story with the public?
Petrona: We had a slight disagreement, as Ahanu is a little bit more reserved than I was. I'm a very open person on the internet and I have been for a long time. So I was OK with all of it, and Ahanu had to be a little bit more warmed up to it. But eventually we thought we should do it — we wanted to ensure there was representation on this program of Indigenous people, of trans people. We wanted to show that representation.
Your idea to not assign a gender to your baby confounds most cisgender, straight people. What was the reaction among your LGBTQ+ friends and family?
Ahanu: Everyone in our whole circle was into it.
Petrona: We have a lot of trans Native people in our community, so our understanding of gender is very different than what white people, white trans people, believe. So for us, gender is a service of the community. It's a role you play in your community. It's understood it's something you grow into, not something assigned when your born. The process of coming into your gender, your adulthood, that's something we celebrate in our community. So our community was completely understanding and just excited to meet a new community member.
Have there been complications among doctors or health care professionals with having a baby not assigned a gender?
Ahanu: D.C. Medicaid is forcing us to assign a gender even though on the birth certificate there is no gender attached.
Petrona: We've been fighting that because D.C. Health requires everyone who has Medicaid assign themselves as male or female. What do intersex and nonbinary D.C. residents put as their assignment? Are they forced to assign themselves a gender as well, and if so, why is the intersex, trans, and nonbinary targeted being specifically targeted by Washington, D.C., and other states?
You can change your gender marker on your D.C. ID, but on all your other documents, when you go into the hospital, when you go into the legal system, all those things are already in the gender binary, so they're forcing you back into the binary or you're discriminated against. D.C. is very performative.
Any suggestions for parents interested in a home birth like yours?
Ahanu: Believe in the power of intention. There is going to be people who are going to say you shouldn't do this, but trust your instincts.
Petrona: For the partner, be sure that you're listening to your partner, the birthing parent, because their needs are the ones you need to ensure our met. Everyone's needs are important, but the birther and the baby — they're the main event, the main team. If the birther and the baby are uncomfortable, something can go wrong. For the partner, you have to make sure you have someone to support you as well, and you can support your partner completely. Not in the way you feel you need to support them but in the way your partner says, "This is what I need from you during this time."
You both were calm when the baby didn't cry initially. How?
Ahanu: I wasn't even aware the cord was around the baby's neck until well after the birth, but I had already read it was common, with water births especially, for it to take a minute for babies to transition with their breathing.
Petrona: When I saw the baby was born in the caul, I was very confused. It's very rare. I was very confused, I think that's the baby but it's wrapped in something ... but I assumed it was normal and everything was OK.
Ahanu, was it strange or upsetting watching your body change during the pregnancy?
I had some weird gender feels going on. Being nonbinary, I'm alreadly like, "What the fuck?" on a daily basis; that was intensified with the pregnancy. It's been even more advanced after the pregnancy; my body looks so different. It's just a new body, and some things I'm not happy with. So I'm learning to love my body again and affirm myself again.
Petrona, anything surprise you after the birth?
After the baby was born, I was surprised to learn the nongestating parent is able to also get postpartum depression. I want to say I'm experiencing some of that; it's very strange. I did see Ahanu go through some stuff, and so I saw how they were able to come through some things and still be a good parent.
Did you always want to be parents?
Ahanu: For me, I never wanted to be a parent. But I've had trans youth cling to me and I learned to take on that parenting role. Through that, I learned that I'm actually pretty good at this.
Petrona: I always wanted to be a mom. Growing up transfeminine, I always had that pushed on to me that I wouldn't have children and so I internalized that, but also something that happens with transfeminine people, we get pushed into the mother roles in the community and that was something that very naturally happened to me. Being pushed into a mother role with Ahanu as the other parent allowed us to see how we would be together as parents. It was a very happy surprise. As trans people who have been on hormone therapy, our doctors asked us to sign away our fertility in order to have access to medication. But [when it comes to hormones causing infertility] the medical system is wrong.