By: Max Sheffield-Baird
I never expected to become pregnant. I had made my peace with it years ago. I was assured by an OBGYN over five years ago that I could not ovulate without medical assistance. As I came to terms with my gender identity as a non-binary trans person, I saw my lack of menstruation as my body doing me a favor and saving me the dysphoria of a monthly reminder of my body not quite fitting the person I knew myself to be.
I’m a nurse. I’ve actually attended two births. Each time I cried. It was a sacred experience to witness. Whether you’re religious or not, I was able to see the argument for a Deity when I’d see a baby take their first breath and their parents get to hold them for the first time. For my own birth experience, I had nervous anticipation. No one comes into Birth prepared. Not really. I had a birth plan but I also knew that nothing goes 100 percent as planned. It was an exercise in letting go and surrendering to the process. I’ve never been very good at that.
I did expect to educate the labor nurses and obstetricians around me on my gender identity and how best to support and affirm me as I went through one of the most vulnerable times of my life. I created a sign and hung it over my hospital bed at Truman Medical: “My name is Max, I’m non-binary, I use they/them pronouns.” The nurses asked questions and were respectful. They asked me if “mom” was still appropriate to use.
This one was hard. “Mom” is a heavily gendered word in our society. People often can’t divorce that from being female. I struggled with this as well, throughout my pregnancy trying on and researching different names for my parental title. They all fell flat. Mom it is. I can reclaim it. And as my child gets older and understands what my gender is, we could decide on a new name together.
I had started laboring on my own, but my body stalled. My water didn’t break, and I was stuck at 5 cm dilation for five hours. On the precipice. 6 cm was active labor. 6 cm was The Point of No Return. They broke my water at 1:30 am. I expected there to be a waterfall of progress, both literally and figuratively. That didn’t happen.
The only scream or curse I let out was a “Motherfucker!” as the anesthetist gave me a burning shot of Lidocaine before my epidural. After that, I had a long uninterrupted sleep. Even then, I knew this may be the last one I would get for years.
The morning I gave birth felt deceptively uneventful. My mother made it from Florida around noon. My brother had been hanging around as well. We chatted to get my mind off of things. I was allowed some Sprite to sip until I hit “active labor.”
The external sensors weren’t picking up my contractions or the baby’s heartbeat, which was delaying any progress. Towards lunchtime, they decided the best option was to use internal sensors.
“Well, I can’t feel anything down there anyway. What’s a few more tubes in my vagina?” I shrugged. This was part of not knowing how this will unfold. This will help us get unstuck.
This allowed them to dial in the Pitocin and consequently my contractions. I went from 5 to 6 then to 7. I was able to move my legs enough to change positions and I used an exercise ball to continue to progress. The baby nurse checked the equipment and introduced himself as we all prepared for the Big Moment.
“I am not a woman, and yet I did feel a kinship towards all the women, trans men, and non-binary people across the millennia with who I shared this experience. Those around me helped to validate me, and I felt seen as someone who has a uterus but is not defined by it.”
It was at this point my spouse decided that he needed a meal beforehand. We both agreed now was the time because it would be an hour before I progressed further. He went downstairs for some mediocre chicken tenders, and I considered my post-delivery meal.
Half an hour later, the doctors checked my cervix. I was at 10 cm. Instantly, a dozen people were in my room.
“Are you ready to push?!” The doctors and nurses asked.
“No! Where’s my husband? He went down to the cafeteria…” I asked my mother to go find him or if there was a way to page my husband but he walked in the door right as I tried to frantically call him.
We all moved into place, they took apart the bed and put an honest to God trash bag underneath me to catch all of the fluids and other things that no one mentions comes with birth.
It had Begun. This is what I had been preparing for, waiting for.
What you see of childbirth in the movies is an exaggeration. There were no screams, no roars, or cursing at my spouse. I took in a breath and spoke aloud as I pushed: “One, two, three…” After every push, I recentered myself into monk-like concentration. Something I have never been able to manage before. There was no pain, the tube in my back assuring me of that.
It felt like a long, slow climb of pushing and breathing. I had a mirror positioned to check my progress and to motivate myself. My spouse was at my side, cheering me on and encouraging me to rest in between. The nurses held my legs and helped count out my pushes. After 30 minutes, I realized that I wasn’t just pushing physically, but the endurance and mental aspects were pushing me in ways I’d never experienced before.
I’ve felt powerful before. Felt liberated. Felt spiritual and ecstatic. Childbirth is all of the things rolled into one. Power defined is the ability to act and influence.
I was bringing a human being into the world with my will.
I am not a woman, and yet I did feel a kinship towards all the women, trans men, and non-binary people across the millennia with who I shared this experience. Those around me helped to validate me, and I felt seen as someone who has a uterus but is not defined by it.
After about an hour, I could see tufts of dark hair. He was crowning. I was told that this part would be the most painful, but seeing his head just propelled me forward. I had to be reminded to rest, I just wanted to keep pushing and pushing to meet this small person who I had felt kicking and squirming for the last several months.
He arrived at 2:46 p.m. after about an hour of pushing. The nurses placed him on my stomach, and within 15 seconds of being alive, he peed all over me and narrowly missed the NICU nurse. I couldn’t help but laugh. I was already being initiated into the real shit of motherhood.
It’s been almost a year since then. I realize that many feel disempowered and traumatized by their birth experiences due to structural medical bias that actively ignores womxn of color and is paternalistic towards us as if they somehow know more about our own bodies than we do. Just as I felt kinship before, I am now inducted into a long line of parents and mothers and feel an even greater sense of responsibility to those who came before and what I will leave behind. Power defined is the ability to act and influence.
We must roll up our sleeves and get (back) to work.
Max Sheffield-Baird (they/them) is a writer and marketing strategist who’s passionate about racial and economic justice. Max is a parent of a rambunctious infant and is a student at Colorado State University and is expected to graduate in July 2021. In their dwindling free time (hello parenthood!), they enjoy podcasts, reading fantasy and non-fiction, and educating people on kyriarchy on the internet.