The dad who gave birth: ‘Being pregnant doesn’t change me being a trans man’

Everything from Jack’s arrival at the pool birthing hospital, including the delivery and pregnancy, is documented in a close-up film that also captures the intimate experience of making the decision to have a baby. He describes it as a life-changing experience since he gave birth many months ago. McConnell, although more of a classic doting dad, is shown on his phone taking a film of his gorgeous baby Jack, who has heavy eyelids, blue eyes, and blond hair, contentedly snoring.

You might expect McConnell to be an exhibitionist or an extrovert, given the fact that in private and reserved journalist multimedia Guardian is rather old-fashioned and stiff-upper-lip in an English way. So, why would he want to expose himself like this on Earth?

The documentary called Seahorse is a wonderful and tender portrayal of the complexities of identity, hormones, fallouts, breakups, family, and love, particularly from the perspective of a young male. Director Jeanie Finlay decided to take creative control and assemble her own team to bring this story to life. In doing so, she recognized the responsibility of not sensationalizing the experiences of transgender individuals, as many TV and film documentaries tend to do. McConnell felt betrayed by production companies that would exploit these stories for entertainment value. He also acknowledges that it may seem counterintuitive to share his private life on screen, but he believes it is important to tell his story and shed light on the experiences of transgender individuals.

I have never felt comfortable working while being pregnant. I looked for people to help me out. McConnell lives in a small seaside town in the south of England, where he says he grew up and felt safer than here in London.

It was hard for Freddy to initially comprehend why having a baby defined womanhood and made it appear that becoming a man was a very difficult thing to do. The fallout from pregnancy was one of the reasons for the strain in their relationship; his father does not appear in the film. He is well-spoken and carries himself like a military man, just like his son. Within two minutes of walking into the local shop owned by his father McConnell, we chance upon the town center. The town is small, and it belongs to him, right’s he.

It’s amazing how McConnell, the protagonist of this human film, goes through the process of questioning himself about why he wants to carry his baby and what he is struggling with. McConnell, as a father, no longer struggles with the philosophical concept of simply loving his grandson. He asks his father how Jack is and if he has any plans for babysitting. The exchange between the two is very loving and warm. Today is indeed very different.

32, McConnell, began taking testosterone when he turned 25 and underwent “top surgery” to eliminate breast tissue a year afterward. He contemplated getting a hysterectomy but ultimately decided against it, partly because he hadn’t ruled out the possibility of having children. In the documentary, we witness the profound disorientation McConnell experiences when he ceases testosterone intake in his attempt to conceive using a sperm donor; his body essentially undergoes a reversal. He starts experiencing menstrual periods again (“I dislike the notion of having tampons in my bag,” he grimaces); his facial hair becomes sparser, his hips widen, his stomach becomes softer, and his voice transitions from resonating in his chest to emanating more from his throat. “Every time I ponder over it, I ask myself, ‘What on earth am I doing?'” He confesses. At one point, a tearful McConnell breaks down in front of the camera in the middle of the night, declaring, “I feel like a complete outsider.”

I am in awe of him because he does such amazing and brave things. It’s not as simple as it seems, but then she relents. Occasionally, when he feels sorry for himself, she loses her patience and apologizes. On screen, his mother supports him with a no-nonsense attitude and a tender and caring nature. McConnell tells me that she had no idea he was transgender before he told her when he was a child. Esme, who is loved by him, tells me that he is encouraged by his mother throughout the experience, especially men – everyone should experience being pregnant.

Our lives are not normal or scary, and actually, people who are trans are quite normal. The key is to think about empathy. I thought it could be a good opportunity to spread empathy, but it sounds wishy-washy. McConnell tells me that the film wants to normalize trans people, which is the most important thing. We head towards the cafe on the pier overlooking the North Sea channel, and it’s a fiercely windy day.

Freddy McConnell with his son. ‘I needed to figure out exactly who I was before I had a kid.’ Photograph: Manuel Vázquez/The Guardian

Is there a significant need for convincing at the moment, especially given the rise in anti-trans rhetoric? The government opened a public consultation last year on proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, which would allow trans people to legally change their gender with a gender recognition certificate. This would mean that individuals would no longer have to undergo an expensive and arduous process of presenting anonymous evidence to a panel and signing a statutory declaration akin to an oath. Opponents of the proposed changes argue that this would increase the chances of men pretending to transition in order to gain access to women-only spaces, such as refuges or prisons. Conversely, campaigners for equality point to the fact that there is little evidence to support this risk and argue that longstanding safeguarding measures are in place to keep all vulnerable women safe. Providers of service have argued that these measures should be kept in place to ensure the safety of all women. The government has yet to make an announcement on what happens next.

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In 2017, the government published figures showing that hate crimes against transgender individuals increased from 1,248 to 1,651 in the past 12 months. McConnell believes that much of the antipathy towards transgender people has been fueled by unlikely bedfellows – feminists and the “alt-right” – who argue that biology is the destiny of transgender women and men. Many people haven’t had the chance to meet a transgender person and therefore base their opinions on caricatures and stereotypes, which often result in misunderstandings about the changes that transgender individuals go through. It is important to spend time with someone who is transgender in order to gain a better understanding and to challenge these misconceptions.

Physically and emotionally, what compelled him to subject himself to such a great deal? “Since I had been informed that undergoing a transition would render me unable to conceive,” prior to my transition, I contemplated the idea of getting pregnant – because I have always adored children.” However, he concluded that it would be irresponsible to have a child at that time; how could he provide the necessary love to a baby if he himself was unhappy and bewildered? “I pondered, ‘I must undergo a transition for the sake of my own mental well-being, so it would not be wise to become a parent now.’ Before having a child, I needed to ascertain my true identity.”

Transitioning, McConnell was told that if he wanted children, he should consider the complicated and expensive route of surrogacy and freezing his eggs. Before transitioning, he should also consider the small chances of success. We were told that we don’t want and can’t have children. It really seems unfair now, knowing the truth about men being given limited information about their options, including how to safely carry their own children. I accept that I will never have my own children, which feels like a “Yes, I was saying” moment. He recalls being told that starting testosterone would leave him infertile and he had to sign a consent form.

McConnell discovered that in America, there were transgender men who were pregnant and having babies, which made him worry about being attacked or ridiculed. He was still struggling with the idea of having his cake and eating it too, as he was having a baby while transitioning from a man to a woman.

I’m just using hardware to do a thing. It took a long time for me to separate my identity from biology. It’s pragmatic. “It took so long for me to feel okay. It took so long for me to feel okay about wanting kids because there’s a attached stigma. But I felt like I needed something, it is having a genetic link to me. I went back and forth for ages.”

According to data compiled by Medicare, in 2017, 40 individuals in Australia underwent natural or C-section deliveries. In the previous year, there were 75 individuals who identified as male and underwent natural or C-section deliveries. In an interview with the Guardian last year, Jason Barker, who gave birth to a son eight years ago, humorously mentioned that in Britain alone, there have been approximately six “first pregnant men.” The Guardian bestowed this title upon Scott Parker, who claimed to have given birth a few months earlier, while Hayden Cross was placed in second position. In 2017, Hayden Cross was celebrated as “Britain’s first pregnant man” by the Sun. Although not as uncommon as often believed, it still remains infrequent. There are no definitive statistics available regarding the number of transgender men who have given birth globally or in Britain.

McConnell while pregnant. His mother used to tell him “I loved being pregnant. Everybody should experience it – especially men.” Photograph: Jeanie Finlay

Doesn’t change me being transgender, if I’m pregnant. It’s a part of me, it’s a part of me, and it’s not something that I can choose to change or leave behind. It’s not dependent on my physical state. It’s a part of me, it’s a part of me, and it’s not something that I can choose to change or leave behind. It’s not dependent on my physical state. It’s a part of me, it’s a part of me, and it’s not something that I can choose to change or leave behind. It’s not dependent on my physical state. It’s a part of me, it’s a part of me, and it’s not something that I can choose to change or leave behind. It’s not dependent on my physical state. It’s a part of me, it’s a part of me, and it’s not something that I can choose to change or leave behind. It’s not dependent on my physical state. It’s a part of me, it’s a part of me, and it’s not something that I can choose to change or leave behind. It’s not dependent on my physical state. It’s a part of me, it’s a part of me, and it’s not something that I can choose to change or leave behind. It’s not dependent on my physical state. It’s a part of me, it’s a part of me, and it’s not something that I can choose to change or leave behind. It’s not dependent on my physical state.

McConnell expresses, “Upon reflection of events like that, I perceive a young child.” He states that the images evoke distressing recollections, specifically the pictures captured during his adolescence and teenage years. In the movie, McConnell and his mother nostalgically recall moments captured in photographs from his early years – displaying a boyish, boldly-styled, and spirited demeanor. “All I can perceive is an individual who is profoundly uneasy with their own identity.”

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‘I look forward to sharing everything with my son. I’m going to be totally open at every stage.’ Photograph: Manuel Vázquez/The Guardian

Certainty pugnacious and restraint diffident courtesy old-fashioned of mix funny a is McConnell these like moments. It?” With do to got name old my has name old my has got to do what so – it?” It with do to got name old my has name old my has got to do what so – it?” Storytelling trans of trope a such it’s because definitely, “Yes. Is deliberate? That was name the what discover never we But.” It? Deliberate that is “Yes. Is got to do with it?” Name old my has earth on what family a starting of story my is This. Storytelling trans of trope a such it’s because definitely, “Yes. Is discover never we But.” It? Deliberate that is “Yes. Is got to do with it?” Name old my has earth on what family a starting of story my is This. Got to do with it?” Name old my has earth on what family a starting of story my is This. Got to do with it?” Name old my has earth on what family a starting of story my is This. Got to do with it?” Name old my has earth on what family a starting of story my is This. Got to do with it?” Name old my has earthOutput: These moments of McConnell are a funny mix of certainty and diffident restraint, with an old-fashioned courtesy. “What does my old name have to do with it?” – It’s definitely because of such a trope of trans storytelling. “Yes. Is that deliberate?” We never discover what the name was. “Yes. Is it deliberate?” What does my old name have to do with it? This is the story of my family starting on Earth, because of such a trope of trans storytelling. “Yes. We never discover what the name was. “Yes. What does my old name have to do with it? This is the story of my family starting on Earth. This is the story of my family starting on Earth. This is the story of my family starting on Earth. This is the story of my family starting on Earth. This is the story of my family starting on Earth.

Was the child ever happy? He looks surprised at the question, he says – of course, yes, he looks surprised at the question. He was lucky to have a understanding family – he says, of course, yes, he looks surprised at the question. He has many good memories and he was lucky to have a understanding family – he says, of course, yes. I believe I would make-play with my primary school friends “we had really intense imaginary worlds. We would disappear into those intense imaginary worlds.” He describes how he created a fictional male crime-fighting duo with a friend. His dad made business cards for us with our names on them “But ever! I don’t think I could deal with having exact details in print” he blushes. What were those names?

Since the age of three or four, I have always experienced a sensation similar to a cosmic toothache, which accurately describes it. I only heard someone mention it once. Can he articulate the sensation? Although he couldn’t label it at that time, McConnell went through a period of gender dysphoria during his childhood. Perhaps there were other factors involved, partly due to being transgender, I was an extremely anxious child.

I trusted her, and believed that I would eventually overcome this issue – in due course, everything would be fine. My mother was aware of my struggles with being perceived as a female, and she simply advised me. I faced bullying and mockery for being too masculine. However, I would confide in my friends. I can’t recall if I ever discussed it with my parents. Fellow students at school. They would demand silence and disapprove when younger children used phrases like ‘gender transition’. Why? It was a rare occurrence, but I quickly realized as a young child that it was not an appropriate topic to discuss, so I opened up about it. Did he seek support from others regarding his sense of being in the wrong body?

“But I was clearly searching in the incorrect location,” McConnell grins. The more severe the distress became, the more aged he became, and McConnell never did. He persuaded himself he had been born in the incorrect time period, developing a fixation with the 70s and gender-fluid musicians like David Bowie and Brian Eno.

The trail behind us disappeared. It was strange how this reminded me of a story I had read, and immediately I felt regretful. I was still in shock today, and McConnell’s reaction shocked me even more. He smacked himself on the head, as if a door had hit him, and we walked past a minibus that we had passed earlier. He was calling out names to me, and this guy, who was 15 or 14 years old, had decided that he had had enough of being picked on and called names all day.

I didn’t completely go down the path of questioning and second-guessing myself just because gender dysphoria disappeared. It’s possible to explain what gender dysphoria is and what it feels like to someone who doesn’t experience it, but I don’t think I know everything about what I was going through. It wasn’t just a livable but not enjoyable life anymore, everything changed with my transition and testosterone. Someone who doesn’t experience gender dysphoria doesn’t understand what it’s like to feel like somebody else. He had been in the cadets at school and had traveled to Afghanistan and Yemen, where he combined teaching with skateboarding, which made it enjoyable.

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“The perfect contributor and conceiving a child jointly, discussing it,” chuckles McConnell. “This is akin to our own version of engaging in sexual intercourse,” they clarify to the camera, “My significant other and I both possess reproductive organs.” We witness the pair seated on the couch with their laptops, perusing sperm provider websites. CJ identifies as non-binary and utilizes the gender-neutral pronoun “they”. At the start of the documentary, CJ and McConnell reside together as closest companions and companions. There exists McConnell and CJ, McConnell and his mother, and McConnell and his child. Seahorse embodies a tale of affection – or a sequence of romantic tales, above all else.

“It’s extremely gratifying,” CJ expresses.

“Then we enjoy a smoke afterwards.” They chuckle.

She had put me up with, and I felt so bad for my mum. “I remind him of all the drama and tears now, when he laughs,” I said. McConnell tells the camera that he wants to be left alone, like Garbo, in this glorious moment of bathos. Meanwhile, his hormones are wreaking havoc with the withdrawal of testosterone. Is he capable of bringing up a child alone? Is it safe? He is full of doubt about what he is doing to his own body and the prospect of being a solo parent is a different idea for him. McConnell tells the camera, devastated, “But CJ’s not involved anymore, they told me.” But halfway through the film…

Purchased from his great-aunt, McConnell strolls to their residence – a dilapidated, centuries-old, two-bedroom Georgian row house. He secures the infant in his baby carrier, ensures that the morning has been smooth (as he has recently resumed part-time employment), and affectionately embraces his son, McConnell. We proceed from the seashore to collect Jack from daycare.

On the way, he tells me that I’m happier, more confident, settled, and content than I’ve ever been, which has to do with better comprehending myself and growing older.

Throughout his pregnancy, he discusses the fortunate circumstances he experienced and the support he received from his family, friends, and the healthcare professionals at the NHS. Did he face any mistreatment from strangers? “No, because I had a small baby bump throughout the entire pregnancy. It brought me immense relief.” He explains that instead of appearing as a pregnant man, he simply appeared overweight. “My mother observed that men’s bellies resemble pregnant bellies in a similar way. Therefore, no one would assume that you are expecting. People quickly perceive gender in less than a second – so even if I had a beard, it wouldn’t matter how the rest of my body looked, they would perceive me as male.”

“I cannot imagine experiencing anything as transcendent or incredible as that. If it goes well, there is a strong case for it being the peak of the human experience. He starts again and gets better emotions. His experience of my birth was extremely positive. But please don’t allow me to do this again. I thought pregnancy was wondrous through it all. McConnell says, “After the actual labor, the pregnancy horrors were over.”

“I’m not going to completely open up and share everything with Jack, at least not yet. I’m glad that it’s captured now, but I was able to ignore the director’s boundaries and the camera, so it was a big, dark room. Of course, he says he was worried about the birth being filmed, but soon faded.”

“Excluded appears robust.” Too intimate? He fidgets uncomfortably in response to the inquiry. “Um, yes. Yes.” So, has he excluded the possibility of undergoing lower surgery for now? “I would be delighted to have additional offspring, but I would also prefer not to necessarily bear them. However, I haven’t excluded the possibility.” McConnell beams. Does he desire additional children?

McConnell states, “Observe, you can perceive the identical drooping eyelids!” A replica of Jack, a stunning, fair-haired, blue-eyed infant, is showcased in a prominent photograph adjacent to the entrance. Adorning the wall are maritime artworks created by Charles McConnell, McConnell’s great-grandfather and one of the two siblings who initiated a thriving tobacco enterprise. Jack’s living room is predominantly occupied by an expansive play area.

Relatable, an all-encompassing narrative about love and family and the desire to start a family, something that resonates with everyone, believing that they have witnessed, individuals will walk away, their personal experiences, resonates with any aspect of the narrative, to feel a connection with, I would like individuals, from the movie, What does he desire individuals to grasp, your own words are, back up your words with actions, you must, and then I pondered, transgender men, from further afield we don’t understand why, stating, I kept thinking, “He feels a sense of duty fulfilled, I am glad to have made the movie, but I am anxious about how Seahorse will be received.

His venture has only recently commenced, but a larger portion of him desires to release the movie, withdraw to the outskirts, and spend the remainder of his life in tranquil seclusion, similar to McConnell.

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