Updated: Jul 28, 2021
By Sarah Kennedy
On Christmas of 2003, I knew this was the one. After a series of miscarriages, I knew I was pregnant again and that this child would be coming into the world. And I knew this child would be special–not in the way we all believe our children are unique and have a purpose in the world. I knew this child was coming to make change. And on September 11, 2004, a day many mourn, a new life brought hope and beauty into mine. My child was assigned female at birth, and with great thought I chose a name that meant “clear or clairvoyant.” While pregnant, I already knew this child had sensory challenges, due to his over responsiveness to loud sounds such as the dog barking and sirens. It’s a challenge I’ve known my whole life and was ready for. But I didn’t prepare for a child who had oral motor challenges and didn’t have the musculature to suck. I was so focused on getting enough nutrition into him that I didn’t sleep for days and developed intense postpartum depression, another condition I had been familiar with most of my life.
From that point we seemed to face many months of challenges that other families didn’t seem to encounter and spent a great deal of time with medical professionals. After a series of other diagnoses, at 15 months he was diagnosed with autism. We began a biomedical approach and intensive therapy.
Throughout this time, we watched him closely in wonder. He possessed an amazing gift. Although he wasn’t speaking yet, he clearly communicated with nature and animals. Butterflies flocked to him. And I don’t mean they would fly by. If a butterfly was in the area, it would land on him and hang out, multiples at a time. My father built a three-foot-tall screen box so he could stand in there with his butterflies covering him. It was absolutely amazing. Fast forward many years and this beautiful child grew into a child full of language, brilliance and wonder. If you didn’t know of his early challenges, you would likely see a neurotypical child like any other. He excelled in school, adored horseback riding and music. Yet he always said he felt “off.” “Not like the others.” And the butterflies still came.
In 7th grade, my child came to me and told me he was gay. “Okay,” I responded, no real response required as far as I was concerned. But my child was very anxious. His father, whom I had divorced when my child was four, is very conservative and unaccepting of the LGBTQIA+ population. My child asked that this not be shared with his dad. I followed his lead in how he wanted to communicate with others and allowed him to always share his news himself. Yet he still continued to say, “Something doesn’t feel right” and similar comments.
This is where I thank God for the internet, because I had little personal understanding of gender diversity and didn’t know the answer to anything he was asking or experiencing. Our children are wondering, seeking out others in the world to speak to about their experiences and feelings. I monitored where he was looking closely, not only for safety, but also for my own curiosity as to what he was experiencing. He was talking with others about things I didn’t even know existed. I was uncomfortable and suspected I needed more guidance to be less reactive in my parenting as well as more educated. And this is where I was introduced by another parent to PFLAG and Mama Dragons. I cannot say enough about the group of women who knew exactly what I was going through. They answered my questions without judgment and connected me to the perfect resources to expand my knowledge and help my son. As I experienced my own periods of depression, they were there. As I sought to become an educator, they were there. As I began to shift my life coaching tools to develop new ways to help other parents, they were there cheering me on. During this time, my son told me he was non-binary and wanted a name change. I struggled mightily to give up the name I had chosen as my first gift to my child but was surrounded with support by the Mama Dragons. I vented about my child’s frustration when I and his younger brother made they/them pronoun mistakes and celebrated our wins. Being surrounded by others who had gone before me, as well as supporting others who were experiencing the early stages, was amazing. I joined the Paper Hugs program and found that supporting other children deepened my compassion and love for other moms and our children. During my own periods of depression, writing these letters allowed me to see the love and goodness within myself. And I saw my child pulling out his cards when he was struggling, too.
My son has since demonstrated incredible bravery and shared with the world that he is transgender masculine, he/him/his pronouns. And while I have made epic parenting mistakes, I believe we have done a beautiful job of working together to do it at his pace and comfort level. There are miles to go in his journey, but a caterpillar does not become a butterfly overnight. I will make mistakes as a parent and as a human, but I am committed to this journey and will love, honor, and support him every step of the way. I will continue to learn everything I can and help other parents to do the same. I will forever be a part of the Mama Dragons to support and be supported in this journey.