By Shauna Jones
I lost 45 pounds during my pregnancy with Beckett, my oldest child. I had a pregnancy condition called hyperemesis gravidarum that caused me to vomit the entire pregnancy. There were times when I was so dehydrated, I couldn’t cry actual tears. During my first trimester, when I was vomiting absolutely everything I ate or drank, feeling like I might die, my sweet mom gave me an early baby present that she’d picked up on a trip to New York City. It was too soon in the pregnancy to know the gender of the baby, so she gave me a gender-neutral, tiny, white baby nightgown with little yellow ducklings on the chest. It was a physical reminder for me through my really difficult pregnancy that the suffering I was experiencing would end, and it would be worth it. On especially rough days, I’d hold that little nightgown in my hands and think of the child that would wear it one day. My husband Mike and I didn't really care much if our baby was a boy or a girl, we just hoped and prayed for a healthy child to love and raise. And that is exactly what we got. I've been reflecting on this tiny white nightgown a lot lately, and I pulled it out again recently, because everything it represented back then has come full circle for me now.
Discovering that a child is transgender can be a huge adjustment for parents. It involves not just a shift in expectations and dreams for that child’s future, but it fundamentally alters the past as well. Learning that our oldest child was a son, and not the daughter we’d assumed him to be for the first 19 years of life, was not something I ever imagined would be part of my experience as a parent. When I started suspecting that Beckett might be trans, I read and studied and learned as much as I could, so that I could better understand how to parent my child. I found that research has repeatedly shown that family support is critical for the success and wellbeing of transgender youth. When trans youth are loved and supported by their families, they are able to thrive. Family rejection of transgender youth, or unwillingness to accept them as trans, can contribute to a much higher risk of depression, suicidal behaviors, drug and substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors, and other negative outcomes.
Researchers at the Family Acceptance Project have found that LGBTQ youth with accepting and supportive families are eight times less likely to attempt suicide and six times less likely to experience depression than youth that come from rejecting families. I find this research so incredibly important for families to understand and internalize. We as parents have the power to lower suicide and depression risk in our own LGBTQ children. We can bring their risk down to almost level with their straight/cisgender peers just by accepting and supporting and loving them. The fruits of love and acceptance are less depression and less suicide. Our kids did not choose to be gay or trans or bi or queer. It is who they are, and that is true whether we accept them or not and whether we’re in denial about it or not. The world is probably going to be tougher for them than it would have otherwise been. But, it is so encouraging to me to realize that our love and acceptance and support can save them from internalizing that hurt to a large extent. My unconditional love is a shield my children can carry through their whole lives. That gives me a lot of hope.
It took time and effort to retrain my brain to use the correct name and pronouns, especially when talking about memories in the past. However, seeing the increasing happiness and wholeness in Beckett makes every effort worth it. With each step of coming out and transitioning, I’ve seen him become more confident, more comfortable in his own skin, and much more mentally healthy and strong. The transformation has been beautiful.
As for that little white nightgown with the embroidered yellow ducklings on the front? I still don’t care what Beckett’s gender is. I still just want a healthy, happy child. It’s not his gender that I can’t imagine life without. It’s his big heart and kind soul. It’s his infectious laugh and the way he loves his siblings fiercely and protectively. It’s the way he thinks deeply and cares about making the world more kind and fair for everyone. The wrapping paper is not what matters; it’s the gift inside that counts most. And with every step he takes to live his life true to the person he knows himself to be inside, the happier and healthier and more radiant Beckett becomes. He knows who he is, and he is learning to live his life bravely and honestly. And isn’t that the best that any parent could hope for their children? Every day I’m grateful to Beckett for being the child we didn’t even know to pray for and every bit the child we needed. And the nine months of puking? Totally worth it.