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Baby Dreaming

Published on September 16th, 2013 | by Nina Kabal

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NINA KABAL has Mother Issues

I’ve wanted to be a mother ever since I was a little boy.

My sister and I had a doll house that we both played with together, and I would always assume the traditional role of the caring mother-housewife – shopping for groceries and making sure the bath tub is scrubbed clean, so that the kids would be safe and happy. My Sis would play the obsessive-compulsive landlord and pass by the house with her horse carriage for daily inspections. When it became weirder and weirder for an almost-teenage boy to play with dolls with his little sister, I tried to find better excuses to play, even slipped into my sister’s bedroom after school when she was busy doing math homework in order to tuck in my little babies and make sure they were safe and sound.

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Then puberty hit, and motherhood became unreachable. Any kind of parenting seemed like a laughable concept, as life became a tedious balance between wanting to be something so much and having to ‘be a man about it’. God, or Biology (I wasn’t sure who was to blame) had made me into a white straight male.

Manhood for me was a golden cage. For almost twenty years it was a reality that seemed unchangeable, much as I pleaded with God for change. I had my good times; my nurturing, caring nature made potential in-laws and grandparents hug and kiss me before they even knew my name. Everybody told me that I would be a great daddy, one to look up to and rely on. And I believed them. I believed in destiny, and it seemed like I was given this purpose, to be the daddy. My father was a great daddy to my sister and I (my friends had father-envy), and I would have to follow in his footsteps.

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I had a number of girlfriends before I married, and all had intense father issues. Their dads were either missing, abusive, uncaring, depressed, or dysfunctional in some other way. But although everybody was sure that I would make a great parent, I wasn’t sure which parent I was going to be. Among men I always felt like an impostor, a fake. I was more at ease around sissy boys and effeminate gay men or butch lesbians.

Still, my friends looked up to me as the guy they saw me as, and I was trying to finally fulfill my role as a male member of the species. I could be caring, nurturing and loving, but in a boyish kind of way. I made people feel comfortable around me, and some women found that quite attractive. On my first date with my wife we joked about baby names. It was clear that we would be the happiest little family ever.

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But there was a catch. Since birth I have never produced any hormones myself. All of them, including growth and sex hormones, needed to be given to me through medication. I didn’t just go into puberty (which my sister thought was an institution like a boarding school, and she wanted to come along), I had to be induced into puberty by medication. Talk about rites of passage.

No one ever asked me if I wanted to take male or female hormones. Since my biological gender seemed to indicate that I was male, testosterone was what I got. Testosterone shots were given to me on a monthly basis, and without them my manhood would surely cease (I gave it a try more than once, and it did). Although I could perform in the bedroom, I would never be in fear of impregnating anyone – it was almost entirely impossible without further medication. So when my wife and I joked about baby names, I knew that a natural pregnancy would never be an issue for us. It would be a long and drawn-out process in which I would have to go through different stages of medication and we would have to carefully observe her cycles.

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For some reason I was never ungrateful for my situation. At least I could have children. It wasn’t impossible, just a little harder. I always knew I’d be a parent. And then I went through a rough time – huge body issues, anxiety, financial troubles and a growing depression. I didn’t know what was going on. Hadn’t I proven that I could be the man I was meant to be? A guy in his late twenties, upwardly mobile, with a beautiful wife, a good connection with my family? A little overweight, maybe? A little uncomfortable in his own skin, maybe?

I had to be almost bankrupt and thoroughly self-loathing before I came to realize that my issues were rooted deeper. I was transported back to the girlhood fantasies of my childhood, time spent looking through my mom’s closet, trying on her lipstick and playing with her jewelry. Writing short stories on my black-and-white Macintosh about all the types of girls I would be. Closing my eyes and wishing that God would magically transform me. The times pretending – not pretending, being a girl among other kids and asking them to address me with ‘she’. The awkward but sweet moments that haunted me my entire life: being referred to as my mother’s daughter, my friend’s girlfriend.  Or being asked whether I was a boy or a girl, and loathing the confusion my appearance stirred up in random people on the street.

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A word came up on Google. It was a word that I didn’t want to be seen with. It was a word for freaks and weirdos, for maniacs and perverts. But it thoroughly explained my experience.

When I found out about these ‘transsexual’ and ‘transgendered’ beings, I learned that these are people very much like me, and that such a life was possible  –  maybe even livable. And though this was a revolutionary notion that could and would jeopardize all I held dear in my life, I couldn’t let go of the thought that my childhood dreams could come true. I could be the woman that I was always supposed to be. I could be the way I wanted to truly be for my entire life. I began to deconstruct the image of myself as a father.

Fast forward to almost a year later, with my mother crying and my father reaching out his hands to me saying, “I will always be there for you, whether you are my son… or my daughter.” And so it happened. Finally, I was someone’s daughter.

Coming out as transgender can be tough. Tough on you, tough on those that love you dearly, even if it’s a certain image of you they love, a role they wanted to see you in for the rest of their lives. My wife and I no longer talk about baby names. We talk about practical stuff, day-to-day duties, because we no longer believe in a common future, the happy family that we were always supposed to be. She cannot imagine being one of two Moms, and I cannot imagine being that Dad. I still want to have children, but I want to be recognized as a woman.

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My mother and I are not on speaking terms. She is disgusted by me and does not understand what is happening with me.  So hurt by my disclosure of wanting to be her daughter, she told me that I would never be that. I would never be her daughter. I would never be a woman. I would never be a mother. She was sure of that.

The person I always looked up to for motherhood inspiration, my female role model and my biggest star rejects me and declares me unfit for the job. Is she is right? I was born without the biological  means to conceive a child. I was born into a body that was labeled male. I was not born to be a mother.

I was fighting my depression over this and other issues when I felt the need to write. I grabbed my notebook and started without knowing what to write about. It just flowed right through me and came out on the paper as a letter. A letter to my unborn daughter.

My daughter. What a wonderful sound that is to my ears. And confusing as well–why my daughter and not my son? I cannot possibly know the gender of my future child, writing to my daughter is somewhat fictional. And why focus on your gender? How would I know what your gender is without asking you? I would love to time-travel to the point in time where I hold you in my arms and look down into your eyes, smiling, trying to give you all the love that I can give you. Mother. This word is so loaded with emotion, expectations, pressure, hope, loss. How will I know how to be a mother? Is the title bestowed upon me, or can I grab it? Can I be a mother without breastfeeding you? Without having given birth to you? And you, my daughter, how can I keep you from being forced into a world that discriminates on the basis of class, race, gender and sexual orientation? And what if I am a bad parent? Can I ask for your forgiveness? How can I even fantasize about parenthood when I am in the midst of a family crisis caused by my own coming-out? Will you be accepting of my gender? Or will you be appalled? Will you hate me or love me for who I am, for what I am? I assure you that I will always try to be authentic, to be good.

A couple of years ago I would have never thought that I would deviate from the path laid out to me: Traditional family, heterosexual values The world looks very different to me now.

I still want a family. I want to be a full person, a full member of society. I want you, my daughter. And the reason I am speaking to you, and not to my hypothetical son is because there is supposedly a special bond between mothers and daughters, and I would love to be   that role model to you.

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When I think of you I think of a tenderness that I look forward to, an intimacy that I seek to acquire. I want to be as close to you as any one person can get. I want to be your companion, your confidante, your playmate, your friend. But first and foremost, I want to be a parent to you, your mother.

PS: And if I drown you in my love, I have the phone numbers to a few really good shrinks.

I am on my way to being divorced. I become more and more feminine each day, internally and externally. I am slowly becoming the person I always wanted to be. Maybe a bit bigger and more muscular than I could have asked for, but that’s fine.

I do not, by the widest stretch of imagination, resemble a pregnant woman. But when I went to get a coffee this morning, I must have looked exhausted, or my cheeks were glowing, or I held a certain stance.  Maybe my months of pre-divorce nosh attacks were starting to show.  I must have looked pregnant, because a gentleman offered me a chair and brought me the coffee I ordered. I thanked him, and he said it was his pleasure, and then he asked me when I was due. I started to giggle and he was shocked by my reaction. I still couldn’t help but laugh for at least five minutes. Then I excused myself for my rudeness and told him that I wasn’t due but that he had made my day. I got up and left, a big smile on my face.

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About the Author

Nina Kabal

Nina Kabal is a designer and writer currently based in Berlin, Germany. She designs apps and websites, and has a passion for illustration and typography. She works as a freelancer for various clients and holds a BA in Interaction Design. She has been writing for various publications in Germany and has been blogging consistently for the last ten years about a broad range of issues such as expat culture, literature and art, politics and history, traveling, as well as gay and transgender rights and feminism. She is currently working on a young adult novel about a young woman slowly descending into depression and her obsession with crows in the absence of her well-travelled father. She loves traveling near and far, reading, cycling and considers herself a ‘foodie’.



One Response to NINA KABAL has Mother Issues

  1. Ezekiel says:

    This is a lovely piece. I do hope you can find your path to motherhood.

    After 7 years parenting first perceived as a mother, and now parenting as a father, I do find that parenting is deeply gendered, but not necessarily in the way I would have expected before I had children. In order to come to the place where I could transition, I had to first understand that motherhood itself was not a pre-requisite for being the kind of parent I wanted to be. I learned this mostly from cis-straight-men who were working counter to gendered expectations in parenting. And while I can’t say I’m doing much differently now, I do know I feel so much more at home as a father to my children than I did as a mother.

    Best of luck to you (and do know, that should you come to a place where you are parenting a baby, it is sometimes possible for trans women to nurse. Look up the Newman-Goldfarb protocol. Though of course you can certainly mother without birthing and nursing. Plenty of adoptive moms and other women who are non-gestational parents are doing just that, and in some cases wrestling with similar questions)

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