What Moves You (to tears)?

Sometimes, it is the unexpected moment that brings me to tears. The big stuff often doesn’t do it. I think when faced with something really huge I am so busy trying to handle it that I am unable to let my emotions take over.

bday cardRecently, as I was cleaning up around the house, I inspected the contents of a small paper gift bag to make sure that I wasn’t throwing away anything important. To my surprise, I found an unopened birthday card. It was from a very dear friend. Apparently, neither one of us realized that I had never opened the card when we met for breakfast to celebrate a recent birthday. Her words caught me off guard. The message was so honest and sincere that it brought me to tears.

Another moment that surprised me was when Hunter got his braces off. That first smile after the last tooth was polished, was priceless. Why did that choke me up? I didn’t have that reaction when my daughter’s braces first came off. I can’t explain it. But, sitting there, seeing his beaming face, was enough to cause my eyes to well up and the emotion to get caught in my throat for a brief minute.

Are you someone who brushes aside the moments and falls apart when the shit hits the fan or is it the other way around for you? I find, more often than not, it is the moments that keep me going. Life is so complicated most of the time, that it is the small, almost imperceptible moments in time, that remind me to pause and reflect. If I am so preoccupied with the weight of the day-to-day, it is easy for me to lose my emotional self; the piece that reminds us what sets us apart from other living creatures.

I think we all worry so much about the big picture every day we forget to savor the little things. How good does that first sip of coffee taste in the morning? What about opening your eyes after a night’s sleep and seeing the one you love most on the pillow next to you? Or, the first time you held a baby — I bet you still remember that? Saying goodbye is often one of the most difficult moments to acknowledge and manage. Spending time with a long distance friend or relative becomes bittersweet when you have to say “so long.” That is a moment that I loathe and treasure at the same time.

When Hunter was in the early stages of transitioning from female to male (ftm), I remember being caught off guard one day when he walked into the family room and I saw him standing there; he was a stranger before me. I was struck by how boy-ish he looked in that moment. It was actually shocking. Ironically, I would be equally shocked today if he appeared before me wearing a dress and heels.

So, my friends, without intending to sound cliché, take time to smell the roses. Be present. Be in the moment. Be open to the possibilities.

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“T” Time

No, I am not talking about watercress finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and a steaming pot of Earl Gray. Nor am I thinking about a round of golf here in Michigan or anywhere else.

I am referring to testosterone; “T” as it is familiarly referred to by those transitioning from female to male. “T” is what will deepen the voice, encourage facial hair to grow and build muscle mass. It is the magic elixir that will help to transform a trans boy into a man.

hunter 3For two plus years our son has anticipated this moment. After coming out to me as transgender (female to male) more than a year and a half ago, one of the first things he said was, “I want to go on T.” At that moment, life came to a screeching halt. There was so much I didn’t know, didn’t understand, didn’t want to hear. Hunter had been doing research; he did all his homework and knew exactly what he wanted.

Yesterday was a big day. Yesterday, Hunter, my husband and I drove together to DMC Children’s Specialty Clinic and rode the elevator in anticipation to the Pediatric Endocrinology department housed on the third floor. Long-term, injections will be given by us, at home, on a weekly basis. The first time, however, is a required teaching session with our endocrine nurse.

Over the last few months, I’ve had numerous conversations with two of the nurses. They have been immensely helpful, kind and understanding through some very frustrating situations. I felt like they were trusted friends. While waiting for our “lesson,” the exam room door opened and in walked both nurses. They, too, felt a connection to us and to our journey.

“We just couldn’t wait to meet you,” they exclaimed, practically in unison, as if they’d rehearsed.

We’ve had so many hurdles to get past in order to get to this day, it really was especially meaningful that the nurses were there to cheer us on. And then it was down to business. I think we were attentive students; I know that I, for one, didn’t want to miss a single moment of the instruction — this was not a time to lose focus.

By the time we left, we had truly bonded with our nurse. We knew that she was a wife, a mother, a daughter and a breast cancer survivor. We knew that she cared deeply about her job and the children that she’s able to help every day. We knew that we had made a new friend.

So, here we are. Our journey — Hunter’s journey, has taken a new path. I have been very comfortable with where we were; perhaps, a bit too comfortable. Honestly, I am not sure that I am prepared for the road ahead of us. When will his voice start to change? What will it sound like? When will I feel stubble rather than a soft, smooth baby face? What will it be like for Hunter to go through puberty (again)?

We are hoping to document our weekly “T” times so we can track Hunter’s transition during this part of the journey. I am optimistic that at some point, down the road, I will once again feel comfortable with where we are.

 

 

 

 

High Anxiety

trans medYIKES. What is going on with our healthcare system?!?! I know many of you ask this on a daily basis. Our physicians are being squeezed so tight that the level of care is visibly and dramatically taking a downward plunge.

Normally I am not one to get on a soap box about anything. But, mess with my kids, and get out of my way.

It took us months to find a pediatric endocrinologist that would treat Hunter. There is one in our geographic area that has the right credentials and regularly sees transgender children. However, she does not accept Hunter’s insurance. FAIL. So, we kept looking. Finally, we found a smart, compassionate, caring endocrinologist that was willing to treat him. She didn’t have the transgender thing under her belt but had access to leading authorities and said she was willing to do what she needed to do to make things happen. SUCCESS.

Our first appointment went really well. Thank g-d. She spent plenty of time with us. She interviewed, examined, shared and committed. All was good that day. I filled out releases so she could speak to our pediatrician, therapist, school social worker and anyone else that was critical to the success of this transition.

Now it’s time for our second appointment. I pull Hunter out of school early. We get to the doctor’s office, we sign in and we wait. And we wait. And we wait. Finally, 45 minutes later we are called in. It is an hour plus from the time we walked in the door until we finally see our doctor. Now, we are late for another appointment so we rush through this appointment after waiting for more than 60 minutes.

Good news, though. She approves the necessary next steps and promises to secure the appropriate documentation from Hunter’s therapist and to connect with the insurance company. We race out of there on a high.

Well, that was exactly one month ago today. We are no further along.

I have now called the endocrinologist’s office multiple times. By the way, nothing has been submitted to the insurance company yet (one month after the appointment). I have spoken to a nurse 4 out of the 5 calls and relayed my concerns. This morning I emphasized the fact that the delay is causing significant depression in my son.

So, we wait. I am disappointed and frustrated and concerned for my son. He deserves better than this. He deserves to get the appropriate care in a timely fashion to put him on the path to emotional and physical wellness.

This is one angry mama bear. Don’t get in my way.

Victory

victoryAside from learning about things that I never dreamed I would be researching, I am learning a lot about the “loophole.” Nearly a year ago Hunter asked that we start calling him “Hunter,” rather than “Olivia.” While I choked on the name (I could hear it in my head) as it moved from tongue to my lips, we were committed to doing what was necessary for our son.

What I didn’t really think about was what would come next. When my friend (in a similar situation but about 6 months ahead of us on most fronts) announced that she went to court with her son and now he was legally “Jack,” I found my self in the midst of conflicting emotions. These kids are so young; a legal name change just felt so FINAL. And yet, somehow I was envious of how she took charge and did what she needed to do as a parent of a child who was transitioning from female to male.

We spent nearly an entire school year getting used to the new name. Little by little we expanded our vocabulary until we were using only male pronouns in lieu of the female ones that we had grown accustomed to. Summer came and with it greater acceptance and more knowledge. It was time to apply for a legal name change. It was important that Hunter begin the new school year “officially” as Hunter. We didn’t want any mistakes. It would’ve been devastating for him to sit in a class on the first day and have a teacher take attendance and look for or call out “Olivia.”

So, I filled out the paperwork and waited. Hunter was at camp and I wanted him to sign the documents. Not only did I want him to be a part of the process but I wanted him to tell me that he was 100% sure about the name. Admittedly, there was a tiny part of me that was hanging on to the familiar; I was not quite ready and it was easy to find a reason to wait.

You would have no idea how complicated this entire process is. Legal name change at the state level. Birth certificate legal name change at the state level in which one was born. Gender marker changed on birth certificate. WHOA. Not so fast…this too, is at the state level and every state has it’s own law about changing the gender marker. I went into a tail spin. What good was the name change if Hunter’s birth certificate still indicated that he was female??? According to the state of Florida (where he was born), in order to legally change the gender marker, one needs to submit an affidavit from the physician stating that gender reassignment surgery has occurred. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Many transgender individuals never have surgery for various reasons. This was crazy and unacceptable.

I reached out to a number of people and organizations (including legal teams) within my network to see if there was a way around this. Hunter was about to start driver’s ed – I had been told that once you get a permit or license it is nearly impossible to change the gender marker on the document.

Facebook at its finest … another mom, who just went through the exact same scenario, was a wealth of information.

LOOPHOLE.

The federal government, not too long ago, changed its policies regarding passports and gender markers. Too good to be true. All we needed was a letter from the doctor stating that Hunter was in the process of transitioning along with the legal name change document from the court. In addition, while the social security administration doesn’t put a gender on the card, they track it for employment purposes. So, the passport and social security card (with new name) become the legal documents in place of the birth certificate.

VICTORY… until the next hurdle.

Out of the blue…

shockingSo, I went to the dentist recently and while catching up with the dental assistant whom I hadn’t seen in quite sometime, I was thrown for a loop. She asked me about my “two girls” and I was momentarily paralyzed.

What do you do? I had a split second to decide if I would just nod or go into a short version of the long story about my second child, who definitely is not a girl. Talk about being caught off guard. WOW.

Since Hunter is not a patient in this dental office anymore, the staff is not aware of what has been going on with him. Our dentist knows the whole story and is completely accepting and supportive and even told me that he is “impressed” with us as parents and how we’ve handled everything (with our transgender son).

Certainly we have no issue sharing our journey and Hunter is very open about his transition from female to male. But, honestly, this is not really the kind of news you share when having small talk before a dental procedure. I felt the wind being knocked out of my sails.

While we are open about our son being transgender, sharing this “out of the blue” ranks up there with, “by the way, we’re getting a divorce,” or “I was just diagnosed with fill in the blank,” — by my standards, these are topics where you choose a time and place to have an honest, open, bare your soul conversation.

When faced with some “news” about a friend or family member (sometimes known as gossip) you have to make a quick decision about how to respond to the messenger; you can nod, mutter an “ah ha,” cough to hide your shock, quickly change the subject or just act as if you didn’t hear what they said. Understandably, this can be an incredibly uncomfortable space to be in…I certainly don’t want to be the one to blurt out shocking news and then not have the time to discuss, empathize or explain.

Given that I was about to get numbed up for a procedure, I did some quick thinking on my feet. Surely, this was a case where a simple nod would suffice. However, I will make sure to ask the doctor to update our family records and to inform his staff. Hopefully, this will eliminate or at least minimize future awkward, pick your jaw up from the floor, I want to disappear moments.

Counting Blessings

transgender symbol and flagI can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “we are so lucky;” lucky to be living in a community that has accepted and supported our family, and in particular, our son. And, even though we are living during a time where a transgender actor is featured on the cover of a national news magazine, movies and television shows are being written with trans characters and plot lines, we have a long way to go.

As parents, we want the best for our children. We have dreams for their future before they are born. We imagine and hope and wonder…we play the “what if” game. From conception, well-intentioned friends and family members ask, “do you know what you are having?”

My answer was always, “yes, a baby.” Honestly, whether that precious bundle of sweet-smelling joy was a boy or a girl, truly did not matter. What did matter, however, was that our baby was healthy. NOTHING else mattered. Not then, not now, not ever.

When Hunter mustered up the courage to come out to us, one of the first things I said to him was, “Our goal is for you to become a healthy adult – to be mentally, emotionally and physically healthy. We will do everything in our power to make sure that happens.”

If, “g-d forbid, your child got diagnosed with condition that required ongoing care and medication in order for them to live a normal, healthy life, you would expect your insurance company to cover most of the charges…without a fight. Children with Type 1 diabetes get insulin. Those with chronic asthma get inhalers and nebulizers. Kids diagnosed with ADHD get stimulant meds so they can concentrate in school. Transgender youth need hormones so they can transition. My FTM son wants “T” (testosterone) so he can become the man he desires to be. Did you know that this is NOT automatically covered by insurance?

Can you imagine telling your asthmatic child that they can’t get the medicine they need to BREATHE? No, I cannot either.

After a year and a half of researching doctors, regular therapy, name changes on official state and federal documents, we are ready; ready to say “yes” to the hormone therapy that Hunter needs to transition and feel whole. Guess what, people? I am not sure that we will be able to get this paid for. Can you imagine? How do I tell my son that even though he followed the protocol, did what he needed to do in order to get to the next step, that he might not be able to get the medication he needs to live his life?

Now, depending on where you live, your benefits will vary. Just like someone in Virginia can easily change name AND gender on a birth certificate and another in Florida cannot, we are finding that medical coverage varies by state as well.

By the way, Apple, the tech giant, has full transgender benefits for its employees who need it. That includes necessary and desired surgeries. WOW. Too bad my son is  not old enough to get a full time job with Apple.

Yes…despite all of this, we are lucky. Even though our journey continues on a steep, uphill path, we are able to share these baby steps and milestones with others. We are able to educate the community, advocate for our son and celebrate each victory, no matter how small.

 

 

What Do You Say?

The distance between making it “better” and finding “acceptance” is short. The ability to find one’s way on this road less travelled often is a journey akin to climbing earth’s highest peaks.

A year ago, I wanted to make it “better.” I am not sure I knew how nor even where to begin. The task ahead of us hadn’t yet been mapped. The footprints of those before us left a faint trail delivering dead ends and hope interchangeably.

What do you say when your beautiful daughter tells you that she wants to be a boy? In fact, that she is a boy. That even though “I have boobs and a vagina, I am male.” What do you say when your long-haired, hazel-eyed barely 14 year old teen holds a steady gaze and says, “I want to get ‘T’ – I’ve done the research and I need therapy first. So, how soon can we start?” For those uninitiated, “T” is testosterone — a necessary hormone for FTM transition. (FTM=female to male) Did you know that the suicide rate is above 40% for transgender individuals? That’s about 34% above the general population. Did you know that trans teens are at greater risk for self-harm, getting involved with drugs and ending up on the street?

The path to acceptance becomes clearer. We are navigating tumultuous, uncharted territory with the help of some incredibly smart, compassionate pioneers who had the foresight to embrace differences; the insight to understand that we are not all the same. Lucky for us, for our son, for those yet to be born, great strides on this journey are being made.

Whomever coined the phrase, “love conquers all” had it right. What do you say when your child opens up to you and is brave enough to come out and reveal who he authentically is? You say, “I love you.”