When Trystan Reese and his partner, Biff Chaplow, adopted Chaplow’s niece and nephew, they didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Somehow, though, their family still felt incomplete, and they found that they wanted a biological baby of their own. But while a man having a baby may sound impossible, perhaps all is not quite as it seems.
So how did this story begin? Well, it was love at first sight when Reese spotted Chaplow at an LGBT community event in 2010. Perhaps it was the way that his pink hair contrasted with his black bandana. Whatever it was, the feeling was mutual, and the new couple spent the next 12 months doing things like partying in Vegas, clubbing on weekends and hanging out at the beach.
However, their partying days came to an abrupt end when Chaplow received a troubling phone call one night. It was from a social worker, and she needed Chaplow to take his sister’s two kids into a safe home. Otherwise, they’d go into foster care when the weekend was up. Of course, Chaplow didn’t hesitate.
On the drive to Chaplow’s sister’s house, though, Reese had a decision to make: was he prepared to be a father? They subsequently picked up Chaplow’s one-year-old niece and three-year-old nephew and returned to Los Angeles, California, where both men worked in the charity sector.
Ready or not, then, fatherhood was a role that Reese threw himself into. In fact, he sought out blogs and Facebook groups to arm himself with all the knowledge he could gather in order to make a success of their new-found family. Having overcome the hurdles of adopting as a gay couple, Reese then had a revelation.
“After the dust settled, I just realized how much I loved our kids,” Reese told the Toronto Star. “And [I realized] how much room there was in our life for our family to grow.” Rather than further adoptions, however, Reese was keen to have a child of his own. A biological one.
Of course, to the casual observer it might have seemed impossible for Reese to become pregnant. Reese, however, had something going in his favor. He was, in fact, born female. So although Reese is biologically female, he grew up identifying as male, and aged 20 he began transitioning through hormone therapy.
Describing his transition to BuzzFeed, Reese said, “I thought I was giving up having a family – I didn’t even think of it as an option. I didn’t ever dream of having, or wanting to have, a biological child. One, I didn’t think it would be possible, and two, it took a long time for me to be strong enough in my identity as a man to be able to do that.”
And because Reese hadn’t gone through gender realignment surgery, he was still biologically capable of carrying a child. Indeed, the process should have been relatively simple. Less easy, however, was convincing Chaplow, who wasn’t initially into the idea.
But having returned to Portland, Oregon, Chaplow eventually warmed to the idea. So, under doctors’ supervision, Reese stopped taking testosterone. And although conception was initially easy – as Reese experienced hyper-ovulation due to being off his cycle for a long time – the journey wouldn’t be a smooth one.
You see, Reese’s body wasn’t ready to carry a baby, and after six weeks he miscarried. The emotional strain of the whole process began to take a heavy toll on the family, too. Consequently, they decided to wait a year before they would try again.
However, due to the potential health risks caused by regularly starting and stopping hormone treatment, the couple realized that they couldn’t wait. The second attempt took longer, to the point that they feared they’d missed the only chance they’d had. Six months on, though, Reese’s body changed.
Reese woke up feeling sick one morning, so after packing the kids off to school he took a pregnancy test. It was positive. Wary of suffering another miscarriage, though, they took precautions. Indeed, Reese checked his weight relentlessly and had regular pregnancy tests, just to be sure.
Thankfully, the news was good, and the pregnancy stuck. In fact, the second pregnancy went smoothly, save for the usual complaints of swollen feet, mood swings and exhaustion. But the couple still had to deal with the scrutiny that comes from being transgender and having a baby.
As a result, the couple began blogging about their experiences on their website, Biff & I. “We did take steps in those months, like Trystan started working from home completely,” said Chaplow. “We just didn’t go out as much, to be cautious.” Indeed, it was a trepidation that they felt even going into the gynecologist’s office.
As Reese subsequently explained on the Longest Shortest Time podcast, “I can feel someone looking at my face and searching for the remnants of womanhood. They kind of squint their eyes a little bit, and I can tell they’re trying to take away my beard, they’re trying to de-transition me in their heads.”
However, it turned out that Reese needn’t have worried. Indeed, he said that he didn’t experience “an ounce of transphobia” from anyone. He added, “Every person wouldn’t even bat an eye that there was a dude with a beard claiming to be pregnant who is here to get bloodwork done.”
That’s not to say the couple didn’t experience some negative reactions, including from within the trans community. Nonetheless, the couple are only interested in using their experiences to incite more positive conversations about the LBGTQ community. They hope this will lead to a greater acceptance of trans people, too.
In the end, then, Leo Murray Chaplow was born after 30 hours of labor on July 14, 2017. Weighing 9.5 pounds, the baby was in good health, and Reese described him to CNN as an infant who “eats like a champ, sleeps well, and gives [them] lots of cuddles.”
Wary of the problems Leo may face growing up having been born to two dads, Reese said, “We know that Leo may encounter negativity in his life, but we trust ourselves to help shape him to be strong enough to face it when it comes, to look it in the eye, and to defeat it. That’s what we’ve done.”