Turning the Page

Our oldest child came out to the world as a transgender young woman a couple of weeks ago. We have known about 6 months, although if we are honest, we have known something was going on a lot longer than that. Writing the facebook post to announce her new name was in a lot of ways a relief, but there was also a really large amount of anxiety and fear. This is the post I shared with our friends:

We would like to reintroduce everyone to our oldest child. This is Madeline. For 17 years we thought we had a son, but it turns out that we have 2 daughters. Parenting is full of unexpected news, and we certainly didn’t see gender dysphoria in our future when we embarked on our journey. At the same time, it wasn’t actually a shock when Micah told us in February. We are so sorry that we do not have the energy to have this conversation separately with all of you. Please know that this has come with lots of counseling, soul-searching, and not a small amount of awkward/humorous situations. We are confident this is who our child is, and we will do all that we have to in order to keep her happy, healthy, and safe. We know it will be confusing for all of us for the foreseeable future. Respectful discussion is welcome. Judgement and hatred will not be tolerated. We strongly feel God has trusted us with this incredible person to care for and protect and we intend to do just that. While our little family unit has known and been processing this for 6 months, we ask that you are respectful of extended family members as they are still processing this news and are all at different stages of acceptance. Thank you.

In the end, the post received over 200 likes/loves and so many responses. All of the responses are loving and kind and supportive and uplifting and I sobbed with relief and happiness at reading them. We have obviously found the right people to be a part of our lives. They love and support our family, even when we barely know what we are doing. They lift us up in prayer when we don’t have the words. Our people are amazing!!

Since Maddie came out to us in February, all of my energy has been focused on the logistics of telling everyone. I was not naive enough to think everything would be smooth sailing after that, but I really thought it would be the biggest hurdle we would face for right now. And in a lot of ways, that was correct. We have big things on the very near horizon – blockers and hormones and name changes, oh my – but there is a definite lull in what NEEDS to be done right now. Maddie is getting more and more comfortable being herself, we are slowly replacing her wardrobe, and everyone at school is adjusting nicely.

Other parents in my circle are going on college visits, helping with college applications, prepping for auditions, and worried about the right combination of classes to get into the first choice of schools. I am so relieved that we are not trying to do that right now – Maddie has decided to attend Community College for at least a year to get her associates degree and then transfer to a four year institution. That buys us time before we need to help her navigate being a trans student in a dorm living situation, and I truly believe she will be stronger and have a better sense of herself because of this choice.

I was naive enough to think that this lull in what needs to be done, this small respite time without major decisions, would be an easy time. I thought I was emotionally spent and would just be able to coast for a bit. I do not pretend to know what living as a trans woman who wasn’t out to the world was like for my daughter. I am sure it was tremendously hard. For us as her family, it was like we were living a lie when we talked about her to people. We were having conversations about a person that we knew didn’t exist, at least not as everyone perceived her. There were all kinds of excuses about why we aren’t going on college visits and which schools she is considering. There were lots of funny looks because our answers didn’t seem to make sense with the obvious intelligence and talent our child possesses. It is a huge relief to not have to make excuses or leave questions hanging anymore.

It is in this place of relief that tiny things have started sneaking up on me. Little things that are small in the grand scheme of things, but little things that break my mom heart. I started getting the September calendar ready this week. We use a large desk calendar on our wall – the kind with the tear off pages – because we have a very active family and we need the space. I also use an electronic calendar that we share on our phones, but I like being able to see the month at a glance. As I prepare to turn the page to September, it has hit me that I am also completely turning the page to Madeline. The name Micah will not appear on our calendar again. The name we have spent over 17 years with. The name we chose with love for our first baby. The name I have signed to hundreds of cards and letters. The name that carried with it so many hopes and dreams. And I am suddenly grieving in a way I never expected to and in a way that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

My child is still here. My child is alive and well and has unlimited potential and opportunity ahead of her. She is intelligent and funny and kind and strong. And I am so proud of who she is and who she will become. But I have to let myself grieve the loss of the hopes and dreams I had for her before we knew. I need to grieve for her, having to live as someone she wasn’t for so long. I have to let myself feel and then let go of the guilt of not knowing for so long. The guilt of trying to force her to fit into a life that wasn’t meant for her. I have to sit here in this place of sadness before I can let the person my child was before, the child in my memories, merge with the daughter I have going forward. I know that eventually it won’t be awkward trying to talk about the past. It won’t feel like our memories are of a different person. It will be perfectly natural to call that child Maddie instead of Micah. And look forward to that merging because I know it is what is best for my child. But today? Today I am just a mom grieving the passage of time, which I guess isn’t so different from my circle of friends after all. Stay strong Mommas – we’ve all got this!

5 thoughts on “Turning the Page

  1. In reading your post, you are the strongest of moms that I know…and I mean that with all my heart.
    I am here for you, for Keith, for Charlotte, for Maddie.
    I know what you are going through …but from a different perspective. When Ben was born with Down Syndrome, we did not know ahead of time. We had suffered through two miscarriages, and did not do testing because the doctor felt it was too risky and we would have never terminated a pregnancy anyway. But, I knew that I had been divinely prepared for something to be different, I just didn’t know what. I could feel it, I could sense in my heart and intuition. When we were given the news, I was not shocked, but looked at the doctor and said, “I had a feeling something was going to be different.” I will never forget how oddly he looked at me, patted my shoulder, and said, “Yes, Melane, you just rest now and we will talk when you’re fully awake.” We accepted Ben from the moment we knew. We never rejected him. We never doubted that God had a plan for him that would be wonderful. We saw Ben as typical because he was our first and we did not know or see anything but our precious newborn baby.
    And then…months down the road, I was at K-Matt getting his first set of pictures…new parents everywhere, some with infants, toddlers or preschoolers. On that day, in that moment, I was hit right square between the eyes with our new reality. Our baby WAS different. Other little ones his age were holding their heads up, could easily get their picture taken. For us it took 45 minutes, the photographer getting frustrated, and the looks of pity from other moms. I left and cried all the way home, then loved on my precious baby like never before, promising him and myself that I would be stronger, be better prepared for the next time. But it hurt and I was sad and I felt guilty, all at the same time..and Ben was 18 months old before I took him to sit for another picture…when he could sit up on his own.
    Over the course of that first year and a half, the love that grew, and the bond that was formed, was indescribable. Little did I know at the time, that I was being prepared to protect, defend, and advocate for my child in the years ahead. But it was also during that time that the good Lord literally walked me through the same grieving process that you find yourself faced with…Ben was our new reality, redefining our life from becoming “the proud new parents,” to “the proud new parents of a child with a disability, with Down Syndrome, mental retardation, low muscle tone, possible heart damage, possible hearing loss, speech delay, speech difficulty, and then…the realization of the typical things that he may never do…at first it would hit me like a smack in the face and I would have a day or so of crying. Over time, what came to be called my “cry days,” were further and further apart, until one day I remembered not be able to remember when I’d had a “cry day!” And it was at that time that I realized I/we were going to be okay. It was not anything that I had done or could have done. I, too had to go through the grieving process and accept that I was not ever going to have the baby that I had expected, that society/culture said I should expect to have. And all these years later, I can only say, “Yes, I was right. I did not get what I expected. I did not get what society and culture presents as the Gerber Baby…no I didn’t get any of that. I got more, so much more than I could have ever known or dreamed of because we had no other choice than to accept Benjamin Gabriel Barlow for exactly who…he…was! He became, to us, this awesome kid with mental retardation, speech delay and difficulty, low muscle tone and awkward gait, celiac disease, OCD, visual depth perception and vision difficulty, who just happens to love theatre and can sing and memorize other actors dialogue better than he can hold a conversation. He has blessed and touched so many more lives because of his comfort with who he is…it is nothing that Don or I can take credit for. He is who he is because there was nothing we could do to change anything.
    So, in having said all of this, what you are walking through right now is perfectly normal. Allow yourself to walk through it, grieve as you need to, when you need to, and one day you, too, will realize you can’t remember when you had your last “ cry day.” And, it will be the result of the celebrations that you will have with Maddie, the wonderful new experiences that you will have together with her. Just as Ben has taken us on new and wonderful adventures and learning g to appreciate life from an entirely new and different perspective – joy and simplicity – Maddie will do the same for you! And you will do the same for her because that is what good parents do! You are good parents. We love you and we are here for you!

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    1. Melane, I am humbled and honored by your beautiful words. Thank you so much for being an amazing and supportive friend for our whole family. We love you guys so much!! ❤️❤️

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    2. Though we have never met as a fellow momma of a kiddo with special needs more true words have never been spoken to my soul.

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  2. Autumn… The love and wonder never change. You are an amazing mom…an amazing family. I can sympathize with your need to grieve. When Devon was a freshman in high school she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I remember digging in and going to work….finding the right therapist, the right psychiatrist, psychology appointments, accommodation meetings, med changes, academic modifications, charts, limit setting, explaining, not wanting to have to explain…but most of all…I remember mourning a dream I had for my sweet girl that I was sure wouldn’t come true…I began to be full of just trying to get her safely through a day. The rest of our family was essentially on autopilot. There were times when her anxiety or outbursts were so great that we would skip events, make excuses, just cry. Through lots of prayer, mommy time outs, therapy, and trust in God’s plan, we are moving forward.
    We were given the gift of time. While I said those words then, I didn’t truly fathom how great that gift would be. Time for her to gain a team of warriors to help her learn how to navigate her emotional ups and downs. Time to get used to taking meds twice a day because that’s what keeps us even. Time to learn and accept this plan. Time to understand that advocating for yourself is essential. She was able to gain these skills while still under our loving and protective wings, before she ventured out into the world.
    Four years ago, I want sure she’d make it to graduation. Much less college. I just simply wanted her to stay home for as long as possible so we could continue to protect her. But that wasn’t the plan. She is away at college. Yes, away is only half an hour drive, but it is still Independence. She will always have ups and downs. Highs and lows, stress is always going to trigger emotions that will be very difficult to control. We have gained a new trust in each other. I continue to worry….it’s my right as the mommy, but I know her toolbox, while still growing, has a solid start. I do still grieve on occasion. But it is different…I grieve because it’s tough to see her work so hard in her daily life. I want to take it from her so she doesn’t have to bare it all. I can’t do that. I can stand beside her and support her. I can say that she is closer to her brother and sister than I could have ever imagined. I can say that she is one of the strongest people I know. I can love her.

    You can love her. Keep being amazing. Blessings and prayers for all of you!

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