Love, Hope, and Acceptance: A Family’s Transition

We are thankful for all of the wonderful people that The ART of Infertility has allowed us to cross paths with. Today, we have a guest post from CJ Carman, who we first met in July of 2015 at her home in Northern California. A memoir about CJ’s infertility, parenting after adoption, and how she and her family were transformed along the way was just released. She shares some of that story with us today. Thanks, CJ!

CJ with baby Nicole

Before my husband and I got engaged, we had discussions about having children.  At first, we thought we did not want children but after several years of marriage, decided we did, in fact, want children very much.  So we set out to get pregnant and soon discovered that we were infertile.  After many tests and discussions with our physician, we decided to try infertility procedures that proved both physically and emotionally painful and that would, alas, fail to get me pregnant.  So much goes on when you are in this place.  So many comments and unsolicited advice from people who mean well, but inadvertently added to the pain.  Guilt was also a huge part of this package.  But my husband and I pretended to make peace with the fact that we would never have children. And then, we were inspired to look into adoption.

Both of us are Caucasian, but being very open to any child who needed love, we adopted an African American baby.  Adopting our daughter, Nicole, was literally the best thing that ever happened to us.  It was also the start of a journey that inspired me to write Love, Hope, and Acceptance: A Family’s Transition.  Besides the “normal” parenting challenges and the realities that come with raising a child of color, there were other opportunities to expand my way of thinking of this world in a positive way.  Living in a very diverse area, through Nicole’s activities and relationships, I was exposed to many different cultures and family lifestyles.  Nicole’s life opened many doors for me and I feel has made me a better person.

Part of Nicole’s journey was realizing that she was lesbian.  At a very young age, Nicole was more attracted to females than males and also tended to identify more with stereotypical male behaviors and dress and was labeled a “stud” in her lesbian relationships.  And while my husband and I were concerned for Nicole’s welfare, we were accepting of how she identified and expressed herself.  Little did we know that her inner angst continued into high school. You see, Nicole felt deeply that she was not a female interested in other females, but actually a male interested in females.  In other words, Nicole knew she identified as male while everyone still saw her as female.  Nicole knew she was transgender and really wanted to make physical changes so his brain’s image of who he was matched his outer appearance.  Thus began the transition from Nicole to Cole. But it was a transition for the whole family.  One that has been mind blowing in that we experienced the power of Cole’s human spirit crying out for, and gaining control over, who he truly is.

Part of this journey included an extraordinary wish by Cole to retrieve and freeze his eggs before starting hormone therapy (at that time, he was one of the first female-to-male transgender persons in the country to undergo this procedure). Cole knew he wanted biological children someday.  Once Testosterone therapy begins, it is extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to produce viable eggs. This was not a decision we all took lightly but one that ultimately led to the success of preserving a part of Cole that will become a living, conscious part of him.  The process was both costly and physically painful but one well worth it.

Cole’s senior portrait

Two-and-a-half years later, Cole is a thriving college student who is secure and happy.  It is not lost on me the almost full circle gift that my husband and I lost, found through adoption, and now can give to Cole – a chance to be a parent.    Now days, those in the LGBT+ community can entertain options once closed to them. I have no residual pain or regret about not being able to have a biological child.  Though Cole did not come into this world from my body, he is, most definitely a part of me. My labor was different but just as mind blowing and wonderful.  It gives me great joy that my husband and I were not only able to help Cole become and openly express his true self, but to help instill hope for his future as a parent.  What greater gift could a parent possibly receive?

Love, Hope, and Acceptance: A Family’s Transition, is available at Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

 

 

 

 

Expanding In/fertility: Our Mission and Cole’s Story

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The ART of Infertility’s mission is to break the silence around the experiences of infertility, offering art and storytelling as therapeutic heuristics to capture and express the realities, pains, and joys of the experiences of infertility. This project recognizes the diverse voices and perspectives that represent infertility — ranging from those in a heterosexual relationship who receive an infertility diagnosis upon trying to conceive, those who identify as single-mothers-by-choice and undergoing fertility treatment to become pregnant, even those who identify as LGBTQ and encounter many of the same infertility decisions. In this way, the project attempts to speak back to dominant perceptions and assumptions of who is infertile. Our goal in doing so is to broaden the public’s understandings of infertility, making the claim that infertility impacts far more than just the older heterosexual couple attempting to conceive.

We understand in articulating such a mission that we may offend some in the infertility community. Our intention in adopting such a mission is not to offend and create divisions amongst the infertility community. Instead, we aspire to bridge the multiple and diverse experiences of those who face decisions of infertility. We believe that by honoring these diverse stories we may build stronger bonds and greater awareness about the multiple faces, stories and realities of infertility. We look forward to fulfilling this mission and today we begin by sharing one of the unique and humbling stories of infertility that rarely get told.

Meet Cole, once Nicole. He has made the decision during his transition from Female to Male to preserve his eggs so that one day he too can have a family that he so desires. Read the text and play the audio clips below to learn about Cole’s journey.

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We met Cole, a recent high school graduate, at his home in the San Francisco Bay Area where he was recovering from top surgery. Top surgery, in Cole’s case, involved a mastectomy and chest reconstruction and is a procedure he underwent as part of transitioning from female to male. From an early age, Cole knew he was transgender, even though he didn’t know to call it by that name. Here, he shares what the experience was like for him growing up, how he made the decision to transition, and how he shared the news with his family.

 

When first visiting the doctor, Cole was shocked by what they told him he’d have to do in order to transition. “They gave me some type of information that we ended up not going by that horrified me. It said I had to live like a man (for a certain period of time) and I didn’t really know what that meant, what it means, to live like a man. As I said, I feel like a man so I’m living how I feel like a man should live. Is there a certain way? Do I need a rule book to live this way?”

Cole worked with a number of physicians and counselors before it was finally time for him to begin testosterone injections to begin transitioning. On the day he was to self-administer the first injection, he was sitting in the doctor’s office when he was handed a brochure about fertility preservation.

The testosterone Cole was prescribed to transition from female to male would negatively impact his fertility. Undergoing fertility treatments and having his eggs retrieved before he started testosterone would give him the best chance of having a biological connection to his future children. This, in part, is why sharing his story is so important to Cole. He wants others to know it’s possible, so they might have the same chance he will. Cole took one look at the info given to him and passed it to his mom.

“I told my mom and, if it was something I wanted to do and I thought about it and considered it, she supported it. But, financially, there was a conversation about how we’d pay for it because transitioning costs a lot too. As far as the support, she said, ‘if this is what you really want to do, we’ll do our best to make it happen for you.'”

“I’ve always wanted to have kids so it was a no-brainer. I didn’t really know the whole process but I knew I wanted to do it. My mom did some research and we met up with Dr. Aimee.”

While Cole was excited about the opportunity to freeze his eggs for future use, he was frustrated by having to delay starting his testosterone shots and putting transitioning on hold. Still, he didn’t let it deter him. Here, Cole describes what the experience of undergoing fertility treatment, which includes transvaginal ultrasounds, and the egg retrieval was like for him.

 

Cole has an impressive collection of athletic shoes.

Cole has an impressive collection of athletic shoes.

Besides dealing with ultrasounds, there was another challenge in store for Cole. While taking medication to stimulate egg productions, physical exertion has to be limited because of the potential risk of ovarian torsion. For Cole, a former basketball player who has shifted gears to have more free time to work out and lift weights, the combination of surgeries he’s undergone recently have meant that exercise has been off limits for quite some time. He shared this with us.

 

With the egg retrieval behind him, it was time to start the transition from Nicole to Cole with his first testosterone shot.

 

Another reason Cole wanted to move away from playing basketball was to have more time to share his story.

“I think if I had anything to say is that the purpose of me sharing my story is not for me it’s for others. It’s to educate people about the infertility egg process and why people do it. Its also to educate people about what being transgender means. I do it to help people find themselves and not feel alone. To inspire people not only the LGBT community, but everybody to be themselves regardless of what society or anybody says. I’d rather take the hits about it than any other kid stressing about it.”

Cole has found a community with others, who are also in the process of transitioning, on Instagram. He’s had others ask him about his experience with fertility treatments.

 

“I don’t really want to live undercover or anything. Some people, when they transition, don’t tell anybody they are transgender. I wouldn’t want to do that because that’s who I am. You know, I want people to really know me and love me for me and not for somebody they think I am.”

“I wish everybody could just know so they could decide if they like me or not but I don’t really know how that’s going to work. It’s just kind of new. I’m just going to have to see when I get there I guess. The state I’m in right now, is just the beginning. Sometimes I’m he and sometimes I’m she. Sometimes I pass and sometimes I don’t, but after my top surgery I started to pass in public and a lot.”

While Cole rolls with the punches now, it hasn’t always been so easy. Along the way, he sometimes turned to art to help him process his emotions.

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Cole created this piece during a free draw in his art class.

Cole shared his process in creating this image in his sketch pad.

 

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It’s an exciting time of change for Cole and he’s looking forward to the future and, one day,  using the eggs that were retrieved this spring.

 

Thank you, Cole, for sharing your story!

Cole’s reproductive endocrinologist, Dr. Aimee Eyvazzadeh, has set up a Go Fund Me account to help Cole pay for the storage fees it will take to keep his eggs waiting until he’s ready to use them. If you’d like to contribute to the fund, you can click here.