Sometimes when stay-at-home Winnipeg dad Trevor MacDonald breastfeeds his baby boy in public, people stare. The reason is obvious. As a transgender man, MacDonald was once a woman but now has a beard, flat chest, and appears male. Most people have never seen a breastfeeding man before.
MacDonald writes a blog called Milk Junkies about the trials and tribulations of attachment parenting and being a breastfeeding dad. His story hit the mainstream news a couple of days ago when he posted a letter from the breastfeeding support group La Leche League Canada (LLLC) denying his application to become a group leader with the organization.
The reason given for the denial was that the organization's 18-year-old policy states that "Since an LLLC leader is a mother who breastfed a baby, a man cannot become an LLLC leader." It went on to explain that MacDonald identifies as a father, and that the roles of mothers and fathers are not interchangeable.
Born a woman, MacDonald began hormone treatments four years ago, and then later had chest reduction surgery. He stopped hormone treatments when he decided he wanted to become pregnant and have a child. When his son was born, MacDonald had trouble nursing. He credits LLLC with accepting him and his unique situation with open arms and for helping him learn to breastfeed with the aid of a supplemental nursing system.
On his blog, MacDonald expressed his profound appreciation for the help of LLLC and his desire to "some day reciprocate the compassion, encouragement, and expertise that made such a difference to my personal breastfeeding experience."
But it looks like he won't get that chance, at least not as a group leader at LLLC.
Now, parenting experts around the country are weighing in on MacDonald's story and the LLLC's policy.
Meanwhile, Elisabeth Sterken of the breastfeeding organization INFACT Canada describes the policy as "unacceptable."
But not all experts agree. Helen Ward is the president of Kids First Parents Association of Canada, a national charity that advocates around childcare issues, and she stands by LLLC's decision.
"The Leche League has been an invaluable and totally unique resource for so many women, and to compromise their work would be a massive loss for children," says Ward.
She expresses concern that if MacDonald was allowed to lead, it would open the door to all men, because even a man born male can nurse a child with the assistance of a feeding tube like the one that MacDonald uses.
"A born man could potentially also put that system on his chest and feed his child, and that is not the goal of the Leche League," says Ward. "Their goal is mother-to-mother breastfeeding support, and Trevor is calling himself a father."
The public's response has also been mixed. In a Toronto Star poll on the topic, 44 per cent think "a transgender parent should be allowed to become a breastfeeding coach", while 56 per cent oppose the idea.
Could breastfeeding dads become the new normal? MacDonald thinks so. On his blog, he references another transgender nursing man, and says that "my situation and his, although very unique today, will become increasingly common in the future."
In the hopes of supporting these dads and others individuals who might need help with breastfeeding, MacDonald has started his own queer-friendly breastfeeding group that members will be able to access via Skype, according to the National Post.
The group's Facebook page already has 185 members, an indication that perhaps MacDonald's unique situation may not be so unique after all.
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