Navigating pregnancy and childbirth can be a minefield for many Kiwis, but for those in Aotearoa's queer, Takatāpui, community that journey can be even more fraught. Katie Harris speaks to a trans man and their partner about their road to parenthood.
Frankie and Rāwā fell in love during the pandemic.
"I think it was because of our shared interest in being human-rights defenders that we really bonded over that from the get-go," Rāwā (Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe, Kāi Tahu) shares about his partner.
While their first meet-up was over coffee, the pair ended up working as part of the Covid-19 disability response together and began dating once they left their roles.
Now, the queer-identifying couple, who live in Canterbury with their dog Māui, are planning on expanding their whānau.
And Frankie, who is a non-binary trans gay man, will be carrying their child.
"There are plenty of trans people like me who have children and they do it in the shadows because of the social stigma around it, and for safety reasons, and lots of really valid reasons."
As a result, they say it means there isn't much visibility of their experience.
"People look at us and we'll say we're starting a family and often the next question is, 'Oh who's the surrogate.'"
Frankie stopped taking testosterone in October 2020, and in 2021 the couple wed and got the green light to start trying for a baby.
Sadly, the couple have already gone through two miscarriages, which occurred in the first trimester.
"Certainly the second time around, we'd got quite a bit further than the first time so we were starting to feel okay to dream and imagine," Frankie says.
The couple are trying to conceive as naturally as possible, in a very similar way that cis heterosexual couples would. For example, they haven't needed a surrogate or egg donor to become pregnant.
Rāwā, who is bisexual and attracted to masculinity regardless of gender, feels honoured to be undertaking this together, but also protective of Frankie, wanting others to respect that it's Frankie's journey and Frankie's body.
"Media in the past, around pregnant dads especially, or pregnant men, has been over-scandalised... Which we are particularly mindful about, and have seen that happen within New Zealand media as well."
So he's cautious, only speaking where they feel safe to do so, yet understanding the positive power of publicising what is often kept private. The couple are currently filming a documentary about the process.
In terms of sharing their kōrero, each day feels different for Frankie.
"Some days you've got more energy to sort of educate and talk to people about things and other days it would be easier if people just knew and knew about how these things work and I wasn't doing that sort of emotional labour to educate them."
Usually, they say it's okay because they explain Frankie can carry the child themselves.
"They either get it because they have some level of understanding or they kind of just like, eyebrows shoot through the roof, like how is that possible?" Frankie says.
Even with a fertility provider, which was engaged to test both Frankie and Rāwā's fertility, they have faced issues, with Frankie being misgendered on clinic forms.
"Who can we go to who's trusted, who will look after us in a way that will respect us as a couple, respect Frankie as they identify and understand the nuance that comes with being part of the queer community," Rāwā wonders aloud.
Besides that incident, which left Frankie in tears, they say their experience with that provider was "fantastic".
They told the Herald the face-to-face consultation they had with the specialist was very respectful and he was "very focused" on making sure they didn't feel dysphoric during the process.
"He said to me, immediately, if you aren't comfortable with an internal ultrasound we don't have to do that and there are other ways we can get the information we're looking for. So I felt like it was very positive and respectful," Frankie says.
Through this the couple learned they were "exceptionally fertile" but there were certain elements of their physiology they needed to look at in order to conceive.
"For Frankie, it's coming off testosterone and getting thyroid levels right for that early stage of pregnancy, which will minimise our risk for future miscarriages," Rāwā says.
Alongside the emotions of trying to conceive, as well as miscarrying, the couple are navigating a challenging space which is perceived as inherently female.
New Zealand's Health Ministry told the Herald on Sunday data surrounding how many men were conceiving was not collected.
One of the main barriers for trans men being seen, Frankie says, is the overtly heteronormative and cis-normative materials provided to hopeful parents in fertility spaces, even though many queer people use these services too.
"Then you go to the hospital and if you go to the women's clinic, it's the women's clinic, and you're sitting there and if you don't have a chick with you that day you get a lot of weird looks. [This] only happened to me once so far but we know eventually down the track that discomfort will arise again."
A key area Rāwā says could positively change this space is the language used surrounding pregnant people.
"Simple things like gestational parent, or pregnant people, are a very easy way for us to change the language and it's something we can do immediately."
But the greatest change, he says, is trying to alter people's views, which would require a culture shift.
"I'm hoping that our story will help with that culture shift, in a way that it helps elevate people's real-life experience in this space."
Speaking publicly isn't without risks, as transphobia, biphobia and homophobia are rife on some online platforms.
"The immediate fear is our profile goes up as a result and people start attacking us in social media spaces and our mental health is [harmed] as a result," Rāwā says.
"This is our family we're wanting to start and our lives and it's not really impacting anyone else. It's just us and our family and we're wanting to start a family and this is what family looks like for us."
As well as this, the couple are mindful of how their public journey could impact their child in the future.
Rāwā sees this as a lifelong decision they're making, and one that will hopefully improve
society, but also one that might be "thrown in" their faces.
"I think there's a reason we are telling the story and that is to show and help people understand what it's like for trans people to go through a pregnancy, and then there's another element of encouraging trans people to be brave enough to join us on that journey if they want to, or feel safe enough to have these conversations."
At the same time, Frankie says pregnancy and childbirth is a choice not all trans men, or cis women, want to make.
Also, they say, many people assume trans people either don't want or can't have children, which is not the case.
"Certainly for me, I knew I was trans really young as a kid and I also knew very young that I wanted to have children and carry them myself."
They see this as a kind of lifelong battle, trying to reconcile their desire for children, with that process also being seen as inherently female.
By sharing their journey, they're trying to break that down.
"It's quite a normal way for people to have a family and so I think we were really keen to talk about it, because in talking about it some of our friends who never thought this would be possible for them have actually started going down this track as well."