Boy meets girl. They decide to have a baby. Sounds straight-forward, but this is an unusual conception story.
Junior Brainard stands in front of the gold-painted fireplace where his partner Tina Montgomery photographed him each week during his pregnancy. He pulls out one of the last pictures.
“This is me at — I think, at 38 weeks,” says Junior. “I’m just wearing a white tank top. And yeah, my belly sticks out pretty far. Some people said, ‘Well, you’re either pregnant or you have a basketball under your shirt or something.'”
Junior is undeniably pregnant in the photo. But before then most people weren’t so sure, because Junior is a man. That is, he’s a female-born transgender man. And his partner, Tina Montgomery, is a male-born transgender woman.
They’re an unlikely pair in a few ways. Tina’s black, Junior’s white. Tina’s 49, Junior’s 34. Tina’s tall and voluptuous, Junior’s shorter and slight.
They started talking about having a child pretty early in their relationship.
“I said to him, ‘I want you to have my baby,'” Tina recalls. “And, I don’t know. I don’t remember what happened from there.”
“I don’t either,” laughs Junior.
“I know I wasn’t taken very serious, and I was very serious,” Tina adds.
Doing what comes naturally
A few years after this conversation they started trying to conceive. It was complicated in some ways, but pretty straightforward in others.
“Oh yeah!” Junior says laughing.
“We have all the parts,” adds Tina.
“We had been having sex in a way that can produce a baby,” Junior says. “It wasn’t so much that we needed any kind of surgical procedure to extract our sperm and eggs, it was more of just, I had been on hormones for a couple of years, and Tina had been on hormones for a long time.”
Medical scientists know generally that, when ovaries and testicles are exposed to high levels of hormones, it hurts fertility. But there haven’t been extensive enough studies to show how much is too much, or how long is too long. Junior had been on testosterone for only two years but Tina had been taking estrogen, on and off, for 33 years.
For a long time doctors considered losing fertility as the price to pay for transitioning. Or they assumed that someone like Junior wouldn’t want to become a man and then get pregnant. When Junior started taking testosterone in 2007 he signed an informed consent paper acknowledging that he understood he might become infertile, but no one ever brought up freezing his eggs.
Since 2001, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health has called for just that — in the same way a doctor would talk to a patient before undergoing cancer treatment. But a 2013 study revealed that many trans patients were still not having this discussion.
Junior and Tina eventually decided to see a fertility specialist. That’s when the trouble began.
The birds and the bees — and a little help from the doctor
“Going to the first hospital was just — I think it was real devastating on Junior,” recalls Tina.
The first step was getting Tina’s semen analyzed. This is because it’s easier to get the semen to test than it is to get an egg. But the doctor quickly turned them away.
“She came in and said, ‘No, no, no. It’s not good enough. We can’t use this. There’s no point in keeping it,'” Junior remembers. “I was like, ‘Well can’t we just try? We only need one sperm to make it work.’ And she was like, ‘No, no. I can tell you it’s not going to work. The cells are not going to divide.'”
“I just think she did not want to work with us,” Tina says solemnly.
Junior had been off of testosterone for a year at this point. But when that first doctor said they would never get pregnant, he believed her, so he started taking it again.
“I just have a lot of faith in the medical establishment, I guess,” Junior adds with a laugh.
But Tina didn’t believe it, and she finally convinced Junior to see one more doctor. That’s when they found fertility specialist Jacqueline Gutmann.
“I think by the time we got to Dr. Gutmann, I had been through this process of, like, ‘You know what? I think I’m not going to have a kid. I’m moving on in my life, making other plans,'” says Junior. “So I was going in with, like, ‘Okay, can we just hear from another person that it’s not going to work?’ And then the first meeting she’s like, ‘Well, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.'”
Dr. Jacqueline Gutmann is a reproductive endocrinologist at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. She said conceiving is a pretty easy equation. “Ultimately there are only so many ways pregnancy can be achieved, and at this point in time, you need eggs, you need sperm, you need a uterus, and you need to make that come together.”
Dr. Gutmann had worked with a trans man before, but never a trans woman, but she figured they had as good a chance as any of her patients.
“In any given situation, when people are coming to see us, there’s been some challenge,” Dr. Gutmann says, “whether it’s a hetero couple who come with their own eggs, sperm, uterus, or whether it’s a trans couple who actually, like Tina and Junior, sort of come with it all but not in the way we would typically expect it.”
Junior and Tina went through three rounds of in vitro fertilization. On the third try, the doctors extracted 19 eggs from Junior. That’s more than a year and a half’s worth of eggs. Out of those 19 only two survived. One of them is in a freezer, and one is now a month-old baby named Tony.
Just ‘something that my body could do’
Becoming pregnant was the first challenge. Being pregnant and a man brought more. First there was the whole issue of identity. Junior spent years transitioning from a woman to a man. Then he went and got pregnant, which many would argue is just about the most female thing a person can do.
“I mean, I do think that my mom continued to sort of think, ‘Huh, how is this for you? You wanted to live as a man, and now you want to be pregnant,'” Junior says.
It took Junior’s mom a while to get used to the idea. Other people thought it must have been a mistake. Why would a trans man want to be pregnant? Wouldn’t he be putting his manhood on hold? But Junior didn’t see it that way.
“At a certain point, I stopped seeing pregnancy as something that was so central to being a woman and being female, and just saw it as something that my body could do,” he says.
Both of their families were incredibly supportive, but the world can be cruel place, and Junior was still a pregnant man — in a world with very few of those. It made for some awkward moments. Like the incident with a woman in the cafeteria where Junior works.
“She said, ‘What happened to you!?'” Junior recalls, “And I said, ‘Well, I’m pregnant.’ And then I could see there was this moment of just kind of blowing her mind and that she hadn’t known that I was trans. And, for her, it was trying to absorb that I was both trans and that I was pregnant all in one 30 second interaction.”
Tina remembers a more painful experience. A few weeks before Tony was born Junior and Tina went to the suburbs to do some last-minute shopping.
“We were coming out one of the baby stores, and two women — we were a few feet in front of them — and they were looking and laughing and saying something. And I turned around and said, ‘Yes, it’s a pregnant man. Catch up with the times, people!'”
“They really didn’t back down, even when they were called out on it,” says Junior.
“They kept saying some things like, ‘Y’all need Jesus. Y’all need to go to church,'” Tina adds. “And I love church, but don’t tell me what I need. So, that was bad for me.”
Transitioning to parenthood
Tony is a month old now, and Junior and Tina are struggling with typical new-parent issues. Basically, they’re sleep deprived. I asked them, after all they went through, if they would have done anything differently.
“I think I spend a lot of time thinking like, ‘Do I wish I had never taken testosterone?’ Junior says. “And then I feel like, no, that was really the right decision for me at that time. And, I mean, the same for you.”
Junior turns to Tina: “I would never say, ‘Oh, don’t you wish you had never taken your hormones?’ No, I’m sure you don’t regret that, and I don’t want you to regret that. I think it’s important to honor the decisions that you make that are right for you along the way, even if that makes it harder.”
So many people doubted Junior and Tina along their journey to parenthood. Doctors questioned their ability to conceive, even Junior’s mom wondered why he’d want to be pregnant even if it were physically possible. And it was hard, but they did it anyway. And now they have an extra embryo in a freezer — so they might even do it again.
“Yes, lord,” Tina says as Junior laughs. “See you for the next interview.”
This story first aired on “Distillations,” a podcast about science, culture, and history from the Chemical Heritage Foundation.