Most people know Thomas Beatie as the transgender “pregnant man” from Bend, Ore., which was splashed over Web sites and news networks last spring. After giving birth to a beautiful baby girl, Beatie published an autobiography about his lifelong pursuit of a happy, nurturing family.
Labor of Love: The Story of One Man’s Extraordinary Pregnancy begins with Beatie just about to give birth. Then it flashes back to when he was a little girl in Hawaii growing up with a loving mother and an abusive father. Chronologically, Beatie describes some of the most emotionally-charged moments of his childhood, his life as a young woman, meeting his wife Nancy and his decision to transition from female to male.
The second half of Labor of Love is devoted to his famous pregnancy. Beatie and his wife wanted a biological child, but Nancy had a hysterectomy in her 20s, due to endometriosis, and she couldn’t carry the child.
They considered using a surrogate mother but the risks of adoption issues, plus physical prenatal care, seemed to be unnecessary risks since Beatie’s body was perfectly equipped to become pregnant and carry a baby full term.
Once the decision had been made that Beatie would carry the baby, the easy part was over. They spent thousands of dollars at fertility clinics for tests and consultations just to be turned away because Beatie’s gender made the staffs uncomfortable. Beatie and his wife even received death threats and letters detailing their unborn daughter’s damnation to hell. They were called “freaks” and “monsters.”
Transgender communities criticized them for being selfish and not considering the backlash that other transgender people would suffer because mainstream America isn’t ready to accept them as equals. This especially hurt because Beatie and his wife have been longtime activists for equal rights.
Whereas many would have given up hope, Beatie remained dedicated to having a baby. Labor of Love offers inspiration and courage to other couples who have struggled with becoming pregnant and acquiring the family that they need. This book supports unconventional but loving families to overcome prejudice in order to actualize their deepest desires.
Beatie questions what it means to be male and what it means to be female. He mentions that male, not female, sea horses carry the babies during pregnancy. Challenging readers to see people as human beings rather than labels, Beatie uses logic to undermine traditional ideas of gender rooted in chromosomes, hormones or physical characteristics.
Breaking even the convention of first-person-only, memoir-style writing, Beatie devotes a chapter to strangers’ opinions. The first quote comes from former Vanguard staff writer Jesse Thiessen’s opinion article supporting Beatie, which says that “[Beatie’s] lifestyle is not anybody’s to condemn” [“Transphobia runs deep,” April 15, 2008].
Some of the other articles, blogs and letter excerpts support Beatie’s choices, but others are critical. It’s an amazing mix of human kindness and cruelty side by side.
Labor of Love is a well written, emotionally-charged narrative and a must-read for all people remotely curious about Beatie’s pregnancy. Even if someone begins reading about the “pregnant man,” it soon becomes clear that the book is about so much more than that.
It breaks down the stereotypical barriers between man, woman, mother, father, straight, lesbian, transgender, etc. When you get down to the core of any human being, there’s just an instinctual desire to love and be loved in return.
Hopefully this story will broaden closed minds to become more accepting of lifestyles that they don’t understand, as well as become a vital point of reference for anyone in an unconventional family who needs an extra boost of support.
Labor of Love: The Story of One Man’s Extraordinary Pregnancy329 pages$24.95****1/2