The dad who gave birth: Why is a loving parent caught in a legal quagmire?

The Dad Who Gave Birth is a title likely designed to ignite intrigue, debate and, possibly, confusion. Yet the story behind the documentary which showed on BBC2 last night is probably more straightforward than you might think.

For years, journalist Freddy McConnell yearned for his own family and at 30 he finally achieved his dream. Yet the path to parenthood was uncertain, not to mention somewhat unorthodox.

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McConnell identifies as male, though was born biologically as female, meaning that he was able to conceive, carry and give birth to his child. He realised he was transgender in 2010, aged 23, and started testosterone treatment in April 2013.

In 2016, he sought advice from a fertility clinic about getting pregnant and his hormone treatment was suspended, his menstrual cycle restarted and he became pregnant in 2017 through artificial insemination using sperm from a donor.

McConnell, and his child, both have the benefit of a loving and supportive family, yet even McConnell is attempting to find his way, and his identity, within this journey. Having transitioned from female to male, he is now undertaking what has, since time immemorial, pretty much been the most ‘female’ thing a person can do, and as such he admitted to facing “a total loss of myself”.

Currently, McConnell is arguing in court for the right to be registered on his child’s birth certificate not as mother, but as father. Prior to attending a fertility clinic he applied for a gender recognition certificate, which was granted before he gave birth. He was legally male when his child was born.

Being named as the child’s father on a birth certificate should be his right to do so, he notes: “All children should be able to have their legal parents correctly and accurately recorded on their birth certificates,” he said.

Wouldn’t it be lovely, though, if the law could simply recognise transgender parenthood? Society is starting to realise that families come in all sorts of different permutations, so why can’t the legal system? It matters greatly to McConnell that his rightful gender is recorded on the birth certificate. Why, really, should it matter to anyone else?

There appears to be a concern brewing that people who transitioned later in life could make retrospective claims, whereby a person’s birth certificate could be altered to factor their having two fathers, or two mothers. And really, so what? I’m kind of failing to see the problem here. Two dads on a birth cert. Big whoop.

Of course, some have taken umbrage at the idea of a child being ‘motherless’. Removing the ‘femaleness’ from childbirth appears to be an issue for some people.

“If some future descendant, an archivist or even the child itself seeks to make sense of this document, a baby without a mother is a very hard thing to understand,” writes Sarah Ditum in the Daily Telegraph. “Bureaucratic motherlessness is a strange and chilly fiction to impose on children.”

Except… well, it isn’t, is it? Not in the year 2019. There are single fathers. Single mothers. Same-sex marriages. Polyamorous unions.

Ditum continues: “Mothering is a verb that covers all kinds of non-biological things from sterilising bottles to pulling together brownies for the school bake sale, but in its most basic sense it just means the parent who gave birth. And that is what McConnell is, so that is how he should be registered.”

Well, this is just rubbish. Sticking so rigidly to the heteronormative model of family these days is a bit naff, not to mention anachronistic. Besides, the won’t-someone-think-of-the-children gubbins is plain close-mindedness, gussied up as faux concern. It’s not likely that McConnell’s child, or any child born to a trans parent, is going to happen upon their origin story, much less be shocked by unearthing their ‘motherless’ birth certificate.

McConnell’s legal battle appears to be causing consternation in some quarters simply because he is the first trans person to take this particular battle on. Change is just tough for some people, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with them. McConnell hopes to set a legal precedent. But those who tread virgin snow, like McConnell, often forge their way through a dense, difficult thicket so that others can follow with a degree of comfort.

McConnell adores his child, and the child has been born into a loving family. There will evidently be no shortage of support, affection and care, and that’s really all that matters. Parenthood is tough enough without throwing a fight to be recognised simply for who you are into the mix.

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