“It’s not just women who get broody,” says Freddy McConnell towards the start of Seahorse, a new documentary about his life as a trans dad who gave birth to his own son.
The film tells the story of Freddy’s path to fatherhood – beginning with his realisation, approaching 30, that he wanted to start a family. Along the way, the camera captures many of the fears and joys familiar to every new parent.
But for Freddy, the journey was fraught with complications. First he had to stop taking testosterone, which left him feeling, he says, “like a fucking alien”, as well as coping with periods, choosing a sperm donor and eventually carrying a baby bump while presenting, in his words, “quite a masculine gender expression”.
Seahorse – so called because it’s male seahorses who carry the babies – is a raw, poignant and beautiful portrayal of family and romantic relationships, identity and gender. It’s also a very real and relatable story of the challenges shared by all new mums, dads and carers – from wondering whether you’ll ever sleep again to working out how to tell your child where they came from.
Speaking to HuffPostUK, Freddy told us what he’s learned about parenting.
Nothing prepares you for the reality of parenthood.
“The first two weeks with a newborn were lovely, but I still remember that feeling of terror in the middle of the night,” says Freddy. “I remember thinking, ‘I can’t conceive of how I’m going to survive when I’m already this tired.’ It’s constantly challenging, and constantly surprising – but in the worst and best ways.”
Parents, choose your support network wisely.
“I live in a small town and there were a bunch of people who happened to be having babies at the same time as me. There were about 15 babies born within our friendship group. We didn’t have NCT – there is no NCT where we live – so we had to choose our own support network.
“Some of them knew me before I had my son, and together we wanted to form a group that was almost more about the parents – to enable us to meet up and talk once a week. We have similar views on parenting and it was about creating a space where we all felt comfortable.”
Being open and honest with your child is important.
“I want to be as open as possible with my son in an age-appropriate way. If you’re a mum and your child asks where they came from, you might say: ‘mummy’s tummy’. I’ll tell my child he came from ‘daddy’s tummy’ – and that’s just going to be normal to him.
“Kids are surprisingly adaptive and accepting. We should trust them more.”
Trans dads are not necessarily like ‘any other dad’.
“I want to be able to honour the fact that I did give birth. I’m less invested in the idea of ‘blending in’, and I don’t want to ‘mansplain’ to anyone, but I do have a unique perspective. It’s made me realise that if all men got pregnant, it would be taken so much more seriously.”
We should be more mindful of gender stereotyping.
“It’s not ‘gender’ that’s a problem – but gender stereotypes. I think toxic masculinity and the pressure to ‘be a man’ are really damaging. We are doing boys and men a huge disservice. We live in a time where we no longer ‘expect’ women to have kids, and we should be steering away from binary arguments, too. We should stop focusing on outdated ideas of what ‘women’ should do and what ‘men’ should do, and assuming that women ‘naturally’ want to do most of the caregiving. We’re just humans, raising children.”
Being trans doesn’t mean you’re an expert on gender.
“I never want to pretend I know everything. I hope that my son and I will figure a lot of stuff out together as it comes up – by reading together and talking. I think it’s really important that parents show humility, rather than acting like they automatically know best. You shouldn’t demand respect just because they’re your child – you have to earn it.”
Don’t be too hard on yourself as a parent.
“You can have the best intentions, read the most diverse books, listen to all the podcasts on parenting and you will still make mistakes. I keep a tab open on my computer with an article I read about the way Inuits parent their children – they control their anger. I constantly try to be ‘more Inuit’, but I’m also aware that every child is their own person, from very early on. They have their own character and the person they become is not solely up to you.
“I look at my son and remind myself: ‘I’m just getting to know you.’”