The father who gave birth to his own son

Praise: Seahorse has been hailed as a tender film about love, family, raging hormones and complex identities.

What if all men could give birth? Freddy McConnell is legally male, but was born female and is biologically able to carry children. His mother says it is an experience all men should have.

Freddy McConnell adores his son Jack. When he picks him up from nursery in their small seaside town, Freddy cuddles his child tightly. The bond they share is particularly strong because Freddy gave birth to Jack.

Freddy is a gay transgender man. His extraordinary story is told in Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth, named after the only species whose males carry their young. It airs on BBC Two, tomorrow evening.

Filmed over three years, the documentary follows Freddy’s journey from his decision to conceive, to his pregnancy, and up to the birth of baby Jack. For months, Freddy, a journalist, agonised over his decision, fearing stigma and questioning why — he, as a man — wanted to be pregnant.

Freddy had to stop taking male hormones in order to conceive with a sperm donor.

“I feel like an alien,” he sobs in the film, as his body is softened and changed by pregnancy. But after experiencing the ecstasies and agonies of childbirth, he says he got a first-hand view of the way pregnant women can be dismissed and their pain minimised.

“If all men got pregnant,” he says, “then, my God, pregnancy would be taken much more seriously.”

But, overall, the experience was the most positive of his life.

“There is a strong case to be made for it being the peak human experience, if it goes well,” he says, describing labour as “incredible” and “transcendent”.

Freddy’s mum Esme agrees.

“I loved being pregnant. Everybody should experience it – especially men,” she says.

So far, no one who was assigned male at birth has carried a child. However, doctors say that ovary and womb transplants in the future could allow people without female reproductive organs to give birth.

What would the world be like if men got pregnant?

Joe Penhall, who wrote a play based on this premise after witnessing his wife’s traumatic birth, is not optimistic.

“I think it would be the end of the world: chaos would ensue,” he says. “Men are hard-wired to go on the attack when they’re cornered, whereas women have learned to be a lot more tolerant.”

For one study, psychoanalyst Joyce McFadden asked women how a world with child-bearing men would be different. Many of them thought it would have a profound effect on our species’ history and mentality.

“It’s a pretty powerful experience to bring life into the world. I think men would value life more if they experienced it in their womb,” said one respondent.

Pushing it?

What if all men could give birth? The experience of carrying a loved child in their body could make men more caring and affectionate. Perhaps feeling the vulnerability of labour would allow men to become more open with their emotions. Then there’s the question of equality. If men and women were physically equal and child-rearing was truly shared, women would no longer be forced to sacrifice their careers and more could rise to the top of society. It would be a fairer, freer world for everyone.

But throughout human history, the male’s physical simplicity and strength has protected families and societies. The man as hunter and woman as homemaker was the social unit on which our entire culture was based. It is dangerous to fundamentally unsettle society. And surely we don’t need to go to this biological extreme to achieve equality? We could do it with equal paternity leave and changing attitudes. Without their life-giving power, historically, women might have been even worse off. What if men decided they didn’t need women at all?

You Decide

  1. Would you like to give birth to a baby one day?
  2. How would the world be different if men gave birth?

Activities

  1. Ask your mother or another adult in your life who has children to tell you three ways that the experience changed them.
  2. If you were given the chance to interview Freddy McConnell, write down five questions you would ask him about his experience.

Some People Say...

“To the woman He said, ‘I will multiply your pains in childbearing; with painful labour, you will bring forth children.’”

The Bible, Genesis 3:16

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth airs on BBC Two tomorrow at 9pm. Made by British filmmaker Jeanie Finlay, it tells the story of Freddy McConnell, a transgender man who decided to give birth to a baby. McConnell, 32, had to stop taking male sex hormones in order to conceive using a sperm donor. He said he wanted to make the film to encourage empathy towards trans people.
What do we not know?
How many trans men have given birth to children. There is very little concrete data on the issue, but several men in the UK have discussed their pregnancies in the media. Many more may have kept their pregnancies private for fear of facing stigma. According to data from Australia, 75 people who identified as male gave birth there in 2016.

Word Watch

Gay transgender
When a person’s true gender does not match the sex they were both as, they are transgender. Freddy is also gay, which means he is attracted to men.
Species
Female seahorses insert their eggs into the male’s pouch, where they are fertilised and where the embryo grows.
Male hormones
Trans men often take testosterone to make their bodies appear more masculine.
Ecstasies
Extreme happiness.
Transcendent
Beyond normal human experience.
Assigned male at birth
Not everyone who is born male identifies as a male. Trans women have a gender that does not match their physical body.
Premise
Set-up. The basis from which a story begins.
History
One suggested that emergency contraception would have been invented as long ago as in ancient Greece.

Subjects

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