Pregnancy and Gender Awareness

As most of my clients know, I am pregnant and due in January 2016; although let’s be real…this baby will come whenever they please (yes, there’s only one…just trying to be gender neutral)! Aside from the many different pieces of advice, things to know and read and become “experts” on, as well as the “You’re going to do what with my what?!?” moments, it’s been pretty great so far. My husband, who is not a counselor, has also schooled me on a few things.

We spilled the proverbial beans about a month ago, and he has had many conversations and questions asked by his co-workers that got him thinking about gender and our child. As many people do, his co-workers have asked him, “So, are you finding out the gender?” This got him thinking, and his response was, “We’ll be finding out the sex”. When he was relaying this story to me, one pregnant sleepy evening, I said “That’s great honey”, not recognizing the profound statement he made in his male-dominated and more conservative work atmosphere. It wasn’t until the next morning when it hit me upside the head, the gravity of his minor, but significant change in verbage from “gender” to “sex” when it comes to finding out about our child. I, at first, was floored and proud, that my husband was educated enough to know the difference (I guess I can take some credit for that). Then my pride turned to shock (at myself) for not seeing the significance of how we, in our society, mix the words gender and sex so fluidly, without recognizing the vast differences in the words.

When I work with my trans clients, I emphasize to them the importance of sharing their own stories, educating their friends and family members, and also recognizing that people will “mess up”. But this time, my husband educated me! When it comes to the sex vs gender argument, the very simple answer is a “parts vs thoughts” definition. Sex is defined by the types of parts (genitalia) that we have externally, and gender is all about what types of thoughts we have as an individual, and how that relates to our “male-ness” or “female-ness”. So when I’ve been saying the gender of our baby, what I should have said was the sex of our baby. We will be finding out the sex (parts) of our child, but the child will have to let us know their gender beginning at ages 2-12. As both my husband and I are considered cisgender (we identify with the parts that we have as indicative of our thought/identity patterns), we will assume, unless stated differently, that our child will also be cis. If our child wants to play with Tonka trucks, but has girl parts, then that’s fine! If our child wants to play with Barbie dolls but has boy parts, that’s fine too (although my husband prefers that either gender will play with Legos).  Bravo to Target for recognizing this fact, and for more parents in our society not getting so up in arms about the types of toys their children play with. It was not that long ago that “kick the can” was a part of play, and that has nothing to do with gender.

Being blessed with a healthy child is all that we want as parents, and knowing that not all children are born, and remain healthy, it is our duty as parents to begin to recognize when things may be affecting them mentally/emotionally, and not just physically.  A staggering statistic that I have shared with many trans persons and parents of trans youth is that 41% of trans-identified people have attempted suicide. Yes, you read that correctly. 41%. That is 9 times the national average of persons who attempt suicide. If parents could learn to accept their children as people, not as damaged, wrong, or immoral because their inside doesn’t match the outside, that number could come dramatically down. I impress upon parents of trans youth that being trans is not a death sentence, but denying a trans person support, love, and help to confirm their gender identity could be, this usually gets their attention to look past the confusion, and learn to love the person that they’ve created.

We do not yet know the mechanism by which a person’s gender identity is formed in the womb, but we do know that it is not a choice, like where to eat lunch, and where to go to college. Being a parent of a child who is not yet here helps me see things a little differently, and just wanting a child who is healthy is more important than the parts or thoughts they have. There are many resources for people who are struggling to understand what their child, partner, friend, or co-worker are going through related to gender identity and transitioning, and I invite you to school yourselves on appropriate language to use, questions to ask (and to avoid), and how to support those who need your love.

Thanks to my husband for being the inspiration for this post (and to his lovely parents, who raised him well!), and for all of my trans and gender-nonconforming clients who continue to show me their courage and strength!

Human Rights Campaign

PFLAG

National Center for Transgender Equality

Equality Virginia

Virginia TIES conference – October 10, 2015

 

A streak of…Yoga?

Having done yoga on a semi-regular basis now for about six months, I decided to use inspiration from some great friends to begin a Yoga streak.  What is a streak? Well, it’s doing something you may already do on a regular basis, and begin to do it on an every day basis, for at least a certain amount of time (or distance, if you’re running/biking). Unfortunately, you can’t use meals as a streak (I’ll eat dinner every night for the rest of my life!).  I decided March would be the month to complete a yoga streak, as it would be 31 days long, no holiday or birthday travel to throw me off my game, and I wanted to feel the benefits of yoga.

What are the benefits of yoga? Click here to find out more from Amy Weintraub’s LifeForce Yoga site. Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years, and has been a means of spiritual, mental, and physical improvement. Amy’s own recovery from depression is told in her book, Yoga for Depression, and yoga has been a demonstrated way for many to use in their recovery from depression, anxiety, stress, trauma, and addiction. While I wasn’t going to use it for those issues, I knew I could always use a bit of stress reduction.  I had attempted a streak before with yoga, but unfortunate personal experiences left me unable to complete a whole month.

While you don’t technically need any special equipment, a good mat is a wonderful investment. I purchased a mat from Target years ago, and added a thicker mat from TJMaxx due to discomfort I experienced in my knees while kneeling. Many can be benefitted from a Yoga block, wedge, and strap to ensure proper reach, stretching, and alignment on the mat. I used a regular class at the Y, and a few of the channels on Hulu (GoYoga, GAIAM) as well as the Yoga Studio app (it was free for iOS when I downloaded it). Other good apps are available for Android. While they are no match for a guided class, especially if you’re like me and need a good push from a live person as motivation, they will enable you to begin to practice. A great local place to practice many forms of yoga is Sattvic Space Yoga, located in Portsmouth. Their offerings are currently donation-based, and they have many different classes.

Over the course of the 31 days, I learned that I could gain strength, both physically and mentally.  It was hard to change my “obligation” to a “choice” that I made to complete the challenge, but during the first few days, I began to realize that this was a healthy choice. I preferred to go to a class because I needed a kick in the posterior, but I began to look forward to choosing the classes on my app to fit my needs of that day.  I have some lower back issues, and sometimes I could only do 15 minutes of stretching, but other days, I could challenge myself with increasingly more difficult poses and for greater stretches of time. I remember challenging (forcing) myself to complete a 60 minute class at home, and joking with my husband “If I don’t make it through the class, it was nice knowing you”, because I didn’t trust my own ability to complete a 60 minute class at the Intermediate level. Looking back, that was completely ridiculous, as I routinely complete a 60 minute class at the Y, and many of the poses in that class are Intermediate. Lesson learned: Go into it with confidence. “I will try my best, and push myself” was one of the mantras used.

About a week into the streak, I began feeling more confident, stronger, and I lost a small amount of weight. Without trying, I also became more mindful of my overall physical activity and eating habits. This helped me feel mentally stronger! One thing I learned about this is the importance of hydration. You will strain and sweat, and you need to replace the lost water with more water! Drinking more water is something that most of us need to do anyway, so get a reusable water bottle, and take it with you everywhere. Another lesson learned: always, always, always use the restroom before a class. I paired my morning coffee with morning yoga classes, which on a few occasions had to leave to use the restroom. Not only is this embarrassing, it breaks up the practice.

Two weeks into the streak, St. Patrick’s Day happened. We have a standing dinner tradition with friends, and in the whirlwind of planning, cleaning, and cooking, yoga had to wait until after the dinner. Needless to say, there were some adult beverages consumed during the dinner, and it was a late evening. Guests left around 10:30/11pm, and I am not an evening person, so doing yoga later at night was maybe not the best decision, but I had to do it! Lesson learned: completing your streak task earlier in the day is preferred because of the benefits of practice lasting throughout the day, and GETTING IT OVER WITH! There is a reason that Peace and Pints at Smartmouth Brewing does yoga prior to drinking beer. Balance may be more difficult with less physical stability. However, practicing certain types of yoga poses at night may benefit you in sleeping soundly. The beauty is, you get to decide what you do and how you do it!

The third week had some pain. You’re familiar with “No pain, no gain”, but in yoga, pain is not recommended.  My pain was related to my apparent flexibility, which traveled into an elbow “thing”. I had to be extra careful with my alignment while in table top or downward dog to ensure that I was not hyperextending my elbow. I took anti-inflammatories, and iced it to reduce further inflammation and injury. Despite looking ridiculous, the ice really helped. Lesson learned: Being mindful about my practice, ensuring proper position and alignment, and taking time to take care of myself is important to make sure that I can continue to practice yoga, lift my heavy bags, pick up my cats, and complete other household tasks.

Something happened during the fourth and final week that I didn’t think would happen. I actually started looking forward to yoga! I guess what researchers say about starting a good habit is true. I began to see more changes in my weight, muscle definition, and self-confidence. While I didn’t do the streak for those benefits, I had hoped that those side effects would occur. On the last day, it was apparent that my elbow needed some more time to heal. I had intended to attend a yoga class on April 1st, but in conferring with myself and my better half, I decided to forgo the class, and be extra careful with my elbow. I never thought I would think this, but I missed it. Maybe it was my lower back talking, but I genuinely wanted to practice yoga. Lesson learned: Give yourself the opportunity to change, learn, grow, and enjoy. I’m proud of my commitment, and glad to have seen the results of my commitment. While I may not be doing yoga daily, I will do it with intention, strength, and confidence. Think of some things that you’d like to change or do, for a certain amount of time, and schedule it into your day. Namaste.

Welcome to Serenity Counseling

se·ren·i·ty (səˈrenədē/) – noun: 1. the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.

Our aim is to take you from a state of sadness, anxiety, worry, or stress, to one of Serenity. We use a holistic approach to counseling, in ensuring that not only can your mind and spirit can improve, but your physical body can as well. Knowing that our brains and bodies hold hurt, negative memories and thoughts, and feeling as though we are stuck, we encourage our clients to learn more about their brains, bodies, and selves to promote healing, inside – and out. You are an integral part of this process, and we hope to work with you on achieving your Serenity!
-Angela P. Callahan, LPC, NCC
Owner and Therapist