relationships

When my spouse came out as transgender, I wasn't prepared to share the title of 'Mum'.

I loved becoming a mother. It took until my late thirties/early forties for it to finally happen, and my husband and I welcomed three beauties into the world. Cradling our first young baby was a mixture of pride, a sense of accomplishment, joy, love, and the utmost terrifying fear. With time, practice and wisdom cultivated over the years, children numbers two and three were far easier additions to our growing family: welcomed with slightly less panic, and a less terrified and more comprehending love.

Motherhood has been fun, trying, exhausting, expensive, limiting, expanding, and exhilarating all at once. It is the hardest job I have ever done, and I have had to learn many new skills. Parenthood, for me, has so many rewards, both the obvious and intangible.

I acknowledge that I haven’t done it all on my own — my spouse has been very involved, present, and hands-on, but there is a certain level of accomplishment, that I feel I have earned. As someone who has had several career changes, Motherhood will be my longest serving, and most enduring career. I am a Mum, and I am damn proud to be.

What happens then, when one suddenly has another mother — a biological mother at that — living in the household? Without precedent. Without warning. Without any knowledge, my spouse, announced that they were, in fact, a woman — a trans woman.

"I am a mum, and I am damn proud to be." Image: Supplied.
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As she began her transition, my wife no longer wanted to be called, or be known as Daddy, or to be referred to as a father. As a consequence, we had two mothers in residence.

In the early days of transition, it had been an emotional stretch to start referring to my spouse by her female name. I was not at all gracious about sharing the title of Mum. I didn’t want to. No inclination whatsoever. It was a title I felt I had earned. I had signed up for a family life with both a mother and a father. I was, by default and design, the mum of the family.

I have never been precious about a Hallmark holiday, but the first Mother’s Day I was to spend with an extra mother in the house was a truly difficult experience. It hadn’t been quite a year since my spouse had revealed having gender dysphoria — the first step on the path towards full gender transition.

The day was already difficult as it had been our eleventh wedding anniversary the day before. We had never been ones to necessarily celebrate with presents, parties or the like, but this year we had barely acknowledged the milestone. Not even a mention on Facebook. It felt a little like the occasion had been invalidated. How could we celebrate something that now didn’t seem quite as real as it once had?

Mia Freedman speaks to Eddie Ayres about the day he decided to transition. (Post continues below.)

What made the first Mother’s Day exceedingly and excruciatingly painful, was that I had lost my own mother, only two months earlier.

The day started with a certain anxiety and trepidation. Of all Mother’s Days, this was the one when I really wanted — when I really needed — my own mother. I had not been able to tell my mother what was happening in my life, to my marriage, that my world had shattered and I had no idea of how to paste all the shards together again. I had planned to tell her during a visit to Australia, but the week I had been due to arrive, she had fallen while gardening, broken her hip and had not fully recovered from emergency surgery.

When I arrived, she was in the ICU, in a mostly comatose state. Her eyes were permanently closed, apart from a few spasmodic occasions where her eyelids opened but her eyes remained vacant. She did speak some clear words, but these were rare—most of her utterances were a confused garble and we could see these were a struggle to get out. We had no idea what she was able to hear let alone understand. Mum did not wake. In all my one-way conversations with her, I assured her that all was well in my life. I was guilty of concealing a monumental truth. My mother had passed away with no clue as to pain I was going through.

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I was grieving the loss of my mother, and the loss of my husband at the same time. The grief for each was extreme, but somehow seemed to exist in two totally different spheres. But this day — Mother’s Day — seemed to mark the collision of the spheres of grief, increasing the intensity of each.

My ‘wife’ was now a mother. My own mother had gone. This was a situation that had not even been perceivable a year ago. I would have laughed had anyone suggested it to be possible. I now somehow had to find some joy in this day.

My first stubborn thought, an involuntary reach to grasp some firmament, for my survival, was that I was not going to bloody well share. This was my day. My day alone. I was going to be the Mother. The first mother.

It was the last vestige of a life I thought I knew — thought I had some connection to, or some handle on. I was going to be a mother regardless of whether I now had a wife or I had a husband. I was going to be a mother whether or not I still had my own mother. This seemed to be a tangible link from my past, through my murky present, and the one and only absolute I could take forward into my future life, whatever that might entail. I was going to revel in the joy of being the mother my children. I needed this.

Anne's memoir, She Said, She Said, is available now via Amazon, Booktopia, Book Depository, and more.

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