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A Dad Shares His Family's Experience With Donor Milk

Birdie just turned 18 months old. She only gets milk at night time now, before bed while we snuggle on the couch in her room and talk about her day. She loves her milk and as soon as we start to pick out pajamas and books, she starts to ask (again and again and again) for her "milk-milk."


To commemorate her turning 18 months (I am overly sentimental), instead of giving her the combo of goat's milk and almond milk that she had been getting for the last few weeks, I thawed the very last bag of breast milk from the freezer for her night time bottle. While neither myself or my partner can lactate, we were able to feed Birdie donated breast milk for her first year and a half of life.

While Josh and I knew the health benefits of feeding breast milk to infants, we did not set out to feed Birdie human milk. As two dads who are unable to produce milk ourselves, we assumed our only real option was to give her formula. (For the record, I have absolutely nothing against anyone who has to or chooses to feed their baby formula for any reason.) But shortly after Birdie was born we learned that she was none too pleased about formula. She didn't drink much of it, she spit up half of what she did drink, and it made her gassy and irritable.

We had a small, frozen stash of breast milk donated to us by a friend of a friend that we had planned on giving her sporadically in addition to formula. But after Birdie's first bottle of breast milk, she was hooked. We saw the difference in how easily her body digested the human milk; she wasn't gassy or spitting up and she was eating and sleeping well. So we committed to trying to find more donor milk for her first few months of life, at least until her digestive system caught up and we could give formula a try again.

We were successful and for Birdie's first three months we were able to feed her donated breast milk exclusively. In the months that followed, she grew bigger and her appetite did too. We didn't have enough breast milk to keep up with her demands for more milk so we reintroduced formula and she ate a combination of formula and donor milk.

As Birdie reached the year mark we had stopped actively seeking out donors, as we were able to feed her other kinds of milk and a variety of healthy foods to meet her nutritional needs. We also felt like there were smaller, newer babies in the world who needed donor milk more than our strong and healthy toddler. But one of our repeat donors offered to continue donating to us as long as she was pumping milk for her own son (and additionally she was also donating milk to babies in the NICU). With the generosity of strangers and friends, what started as a hope that we could kick start our baby's first couple of months with the powerful nutrients and antibodies through donor milk lasted a year and a half.

Before Birdie, I didn't know much about milk sharing. I knew that hospitals had milk banks for preemies, I knew that throughout history and in other cultures nursing someone else's baby was not uncommon, and I had friends who had fed their adopted sons donor milk, but my knowledge pretty much ended there.

I didn't know that through milk sharing we would add to our already abundant community of people who want to support and help care for our family. We reached out to our friends who were new moms and they reached out to their lactation and breastfeeding support circles on our behalf. We connected with a group on Facebook called "Human Milk 4 Human Babies," shared our family story, and connected with nursing moms who had more milk than they needed and were willing to share. I don't know how many individuals donated milk to us, but I know we are grateful for every ounce of milk we received. Most donations were a one time deal, someone had pumped more milk than they would ever use, or a baby developed an allergy to dairy and couldn't drink their mother's already pumped and frozen milk. Some of milk came from repeat donors, moms who pumped milk specifically for us, those donors we got to know, met for coffee, Birdie got to have playdates with their babies. Every bag of milk was a donation, no money exchanged hands. These moms - some of whom we had never met before - did this for us out of sheer kindness.

As part of my medical transition, long before I ever knew carrying Birdie would even be a possibility, I had top surgery. For me, that meant an elective double mastectomy and chest reconstruction which resulted in a flat, masculine chest. I do not have any regrets about the decision to have top surgery because of how it not only improved my quality of life immensely, but also because I cannot imagine having been pregnant as a transgender man and also have a chest swollen with milk. (Others have done it, and I commend them for it.)

Just after Birdie was born, when the post-partum hormones really began to kick in, I started dreaming about nursing Birdie. Though the milk had nowhere to go, a small amount came in after she was born and when she would cry or lay skin to skin on my chest it would ache and swell and she would root for it. It absolutely broke my heart. My body wanted to feed her and it couldn't, she wanted human milk and I couldn't give it to her. After caring for her and nourishing her with my body for nine months, I felt terrible for not being able to give her what she needed.

But the truth is there is no way to know if I hadn't had surgery that we would have been able to have a successful nursing relationship. Plenty of cisgender women in my life had children they were not able to feed because their milk supply didn't come in, or it dried up and never came back, or it was too hard, or their baby had allergies.

I know that good parents feed their babies formula, good parents nurse their babies, good parents do a combo of both, good parents use donor milk; we all do what we can do to make sure our children are nourished.

No matter how much I wished I could have, I couldn't nurse Birdie. But I still could give her what she needed by connecting with milk donors, by driving sometimes more than an hour away to pick up milk, by rearranging our freezer countless time to make room for more milk, by counting ounces and thawing the right amount for her daily bottles so none would go to waste, by getting up bleary-eyed in the middle of the night to measure and warm milk in a bottle to give to our daughter. I held my new baby in my arms, snuggled her close and whispered to her as we stared into each others eyes and her belly filled up with the precious gift of donor milk.

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Though rare, this isn't the first time that a trio of eagles have come to share nests in this way. According to USA Today, other trruples were have been spotted in Alaska in 1977, in Minnesota in 1983 and in California in 1992.

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A couple months ago, Gays With Kids received the following message via one of our social media channels:

"Hey guys, love what you do. But where are your stories about bi men who are dads? Do they not exist? I get the sense from your page that most queer dads identify as gay. I identify as bi (or pansexual) and want to become a dad one day, but just never see my story represented. Are they just not out there?"We can say with resounding certainly that YES bisexual dads absolutely exist. In fact, of all the letters in our acronym, far more LGBTQ parents fall into the "b" category than any other.

But our reader is certainly right in one respect--we don't hear the stories of bisexual/pansexual dads told nearly often enough. While we occasionally find stories to tell about bi dads, like this great one from earlier this year from a dad who just came out, we otherwise aren't often finding stories of bi dads nearly as easy as we do gay dads. We're sure this is due to any number of reasons--societal pressure to stay closeted from both the straight and LGBTQ communities along with erasure of bisexuality both come to mind.

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(Are you a bi dad? Click here so we can help tell your story and increase exposure for the bi dad community, or drop us a line at dads@gayswithkids.com!)

James Shoemaker, bisexual dad of three, in Alton Illinois

James Shoemaker, who is 65-years-old and lives in Alton, Illinois, says he's known he was bisexual since the age of five. Still he lived what he called a "happily socially heterosexual" life throughout his adolescence, until he had his first same-sex experience in college at the age of 18-years-old.

In his 20s, he began his first same-sex relationship with a man, which lasted about five years. But soon the conversation turned towards children. James wanted his own biological children, something that would have been difficult, particularly at the time, to achieve. He and his boyfriends split, and soon after James met the woman who would become his wife. Since he had previously been in a relationship with a man, and his friends and family were aware of his sexuality, there was no hiding his bisexuality from his wife. There was no hiding my bisexuality from her

"We were both in our 30's, and both wanted kids," James said. "Wo were both kind of desperate to find a partner and she expressed that."

He and his wife proceeded to have three daughters together and lived what he called a fairly "conventional" life. "There was so much societal support [for raising a family] within conventional marriage," he said. "This was new to me, since I came out at age 17, and was used to being "different".

Being in a relationship with a woman, James said, alienated him from much of the LGBTQ activism that began to take hold in the 1980s and 1990s. "I felt I could not act as a representative for gay rights while married to a woman and raising kids with her," he said.

When his youngest daughter turned 18, he and his wife split and, and James began, once again, to date other men. Eventually, he met Paul Mutphy, who he has been dating for four years. Since reentering the world dating another man, he's had to confront, at times, people's misconceptions about his bisexuality. "It's not just gay guys looking for more social acceptance," James said, noting that "Bi rights" has not really caught the public's attention in the same way as "gay rights".

Maxwell Hosford, bi trans dad of one, in Yakima Washington


Maxwell Hosford, who lives in Yakima, Washington, came out as bisexual when he was 13-years-old. "I was still questioning myself," he said "and the term bisexual seemed to fit me."

A year later, when he was 14, Maxwell also came out as trans. "I had heard about Chaz Bono on the radio one morning before school and it got me thinking," he said. "I realized that I wasn't the only one who felt that way and that there was a term for how I've felt."

Though people often conflate sexual orientation and gender identity, Maxwell stressed that he sees his identity as trans and bisexual as perfectly natural. "I see them interacting in a way of fluidity," he said. "Not straight but not gay. Just a feeling of love."

Maxwell described his path to parenthood as a bit of an accident. "I was on testosterone for two years but had a four-week break because i was switching doctors," he said. During that break, Maxwell ended up getting pregnant, and wasn't aware of the pregnancy for several months after. "I just thought my body was just being weird from starting T again," he said. Once he took the test and saw the two pink lines, though he knew his life was about to change forever. He went to Planned Parenthood the very next day.

Being pregnant while trans, Maxwell said, was an incredible experience. "I was comfortable enough with my gender identity that I didn't have very much dysphoria," he said, though he noted he did face a lot of misgendering from strangers. "But I understood that because I did have a big ole pregnant belly," he said. He was grateful for his medical team who all referred to him according to the correct pronouns.

Soon after, his son Harrison was born. As soon as he held him in his arms, Maxwell said the entire process was worth it. "All the misgendering, all the questions and people misunderstanding doesn't matter once you have that baby in your arms nothing matters but that little bundle of joy."

Three years ago, Maxwell met his current fiancé, Chase Heiserman, via a gay dating app, and the three now live together as a family. He says he couldn't be happier, but he does face some difficulty as a bi trans man within his broader community. "In some peoples eyes my fiancé and I are a straight couple because I'm trans and he's cisgender," he said. Some of the difficulty has even stemmed from other trans men. "I've had some bad comments from other transmen regarding my pregnancy and how it doesn't make me trans," he said, noting he continues to fight the perception that he is not "trans enough" because he chose to carry his own baby.

Through it all, though, Maxwell says becoming a father has been the biggest blessing in his life. "Being able to carry my baby and bond through those nine months was amazing," he said. "I'm breastfeeding, which is hard as I'm trans, and so I'm self conscious of my large breasts now but it's such a bonding experience that it doesn't matter when I see the look of love and the comfort he gets from it."

For other gay, bi and trans men considering fatherhood, Maxwell has this simple piece of advice: "Go for it."

Michael MacDonald, bi dad of two, in Monterery California 

Michael MacDonald, who is 28-years-old and living in Monterey California, says he came out as bisexual over two years ago. He has two daughters, who are four and two-and-a-half years old, that were born while he was married to his ex-wife. "My children are amazing," he said. "They have been so incredibly strong and brave having mom in one house and dad in another."

Both children were fairly young when Michael and his ex separated, so "they didn't really break a deeply ingrained idea of what a family unit is like. They have always just sort of known that mom and dad don't live together."

Co-parenting isn't always easy, Michael said, noting it's "one of the hardest things in the world." He and his ex overcome any potential difficulty, though, by always putting the children first. "As long as they are happy, healthy and loved, that is all that matters," he said. "I'm so fortunate to have such an incredible/pain in the butt partner to help me raise these amazing little girls."

Though the separation was hard on all of them, Michael said it's also been an amazing experience watching his children's resiliency. "I am so proud of the beautiful little people they are," he said. "Their adaptability, courage and love is something really spectacular."

Since the separation, Michael hasn't been in a serious relationship, but he has dated both men and women, something he says has been "absolutely challenging. Not only does he need to overcome all the typical challenges of a newly divorced parent ("Do they like kids? Would they be a good stepparent?") but also the added stresses of being bisexual. "It can sometimes just be a bit too much for some women to handle," he said.

He has been intentional about making sure his children have known, from a young age, that "daddy likes girls and boys," he said. "They have grown up seeing me interact with people I've dated in a romantic way, like hand holding, abd expressing affection, so I think as they get older it's not something that will ever really seem foreign or different to them to see me with a man or woman," he said.

In his dates with other men, Michael says most guys tend to be surprised to learn that he has biological children. "But once I explain that I am bisexual, it's usually much more easily understood," he said. He is more irritated, though, when people question or outright refuse to recognize his bisexuality. "While I understand and have witnessed many guys who use bisexuality as a "stepping stone" of sorts when coming out," he said, it does not mean that "bisexuality is not real or valid."

As a bisexual dad, he also says he can feel isolated at times within the broader parenting community. "It can be a little intimidating feeling like you don't really belong to one side or another," he said. "There's this huge network of gay parents, and, of course straight parents. Being sort of in the middle can sometimes create a feeling of isolation"

The biggest misconception about bisexual dads who have split with their wives, he said, is that sexual orientation isn't always the reason for the separation. "When my ex wife and I separated, while my bisexuality did play a small part in it, it was not the reason we separated," he said. He added that while life might not be perfect, it's good. "My children are happy, healthy, and loved," he said. "That's really what matters the most."

Fatherhood, the gay way

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