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What it’s really like to raise a transgender child

A month before Ryan turned three, we once again broke the sac that contained her and celebrated her birth.

What it’s really like to raise a transgender child

There is a lot of noise coming from the other room, but it's happy noise, the sound of children playing, laughing, and talking in broken conversations that only make sense to 3-year-olds. I peek around the corner to see what my twins are up to and watch Ryan tackle Ben. I wait for Ben's reaction, and walk away when he starts to giggle. They're fine.

Ben was quiet in utero, in terms of movement. His twin was not. Ryan was restless, seemingly fighting for space, or perhaps looking for it. When my partner's water broke at 36 weeks, it was Ben who entered our world first.

Ryan would have been right behind, but for about 30 seconds his heartbeat could not be found. The monitor had been bumped off during the commotion of Ben's birth, so once the room started to breathe again, the doctor broke the second sac so that Ryan could be born.

For nearly three years, Ben and Ryan were our sons. They were the baby bros to their big sister, our first child. Two boys born into a house with two moms and a sister, they balanced the hormone levels a bit. We were relieved they would have each other, have their matching male statuses to lean on in a house already filled with females.

We quickly realized our boys were very different babies with very distinct personalities. Ben was and is the easier twin and our easiest child. He has always been more content and quicker to smile.

Ryan, on the other hand, has been the child who has challenged us the most. His restlessness in utero translated into a baby who was not easily comforted, who always seemed to need something we weren't providing. Our love was strong, but our previous experience as parents seemed weak.

In the early stages of getting to know our twins, as we were finding ways to connect with them individually, we noticed the unmistakable bond they already had with each other. They don't know themselves without the other. And in some cases, when I or my partner (or both of us) were busy taking care of their then toddler sister, all they had was each other.

They would babble to each other from their cribs when we couldn't rush in to get them after they woke. They would stare and giggle at the other when seated on a blanket full of toys, entertained more by each other than the toys at their feet. They would feed each other food from their trays, sitting side by side, heart by heart.

"Ben, Benny! Look! A firetruck!" Ryan points to the truck at an oncoming intersection as we make our way to Costco.

"Where?" Ben asks.

I tell him to look on Ryan's side. When riding in the van, the two of them are always observing and sharing their findings with each other. To help them see the object, we locate it by determining whose side it is on: Ben's side or Ryan's side.

"It's on her side?" Ben can't find the truck.

"Yup. You'll see it in a second," I tell him as I drive by the intersection where the firetruck is parked.

When Ryan was an infant, there were many times we didn't know what to do or how to make him feel better. As he got older, the independence of crawling and walking eased some frustration. Words helped, too. Ryan just wanted to be understood, and we were doing our best to understand.

Ryan's gravitation toward his big sister's clothing at 18 months told us he liked dresses and pink and purple. Ryan's desire for long hair made us regret cutting all of his long curls off before he turned two. A few months later, Ryan's declaration of being a girl made us question his motivation for saying so.

Perhaps he loved his big sister so much he wanted to be just like her. Maybe he thought he had to be a girl to wear dresses, to play with princesses, and to grow long hair. We didn't care that he was a boy who liked 'girl' things and told him so. But he cared. He was not a boy who liked dresses; he was a girl who liked dresses.

We skirted around gender by no longer referring to Ryan as a boy. We called him our kid, not boy or girl, and we lived a few months in a land of neutrality.

His moodiness, anxiety, and sadness told us we needed to do more. We were loving our child, but not validating who he really was and who she needs to be.

After a lot of research and consultations with our pediatrician, and with Ryan's unwavering wishes, we began the process of socially transitioning him from a male to a female. A month before Ryan turned three, we once again broke the sac that contained her and celebrated her birth.

This new Ryan was happier than the first, she became easier to please and more relaxed. Our new understanding came with acceptance and support, and our internal struggles with saying good-bye to what we thought was going to be were overshadowed by the confidence and joy radiating from our daughter.

Our twins are now a boy/girl set, and we have two daughters instead of one. Our family's dynamics have changed, and sometimes I miss having the bros, but I worry more about the impact Ryan's transition will have on Ben.

Ben is not just the only boy in the house. He is now the twin brother to a transgender twin sister. His identity was changed, too, and when Ryan pulls away to stand alone as a girl, or to search for more ways to solidify her identity as a female, I worry about their bond.

Ryan was home sick from school one day, and when my partner picked up Ben, the teachers said he had a good day, but missed Ryan. "She's my best friend," he had told the teacher.

I realized the bond has always been there and always will be. Ryan has been pushing and pulling her way to get where she needs to be from the beginning. And Ben has always been next to her, seemingly not bothered by her restlessness or aware of her differences.

In this case, what we're looking for is not on Ben's side or on Ryan's. This love they have for each other is just there, waiting behind doors, peeking around corners, hidden in simple gestures, and shared in conversations only they can understand.

I have been waiting for Ben's reaction, but I now know it's okay to walk away. They are fine.

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