Navigating A Child’s Health Care As A Non-Binary Parent

Since Beany’s cancer diagnosis in October (has it really been that long) I’ve come to discover a whole host of new challenges that come with being a nonbinary parent. Navigating the world of healthcare as a nonbinary person is pretty tough, it’s a very binary world, based on your sex which everyone conflates with gender. There are no wards for nonbinary people.

Me and Beany in Noah’s Ark

I found, as the parent and not the patient, this was actually just as hard to navigate. I’m not in pain, I’m not suffering or struggling with my own physical (and mental) health, surely it would be easier to advocate for myself.

But it’s not.

There are two stumbling blocks I found. You are exhausted and stressed and not able to do anything because you have a sick kid that needs your attention more than you need (or at least, think you need) to be correctly gendered and labelled. And you feel guilty. That parental guilt kicks in, telling you that now is not the time, both you and the health care staff need to concentrate on your child and not on you.

It’s bollocks of course cause there are two very good reasons to make sure you are being named, gendered and labelled correctly while you’re child is undergoing treatment, attending appointments and etc.

why you should advocate for yourself

Making sure that everyone is on the same page in terms of you and your identity is for the benefit of both you and your child.

It’s part of looking after yourself. For me, being called mum over and over, being misgendered is tiring. It wears you down. It can cause or exacerbate dysphoria, depression, anxiety. You don’t have to put yourself through that, you shouldn’t have to. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for your child. You need to look after yourself to be able to look after your child. Short term, you can get away with ignoring your own needs for that of another person, but after a while, you’re going to struggle more. And kids pick up on your feelings. Pick up on your mood, your behaviour, your attitude. Whatever affects you, affects them.

A day out

It’s not always that straightforward of course, they’re not mirrors, but stuck in a little hospital room, in any high-stress situation, children are looking to you more and more for both comfort and guidance. Even if they are stubborn toddlers with no concept of gender.

This goes for everything and everyone in your life. You can’t look after others if you’re not looking after yourself. Emotional burnout, physical burnout, both; eventually you’ll crash and you won’t be able to look after anyone anymore. Then you all suffer.

So, yeah, getting called by my name or the parenting title the kids gave me – Bow by the nurses, getting correctly gendered in the paperwork, makes a difference to my mood, my mental health and my ability to be a parent and care for my little one.

It’s better for your little one

Another thing, that I’ve found convinced more trans and nonbinary that I’ve spoken to is that, calling me mum means nothing to my kids. Calling me mum is actually distressing for Beany. Calling me Bow is both respectful of me as a parent, and of her. She knows me as Bow, she doesn’t know me as mum and never has.

Calling me mum makes her think mummy is coming, is close by, will be here soon. But if I’m in the hospital with her, that means mum is 100 miles away. Sometimes I can explain it to her, that we’ll see mummy soon, or call her soon and talk to her. Sometimes she is overtired, sick, fed up and nothing will console her about the fact that she can’t see her mum.

Respecting my name is caring for my child. Getting her worked up doesn’t do her any good.

What can you do?

Email people (or write them a letter) stating your name, pronouns, etc. Make it clear. You don’t have to give reasons why you’re writing (or why these are your pronouns), just state the facts. Don’t ask to be referred to this way, just say this is how you should be referred to and called. Emails are good because anytime someone slips (or is just an arse about it), you can just resend the email.

My recent sign featuring the pride flag wielding goose from my shop.

The obvious stuff isn’t always easy – to make sure people know from the outset and to continue correcting people isn’t always easy or possible. I know that from experience but there are a few thing other things you can do.

You can make a sign for the your child’s hospital room or cubicle, or on the hospital bed. I did this, as you can see from the picture. I did the sign from Beany’s point of view, this is the second time I’ve made a sign. Similar phrases each time, asking people not to call me mum and to call me Bow, Ren or refer to me as parent. I don’t mind which. It’s made a difference, and when we get calls about Beany people ask if it’s Beany’s parent on speaking.

During the last visit, I printed out some slips of paper to keep in my wallet to hand to people who called me mum or misgendered me. Also pictured they read:

“Please do not call me mum. I am not Tabby’s mum, I am her parent. She calls me Bow (rhymes with Ow). Calling me mum causes both Tabitha and me distress. Thanks, Ren”

The slips of paper I carry with me in my wallet.

I didn’t actually need to use it, but it was nice to have it there as an option for when I don’t feel able to verbally correct someone. Which, with my anxiety, is pretty much all the time. Especially early on in this journey.

You can also have someone advocate on your behalf, someone to do taking for you. Whether is be a friend or family member or a member of staff that gets it. You can turn to that person when you need help or support.

Hopefully, whatever method you will get the results you need; calling you the right name, parenting title, pronouns, gender. If not there are complaint procedures, PALs, organisations that can help.

Change is inevitable throughout society but it is slow and more often than not needs to be pushed.

But remember to look after yourself and your child. Whatever form that takes, that’s the most important thing.


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