Like all three-year-olds, Susan Beatie is fascinated by animals. She wants to be a vet — maybe even a vet and a princess — when she grows up.
At bedtime, she loves to climb onto her father’s knee and demand a story about a hungry caterpillar, a greedy bee or a snail sailing away on the tail of a whale.
But the book she loves most is Mister Seahorse, which explains how male seahorses become ‘pregnant’.
A quirky choice for a child, you might think, but entirely understandable given that this story has been used to explain to Susan the inexplicable: how she came to be.
‘It’s her favourite bedtime story,’ says her father Thomas, 38. ‘I tell her that’s what I did: I carried her in my tummy like Mr Seahorse, and she gets it.
‘She doesn’t think there is anything weird about it. There is a photograph of me pregnant, and she points to it all the time, saying: “Daddy, Daddy, I’m inside and I got bigger and bigger, and then I had to come out.”?’
It may sound like a particularly strange sort of fairy tale, but the story Thomas has told his daughter about her arrival in this world is true. The slightly-built martial arts instructor made history as the first ‘man’ in the world to give birth.
Of course, as Susan will doubtless discover one day, there was nothing natural about it. Male seahorses are genetically able to carry embryos: Thomas’s pregnancy was possible only because he was born female.
He was in his 20s when he underwent a sex change and became a man. He never took the final step of having a hysterectomy.
Despite giving birth to them, Thomas is known as Dad, while his wife Nancy is known as Mum. All three children were born from Thomas’s eggs. Their biological father is the same anonymous sperm donor. It’s confusing to a sophisticated adult mind, let alone a child’s.
Thomas is not the only man to have given birth. It is believed there are at least five male mothers around the world. Last month, a British man who was born a woman — he is not prepared to go public with his identity — confirmed he had given birth to a baby girl.
On the surface of it, everything seems normal at the Beatie home in Phoenix, Arizona. The family live in a sizable house on a sprawling estate of near-identical homes, each with a manicured lawn, a tidy driveway and neat fence.
But, inside, things are less peaceful. There is a playroom beside the kitchen, but toys are strewn all over the house. There is a doll’s house in the hall and soft toys everywhere. You can’t go far without encountering a Hello Kitty toy or a Hot Wheels car.
All three children have baby dolls, which, their father explains, they like to push around in shopping trolleys or ferry on board their tricycles.
On the surface, Thomas is like any other proud parent. But it is difficult to disentangle the ordinary from the extraordinary in this household.
He chats happily about his brood. ‘Susan is a mini-me,’ he says. ‘A lot of people think Austin is a girl, because of his long hair, I guess, but that doesn’t bother us.’
It seems to be a happy home, with Thomas and his wife Nancy, 49, coming across as ordinary, harassed parents, desperately juggling work and family life.
At one point, Thomas is brushing Susan’s hair with one hand, while pouring cereal with the other. His wife is changing the nappy of their youngest child on the sofa.
So far, so normal. But then we move on to the delicate subject of the couple’s sex life. Both laugh as Thomas explains: ‘There are physical issues there obviously, but they aren’t the things that get in the way. The biggest problem is that we have three small children. Our challenge is actually getting the bed to ourselves!’
While Thomas and Nancy are desperately trying to be an ordinary family, it is clear there are issues at play that shall never be resolved. Thomas, in particular, has felt the full burden of the world’s disapproval.
‘We have had a rough ride,’ he says. ‘We have had death threats, crazies. I’ve been called a freak. The really nasty stuff has come online, with email, Facebook and YouTube.
‘Some of it has just been weird — such as people going to Hallowe’en parties dressed as me, “The Pregnant Man”. Some of it has been terrifying. One man has made videos pretending he has kidnapped Susan. He has a Susan doll and he hits her over and over. It’s sick.
‘The FBI have been involved and they monitor things for us. The world is full of crazy people and we have to have our wits about us.’
And while Thomas and Nancy insist they are happy, despite all the criticism they’ve endured, the truth is they are living in an isolated bubble.
Though the children attend the local daycare centre and have been accepted into the local community, the couple are not in contact with any members of their extended family.
The children’s grandparents, aunts and uncles have severed contact because they are so deeply unhappy at the circumstances in which the children were born.
This was not what Thomas had bargained for when he went public about becoming the world’s first pregnant man.
When the story broke, it was widely assumed that Thomas — who at the time ran a T-shirt printing business — would never have to work again, thanks to lucrative media offers for his story.
You might assume that the trade-off for losing your anonymity in such circumstances might be riches galore, setting up you and your children for life financially.
‘But that’s not the case,’ Thomas says. ‘We did make a bit of money, but we lost a lot more. The business went under — partly because we had to close the doors to stop all the crazies coming in.
‘We invested in property, which didn’t work out, and there were so many legal costs that we didn’t foresee.
‘It cost me thousands of dollars to become a man, and many more to get pregnant. Then I had to hire a lawyer to be allowed to call myself the father on Susan’s birth certificate.
‘Legally, it has been a nightmare. The authorities wanted to put Nancy and me down as “parent and parent” on the birth certificate, as they do for same-sex couples, but I wasn’t having it.
‘I am legally a man, and I am the father. It all got so confused that at one point they put Nancy down as the father and me as the mother.
‘That took a bit of sorting out. In the end, we had to formally adopt the children, even though they are biologically mine, from my eggs. It’s unfair and, of course, it cost us thousands in legal fees.’
One has to wonder if Thomas’s controversial choices in life might stem from his disturbed childhood.
His mother committed suicide when he was 12, and he and his father have never been close. He was born a girl and given the name Tracy, but says that he was always a tomboy.
In an attempt to feminize him, his father entered him in modelling and beauty contests. But Thomas rebelled. And how.
By the time he reached his 20s, he was convinced he was a man trapped in a woman’s body. At 24, he started taking male hormones — the first step towards a sex change.
By this time he had met Nancy, a body-builder. She is 11 years older than him and has two teenage daughters, Amber and Jen, from a previous marriage.
However, at the age of 28 she had a hysterectomy because of severe endometriosis — where cells from the lining of the womb are found elsewhere in the body — so she couldn’t have any more children.
The couple married in Hawaii in 2003. Thomas had already had a mastectomy to remove his breasts, and hormone treatment that gave him an outwardly male appearance.
Legally he was a man — the same criteria used in the U.S. applies in Britain — but a man with a womb. Given that he refused to have his womb removed, had he always planned to become a male mother? ‘When we met, Nancy and I didn’t sit down and discuss pregnancy and how we might become parents together. It just evolved,’ he says.
At that point, they started looking for a sperm donor. They eventually chose an anonymous 6ft 4in blond man with blue eyes — a martial arts black belt with a healthy medical history.
All three children were conceived using his sperm bought by Thomas and Nancy. To prepare for the pregnancies, Thomas stopped taking male hormones. Meanwhile, Nancy, who was keen to make her own contribution, started to take female hormones so she would be able to breastfeed.
But as their dream of a family took a step closer to reality, the critics began to gather — including some they never expected.
Thomas and Nancy say the transgendered community were not always as supportive as they would have believed.
‘We had been legally married in Hawaii, but when all the problems arose over our status on the birth certificates, some people in the trans-gendered community suggested we should get divorced, then go through a same-sex civil union. We refused to do that.’
Nor could they turn to their families for support. Thomas has little contact with his relatives, and he hints there are also issues with Nancy’s older children.
In turn, Nancy, a stay-at-home mother, confides that she has a complex past, having only recently discovered that the man she thought was her godfather is, in fact, her father.
‘I have eight brothers and sisters who all live in Arizona and I’d hoped we could become close, but they don’t want to know. I think they’re embarrassed,’ she says.
Still, Nancy insists she has no regrets about entering into such a complex relationship. ‘When Thomas said he wanted children, I couldn’t refuse him, and they are the best kids ever,’ she says.
There is, as yet, no confusion in the house about which parent is Mummy and which Daddy. Austin and Susan cling to Thomas’s legs and constantly yell: ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.’
‘I was away with work recently, and when I got home Jensen came running up and said, “I love you, Daddy.” It was his first proper sentence, and it was very moving,’ says Thomas.
The debate about whether couples like Thomas and Nancy are justified in having children will only intensify as more trans-gendered couples follow their controversial lead. So does the question of whether they have done the right thing keep them awake at night?
Never, they say. Thomas adds that he won’t mind if any of his children want to swap sexes in the future.
‘Am I worried about the children being bullied because of me? No,’ he says. ‘All children get bullied for being different. I was picked on for being mixed race (my father is Korean), but that doesn’t mean I should never have been born.
‘We have already explained some things to Susan, and we will do the same with her brothers when they’re older.
‘They will know what we went through to get them, and how difficult it was, but they will also know that it was worth it.’
Thomas re-started taking male hormones last April and is planning to have a hysterectomy at some point. However, his answer to the question of whether they will have more children is not as definitive as you might imagine.
‘Susan loves her brothers to bits, but she has started asking for a little sister,’ he says.
It seems that, in this remarkable fantasy tale made real, there may yet be more chapters to come.
Source: Daily Mail
Also Read: UK Man, Born Female, Gives Birth