… we are beginning to celebrate, rather than fear, the kaleidoscope of ways to be a human being.
Each one of my children is so, super special. Call me a sappy mom, but I think they’re unique and awesome, funny and the best of the best. Words can’t really describe how fantastic I think they are—each and every one of them are priceless, perfect, worth recognizing. In my book, they’re number one. But my book isn’t the history books. As special as my children are, they aren’t the first of their kind in any particular category. They’re just normal kids with a normal mom. Some kids out there, though…they’re both special to their parents and the world. They were the first of their kind, and they made history! Their stories are interesting, their parents are brave, and today, we’ll explore their stories and learn more about the significance of their “firsts.” In these stories, we’ll dive into many situations where there is both scientific and cultural significance. These “firsts” pushed boundaries and thus, in the beginning, were met with plenty of opposition. But parenting in the 21st century is changing; it is breaking boundaries and constantly evolving. Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio, a licensed family therapist and social worker, author, and corporate health and wellness leader with 30 years’ experience, shares a bit about modern developments in parenting: “Parenting is coming of age. It says that we are beginning to celebrate, rather than fear, the kaleidoscope of ways to be a human being.” “It’s also cause for celebration that today we have so many ways to bring a new person into the world and so many ways to parent,” he continues. “Children are sacred regardless of how they originate, and the rules that govern who is a parent and how parenting is done should specify only this: that parents will love, protect, and nurture their child along that child’s unique path toward fulfilling their potential.”
Not a Boy, Not a Girl
When it comes to their biological sex, this baby IS either a male or female, but that isn’t the matter at hand.
… until they have the sense of self and command of vocabulary to tell me who they are, I’m recognizing them as a baby …
Searyl Atli, a British Columbia-born baby, received a health card with no gender—after plenty of resistance. They’re the first baby to claim a genderless identification. Why? Well, this baby’s birth parent, Kori Doty, a non-binary transgender person, believes the government does not have the right to assign gender to a newborn. So, Searyl’s health card has a “U” where we would normally see an “M” for male or “F” for female. The “U” either stands for “unassigned” or “undetermined.” “Gender, a fundamental aspect of personality style, has always been a spectrum and not an either/or,” says Dolan-Del Vecchio. “When it comes to this important aspect of identity, children deserve to follow their hearts, minds, and spirits.” Doty is letting the child claim whatever gender they are called to be, they said. Doty told CBC, “I’m raising Searyl in such a way that until they have the sense of self and command of vocabulary to tell me who they are, I’m recognizing them as a baby and trying to give them all the love and support to be the most whole person that they can be outside of the restrictions that come with the boy box and the girl box.”
Three Parents…and They’re all Biological
Abrahim Hassan has not two, but three biological parents. He’s the first baby to be born with the DNA of three contributing adults. How, you ask? Well, it’s definitely not simple. Abrahim’s parents, Ibtisam Shaban and Mahmoud Hassan, had lost their two previous children to Leigh syndrome, “a fatal disorder that affects the developing nervous system,” according to a New Scientist report. Undeterred and seeking a safe option to have children, the couple opted to undergo a form of pronuclear transfer, or the “three-parent technique.” Normal pronuclear transfer is the process of fertilizing the mother’s egg and a donor egg with the father’s reproductive cells…hence the DNA of three parents. “Before the fertilised eggs start dividing into early-stage embryos,” wrote Jessica Hamzelou in New Scientist, “each nucleus is removed. The nucleus from the donor’s fertilised egg is discarded and replaced by that from the mother’s fertilised egg.” As Muslims, though, it was the couple’s request to have no embryos destroyed. Thus, the doctors developed a process called spindle nuclear transfer. In this new process, a team of U.S. doctors “removed the nucleus from one of the mother’s eggs and inserted it into a donor egg that had had its own nucleus removed. The resulting egg – with nuclear DNA from the mother and mitochondrial DNA from a donor – was then fertilised with the father’s sperm.” Why would a couple go to such lengths to birth a child? Terri Chi-Lee, a midwifery student and birth assistant has connected with many parents through her work, and she believes that “[Parents] intuitively feel a missing piece to the puzzle, and sometimes [a biological child] is the only thing that will complete their family. We are humans, and there is a raw instinctual piece to procreation and family. The desire to continue the family line is strong.” And thankfully so, because now sweet, little Abrahim is part of the world due to both his parents’ persistence and his doctors’ genius.
The Dad who Gave Birth
In his book, Labor of Love, Thomas Beatie chronicles his journey to birthing the first baby born to a fully legal man. Known as the world’s first pregnant man, both he and his daughter, Susan, claim significant firsts. Beatie, who was assigned female at birth, was born in Hawaii in 1974. At the age of 10, Thomas started to identify as a boy, and in 2002 he underwent gender confirmation surgery. He opted to retain his female organs and, after marrying his wife, Nancy, chose to pursue artificial insemination. Beatie’s first pregnancy was ectopic, and he unfortunately lost the children, but he went on to birth three healthy children. Susan was the first, followed by Austin and Jensen. How might these children be faring as the first babies born to a man? They have yet to be publicly interviewed, but Dolan-Del Vecchio says that “[these “firsts” may be facing] the worry and fear and, in too many communities … the hatred of some people. But, kept safe and assured of their value by loving parents and the other adults who care for and guide them, they will undoubtedly pave the way for those who come after them. And their inclusion within our communities will help us all appreciate even more fully the wondrous complexity of human beings.”
The First of Many
In early 1979, at Oldham and District General Hospital in Manchester, England, Louise Joy Brown was born and made history alongside her parents, Lesley and John Brown. Why? Well, she was the first baby born to be conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF). The Browns’ IVF team, gynecologist Patrick Steptoe and scientist Robert Edwards, had been researching for a decade before finally achieving the milestone—one that would go on to impact thousands of families in coming years. Of all the babies who were the first of their kind, little Louise (who is now grown and a mother herself) paved the way for many children to follow in her miraculous footsteps. “As an IVF parent myself,” says Margaret R., “I extend immense thanks to the brilliant men and women who pioneered the science that allows so many families to become whole. They not only help conceive babies, they conceive love, hope, and a future.”
Making (and Breaking) Traditions
To honor paternal lines, Mexican last names are traditionally made up of the father’s surname followed by the mother’s paternal surname. But this was not the case with the child of José González de Diego and Alicia Vera Zboralska. These parents are naming pioneers in Latin America because they bucked tradition and, for the first time in Mexican history, chose to name their daughter, Bárbara de Diego Zboralska, in honor of the maternal line, according to NBC. Had tradition been followed, she would have been named Bárbara González Vera. This name alteration might not seem extra special, but in Mexico, it was huge. In fact, it took a court injunction to make it legal. In a world where men have been recognized and remembered for centuries, it’s neat to see women being honored for a change.
What firsts do you think are around the corner?
I’ve been wondering about this as of late. With Mars colonization projects in the works, I’d wager that in the coming decades (maybe centuries), we’ll see a baby born in space. And sooner rather than later, I’d assume, a baby will be born outside of a mother’s body—in an artificial womb. It has already been done with sheep. With the examples shared above, the sky is the limit!