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It’s normal to experience grief when a child comes out as transgender. Here’s some ways that parents can navigate the process.

Ambiguous loss is the grief parents feel when they lose a transgender child to the process of transitioning. It’s called ‘ambiguous’ because it is not the concrete, tangible loss that follows the physical death of a child. For that reason, ambiguous loss may leave parents with feelings of unresolved grief.

Grief and loss are natural feelings when confronted with a child’s transgender identity because it shatters traditional images of gender. What it means to be a man or woman, girl or boy, informs much of our behaviour. This is especially true in family relationships, where roles are based on a set of pre-determined expectations for how we are supposed to act.

How a parent responds to their child’s transgender identity is critical to whether the transitioning experience is a positive or negative one.

How a parent responds to their child’s transgender identity is critical to whether the transitioning experience is a positive or negative one. It is essential that parents reframe the way they feel about their child’s transitioning, from regret and sadness to excitement about what the future holds.

The process of transitioning often challenges parents’ traditional gender role stereotypes

It’s essential because transgender and gender diverse people experience incredibly high rates of mental health issues. LGBTIQ+ Health Australia’s April 2021 report provides some alarming statistics. Of 14 to 25-year-olds surveyed, 48% had attempted suicide, 79% had self-harmed, 74% were diagnosed with depression and 72% with anxiety. A staggering 90% of transgender people aged 14 to 21 reported high or very high levels of psychological distress.

Given these statistics, it’s clear that for transgender children family support can be the difference between life and death. This is supported by research which shows that gender-affirming behaviour by family members has a hugely positive impact on mental health.

Gender-affirming behaviour by family members has a hugely positive impact on mental health.

Parents act as models to their children, based on socially and culturally constructed gender roles. Before a child is born, parents have started planning the child’s future and, usually, it’s gendered. So, having an emotional response to such a big event as a child telling their parents they’re transgender is normal. It is reasonable for parents to grieve the loss of an imagined future.

Embracing a child’s nominated gender has a hugely positive impact on their mental wellbeing

A 2020 study looked at whether parents had an emotional experience, like mourning, to their child’s transition. It was found that parents’ reactions followed the typical grief response. Not understanding what their child was going through led parents to experience feelings of denial, fear, anger, and powerlessness.

What the study revealed was that parents who best overcame their grief had a support system in place. Involvement in transgender advocacy groups reinforced the fact that, despite being transgender, their child was the same child they’ve always known. Importantly, realising their child was happy with their chosen gender had a positive impact on parental resilience when dealing with the transition process.

Research shows that children who come out as transgender already have a strong sense of their identity … They know who they are because they’ve always felt like that.

Research shows that children who come out as transgender already have a strong sense of their identity, usually from a very early age. They know who they are because they’ve always felt like that. It is important that parents understand that children change their gender to fit their identity, their identity doesn’t change because their gender does.

A child’s identity does not change just because their gender does

While there may be things that parents had planned to do with their child that they can no longer do, they will discover many new and different ways to bond with and love their child such as joining their experimentation with new clothing, helping them choose a new name or pronouns.

It is possible to remain loving and supportive while simultaneously experiencing loss, sadness, fear and confusion. Working through these feelings takes time. Just as a child needs compassion and support to navigate the transitioning process, so do parents.

Here are some ways parents can support themselves and their transgender child:

  1. Don’t give in to fear. Fear can cause parents to push back or reject their child. This fear is underpinned by love, driven by a concern that the world is a harsh place for transgender people. Make sure the child knows they’re loved and supported.
  2. Encourage exploration. Gender exploration is a normal part of a child’s development. Give children the freedom to explore their emotions about gender before they consider a permanent change.
  3. Education is key. Get familiar with the information that is out there about gender expression. There are a lot of online resources available, such as Transcend, QLife, Rainbow Door, queerspace, and Transgender Victoria (TGV).
  4. Create a safe space. Transitioning takes a long time and can be difficult. Encourage the child to openly discuss their feelings so they feel safe and protected as they transition.
  5. Families need to transition, too. Each family member must shift their thinking and understanding. Take the time to process these thoughts and any feelings of loss.
  6. Seek help. Ensure access to a team of medical and mental health experts. Identify allies at school, so the child knows where to go for support if they are bullied or excluded.

Yes, having a trans child means questioning personal views on gender. And, yes, it usually involves a lot of – sometimes uncomfortable – discussions with friends, relatives and complete strangers about the process of transitioning and what it involves. These conversations can evoke strong feelings in others that parents should be prepared for.

While the world might not always be understanding, parents can be.

But, while the world might not always be understanding, parents can be. A child might wear different clothes and go by a different name, but they’re still the person you know and love.

An understanding parent makes a world of difference to a transgender child

It’s important to remember that a parent’s grief and loss is theirs, not their child’s. Accept these feelings for what they are: natural and normal reactions. Parents need to work with their feelings, not against them.

At the same time, parents need to support, comfort, and maintain an open dialogue with their transgender child as they work through the process together. Recognise their child’s bravery and show gratitude. Parent and child will be so much the better for it.

My life with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder has placed a strain on the very relationships that once gave way to warmth. It holds me close and tight and doesn’t let go until I am left feeling the brunt of its cruelty.

I suffer from disturbing, intrusive thoughts, over which I have no control. These intrusive thoughts can be cruel, and invade my brain throughout the day. With no warning. They threaten the very foundations in which make my life bearable – friendships and relationships.

These destructive thoughts hold me back from enjoying existence. They make me question who I am.

I feel there is something wrong with me.

I have OCD.​

I know the shame that intrusive thoughts bring about. So, I understand that only one-third of the 500,000 OCD sufferers in Australia seek treatment. For a long time, I refused to discuss it with anyone, but it becomes overwhelming and too difficult to keep locked away in my brain.

OCD calls on the demons hiding in the most remote corners of my brain to come downstairs and ruin my optimistic outlook on life. They convince me that I’m a despicable human and a danger to myself and others.

I won’t discuss in detail the context of my thoughts, what I will say though is that they cause such immense grief, I often feel my stomach may very well expel from my body.

The thoughts come in tsunami-like episodes, getting worse as time moves on, leading to one of the most heartbreaking episodes of all.

It had been a long night. I had been locked away from the outside world for just over a week. One could call it a self-isolation of a brain, my brain. It had been occurring for months, years even, somewhat episodically, but this time, it was all too much. I couldn’t handle the strain my brain placed over me. I had called a few helplines who suggested going to see someone but little did they know I was already in the process of finding someone. But as it was approaching Christmas, the wait for an appointment was well over 3-4 months.

My friend and I had planned to meet up for dinner and dessert, however, my eyes, stained red from distress, gave way to crucial evidence. She had been there for me two years earlier when the thought of still being around in 2019 felt like a mere fantasy.

It wasn’t an ideal situation. I sat in my car for 15 minutes trying to calm myself down. Once I felt the air float back into my lungs, I escaped the confinements of my car and made my way to her work. The sun, in its slow process of setting, shone a light shade of pink throughout the plaza.

“Just keep looking at the sunset,” I thought to myself. “It’s going to be a new day soon and this will all be a distant and faint memory.”

When you’re about to panic or on the verge of crying, the best thing someone can do is ask “R U OK?”, but I’ve found that this causes the flood gates to burst open, leading to a tsunami of emotion. The tsunami releases all the negativity trapped inside, explosions and cascades of gasps and tears tearing through the silence of their response. This occurred that night as I waited in the empty plaza outside the department store. Waiting. Breathing. Silence.

“Hey!” she said.

“Shit,” I thought.

Her smile often brings joy and the warm fuzzies, but on this day I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming army of joyless demons crush against my chest. The infection spread from my chest to my stomach as my hands started to tremble. I let out a nasty cry and fell into her arms.

She was the first person I told my thoughts to.

Everything spilt out in a rapid eruption of words and tears. I told her of the thoughts that caved away into the deepest parts of my brain, and how I had no control over them. These thoughts, intruding around my body as if on vacation refused to withdraw.

After 30 minutes of ugly crying, my friend thought it best that we call a mental health crisis helpline. Another 30 minutes went by. My ugly crying grew stronger and my friend performed her duty as a translator, relaying information onto the mental health officers.

I was too busy attempting to breathe. By 9:30 pm we were in the hospital’s mental health ward. Unfortunately, not my first time sitting in an emergency department due to mental health complications. What felt like a 30-minute wait turned into a 6-hour wait.

A lengthy couple of months ensued. I saw several mental health officers including a psychiatrist who put my mind at ease, informing me that these thoughts weren’t me. Asking me a very important question:

“If these thoughts, in any way, represented the type of person you were, then why would they cause you so much distress?” He said. “So much distress that it caused you to question your place on this earth.”

I finally had the answers, I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

It was a relief when I finally had an answer for the thoughts. These maleficent thoughts were so overwhelming that I questioned my place on this earth. And for the week leading up to that night, my brain spun into what felt like a never-ending cycle. Continuing to ask the same three questions:

Why are these thoughts in my head?

Why are they coming back with more ferocity than the last time?

Should I still be alive if I have these thoughts?

The truth is, at that time I wasn’t sure why I was having them; I didn’t realise that OCD could bring about such nasty thoughts. Thoughts that made me feel physically sick. It was as if a hand had made its way down my throat, stuck these ideas in my gut then withdrew in a hurry. Scurrying far away, leaving no evidence it was once there. It left doubt in the pit of my stomach. I asked myself – Am I this sick? Am I capable of these ideas? Is this me?

If these thoughts did in any way portray the kind of person I was, then in no way did I want them to be true. This is why that night I was in such distress. Once I was suffering from this “episode” it felt as though the thoughts would never end. With my previous episodes, I had managed to force the ideas to disappear after 2 or 3 days, but I couldn’t this time.

When I realized I had no control over them a wall of shame crashed into me. This was the moment I decided to lock myself away. Fortunately for me, I had already planned that dinner date with my friend. My stomach wanted to stay locked away, but my brain saved the day. My body activated the “Save Sarah Mode”, hoisting me up, out and into the car. On my way, I went.

Luckily for me, there are be people in my life I could and still to this day can trust. You can spill your guts to them, metaphorically that is.

Even if you feel like you are alone, stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean, someone will eventually turn up, even if they are also stuck in the middle of the ocean, maybe in a dingy. Together you will form an unbreakable bond, forced together by the wildest of fears and thoughts and anxieties that crash against you like the wild, unpredictable waves they are.

 

My friend, that night, was my lifeboat.

There is this misconception that OCD only encompasses cleaning, organising, washing hands or turning light switches on and off. Now, even though these are common compulsions, it doesn’t represent everyone who has the misfortune of living with OCD. And for me, it made it difficult to speak up about my diagnoses.

Since experiencing this terrible uncontrollable episode, I have found peace. I am now able to open up to people regarding my OCD. I am able to accept that these thoughts aren’t me. And I am not able to control some thoughts that come my way.

 

If you or anyone you know require assistance in relation to distressing thoughts and/or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Did you know that anxiety is the most common mental illness found in Australia? On average 1 in 3 women will encounter anxiety, meaning a large chunk of Australian mothers take on the mental condition. Read this honest experience of anxiety from an everyday Aussie mum.

Heart racing.

Shortness of breath.

Sweaty palms.

Thoughts so loud, I turn the radio off.

Distorted vision.

Alaia crying.

Migraine onset.

Welcome to my world.

They say a photo speaks a thousand words well, not always. The smile on my face and the gleam in my eyes is definitely deceiving, under the surface lies a whole other story.

It’s something I was always unsure if I would share just yet but, with my sole purpose of wanting to inspire and help others, how could I possibly not be real with you all?

Anxiety. That seven letter word that has seemingly taken over my day to day life over the past three months.  If I had to put my finger on a moment or event that triggered it, I would say it was my ectopic pregnancy loss but, I also believe it is a culmination of life events, motherhood and a recent drama which funnily enough really flipped the switch into full force.

So, what is it? Let’s start with the textbook definition:

“the state of feeling nervous or worried that something bad is going to happen”

My first thoughts – understatement at its best. So here’s my definition which I hope does more justice for sufferers:

An intense state of feeling overwhelmed, nervous and worried, sometimes for no good reason, accompanied by sweating, a significant increase in heart rate causing heart attack like symptoms, loud and overbearing thoughts and a gut wrenching feeling inside your stomach or chest also causing nausea. Sounds dreadful right? Well it is.

 

“Motherhood brings with it, its own share of anxieties – how will I get this all done? Am I doing a good job? What will other mothers think of me?”

To onlookers, anxiety is often not detected. It’s silent and mostly only affects its victim. Because it comes with such a stigma, people often shy away from sharing their feelings. Society expects sufferers of anxiety to be weird, introverted, crazy or different in some way, but this couldn’t be more far from the truth.

More often than not it’s the so called “normal” person sitting right beside you, the girl with the bubbly personality, the overachiever at work who always gets a promotion, the clown of the group or that mum friend you think always has her shit together that in fact is suffering in silence.

One thing for certain, anxiety does not discriminate. Sadly, a staggering one in four Australians will suffer anxiety at least once in their life – one in four!!!! So why aren’t we talking about it?

It’s time we raise the lid on it and become more transparent and educated on it.

You see for me, I am totally new to this anxiety world, I am still identifying my triggers. And, while some days I am completely unaffected, other days I am so consumed and would like nothing more than to stay in bed all day and sleep it off, but I can’t because we all know a mothers job never sleeps.

Motherhood brings with it, its own share of anxieties – how will I get this all done? Am I doing a good job? What will other mothers think of me? I want to be a mum but also want to work and have a social life – how do I manage that? The pressures we put on ourselves are endless.

Some days, you just want to throw your hands up and claim defeat, we all have those days right? But, instead, I find solace in retracting to a quiet room while Alaia plays, just to gain bearings again or even meditate. If I am out, I remain quiet or withdrawn which can make me seem socially awkward at times but it’s what gives me comfort in those moments. I know some people reading this will be shocked as it’s a far cry from my old bubbly, carefree, lively and social butterfly self, but lately it’s been my reality.

It sucks, it really sucks.

And while I kept convincing myself I didn’t chose anxiety, it chose me – I would be lying. A lifetime of high standards, perfectionism and people pleasing would lead me to this point. But, I am learning.

 

“I am finally making ME a priority because sometimes as mothers we lose sight of this.”

I am learning that firstly, I am not alone. SO many share this struggle with me and some are far worse. I am learning that I can manage the symptoms – I am finally making ME a priority because sometimes as mothers we lose sight of this. I am now on a mission to work on my mind, body and soul daily – I exercise, meditate and invest in self-development on a regular basis. And lastly, I am learning to love myself – would I be so hard on someone else as I am on myself? Definitely not. It’s time to be gentler on me.

The point of my article is far from a pity plea, but instead an arm reaching out to someone else out there suffering in silence, to shed light on a topic on that for so long has been taboo.

It’s a reminder for us all to really think before we speak. Is what we are saying going to add value to the people around us? If not, then why say it?

We may assume to be good judge of characters, but as I always say, never judge a book by its cover. Unless you have read every single chapter, you don’t know someone’s full story.

Moral of the story – be kind, always. Everyone has a story, every mama has a story and this is just one chapter of mine.

Articles courtesy of Solonge at Simply Solonge. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook.