Obituary for my daughter
This is not an obituary. But it could be. My daughter is alive, today, and I love her very, very much. If anything this is an ode to my love for her and for how special she is to me. She is not “dead to me” in any way except that she has been convinced by others that she needs to remove herself from my life as thoroughly as possible. So other than the occasional brief text, photo or question about money, I never hear from her. I don’t believe she would choose to live like this if she was not surrounded by peers and adults with a heavy influence on her activities. And this includes the doctors and “therapists” who are supposedly looking after her.
Last week she randomly sent me a photo of herself in a park. Someone asked me how I feel when I get the occasional text or a photo. That made me think, hard. I look at each text and photo as the only reassurance I have that she is still alive and that perhaps this is her way of “checking in”. It has been 5 years, since the onset of puberty, that she’s been caught up in the belief that she is a boy and now a man. This was affirmed by a psychiatrist, ‘Dr. G’, within a half hour visit at the age of 15. From that point onwards, my emotional access, my visceral connection to her was severed. This was the beginning of the affirmations by other adults that drew her further and further away. I bought her boys clothes, agreed to the name change and we tried to use her preferred pronouns around the house, as a show of respect and to minimize conflict.
At 18, she ran away to live with strangers, found a “new mom” and started testosterone. Within 3 months of this, she was in the ER one night for “suicidal ideation”. We found out about it when she texted us, casually, the next day. Over the subsequent 2 years, while on testosterone, and then following her mastectomy, her suicidal ideation and self-harming escalated. She started cutting herself. This was all new and had never happened before.
No one, including her, has turned to me, nor will she accept any suggestion from me that perhaps the affirmations of strangers and the male hormones are making her feel worse, more aggressive and yet more confused about how to relate to the closest person in her life, to me.
I am here. I answer her texts, I invite her to visit, we pay some of her expenses as she tries to land on her feet in another big city.
But in my mind, every day, I wait and wonder if this will be the day. I know somehow that her peers are rewarding her for her self harm and her actions and encouraging her not to engage with me. They likely are not aware of who is paying her bills and worrying about her.
But I wrote this because I believe it is very possible that I will outlive her. That she will become progressively suicidal and no one but me will recognize it. It is also possible that she will simply have some other medical event related to being on testosterone.
I walk around composing obituaries in my head because I know that if this happens, I won’t be able to do anything; I won’t be able to write, to speak to anyone, to protest anymore, to help other parents or young people in support of their struggles. I won’t be able to talk about anything related to this for a long time.
So I write this now, not just for me but to share my sadness as I find myself missing my daughter every day, slowly losing her and fearing I will never get her back. Or at least not alive.
I don’t want others to be hurt by anything I say here. This is my experience of having my daughter taken from me and not being able to stop it from happening. No one but a parent can possibly understand this kind of loss.
Ode to My Lost Daughter
Last year I lost my daughter to gender-affirming care. It is a loss that has come to me after a long and painful struggle. I believe that by sharing some of this difficult journey with you, there is, perhaps, a chance I can prevent it from happening to other children and families who have been similarly touched by this affliction.
I believe that, if your adolescent child is suddenly identifying as “trans” or “non-binary”, they are just going through a natural developmental period of trying to individuate from their parents. It is not this developmental stage that is the problem, though it does create vulnerabilities. No, the affliction, the dangerous and potentially fatal aspect of this is the behavior of the adults in their lives—the doctors, teachers, administrators, social workers, therapists and, sometimes, other parents—who jump to affirm these youth with immediate offers of mind-, body- and life-altering medications and surgeries.
I know I will always see the roots of my daughter’s illness differently than others do. In fact, I see the etiology as a contagion that infected her through her friends at school and online, and then through adults, like her doctors and “affirming therapists”. This is how she became vulnerable and, in the eyes of her doctors, palliative. In fact, I heard a Dutch “expert” say as much in an interview; he seemed to believe that his young patients would never truly thrive and they are just treating them to relieve their distress.
My daughter grew up healthy and happy. She wanted to share her privilege with peers. She came home from school on many afternoons asking if she could bring extra food in her lunch bag for someone at school who was often in need. For a time she even took two lunches to school every day until the end of the year because one girl’s mom just had too much going on at home. She was a lively and active child. She loved soccer, and horseback riding, but also playing with tiny dolls and colourful glass beads. She developed obsessive interests in all things horse-related, in collecting miniature objects, plastic animals, stickers, ribbons and tiny plants. She loved to shop and to make dance and acrobatic videos with her friends. All her friends were girls, though her occasional crushes were on boys. Much of the time she said she hated the boys, that they were mean and that she avoided them at recess.
She had some tough times fitting in with the girls—especially after our family moved. She also had some challenges at home, namely the absence of her father and the sense that he abandoned her. Her father hurt her many times, most deeply through his unpredictable and intermittent appearances, either in person or on the phone, once or twice a year. She tried to engage with him—sending him gifts, trying to call, but he was caught up in his own life and often disappeared from contact for months on end and, eventually, for a couple of years. But my happy-go-lucky kid was resilient in the face of all this and I thought she was coping well. We were very close; she told me everything and turned to me with every important worry or life question she had.
For all my anxiety about her issues with her father, I was confident that she would land on her feet. She never struggled with her body, never seemed bothered with it. Her little sisterwas the awkward one who had fewer friends and seemed more vulnerable. I believed my daughter would thrive, and would be able to navigate the intricacies of middle school, high school, and beyond.
She often announced that she planned never to leave home or move away, that she would live with me forever. I knew better of course, as all moms do. I would tell her that one day her friends would be more important than me, at least for a time, and she would most likely want to go away to school and to work. She struggled to envision this. In fact, it made her a little uncomfortable to talk about. I told her “one day, when you’re a teenager, you’ll hate me, you won’t want to listen to my advice and you’ll get angry at me for things”. She laughed; that made no sense to her.
Many say that detransition, medical complications or suicide are rare after transition and that kids like mine do better mentally after treatment. A treatment that includes high doses of testosterone, injected weekly, indefinitely, followed by a bilateral mastectomy, all meant to “alleviate” her distress. And yet I knew from the start that what she needed most was the ongoing support of her mother and some therapy to explore her distress with her developing body. Distress tolerance and coping skills was what could have helped her simply be able to grow into her new body. Yet no therapist could be found to offer what seemed, to me, like a safe and manageable approach.
Dr. G, a psychiatrist, enabled this negative outcome, this alienation and loss. It all followed a 35 minute initial visit, and then subsequent intensive “gender affirmative care” at the WellYouth clinic, affiliated with our psychiatric hospital where, I was told, my concerns about the need for alternatives to her medical treatment would not be welcome in their “parent support group”. But as I said, my daughter’s dysphoria was not so much about her gender but about her body. She had the normal, healthy anxiety and stressors of most teenagers, coupled with a period of lockdown during which time a perfect storm of circumstances came together to burden her anxiety further.
I hold Dr. G responsible as the first adult to place herself between my daughter and I when she was still a child of 15. It confused my daughter who, until that moment, believed that I could be trusted, and that I loved her more than anyone else on earth. Dr. G made sure to tell us both (in the room, together) that my daughter was not really a daughter any more, but rather a son. That my child was correct about this new “gender identity”, that I was wrong and that I was harming her by denying her the journey she wished to begin. After I was invited into the room, Dr. G sat smugly across from me, holding a secret to which I was not yet privy. She said, “Well, you know, you’re a mother and we often find the mothers are unaware of these feelings their kids are having”.
She ran away from home, identifying as homeless. It was then that she started herself down the lost path of “gender treatment”. I worried every waking minute about all the possible serious complications of these choices she was making—some fatal: stroke, heart attack, a blood clot, hormone-related cancer, suicide, surgical infections, uterine infection, bladder and kidney infections, sepsis…perhaps I read too much. I sent these worries to the endocrinologist who started her on testosterone, to the psychiatrist who stood between us, and to the WellYouth team who blindly carried her along with the delusion that she was a boy. I did the best I could, under the circumstances, to intervene. They simply, perhaps vengefully, shared the emails with her, making her even more furious with me for interfering.
I am grateful for the time I had with her. Even after she ran away, she came by to do her laundry or visit with the pets as if everything was normal. It was not normal though. She was on testosterone. She was increasingly impulsive and angry; she started cutting herself and declaring suicidal thoughts. Discussion about suicide is rampant amidst the “care providers” at the WellYouth clinic, among her peers and on her favorite social media platforms. She quickly discovered that self-harming and threats of suicidal ideation would get reinforcing likes and comments in her social media accounts. These behaviours have escalated steadily over the 2 years of “treatments”. Within the first months of starting the testosterone she made several trips to the ER due to her inability to cope with many adverse social interactions, workplace stress, school exams, a breakup. Eventually I came to see that what she had been afflicted with, even though it was also iatrogenic (caused by the medical intervention itself), was gender affirming ideology.
I have to acknowledge that what has happened to my daughter has impacts beyond me, most notably on my mother, her grandmother. She and my daughter adored each other and remained very close until this “dysphoria” suddenly appeared at puberty. My mother was the first to hold her, right after she was born. She spent the first 2 hours with her while I was being resuscitated in the operating room. They bonded intensely in that moment and many moments after that. Now my mother hides her disappointment and sadness, thinking somehow that this will somehow pass.
I laughed when the nurse first brought her in to me and said“here’s your daughter”. “Daughter”, I thought, “only mothers have daughters…oh, that means I’m a mother now!” Breastfeeding came easily and quickly for us. In the first 6 months, every pound she gained, I lost. I had waited so long into adulthood to be a mother. Everything about it was a wonder. I fell in love with brand new parts of myself. She and I were in the same room, never apart, for her first 6 months, until I went back to work.
It’s fair to say that my special, gifted, loving and artistic first child has been broken, and not by me. Of course, every parent who loses a child to an ideology, breaks as well. In that way, my loss is no different than any loss of a child. But for the parents who lose a child to something they believe they should have, could have, protected their child from, the breaking leaves a different kind of heaviness. We are burdened with the failure to prevent the preventable: iatrogenic loss in which doctors contributed to the poor outcomes.
I am now hearing of multiple, similar outcomes across the western world. Scientists and clinicians are looking more closely at cases like my daughter’s, and considering that perhaps her outcome is not as “rare” as some once thought. That alienation from family, worsening mental health, detransition, self-harm and suicide may in fact be a risk that follows – rather than precedes – gender affirming care. And many are now considering a review of what might be considered iatrogenic and not “innate”.
On some days, I feel certain that the chances are against her survival. That is when I hold my grief close and summon my words. That is when I decide to write these painful feelings down and share them. I hope never to write her obituary; I hope that she survives, finds her way home so that one day she can write mine.