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Transgender Man Navigates Chest-Feeding and Fatherhood After Giving Birth to Baby Boy

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Elinor Carucci for TIME

Evan Hempel started taking hormones in 2003 to physically become a transgender man, but he never lost the desire to carry a baby.

So five years ago, Hempel and his partner, a woman, decided that he would stop his testosterone injections and start trying artificial insemination with donor sperm. After a few failed attempts, Hempel became pregnant in late 2015, and gave birth to a son in the spring. His sister, Jessi, detailed the complicated relationship between masculinity as a transgender man and the feminine act of giving birth in this week’s issue of TIME.

While some transgender men have trouble reconciling the physical feelings of pregnancy, Evan had no issues.

“It was a gamble,” he says. “I didn’t know how I’d feel, but it turns out I just feel like it’s really cool that my body can do this.”

More complicated was explaining to the people at work – most of whom hadn’t realized he was transgender and thought of him as male – that he was pregnant. Evan, who is based in the Boston area, approached the human resources representative in fear, all the while battling back morning sickness.

“It wasn’t that I expected her to have a negative reaction,” he recalls. “I just had no idea at all.”

But she was almost immediately supportive, breaking into a smile and saying, “Well, this is unexpected, but that’s great!” before chatting with Evan about the joys of having children.

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In fact, Evan says he had positive experiences with everyone he informed of his pregnancy, though he missed out on the usual reactions from strangers – rather than spotting a baby bump, people just assumed he had a beer belly.

“People talk about the attention you get when you’re pregnant, and for the most part that was absent for me,” he says. “Mostly I liked that, because I don’t like body attention normally, but there’s also a loss.”

And he had trouble getting his medical insurance to cover things like pregnancy tests because he was registered as male on all his documents, repeatedly explaining, “My sex is female, and my gender is male.” After having to call the representatives at each checkup, Evan eventually gave in and changed his gender to female with his insurance company.

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“When I get insurance letters, they don’t say ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am.’ They just say ‘Dear Evan Hempel,’ and that’s just fine,” he says. “At the end of the day, it was just frustrating to get denial after denial of services.”

And the birth went smoothly, with his son arriving right on time. Evan is now chest-feeding – what transgender men call breastfeeding – but he’ll eventually start taking testosterone again and his breasts will shrink back down.

Says Jessi: “To outsiders, his family will look like any other – a tossed-together group of kids and adults raising one another.”