TRANSforming Gynecology

Obstetrical care for gender diverse patients: A summary from the SMFM annual meeting


 

The purpose of this commentary is to provide a brief summary of discussions centering around reproductive health experiences and obstetrical care for gender-diverse patients from the recent Society of Maternal & Fetal Medicine meeting. Two presentations featured patient perspectives combined with physician lectures to provide a comprehensive outlook on unique reproductive care needs for this growing population.

One of the speakers, Trystan Reese, is a transgender activist, educator, and transgender male who chose to carry his own pregnancy and subsequently delivered his son in 2017. During the summit, he described many barriers that he faced during his pregnancy and offered providers suggestions on how to improve the care for members of the gender-diverse community seeking to start a family.

Dr. K. Ashley Brandt, an ob.gyn. and fellowship-trained gender affirming surgeon in West Reading, Pa

Dr. K. Ashley Brandt

We often think of conception and pregnancy as experiences unique to one gender. This is simply not the case. In discussing preconceptual care and pregnancy, it is paramount for providers to make the distinction between gender identity and natal sex. Gender identity is an internal sense of self in relation to natal sex. Depending on this intrinsic feeling, people may identify as cisgender, transgender, or as a gender outside of the standard binary. Natal sex describes biologic characteristics such as chromosomal makeup, reproductive anatomy, and secondary sexual changes. In keeping these distinctions in mind, pregnancy is therefore exclusive to a person’s natal sex, not gender identity. One of the biggest challenges in caring for transgender patients who desire pregnancy, is the psychological distress related to the gendered notions surrounding this experience.1

There are many ways in which patients encounter unintentional marginalization within the medical system. For example, many electronic medical record systems don’t allow for pronouns or give error messages if the patient’s gender identity is different from their sex assigned at birth. Patients who attend prenatal appointments or birth classes are given documents that center around cisgender women and heterosexual relationships. The labor and delivery wards themselves typically include language such as “maternity,” and birth certificates have distinct “mother” and “father” denotations.1 Insurance coverage for prenatal care and delivery can be problematic if a patient who is assigned female at birth has changed their gender marker to “male” on their insurance card.

Many of these roadblocks can be ameliorated by utilizing more inclusive terminology. Terms such as “maternal” can be replaced with “pregnant patients, parent, or patients giving birth.” Names of maternity wards can be altered to perinatal units, which is more inclusive and more descriptive of the wide variety of patients that may experience childbirth and parenthood.1 Introducing “you-centered” language can also be helpful. Instead of saying “women may find ...” providers can try saying “patients may find ...” or “individuals may find.”1

Most of the medical and obstetrical care of gender-diverse patients is routine. Prenatal labs, aneuploidy screening, ultrasounds, and fetal surveillance do not differ between transgender and cisgender patients. However, the experience of pregnancy itself can significantly heighten feelings of dysphoria as it inherently leads to patients confronting aspects of their biological sex.2 Because of the teratogenic nature of testosterone, patients are required to stop taking testosterone prior to conception and for the duration of pregnancy. This can also heighten dysphoria and lead to increased rates of anxiety and depression.3

Many transgender patients can safely achieve a normal vaginal birth.4 A small survey of 41 people demonstrated that more transgender men who had taken testosterone were delivered by cesarean section (36% vs. 19%).3 Staff training is an important aspect of caring for a transgender patient in labor to ensure that all members of the labor unit are cognizant of appropriate name and pronoun usage. Another interesting, although unsurprising, fact is that many transgender gestational parents chose a community-based (out-of-hospital) birth according to a 2014 study.1 This is predominantly because of the discrimination patients face when delivering within a hospital setting.

Postpartum depression screening should be conducted prior to patients leaving the hospital and individualized during postpartum appointments. Reinitiation of testosterone can occur 4-6 weeks after delivery.1

While pregnancy can pose some unique challenges to gender-diverse individuals, these intricacies are not insurmountable. The result of pregnancy, regardless of one’s gender identity, is the same – parenthood. One patient’s description of his experience was particularly poignant: “Pregnancy and childbirth were very male experiences for me. When I birthed my children, I was born into fatherhood.”1 It is up to all providers to modify clinical settings, as well as our patient interactions and use of language, if we are to provide inclusion in obstetrics.1,5

Dr. Brandt is an ob.gyn. and fellowship-trained gender-affirming surgeon in West Reading, Pa.

References

1. Brandt JS et al. “Understanding intersections: Care for transgender and gender diverse patient populations.” SMFM 2022 annual meeting. 2022 Feb 2.

2. Hoffkling A et al. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2017 Nov 8;17(Suppl 2):332.

3. Light AD et al. Obstet Gynecol. 2014;124:1120-7.

4. Moseson H et al. Int J Transgend Health. 2021 Nov 17;22(1-2):30-41.

5. Brandt JS et al. Obstetrical care for trans*person, in “Trans*gynecology: Managing transgender patients in obstetrics and gynecology practice.” (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2022).

Next Article: