We are so excited to share a guest essay with you today. This is a beautiful parenting story written by Amy Meilen, creator of Sage Birth and Wellness Center. Sage is our megaphone sponsor for Listen To Your Mother Boulder, and we are in awe of all the incredible prenatal, postpartum, and women’s wellness services they offer to the community. Enjoy Amy and PJ’s story, and learn more about Amy and Sage Birth and Wellness below.
Thoughts on Parenting PJ
At some point around 2011, I talked Rob into having a baby. He was 50 and I, 43. We had done this 7 times before and were good at it—what could go wrong? We went through countless steps to conceive this person who was clearly asking to join our family. When I conceived via IVF, before any ultrasounds, in my heart and mind, I knew I was having a boy. . . so I built a shrine for our baby boy. I spoke to intuitive friends and family—all of them communicated to us that indeed, this was a boy. We made plans for him and we talked to each other about him and we knew him before he was born. I went for my 20-week ultrasound, and the technician pointed out all of my son’s girl parts. In disbelief, we asked for a re-check. Nope. All girl parts. No boy parts. We shook our heads and wrapped them, together with our hearts, around our unborn daughter. She arrived one early morning in September and quickly we forgot this idea of a baby boy. Penelope Jean was all we could’ve hoped for. She was embraced by all who knew her and we all fell deeply in love.
This has been a heck of a ride. . . and it’s only just begun.
Things my daughter Penelope Jean grew to Love:
Her siblings; her dogs, especially Eli; noodles; trampolines; riding horses; skiing and soccer and playing in the snow; her banjo, her best friend “pony,” and the color blue.
Things that my son PJ Meilen loves:
His siblings; His dogs, especially Eli; noodles; trampolines; riding horses; skiing and soccer and playing in the snow, his piano, his “pony,” bike riding, making art, losing teeth, making friends, snowboarding, legos, reading Harry Potter, ice cream & playing Mario Kart with his bff, Noah.
Fast forward to Penelope, age 18 months: Resistance to dresses—we had to call them “long shirts” or suffer the consequences. In-depth toddler discussions about what it meant to be a girl or a boy, hysterics with hair-combing and styling.
Penelope was our first of 8 kids who lived to be outdoors. Unlike my other daughters, there wasn’t a lot of pretend or imaginative playing in the princess-dress-up-department. Instead, there was lots of physical playing and exploring nature. Much of Penelope’s time was spent in the nude and she became an expert at “nature peeing.” Penelope loved to garden and be in the barn and play with the dogs, swim, explore and when given the choice, most of this was in the nude. She never wanted to come inside.
Around age 2-2 1/2. Penelope would no longer wear her “long shirts.” There was an obvious style of dress that leaned toward “boy clothes” in shades of blue and red. Discussions moved in the direction of: “What if I don’t want to be a girl?” My insistence that girls were cool— we could do it all, work, play, wear whatever we wanted AND our bodies could have babies—was met with cool indifference. Obviously I wasn’t hearing correctly.
There was consistent resistance to “girl clothing” or “girl hairstyles” (Penelope never wanted a ponytail or pigtails or braids) and despite her gorgeous ringlet curls, the only way Penelope wanted to wear her hair was down and in her face.
At age 3, gender discussions turned into Penelope stating flat out, “I don’t want to be a girl.” Choosing “boy” costumes for dress up play and halloween, and exclusively boy choices for clothing. PJ had an obsession with neckties, bowties, and collared shirts. At this time, Penelope was still going by female pronouns. We thought she was going through a phase. Family and friends referred to her as a tomboy. Our best butch lesbian friend was over the moon to have a little butch sidekick.
However, at age 4, for the first time, Penelope pronounced, “I want to be a boy in kindergarten.” Then the inevitable: “I want to cut my hair.”
I went inside and had a moment of panic, followed by tears. I called my friends, my therapist, spoke to Rob and my mother. I was panicked with grieving the loss of my little girl. It turned out I’d known it from his conception. . . this kid who was adamant about being a boy, was truly a boy. How come I was still holding onto my experiences parenting Penelope, together with the hope that this was, in fact, a phase? Beyond all of my own grief and loss was the dread and fear of what lay ahead for my already-brave, coming-out boy. This was the year Penelope cut her own hair. Right at her ears. All of her ringlets fell to the floor in a heap. Penelope was serious.
At 5, we took a family vacation. At the advice of a friend, and parent of a trans girl, we thought we’d try an experiment where Penelope could be a boy away from home. We’d try boy pronouns, dress in only boy clothing and shoes, and use PJ instead of Penelope. When I suggested this to PJ, she agreed to everything but the pronouns. If I used He/Him/His pronouns, or referred to him as my son, she said she would feel like “she wasn’t part of this family anymore.”
Oh boy, I wanted to emphasize to my kid that it was going to be a lot harder to get rid of us than that! But at the advice of therapists, friends and family, we let PJ take the lead on his transition. Europe was delightful. PJ wore collared shirts, neckties, was referred to by European strangers in the masculine, which he loved. He was shedding his assigned gender and becoming his true self.
Rob and I discussed how we should handle this. We were frightened of bullying, frightened of his own body-image and potential dysphoria. There was no more nude kid. PJ became extremely private with his “parts,” which was markedly different. We were worried about what friends and family would think. We had never let a toddler take the lead in any other major decision making situation before. We were his parents, we were used to making important decisions. But this was different.
In front of us was a person who consistently, persistently insisted he was a boy.
Before kindergarten, we recommended he introduce himself as “PJ” vs. Penelope. I thought this would help other kids and their parents avoid confusion, stave off questions, and generally ease his transition. On the first day, when kids were introducing themselves, he introduced himself as Penelope. We all realized that Penelope didn’t hold a gender connotation to our child. It was just his name. Despite the boy Penelope, there could’ve been a smoother start for a gender/pronoun change. Through the year, despite some confusion, PJ came out on top. When we finally got him to agree on the pronoun change at home, I cautiously approached his kindergarten teacher to break the news, and her response was “Oh, we’re way ahead of you here.” PJ had been a boy at school all. year. long.
These days, there is no second guessing. People don’t question PJ about gender. We’ve shared our thoughts on supporting and loving our precious child as he is. We outed him last year to friends and family on social media and were overwhelmingly supported,
despite some misgivings—mostly from grandparents. All misgivings aside, our family continually strives to support with correct pronouns, appropriate gifts of boy clothes and toys of choice, and the blessing of unconditional love of our son, their brother, nephew, grandson and friend.
We know there will be times where PJ will be challenged. We imagine he’ll have a few more uphill battles than most. Right now, we’re busy arming him with love. He’s just a young boy, like all of his 2nd grade friends. We feel blessed to have landed in a supportive community where education on LGBTQ issues is continuous and ongoing. Our elementary school principle is the parent to a fabulous trans daughter. Today, we ask nothing more than for strangers, family, friends and members of the medical community to see him for who he is and not behave or act in a way that makes him feel different. He is unique—like every child. He is strong like only PJ, and he has been, is and will continue to be the best teacher for Rob and I and his community. To the rest of you: I hope you get the chance to get to know him and countless others like him. Transgender kids aren’t scary. They aren’t contagious. They just want to be treated like the gender they identify with. Personally speaking, PJ is just an 8-year-old boy who has demonstrated a strength and tenacity to embrace his uniqueness, and a capacity to teach all of us beyond his years.
Amy Meilen is a local Physical Therapist, Birth and Postpartum Doula and creator of Sage Birth and Wellness Center. Her passion in this work was sparked by her own 4, radically different births combined with the transformation of herself to mother and stepmother. Becoming a mother has been the most profound, challenging, rewarding and joyous part of Amy’s life. She feels privileged to support others on their journey. Amy wholeheartedly believes that your birth experience can, and does, shape your identity as a woman and a mother; her hope in working with couples, is that their birthing day is an experience of joy, strength, perseverance and innate wisdom. An experience that empowers them during birth and throughout their motherhood journey.
Amy also enjoys teaching families and communities the importance of the “4th trimester.” The joys of bringing a new baby home are also paralleled with fatigue, uncertainty, hormonal shifts, and a different body/body image. At this time, it is imperative to both care for and nurture the new mother as she is nurturing her child. With Amy’s care, nutritious meals, self-care, body work and rest are the avenue to postpartum health and healing.
Postpartum pelvic floor work is also part of Amy’s passion. Working with women at any age and stage, who experience stress incontinence, painful intercourse, pelvic pain, rigid scar tissue, and that feeling that something isn’t “right” in their bodies is a part of her women’s wellness care. Working with women on assessment and treatment of the pelvic floor, followed by treatment astride one of the horses on her farm, Amy helps them find balance through release, strength, support, and breath that brings forward their innate strength, power, and body awareness in their postpartum months, years and often decades.
In Amy’s free time, she enjoys trail rides with her horses, working on her farm, mountain time in Steamboat, snuggling with her kids, backpacking in RMNP, and date nights with her husband.