Krys Malcolm Belc’s 2021 memoir, The Natural Mother of the Child, investigates his experience as a nonbinary, transmasculine person and trans gestational parent. The memoir navigates marriage, pregnancy, birth, parenthood, and testosterone therapy in a heteronormative obstetrics medical establishment and court system. Staccato sentences wind themselves through a circuitous memoir alive with colorful vignettes and essays. The narration, along with photographs and documentation whimsically and thoughtfully stitch together this story.
Belc’s narration rejects a linear flow. He oscillates the narrative constantly between living in Philadelphia and Northern Michigan; the births and early years of his three sons; pre-and post-introduction of testosterone therapy; and gender euphoria and dysphoria. His audience is at times ambiguous, moving between addressing his wife, his gestational son, and his mother. Pieces of medical and court documentation are woven into the story’s most significant events.
Throughout his own story, Belc takes time to discuss the history and science of obstetrics and surgery. He highlights documentation of mastectomies and top surgeries from the late 17th century to Nazi Germany to modern-day authors. In his examination of present-day obstetric practices, Belc invites readers to critically examine documentation surrounding the second parent adoption of his middle son, who he gave birth to. In doing so, Belc underscores the queerness of navigating birth and the second parent adoption required for queer couples to have legal rights to their children.
Belc’s shares exceptionally raw moments like when his ID is scrutinized at the liquor store, hearing shouts from the street, “Look at that, a pregnant man!”, and seeing his name next to “Natural mother of the child.” These moments implicate and force the reader to confront the violence and banalities that mark his everyday experiences as a trans man.
Anger is constant throughout the memoir, but once starting testosterone, Belc paradoxically becomes softer. His vocal cords and facial features become more childlike. For the first time, he can no longer yell. The transition presents a stark difference to Belc’s early life in a family where aggression signifies masculinity and encourages his reflection on childhood. He is forced to revisit feelings of envy toward both his brothers and his sons for being assigned male at birth and the innate, frustrating desire to be treated and regarded as they were.
At its core, this is a story of chosen family relationships and the loving ferocity that Belc and his family have for each other. Belc emphasizes that he can most clearly understand his own story through understanding his journey with his gestational child.
Belc ends his memoir with where he has found peace: when his gestational child is five, where his body has changed and changed again through pregnancy, breastfeeding, and subsequent hormone therapy. Where his family of five finds a familiar rhythm of life, and with what it means for him to navigate himself around parenthood.