The decision to give birth is never an easy one, particularly if you are deciding to do it by yourself. For Freddy McConnell, the subject of Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth (BBC Two), Jeanie Finlay’s thoughtful, carefully made film, that decision was complicated still further by his personal experiences.
Freddy, a trans man, knew that he’d always wanted to have a child but equally that taking the decision to carry that child, a decision that would mean coming off testosterone, returning to a body shape that he was alienated from and dealing with difficult reactions from friends and family, would not be easy.
However, the likeable, if at times brutally honest, Freddy was not prepared to admit that at the start. Instead he charged headlong into a co-parenting decision with close friend, occasional partner and fellow trans man CJ. For all the laughing late night talks and eager discussions about sperm banks and choices it was a decision that ultimately didn’t work out. CJ (who preferred to be known by they/their pronouns) changed their mind, leaving an initially distraught Freddy to start again, this time alone.
Along the way he confronted his setbacks with an often bruising honesty, arguing with those who didn’t agree with his decision, mulling over his difficult relationship with his largely absent father and his far closer one with "force of nature" mother Esme and admitting that he struggled when "CIS mothers" gave well-meaning advice "because you want to say, no it isn’t the same".
A revealing scene with Esme’s friends, many of whom had known Freddy since childhood and all of whom were keen to support him, raised many of those tensions – one woman attending the celebration pointed out that Freddy was only able to give birth because of his womb.
Her attempts to articulate that, while not intended to hurt, inflamed the situation to the point of causing Freddy to storm off.
Some viewers will have sighed at that point but there was the sense too that in focusing too much on such debates, on who is right and who wrong, we too easily lose our understanding of the personal stories at stake. For while friends and family might sit around and debate Freddy’s decisions, he himself was clear that his true self, the one that he felt comfortable in, was male and that his journey towards fatherhood was challenging precisely because of that.
Yes, he could be abrasive at times – though let’s not forget those pregnancy hormones can get to all of us – but that was largely because it must have been incredibly difficult to have finally achieved the body you knew you always should have had only to then have to revert to the one you felt trapped in one more time. No wonder, too, he clearly felt the easiest way to get through the pregnancy was to cut off those who appeared unsupportive and plough on determinedly with the support of those who at least tried to understand.
“Is it selfish?” Freddy asked about his decision. “I don’t think so. I think finally people can see who I am – it’s not about being more male making me more valid. It’s just that this is me.”
That simple message lay at the heart of his ultimately rather beautiful journey, a journey that celebrated not only Freddy’s stubborn desires but also the loving support of Esme, who tearfully admitted that she was “in awe of the bravery of my child”.
Emotional and honest to the point of bracing, Seahorse won’t have convinced everyone. But those who were willing to listen were well rewarded. “I had no idea, I was very naïve,” Freddy admitted holding his young son in his arms with a beaming smile. “I think everybody has the potential to feel this way.” That they do was the joy of Finlay’s sensitive, warm-hearted film.