TRANSforming Gynecology

Meeting the obstetrical needs of trans and gender nonconforming patients


 

Like their cisgender counterparts, transgender and gender nonconforming patients (trans patients) may reach a point in their lives where they want to build their own families. This may be achieved through adoption, alternative insemination with donor sperm, or assisted reproductive treatment with donor sperm or egg, cryopreserved sperm or egg, or surrogacy.1There are several unique needs of trans patients that extend into obstetrics and may be addressed as early as the first gender transition visit. Obstetricians can provide more equitable care to trans individuals by acknowledging these needs and providing gender-inclusive counseling and guidance.

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The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends that medical providers counsel patients about the potential effects of medical transitioning on their fertility prior to the initiation of hormonal or surgical therapies.2 Patients should be educated about options for fertility preservation and reproduction since exogenous hormones and gonadectomy impact fertility.3 A referral to a fertility specialist should be placed for patients interested in oocyte or sperm cryopreservation, embryo cryopreservation, or ovarian tissue cryopreservation.2

If a trans patient presents to the obstetrician/gynecologist for preconception counseling after undergoing medical gender transition, they should be offered evidence-based guidance based on an organ inventory (surgical history with documentation of natal sex organs still in situ). A biologic pregnancy may be a fertility option for a patient who has a vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries and is not currently using testosterone. Gender-affirming testosterone therapy suppresses ovulation and causes amenorrhea in most patients, although this is often reversible once the exogenous hormone is discontinued.2 When the patient is ovulating on their own or undergoes ovulation induction, conception may be achieved via the same methods used with cisgender couples: Sperm is obtained from a partner or donor, followed by intercourse if the patient is comfortable with this, intrauterine insemination (IUI), or in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Conversely, a trans patient with a penis and testicles who has already undergone medical gender affirmation with estrogen should be counseled that prior exposure to estrogen may have caused irreversible testicular damage, making assisted reproductive treatment more challenging if sperm had not been cryopreserved prior to starting gender-affirming hormone therapy.2 If spermatogenesis is successful or sperm was previously cryopreserved, the next step in reproductive counseling for these patients centers on finding gestational carriers and egg donors if the patient does not already have a partner who is willing or able to carry the child. At this point in time, uterine transplantation has not been attempted in a trans patient and therefore is not considered a viable fertility option.

Dr. Andrea B. Joyner

Dr. Andrea B. Joyner

The trans patient who becomes pregnant will encounter physical changes that may trigger underlying gender dysphoria. One study found that transgender men who experience pregnancy exhibited varying degrees of gender dysphoria.4 Obstetrician/gynecologists should have an awareness about the possibility of heightened gender dysphoria and sensitively approach prenatal visits by avoiding triggering language or using inappropriate pronouns. Simply asking a trans patient about preferred pronouns and terminology for body parts can be the difference between a negative and positive pregnancy experience. For example, a transman may prefer a different term for vagina/vulva/cervix. This is especially important at the time of delivery, when exams may become more frequent for the patient. However, inclusive prenatal care starts from the first prenatal visit when the patient checks in and continues all the way through the doctor/patient experience. All office staff should be trained to use preferred names and pronouns and gender-neutral restrooms should be easily accessible. Likewise, waiting rooms should include visible support for the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning) patient population.

The anatomy ultrasound and “gender reveal” during the pregnancy and at the time of delivery can understandably also be a sensitive subject for a pregnant trans patient. Previous cultural practice has been to describe the gender of the fetus at the anatomy ultrasound, when in fact, gender can only be self-determined by an individual many years after birth. What the anatomy ultrasound does convey is the appearance of external genitalia to help predict the assigned sex. As obstetrician/gynecologists who practice evidence-based medicine, we are encouraged to challenge the cultural norm of announcing the gender of the baby at time of ultrasound and at time of birth. We should focus instead on conveying what objective information we do know. After the infant is born, we know the sex they are assigned based on the what external reproductive organs are seen.

In the postpartum period, trans patients who successfully carried a pregnancy may choose to feed their infant with their own human milk. For some trans patients, breastfeeding may be referred to as chestfeeding, since this terminology is more gender neutral. Having prior chest masculinization surgery does not exclude a transmasculine patient from lactating, although milk production may vary. Patients should be counseled that there is limited data on the safety of testosterone use while lactating.1 We found only one case report of induced lactation in a nonpuerperal transfeminine patient.5 In addition to addressing infant feeding concerns, obstetrician/gynecologists should counsel postpartum trans patients about contraceptive options and screen for perinatal mood disorders, especially those patients with a history of mood disorders before pregnancy.

Dr. Katie Riddle, an ob.gyn. in Connecticut

Dr. Katie Riddle

Ultimately, trans patients seeking fertility options and obstetrical care have a right to obtain reliable information and access gender-inclusive treatment from their obstetrician/gynecologists. Each family makeup is unique and should be respected by all health care professionals taking care of the patient. As obstetrician/gynecologists, it is our duty to coordinate and advocate for the equitable care of our trans patients who want to grow their families.

Dr. Joyner is an assistant professor at Emory University, Atlanta, and is the director of gynecologic services in the Gender Center at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. Dr. Joyner identifies as a cisgender female and uses she/hers/her as her personal pronouns. Dr. Katie Riddle is an ob.gyn. in Connecticut who is passionate about LGBTQ health care. She recently completed her residency in Ann Arbor, Mich. Dr. Riddle identifies as a cisgender female and uses she/hers/her as her personal pronouns. Dr. Joyner and Dr. Riddle said they had no financial disclosures. Email them at obnews@mdedge.com.

References

1. Viloria RP. “Reproductive Health and Obstetric Care in Transgender Patients.” Fenway Health.

2. Amato P. “Fertility options for transgender persons.” University of California, San Francisco Transgender Care and Treatment Guidelines. 2016 Jun 17.

3. Fertil Steril. 2015 Nov. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2015.08.021.

4. Obstet Gynecol. 2014. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000000540.

5. Transgend Health. 2018 Jan 1. doi: 10.1089/trgh.2017.0044.

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