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I never thought I was going to be a mom. I didn’t see myself constantly worrying about a kiddo. But life doesn’t always go as planned. At 17 I found myself pregnant with my first and only child, AunaDrew. My pregnancy was a blur – I was nervous about being responsible for a child when I was barely an adult myself. Three months after I turned 18, AunaDrew was born and I thought, “alright, kiddo. You’re depending on me and I’m going to take care of you.”

As most moms know, some decisions regarding our kids are easier than others. When I was pregnant, I was being pressured by family to give my baby up for adoption. That was hard. But after AunaDrew was born, I remember one decision being very easy – I was going to raise my child without limitations, especially when it came to gender roles. I would make sure AunaDrew knew that girls could play with trucks and boys could play with dolls, that girls could do everything boys could do. No one was going to put AunaDrew in a box. My determination in this wasn’t a surprise to anyone.

For as long as I could remember there were things that seemed simple to me: everyone deserves basic dignity and rights; people should control decisions about their own bodies; our personal lives are no one’s business but ours.

Before I knew it, gender roles were rearing their heads in our home (so much pink!). Thankfully, kids figure out a way to chart a course on their own while their parents are just trying to make sure they eat, take a bath, and stay out of harm’s way. AunaDrew started asking questions about gender. “Why do girls have to wear pink? Why can’t I play boy games? Why can’t I wear what boys wear?” The conversations got much more complicated as time went on and, eventually, AunaDrew wanted to use pronouns that reflected how they felt on the inside.

Any parent who has had to worry about the safety and happiness of a child must understand the difficult conversations that followed. I had to explain to AunaDrew that some people weren’t going to like that she was now going to use they for pronouns. This was my child telling me who they really are and as a mom I had to be supportive. Then, I saw that someone was trying to put a law on the ballot (Initiative 183, the anti-transgender “bathroom bill”) that would discriminate against my child. As a mom, I knew I would have to speak up and fight for my child, just like any other parent would.

My kiddo is asking the adults in their life to be supportive of their gender identity and some of those adults refuse and cast judgment. As a mom, it is so frustrating to see AunaDrew be unnecessarily hurt by those people and the shaming I receive from other parents is a struggle. Having other parents question my parenting is hard to endure – like all parents, I do the things I do for my kid because I know it is best.

Sometimes I wonder about what it would be like to parent a child who fit neatly in a box and didn’t have to think about things like I-183 making the lives of Montana’s children harder. In those moments I try to remember my determination to make sure no one put AunaDrew in a box. My kiddo deserves to be who they are, just like any other child — to be on this earth and participate in life the way they want to. I-183 threatens that. We shouldn’t be sending that message to any parent. And we especially shouldn’t be telling any child that they somehow matter less.

Madie Youlden, of Billings is a Planned Parenthood of Montana intern.

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