Meet the Poet – Ash Bainbridge
Ash Bainbridge’s poem “Mumpa” is featured in our anthology “Songs of Love and Strength”. Here Ash tells us how their experiences of pregnancy and parenting beyond the gender binary shaped their poem.
I am an agender parent, student midwife, and advocate for language as safety, progress, and glue. Poetry, for me, is home. The place where I explore the words and grammar that sound best on me. A place where my pronouns are not preferred, they are. And a place where I untangle myself when thoughts and feelings about living outside the gender binary fuse. Poetry is my full-fat, glass-bottled, red-topped cola straight from the ice bucket.
I was raised to understand gender as a binary: where people fall into two neat, opposite forms of masculine and feminine. And, for many, this binary suits them just fine. For me though, gender is a more expansive, luminous, and ever-evolving concept. Gender is a constellation. Gender identities are stars that shine anywhere they please. These stars may even travel over time, explore new territory, or occupy the exact same space as another star. As an intersectional feminist, I celebrate that our universe is plenty big enough for every star to burn brightly.
My identity is agender, which means I do not identify as a man, woman, or anything in between. As such, I am referred to as a person and my pronouns are gender neutral (they/them/theirs). Here is an example of my pronouns in use: “Ash wrote a poem and their work is published in ‘Songs of Love and Strength’. They love their children but pinch their biscuits. Do you know them?”
Childbearing is transformative. Childbearing as a gender creative individual presents unique challenges. Pregnant women are goddesses and I wanted in on that celestial state. As my pregnancies progressed, my athletic, hard-edged, androgynous figure softened and swelled… I did not, however, feel or look like a goddess. I was a blobfish. Instead of glowing and stepping into my power as I was so desperate to do, I believed I was losing bodily autonomy as physical changes – feminizing, feminizing, feminizing – rattled through my body like a runaway train. Yet these changes were also desperately wanted as external signs of a healthy pregnancy.
In hindsight, I needed gender inclusive perinatal care. At the time, I did not have the confidence to share my gender identity with every healthcare professional-cum-stranger I met. My fear of discrimination, hostility, and misunderstanding outweighed my fear of repeated misgendering and lack of support. Cowardly? Perhaps. But outing myself to everyone I met was jading. And when pregnant, I didn’t have much energy to spare.
The impact of gender assumptions and norms slammed into my family. For example, my partner and I restructured our lives so that we could both work and raise our children, sharing our responsibilities 50/50. When I came home from work, he would measuredly rage. About offers made at baby-change stations to learn how to put on a clean nappy properly. About playgroups addressed to “mums and babies”. And about the throwaway, thoughtless, and routine question, “So is Daddy babysitting today?”
When he came home from work, I would try to express my frustration at being “the only queer in the village”; the exact same village we knew we needed when raising children and whose members I respected and cherished. My spikiest frazzle around gender identity from this time is shared by many childbearing people: whether cisgender, trans, non-binary, or gender creative, your pregnancy means your name is chucked straight in the bin. You’re “Mum” from now on. Except, as an agender person, I wasn’t a mum. I didn’t want to be called “Mum” at all. Not even by my children.
The snag? I didn’t know what I wanted to be called.
And then, one day, while sitting at the table eating second breakfast like the wee hobbits they are (half an hour or so after first breakfast and dangerously close to elevensies), one of my toddlers combined “Mama” and “Papa”:
“Mumpa? Wanta needa more toast, pwease.”
My heart soared. How are children so wise?
Writing poetry allows me to make sense of my parenthood. Via poetry, I separate societal expectations from judgements from lived experiences from identities from personally held ideals in a way that my three-year old manage to achieve without much thought over a wedge of jammy bread.
On Instagram, I stumbled across The Mum Poem Press. Their squares seemed welcoming, trusting, and full of personal truth telling. I submitted a poem for group feedback and, in return, received kindness and constructive suggestions. The community’s name, however, planted a seed of doubt. Would I be this welcome if I was known to be a non-Mum?
Hand on heart, I submitted “Mumpa” for consideration in the anthology as a litmus test. If TERFS ran the show, I needed to know and run. But I didn’t act boldly. I sort of hid “Mumpa” behind two more banal poems about infant feeding and feeling affectionate, kidding myself that the editor may not find it and I’d be safe. When Editor Katharine replied with news that my poem about not being a mum was to be published by The Mum Poem Press, my jaw dropped as fast as my pulse raced. Katharine did not just consider and accept my poem. She chose to celebrate and amplify a gender creative perspective.
A few months later, I filmed a short video to promote a journal article I had co-authored about training as a student midwife beyond the gender binary. Unexpectedly, I found myself the target of trans hostility and hatred on social media. The journal’s editor released a statement defending the video, the article, and the platform’s inclusivity principles, a public commitment to allyship that helped me navigate my first online storm. I contacted Katharine. I was confident The Mum Poem Press respected my identity and my work. But, if the time came, were they prepared to stand by my poem and champion gender inclusivity?
The outpouring of love, empathy, support, and reassurance from both Katharine and Art Director Emma was all I needed.
I am proud that “Mumpa” is entering the world as a “Song of Love and Strength”. I am proud that my poem lives alongside works that are clever, touching, and sincere. And I am proud of my choice to share an insight into my queer lived experience as a new parent with The Mum Poem Press.