One Hundred (and Three) Swims

There is a version of my life where I start 2018 welcoming a newborn baby. Where I push a tiny human from my body to meet the rest of the world. Where I’m too pregnant to travel over the holidays or too sleep deprived to know which day is Christmas or New Year’s Eve.

That’s not this version, though.

In this version, I start 2018 driving with my partner across the country in a snowstorm. Heading home to the east coast after spending the holidays without a baby in tow.


At my day job, I’m a political organizer. In the partisan world I work in, your life as a political staffer is largely at the whim of other people’s decisions. In my case, I spent most of last winter and part of spring waiting for an election to get called.

By April, it looked like an election was around the corner. May is a risky time to call an election in Nova Scotia. It can either be disastrous or perfect.

Some years it rains March, April, May and into June (and in the worst years, July too). The rain comes at you horizontally. You cannot escape it. You show up everywhere looking like a sad sack. Everyone gets depressed. It’s hard to go out of the house. In an election, your volunteers would be miserable, your candidate drenched, and your leaflets waterlogged.

But, some years, late spring is beautiful. It’s warm, but not too warm. There are misty mornings and some drizzly days, but also lots of sunshine. People start hanging out on their stoops. If, like me, you’re okay with cold water, it’s when you can have your first swim of the year.

In this sunnier version of spring, your election campaign office can be sunny without being sweltering. You can canvass all day and stay just the right temperature. The people you talk to are more optimistic. People remember that summer is a thing that exists. A time that’s coming.

I was preparing to work this kind of sunny May election, when I found out I was pregnant. It was like my body had come into a warm spring after a year-long winter of failing to get pregnant.


Miscarriage is a funny word. It’s like you unknowingly did something wrong. Like when you misuse a word you’re not familiar with, or when you misheard what someone said to you, or when a printer misfeeds paper.

It’s E-23 when I miscarry. Twenty-three days before the election. I was pregnant for so short a time, I’m not sure I was carrying anything more than idea. An idea that I’d been pregnant with for many months. I kept thinking that my mistake had been being hopeful.

I took one day to mourn the loss of that idea and went back to a campaign office where only a few people knew what had happened.

Queer miscarriage comes with other misplaced questions. I haven’t told many people (until now) because how do you answer questions about the mechanics of conception when you’re mourning the possibility of a different world?

While I went about my un-pregnant life, it felt like everyone in my life was pregnant. My friends, including my best friend. The person behind me in line at the ice cream shop. Characters on every TV show I watched. The lab technician who performed the ultrasound during my miscarriage.

Everywhere I went were these swollen bellies that were not misses and not mine.


My mom always told me I was a water-baby. I was born during a heat wave. I would swim until my fingers and toes were shriveled and prune-like.

Riding my bike up St. Margaret’s Bay Road to Long Lake and going for a dip at the end of a summer day is probably the key reason I moved back to Halifax from Toronto.

When I was no longer pregnant, but still working all hours of the day, I decided I’d swim 100 times in 2017. It was something to get me through the long days, and the sadness, and the lonely feeling that my body was a mistake.


For twenty months now, my life has been ordered around a very particular routine that is broken down into the time where I pay very close attention to my body and the time where I try to ignore that my body exists.

For the ten to thirteen days after my period, but before I ovulate, I monitor half a dozen things my body does. The look and feel of my bodily fluids. The position of my cervix. My body temperature when I first wake up. Hours of sleep. Spotting. Whether I’ve had a glass of wine or not. The colour and darkness of lines on many, many ovulation tests.

Everyday, I interpret the data and when the data suggests I am close to ovulating, my partner takes a short drive to a friend’s house, picks up a small jar of sperm, and carefully inserts this sperm inside me using a needless syringe (the less comical and more true to life version of a turkey baster).

We procure sperm for two or three days, and then I commence the part of the routine where I ignore my body and wait for my period to not come.

And for nineteen of the last twenty months, it’s come.

When people find out my partner and I have been trying to get pregnant, I don’t know what they think we do, but I’m not sure it’s this.

When I was no longer pregnant, but still working all hours of the day, I decided I’d swim 100 times in 2017. It was something to get me through the long days, and the sadness, and the lonely feeling that my body was a mistake.


I took my first swim on June 1, two days after the election.

Over the next 142 days, I went for 103 swims. I swam with friends and by myself. In lakes and in the ocean. At all times of the day. In the sunshine and in the rain. Efficiently and leisurely. I even swam at my wedding.

For a swim to count, it had to be a unique trip (a day at the beach was only one swim) and I had to put my head under water.

You can’t check your phone from the middle of the lake. You can’t do any tasks. People can’t call you. You just have to move your body.

The effort of my body falls away when I swim. All I think about are the sensations. The feeling of flying. The coolness of water on my skin. My body is working, but it’s not labouring.

I wish I could experience my body in this way all the time. Only feeling its experiences, and not its effort. I just want it to work, without knowing its working.


When I go to get a hysterosalpingogram, a fancy word for an x-ray of the uterus using contrast dye, the doctor says that my fallopian tubes are clear on one side. This means I can get pregnant. But then, nonchalantly, he says that if they did the test on a different day, the test might show that both sides are clear. Sounds like a flawed test.

Did you know that fallopian tubes aren’t attached to the ovaries? I’m thirty-years-old and I just learned that last year. Picture every image of a uterus you’ve seen since grade school. Do you ever see the fallopian tubes separated from the ovary?

The bodies of women, trans people and queer people are so often left mysterious. So many questions are met with insufficient answers, but never an acknowledgement that most people aren’t looking for answers because our bodies aren’t a priority.


When you’re going for 100 swims, swimming has to be a priority not just for you, but the people around you. I photographed my swims and shared them on Instagram, and it felt like people were cheering me on.

Did you swim today?

How can you swim in this weather!

What number are you at?

More people reached out and asked to swim with me. A lot of people told me they were inspired by my swims. It made them want to swim more too.

I didn’t tell many people why I was swimming, but everywhere I went it felt like I was being lifted up.

On hot weekdays, one particular friend would often text me.

“Lunch swim?”

She’d pick me up and we’d go to the lake, swim, and be back within the hour. While those midday swims were “all business,” they actually involved really solid conversations that made our friendship stronger.

This summer, my partner and I were married at a canoe club. We picked the location long before I decided on 100 swims, but come summer, I knew I’d swim at our wedding. Swapping fancy clothes for bathing suits, four feminist pals joined me for a carefree wedding swim. Is there a better way to celebrate?

A lot of people love swimming like I do. They told me. Asked to join me on swims. Wanted a reason to throw themselves into the water more.

I don’t know all my neighbours. Not very many people know about my life goals, or what I’m hoping to accomplish this year, but it seemed like everyone knew about my swims. While we don’t always share our goals (big and small) with our broader networks, it feels good when people to know about them. I stopped talking about the weather  or about the most current news item with people. We talked about swimming. It was a good change and made me want to talk more to people about the things they’re doing.

Part of queering our understanding of kinship is a broader understanding of responsibility to each other—a responsibility that exists outside of our romantic partners, biological relatives, or the people we share a house with.


In queer communities, it’s common to hear talk of chosen family. Where traditional familial and biological ties might fail in providing support and love, chosen families have served as an important social structure for queer people.

My partner and I chose to try to conceive with a known donor because we wanted to make sure that the people involved in growing our family are people we trust, who care about our well-being, and the well-being of our future offspring. We wanted baby-making to grow our family not just by one baby, but by all the people who helped bring that baby into being.

Queer people have been having babies this way for decades. A friend recently told me his sisters were conceived this way some thirty years ago. Around groups of queer elders, you’ll hear about this person or that person who had a baby in the 1980s turkey-baster style. In the 1980s, there were community-based networks distributing anonymous sperm.

At this point, a baby conceived with the turkey-baster method could conceive their own turkey-baster baby.

Despite this long history of queer baby-making, every health professional I’ve talked to about our route to conception has exclaimed “Wow. That’s interesting.” or some version thereof.


Twenty-five years ago, queer historian John D’Emilio wrote, “Gay men and lesbians exist on social terrain beyond the boundaries of the heterosexual nuclear family. Our communities have formed in that social space. Our survival and liberation depend on our ability to defend and expand that terrain, not just for ourselves but for everyone.”

My best friend recently had a baby. I get to hang out with him whenever I want and I will get many of the fulfilling elements of parenting through my care for him. There are other children and babies in my life who I get to see and watch grow and build relationships with. I want this to be enough, but somehow, it isn’t.

Queer kinship networks were often developed for survival, but for me, queering kinship is also aspirational.

Part of queering our understanding of kinship is a broader understanding of responsibility to each other—a responsibility that exists outside of our romantic partners, biological relatives, or the people we share a house with.

It is about increasing the terrain of family and kin, not reducing it. So we can be more involved in the goals—big and small—of the people around us. And my best friend’s baby can become my family, but it does not need to replace my desire to be pregnant and to bring more children into the world.

The desire to bring a baby into the world is a valid queer desire, but queering kinship and care is not just about babies.

It’s also about fighting against pregnant people being held in prison. Challenging racist practices in state systems that remove racialized children from their families and place them in custody. Calling for universal health care, and education, and child care, regardless of your health, income, or status as a caregiver.

The dominant narrative is that there is no love like the love a parent has for their child, but I’m calling for a world where our love for children is just one of the many ways we express our desire for a better future.


Next year, people will ask me how many swims I’m going for, and I think my answer will be disappointing. I will swim, but I won’t have a goal.

I don’t think it’s sustainable to organize a life around a single goal all the time, whether it’s swimming or baby-making. It’s too easy to get obsessed with the potential for failure.

I have this one friend who swims farther than anyone else I’ve ever swam with. When we swim together, I’m always amazed how swimming across the lake doesn’t feel like a lot more effort than a short swim off shore.

Getting in is the hardest part. Adjusting to the temperature. Trying to go at your own pace, without falling. Avoiding sharp rocks. Not stubbing your toes.

Once you’re in, it’s not so hard to keep going.