Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Proud To Be Donor-Conceived

While in the midst of solidifying a profile for our second donor-conceived embryo, we received news: our baby’s only full genetic sibling, a girl, had been born. Her mother posted a picture of the sleeping cherub in her crib. She looked almost identical to our baby as a newborn. It was awe-inspiring but also hurt my heart to look at her. If only we had transferred two embryos, she could have been ours. My baby could have grown up with a twin. (Of course, this is assuming that both would have implanted and the pregnancy would have been healthy and resulted in two babies.) Aside from saying I was both overjoyed and jealous, it is impossible to describe what it is like to look at your child’s full genetic sibling who belongs to another family.

Despite the bittersweet nature of the news, I didn’t want to deny my baby a connection with her only full genetic sibling in the whole wide world, so I sent the mother all of our family’s contact information for safe-keeping. She did the same. Then I printed out the picture of my baby’s new little sister and posted it on the wall in her room. Every time we passed by the photo, I pointed at the little girl and said her name. I also added other images of my baby’s half-siblings (through the sperm donor) and every morning we cheerfully greeted them with, “Hello brothers! Hello, sisters! Love you! See you someday!” As the weeks passed and I saw the delight it gave her to look at their pictures, I decided to put together a photo album of all her genetic half/siblings stickered with their names. My baby loves flipping through it and seeing all her sibs.

At the same time as we were familiarizing ourselves and the baby with her genetic half/siblings, I was struggling with a huge elephant in the room: I still hadn’t told my parents about my new baby’s origins. (And yet, I had started a blog about it, so depending on how often they e-stalked me, if ever, perhaps they already knew?) I knew I needed to tell, out of loyalty to my daughter. I didn’t want her conception story to be shrouded in shame or secrecy. I believe how we became a family was miraculous, and I wasn’t going to hide it just because it didn’t follow the narrative of Where Do I Come From?

I consulted a Facebook group for parents of donor-conceived children (hi, my name is Erica, and I am a Facebook group addict) on how to tell my parents. Someone suggested writing a letter. I liked that idea, because I (obviously) express myself better in writing and it made the “conversation” a one-way statement of fact rather than a question-and-answer session. But mailing a letter seemed antiquated and too formal. Instead, I composed an email and sent a tailored version to each of my parents. It went a little something like this:

Hi Mom/Dad. We wanted to tell you this sooner, but since everyone seemed shocked when we announced we were expecting, we held off. Then there never seemed to be a “right” time.

When we decided to try to have a baby, we faced several challenges. We explored all the methods of having a child and ended up using a double-donor embryo (donor sperm and a donor egg) which was transferred into my uterus during an IVF cycle. The donors are anonymous, but we may explore finding them in the future if that’s what our daughter wants.

We are committed to being open with her and family members about her being donor-conceived. It just took us a while to figure out how to share the news.

We hope this doesn’t change your feelings about her. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask us.

I was prepared for an onslaught of questions. Instead, I received a “No problem. She’s still your baby girl,” from my mom and a “Not at all. Congratulations,” from my dad.

Huh. So that was a lot of fretting for nothing.

I want my daughter to be proud to be donor-conceived. But I still have questions about how to instill that pride in her. Being a parent of a donor-conceived child has shown me how genonormative our society is. People automatically assume families are genetically related and feel free to comment on them. Here are a few comments I've received so far:

“Where did these big feet come from?” – my mom, before she knew

“Does she look like her sisters when they were born?” – the pediatrician who examined our baby in the hospital

“Did any of your kids get this gorgeous hair color?” – my hairstylist

“I was hoping for a redhead!” – the photographer who took my maternity photos when we brought our baby in for a portrait session

“They’re like puppies – where the rest of the litter ends up is not your concern.” – a therapist (who I will never see again) about my daughter’s genetic half-siblings

When people make comments like these, I still haven’t figured out if I should launch into an educational lecture about donor conception or if I should just answer the question as truthfully as I can – i.e. “No, none of my children got my hair color” (which is, oddly, something I never thought about even with my bio daughters) or “Yes, she does look like her sisters at birth” (bio and social, strangely enough).

I imagine new conundrums will come up regularly as this is the first time I have raised a donor-conceived child. As those issues arise, I plan to blog about them. As for anything else? I’m unsure. This blog started as a way for me to process the experience of getting, and being, pregnant with a donor embryo. Now the blog has caught up to real time – so I don’t even have a proper teaser to end on!

I don’t know what will happen next, but I hope you will continue the journey with me.

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