As Gail mentioned, we went to a workshop on talking to kids about donor conception last weekend. It was organized by the Massachusetts RESOLVE chapter and was very well done. I highly recommend checking out such a workshop if it is available in your area, and for those in MA, this is a repeating event.
At one point in the workshop discussion, a mother of twins via gestational surrogacy and donor eggs talked about how when her children were babies, she knew she would need to talk to them about their conception, but her constant worry and rumination about how to do so started to take over her entire relationship with them. She couldn’t stop thinking about their conception and birth, about how to help them understand it, and because she was so preoccupied, there was no room for her to parent them freely, even though they were too small to understand anything she might have said. She decided she needed to focus first on her own relationship with them, and developing a secure attachment with them. It turned out that a couple years down the line she was coming from a more secure place, and when they were at the ripe old age of two or three, she was better able to talk to them about how they came to be.
Her story struck me in particular because parts of it sounded familiar to my own experience during Leigh’s infancy.
Just after Leigh’s birth, I was actually doing well. I was getting to know my baby, finding my footing as a new mother. I particularly relished the time that I had alone with her, caring for her during the day, and the satisfaction and security that came from social validation of my role in her life. Gail and I were learning to parent together, and starting to have a sense of the kind of parents we were and the kind of family we were building. My worries about my place in our family as a non-bio-mom were quickly falling away.
But then, when Leigh was seven months old, that fledgling security was shaken to the core. We found out that at least two people knew our donor number and that one of those people was pregnant by the same donor. A door was opened to information that we thought we had kept securely private, and suddenly we had information about Leigh’s genetic relationships that we hadn’t wanted to know, and hadn’t sought out. For another family, or another NGP, this might not have been a big deal. But for me, at that particular time, it was devastating.
When I look back, I see how I was so desperately in love with Leigh, but deep down, still had a fear that she wasn’t really mine. I craved any and all possible connection with her, any kind of validation of her place in my life or mine in hers. Now, suddenly I was forced to acknowledge that there were other people out there in the world and even within my own social circle who were arguably more strongly connected to Leigh than I was.
I was absolutely gutted. That night I clung to my baby and sobbed.
What sounded familiar to me in the mom’s story at the workshop was her description of knowing she was “supposed” to be doing something that it turned out she couldn’t do, and that trying was hurting her relationship with her kids. After that disclosure when Leigh was a baby, I felt so many complicated things. One was was that I was being watched, that suddenly our entire community knew something about us, and about our daughter, and now they were going to watch how Gail and I handled it and pass judgment. I knew we were “supposed” to be open, and I felt there was an expectation out there that we were “supposed” to be connecting with donor siblings. I imagined that suddenly the protective bubble we’d built around our family both to protect our kids information, and to give me in particular space to nurture a relationship with our daughter, was being judged by “everyone” as wrong and backwards, that we were ruining our daughter by being too defensive. I felt that no matter what we chose to do with this information, we were doing it wrong and everyone knew, where mere days before we had been a happy and healthy family.
I got good advice at the time to set aside thoughts about the donor, siblings, or a possible pregnancy (one of my many reactions to the information was to want to have our second baby, via the same donor, ASAP) and to instead focus on my relationship with Leigh. If I could come from a place of strength, then it would become clear later on how to proceed. Even if people were watching, it was our family that mattered anyway.
I did just that, and my relationship with Leigh flourished. On about the same timescale as the woman who spoke at the workshop, things got better. Now, three years and another baby later, though I still remember vividly how I felt then, it is from a distance, and a place of security. We are in a much different place.
Before Ira was born, we wrote about a shift in how we thought and spoke about our donor within our family, towards more openness and frank discussion about his existence, and hopefully a real acknowledgment of that connection between our kids. Even that was a change, but now that Ira has been here for nearly eleven months, things have shifted again. The presence of donor siblings that once felt so threatening, now feels like an opening, and maybe even a resource. We’re not sure where this is going, but the iron clad lock down that started when Leigh was 7 months old is lifting. We don’t know how much we’ll share here, but I do know that now that the possibility of connecting with people who have a genetic link to our kids is a choice that we can make ourselves, from a place of security and strength, it doesn’t seem so scary. I don’t feel those eyes on us anymore. I just see my wife, and our kids, and a new path opening before us.