My family is proof that it takes a village to raise a child- and eventually three at that. For me, having two parents, two step parents, and one DNA giver is just as complicated as it sounds.
I can’t remember a time that I didn’t know I was conceived by a donor. My parents always made it a point to have my older sister and I know about it.
My mom would tell us: “Your father is your father just as much as I am your mother. You’re just not related to him in the same way you are to me.” Sadie and I would nod. We didn’t totally understand it, but we didn’t care too much for it anyways because we didn’t realize that it was different. At a young age it was easiest to assume everyone else was just like us.
Sadie and I were conceived by the sperm of the same male donor and my mother’s eggs, while my younger sister (who came further down the road) is the child of my mom and my step dad. From the information gathered from my parents (I’ve only seen the actual report a few times), the donor report must have read something like this:
History of Disease:
No Cancer in bloodline
No Sickle Cell in bloodline
No Cystic Fibrosis in bloodline
“There was no donor available with red hair like mine, so we chose the closest thing to it. But he’s German like me, and he has my eye color too,” my father told Sadie and me.
In elementary school, still thinking everyone was made by a donor, I wrote a short story about my family. In the story, I mentioned that I was not biologically related to my dad, that I had an “imaginary dad” somewhere. During parent teacher conferences, my teacher brought it up to my parents.
“One more thing. In her short story about her family, she mentioned that she was not related to her father. You should probably clear that up with her.”
When my mom tells the story of this day, she says that she could tell my teacher was being obnoxiously nosy and only wanted to bring it up to get the inside scoop. My parents never considered the donor a private matter. My dad was still my dad just as much as he would have been if we were related, so it really didn’t matter. Though, my parents responded with a simple “okay” as to not give her what she was looking for.
I remember distinctly that doing punnett squares for my family bloodline in science class was confusing. How could I go home and collect data from each side of my parents’ family to figure out the likelihood of me having certain traits, when I only had a half of the data? I had no idea whether my sperm donor had attached ear lobes or a hitchhiker's thumb! I would make up the data for my dad’s side because it was hard for me to explain to my teachers and they probably would have made me do that anyways.
Once I realized that I was different, I started to feel extremely foreign to the idea of how I was brought to this Earth. As many times as my parents told me the story, I could never find the words to tell someone else about it. It felt unexplainable to myself, let alone to other people. I didn’t feel any sadness or anger about it, I just felt confused and abnormal. I felt weird knowing that my sister and I were alone with this “thing” that we couldn’t describe to people. It was crazy that something could be such a big part of who I was, but also so foreign to me at the same time, like Norman Bowker in The Things they Carried who couldn’t explain the bloodshed he witnessed and couldn’t relate to his hometown anymore- a thing thing that was such a big part of who he was.
In middle school, I started being completely open about it. I figured that having to explain it again and again would help me explain it to myself.
The reactions varied, but the most common (and my favorite one) is:
“Oh my god. You could totally have long lost brothers and sisters somewhere!”
And it’s true. I could have half siblings that I am not aware of. And that was so crazy to me. Who knows how many couples picked his sperm?
And that donor had a life! Maybe he had a wife and even had kids with her. Maybe he’s famous or maybe he has the world record for holding his breath for 20 minutes.
And as I thought about all of this, I realized that I didn’t even care about any of it because I had the best dad and most amazing family without even knowing the donor’s name. This flipped a switch in my head and it took away all the confusion that I was feeling. I thought, What difference do any of these possibilities make? I was not confused anymore because I was content. And I had always been content. I just needed to explore what the donor meant for me in order to come to this conclusion.
My mom recently came up with the clever nickname “Bob the donor” for my mystery DNA sharer. Whenever my sister and I have a trait that does not come from my mother’s bloodline, we blame it on him.
“Bob the donor must have some pretty curly hair because that does not come from my side,” my mother says.
I recently have had a growing interest in finding my half brothers and sisters. I contacted the sperm bank to find out that my sister and I have at least 3 half siblings! Only once, just the other day, did I try and enter my donor number into a database. I have my contact information for my donor sharers to find me as well. Nothing has come up yet, but I will not stop trying.
I wouldn’t have my family any other way. We are different, and that’s just one thing that I love about us. If it weren’t for the donor, I would not be here, and for that I am thankful that I share his genetic make-up. Figuring out what the donor meant to me was a long, but inevitable journey. I now know that it really means very little for the way I live my life. But, whenever someone says I look like my dad, I can’t help but laugh a little bit.