(Photo courtesy of Unsplash: Liane Metzler)
Now I’m not one to let questions sit and fester. I’m the chick who breaks them down, pulls them apart, analyses them from all angles so I can learn what I need to learn and move on. I have a burning need to understand their origins, assess their impact and be an all round better human being for having asked the question of myself in the first place.
So this one was massive for me.
It was seriously hard to say the words in my own head, even harder to have the courage to say them to my husband so writing about it and sending it out into cyber space is no small feat.
But if one donor mum reads this and becomes a better mother because of it, or one donor conceived child reads this and learns about a perspective they hadn’t considered, then it will all be worth it.
Let me start with a little context. Rosie was 10 months old and seriously adorable. Chatting away to passers by from the comfy seat in her pram. Giggling her heart out when her Dad rasberrys her belly after bath time, squealing at dogs, babies and yoghurt. And warming my heart when she crawls up into my lap and plants her forehead against mine to give me a kiss (read open mouth slobber on my eye). And me, well I’m teaching her to sleep, to eat, to cuddle, to kiss, to read, to clap, to wave, to brush her teeth and to try to be gentle. It’s a beautiful life.
So what’s the big question? Inhale. It was a normal Monday, Rosie and I were hanging out and it was time for a snack, so I start feeding Rosie her yoghurt and I feel shocked to my core when the question “Are you mine?” pops into my head. Freaked. Me. Out.
Skip to that evening. Baby Rosie is asleep, dinner is cooked, eaten and cleaned away and Adam and I are sitting around rehashing our daily events. A bit of this, a bit of that. And, I say. “So I had a moment today that was weird. Erm, so I thought, just for a brief second, ‘What if Rosie isn’t mine?'” Gulp. “What if she isn’t mine?”
“What do you mean babes? Of course she is yours.”
“Yes I know she is, but she’s also someone else’s, isn’t she?”
We hug, I cry, we talk some more.
So the next day, I go on a mission to find out two things
1) is this normal for donor parents to think this way? and
2) what the heck can I do about it?
By chance (I’m not one for fate, psychics, fairies, god or karma) I open a book I am reading written by the incredible psychologist Diane Ehrensaft, PhD called “Mommies, Daddies, Donors, Surrogates. Answering Tough Questions and Building Strong Families”. And the page is ear marked at Chapter 4 which I am about to start.
Chapter 4: “You’re Mine…or Are You?” I burst into tears (of happiness). Mission 1) check. It’s normal. Come on now Diane, tell me what to do!!!!
I couldn’t read fast enough. Diane is wonderful. She takes it slow, she explains it from all angles and she is gentle, realistic and thorough. But she doesn’t tell me what to do. How can she? This is my journey. But she asks some awesome questions and suggests I answer them and then Adam answers them too and then we talk about it. She wants us to connect.
So here’s what I learned.
Firstly that there is a technical non warm-and-fuzzy question that gives me my answer to “is she mine?”
Cut and dry, black and white, no messing around. “Who are the intended parents?”
Did we intend to be the parents to Rosie? Did I intend to be her mother? Or did our amazingly generous egg donor intend to be Rosie’s mum? Okay so that makes it easy. Yes I absolutely intended to be Rosie’s mum. And no our egg donor didn’t. Okay so she is mine. Phew. But that alone didn’t unpick it for me. The raw emotion was still there.
So I keep digging and my a-ha moment is just a couple of pages away. Diane makes the distinction between “belong” as in “do you belong to me?” and the “feeling of belonging” as in “do you feel like you belong?”
I exhale. Yes, now I was getting somewhere. My “is she mine?” question did a 180. It is no longer, does Rosie belong to me? My question is now beautifully reframed as “how do we create a family life that fosters love and belonging?”
So after talking it through with Adam, here is where we are going to start…
We will share our questions and fears, bravely and openly.
We will put our questions, our fears, our worries and our insecurities on the table and we talk about them, as a family. We will listen, we won’t judge and we will stay curious. Because if we don’t, these big hairy questions will fester and multiply in our minds like an after midnight scene from Gremlins.
And we will talk about it. All of it. Especially the hard stuff.
Diane says beautifully that “Exploring in depth the feelings surrounding “mine”, “yours”, and “ours” sets a firm foundation for future family life.” She’s a wise woman that Diane.
We will talk about what makes our family a “family”.
There are so many family structures I lost count trying to list them. From steps, to halves, to two dads or two mums, surrogates, donors, single parents, adoptive parents and if you live in Utah, well, you could possibly have four mums and one dad really.
For our family structure, which includes our egg donor, well, we include her in our story, because she is part of our story. A very important part.
Whether your donor is an active part of your life or anonymous and out of reach like ours, they are part of what makes your family a family. Diane says that “By definition, the family matrix dictates that you strive to be clear about who belongs in your family and in what way. There is no one right configuration, but the family matrix works best when all the pieces fit harmoniously, at least as much as possible…an harmonious family matrix is better thought of as an ongoing work in progress.”
Rosie will hear her mum and dad talk about our donor and Rosie will feel welcome to do the same. We will talk about what she means to our family and we will stay curious to Rosie’s thoughts and questions. Beautiful, important conversations that will continue as Rosie starts to grow, to talk and learn of her origins.
We will explore what it means to “belong” in our family.
I heard a beautiful story about two young boys who translated an English dictionary into the Star Trek language of Klingon. They didn’t dare tell any of their school friends for fear of being bullied, but one of the boys mothers found the book. She approached her son on his project. He was embarrassed. What did her parents do? Not only did they not laugh or judge, they dressed in full Start Trek kit and took the boys to a Star Trek convention, promoting the dictionary. Proud as punch. Now that is belonging.
That is what Adam and I want for Rosie, for all of us. Like we all belong in our family. No matter what. Just as we are. Klingon translations are completely welcome here.
Diane’s book talks about mothers or parents of donor conceived children having a unique task of creating a strong sense of love and belonging in their family. For me though it’s not unique. Creating a strong sense of loving and belonging should be the role of every mother, every father, every son and every daughter. And it starts with talking about it. Talking about it all. And as Rosie grows up, hearing what she thinks, listening to her questions and working it out together. We will talk about our donor, our fears, our dreams our love and our worries, because if we don’t they become bigger than us and they change how we parent which changes how Rosie shows up in the world.
With love x