A few weeks ago I dreamt I was one half of a lesbian couple who was trying to get pregnant with donor eggs. All around me, there were pregnancy announcements, and I was crying. I awoke gasping, and clutching my heart. The post-nightmare relief, It was just a dream, phew! never came.
As the sister of a gay man, I have always known I can never know what it is like to be gay. There was neither fanfare nor drama when my brother cacme out. The only thing either of my parents has ever said is that if they could choose they wish he were straight only because life is complicated enough. For the first time in my life — as a straight, white woman, and, dare I say, attractive, slender, intelligent, and born into privilege — I know what it feels like to be part of a group for whom life is extra complicated.
When you’re a straight couple who has a child through IUI or IVF, the circumstances of the child’s conception fade into the background. You’re not going to raise eyebrows with details of your child’s conception, because after his or her birth no one needs to know: your child is your genetic child, and your family history is the same. And if the kid doesn’t look like you, well, it might not matter as much. You know the truth and you’re just glad they’re finally here. No further questions.
But when you build your family with outside help — whether through donor egg / surrogacy, donor sperm, or via adoption — the circumstances of your child’s conception follow you — and them — for life. You must tell your paediatrician about your child’s family history — one you actually know very little about. I wonder if I will ever be judged for using donor eggs — such unyielding criticism can be tough for an adult, but devastating and confusing to a child. And God forbid my child need a kidney or bone marrow transplant, because I would be ruled out as a potential donor. (We will probably bank our baby’s cord blood because of this.)
These are the things I think about. I have to think about them, and now. Before my children have even been conceived. Even while half of their potential is locked in the budding follicles of a young woman I’ve never met.
These days I feel like the parents I can most relate to are gay parents. At least one half of the couple isn’t genetically related to their children and they have almost certainly needed outside help to build their families. There are only two main differences between our family and theirs: 1) it might be less obvious to a stranger that DH and I will have had similar help; and, 2) a same-sex couple might have had more practice fending off intrusive questions or judgment than DH and me.
Sadly, we live in a society that still judges people for the “choices” they make. I say “choice” because I do not believe being gay or lesbian is a choice, anymore than I “chose” to be straight (albeit with a significant curve — why are there are only 3 shades of sexuality to choose from?!) or have a structurally unsound 8th chromosome. Our choices for building our family were:
- Keep trying au naturel, knowing that I am more likely to miscarry over and over again;
- IVF with my own eggs, which seemed like a total waste of money given the odds;
- DEIVF, so that we have control over pre-conception and pregnancy;
- Adoption, something I’ve always wanted to do but isn’t cheap, easy, quick, or even guaranteed.
Simply put, the third option seemed the logical next step in the process. Maybe in some way I can be grateful for having something as final as a genetic disorder. I might not have any hope of ever having a surprise genetic child, but I also don’t have any hope of battling multiple rounds of IVF, not knowing if and when to call it quits and/or try something else. I think that must be a very difficult decision, so in a sense, I’m lucky. By choosing to proceed with DEIVF (and so quickly), we fly in the face of convention. But when have I ever been conventional?
I had a fairly atypical upbringing. By the time I was 11, I’d lived in four countries (including four U.S. states), and been to nine schools. I easily navigated airports, younger brother in tow, and was mortified of having to wear a white passport holder stamped with UNACCOMPANIED MINOR around my neck. I never had a curfew. My parents didn’t mind if I drank alcohol underage, as long as I did so responsibly. They don’t care that I say Fuck a lot, as long as I know when it is appropriate not to say it. We didn’t go to church or any other place of worship. I have always felt too emotional to be British, too foreign to be Spanish, and too eccentric to be American, so consider myself Spanglo-American, but my brother English and my half-Belgian sister Spanish. English is the predominant family language, but it seems normal to chatter in Spanish and French with the occasional visit from Bulgaria and Finland. My brother is gay, and so is my uncle, and so is my step-uncle. My dad is an actor and my mum is an artist — not exactly your typical 9-5 careers — and they divorced when I was 10. Every. single. one. of my relatives is the product of multiple cultures, either by blood, marriage, or geography. Oh, and have I mentioned that I am 6’1″ (184cms) tall? I’ve always felt different and I’ve always embraced it.
So why does it still feel like I’m coming to terms with the idea of having an unconventional family when I already come from one?
I think about the point Dr. H, the therapist DH and I met with for our mandatory psychological evaluation, made: how society has this stereotypical ideal of what a ‘normal’ family looks like — first-married mother (who stays at home) and father (who works outside the home) with 2.3 genetic children — yet most families look nothing like that. Mine certainly doesn’t and nor do any of my friends’!
I am also comforted by how Dr. H commended us on “having done 90% of the healing,” because it further validates our decision to proceed with DEIVF. It is reassuring to know that our attitude towards telling our donor-conceived children about their genetic origins — as an ongoing age-appropriate process, not a one-time conversation — as not only healthy from a psychological standpoint, but also “very much the exception [to the rule]”.
One of my favourite family stories is the time my grandfather learned that my Uncle Fran was gay. Back in the late 60s, my uncle and mum lived together, and she noticed he had men staying the night. When my grandfather learned of this, he summoned my uncle to lunch.
“Francis,” he enquired at the beginning of the meal. “Are you a homosexual?”
“…Yes…” stammered my usually grandiloquent uncle, whereupon my grandfather called over a waiter and said, “Bring me a bottle of your finest champagne. I wish to celebrate the fact that I can talk to my son!”
Who knows, maybe having the ongoing “donor conversations” with my kid won’t be as difficult as I think. They might even pave the way to have other important and ongoing conversations. Who’s to say my kid/s will even care about how they were conceived? They’ll know how badly they were wanted, that’s for damn sure. And hopefully we’ll never need the cord blood.
So maybe I can totally rock the brave new world of donor-conceived children. Assuming the DEIVF works, who better to fly this new flag of unconventionality than someone like me?