When people see me out and about with V, their third question is always Does red hair run in your family?
The short answer is no.
I’ve got quite good at deflecting the question. Outwardly, I smile and let them know DH had red hair when he was three; but I say nothing about Nellie’s grandmother’s red curls, which is where I actually attribute V’s red curly hair coming from.
My own hair, a dark blonde, seems so drab next to her copper. There is no red hair in my family. This innocent question is another reminder of the journey I’m on.
Recently I watched The Affair. In one of the episodes the cuckolded wife learns something painful and you see the shock and disbelief on her face moments before she loses her fucking shit. I was taken back to the day where I learned just how low my AMH is. I remember, all too vividly, the ringing in my ears, growing dizzy, sitting weakly on the edge of my bed and managing to forewarn my husband that I was about to lose it. I could see the deep waters being sucked back and knew I was powerless to stop the surge. Moments later the emotional tsunami hit. Almost 18 months later, I have rebuilt, but there is debris strewn about the landscape. I acknowledge the the pain of my loss and infertility can coexist with the joy of nurturing V. Most of the time she even eclipses the memory of Bean.
DH and I are now fairly open about our decision to do DEIVF. It’s not the first thing we say about our daughter, but if it comes up we share how she was conceived. Some DE parents feel that who knows is a choice their child gets to make, but for our family we’ve decided we don’t want it to feel like a big deal. And not being open feels like we’re hiding a dirty little secret.
Not to mention, if anyone is going to be a jerk about how we chose to build our family, I’d rather they be a jerk to me, not my kid.
I am careful to use positive language. For example, I do not describe my daughter as “a donor egg baby” (it may be part of her story, but she is not defined by this) or say I “turned to egg donation” (which sounds like a resigned last resort) — rather, I say “I conceived thanks to the kindness of a wonderful young woman” and that “we chose egg donation.” By using positive language, I’ve found that everyone — apart from one woman in my lactation support group, whose disapproving shock rendered her speechless, something that haunted me for a couple of days — has received the news of V’s conception wholeheartedly. My experience tells me that people take their cue from you. If you’re comfortable with it, and show that you found a wonderful solution to a problem, and Now look! Here’s this sweet baby! then I think people will, for the most part, respond in the same vein. It gets easier every time. (I’m still not comfortable with people discussing our DEIVF when I’m not present, and that’s something I’m working on.)
But V looks nothing like me. And her beautiful red hair, which attracts so much attention, causes me to pause and deliberate whether now would be an appropriate time to tell the asker the truth. With raising a child conceived thanks to DEIVF comes the resposibility of healing my cracks whilst simultaneously paving the way for my baby girl. I have already begun telling her about Nellie, and this also gets easier every time.
Over the past year or so, a number of people have reminded me that their kid looks nothing like them either. I know this is meant well, so it has never upset me. But it’s never quite been the comfort that the person intended it to be either. I’ve thought about this for a long time and have figured out why not. My child not looking like me is nothing to do with narcissistic disappointment that I haven’t replicated a ‘Mini Me’ — it’s a reminder of the journey.
Most of the time I don’t flinch. But occasionally something — a question, a scene from a TV show, a family meal where I’m the only one at the table not to have shared my genes — makes me flinch. I may no longer be in the trenches but I’m dusting off the dried-on mud.
But then I look at my sweet girl with her striking colouring. She’s a bright-eyed little thing who has just learnt to suck her fists and deliberately communicate. She looks back at me with a big Manga grin, and we gurgle and coo at each other. She wakes me in the morning with an Eh! to let me know it’s time to eat. And when only mama will do, she wails Nnnnnneh! I love these early conversations. They’re the first of many we’ll have, most of which won’t have anything to do with how she came into the world. Or, for that matter, her hair.