Let me start by setting the set the bar low here.
I’m just starting to feel humanish after a bout with a stomach flu, so, if this post makes no sense and seems pretty scrambled, that’s why!
The other day, I read this really inspiring blog post from someone who was adopted.
It was a note to someone with IF (who had presumably reached her limit on IVF) and was considering adoption for pro-life reasons, versus adoption for it’s own merits.
To me, adoption or donation, is about creating a family. The writer, who was herself adopted, touched on empathy, respect and some serious emotional housekeeping if you’re considering adoption.
Seeing as how I am actively engaged in some big time spiritual and behavioural housekeeping, and, I am carrying a child that is not biologically related to either me or DH, it seemed like kismet.
I haven’t talked about the reality of carrying a child that’s not related to either of us for a lot of reasons, mostly due to baby brain, and also due to a genuine comfort with it.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t think about it.
In fact, things have been so hectic and so surreal lately, everything but getting through another day has been backburnered. So when I read this other blogger’s post, I knew I had to use my downtime to reflect.
When we first went down this road, I was shocked someone chose us! Us! Me and DH! Wow. What a gift. Words can never describe my love, gratitude and well wishes for the family that chose to help us.
For those who don’t know or remember, our donation is open, with limits for now. She knows we’re pregnant and what we look like. When we give birth, she’ll know and get pictures (her husband is deceased). We’ll exchange Xmas cards and updates through our counsellour, who helped arrange the donation. We say donation because that’s the term we all agreed on, she wanted it to be a gift and we received the embryos as a gift.
She will tell her two young boys, Smoochie’s brothers, bit by bit, so as not to overwhelm them. We anticipate that adolescence might be the best time to start opening the doors a bit more between the kids, (her kids are older) and they will likely all be very curious about their siblings.
But there’s no pressure to be a ‘family’ or to create a sense of obligation on either end. She’s comfortable with her decision and she trusts us and the feeling is mutual, that’s where things stand right now.
It feels ‘right’.
After the immediate high of being picked, I realized the decision changed things. Not hugely so, but from here on in, the story of our family wasn’t so ‘typical’ anymore, and to be honest, we’d already crossed that bridge when we tried using a sperm donor for a year.
In my experience, once you cross that first hurdle, of having a child with the help of someone outside your relationship, having a child that isn’t genetically related to either of you, is effortless. There was no struggle for us, no deliberation, no pause. We have always believed that any child who comes to us, that we raise, is ours. I really can’t describe it any better than that. But I think you ladies get it, so I won’t waste time trying!
My biggest worry was and always will be for Smoochie.
DH and I are very comfortable with how things worked out and we’re actually excited that we don’t know what we’ll get! Will he be a leftie? A little blonde? (Doubtful, his genetic father was a first generation Italian with dark hair and eyes.) Will he be sporty, nerdy, love music or struggle with ADHD? He comes with no baggage of the past for us and so the possibilities are endless. We also tend to think bio kids are the same: we’re all unique individuals and he’ll be raised by us (and he’s getting bathed in my DNA, and research is now shooing there is more genetic interaction in utero than previously thought)… But in any case, he’ll be who he’s meant to be.
So, I was surprised when early on in my pregnancy, my worry out of nowhere was… will he love us, like we love him?
When I first got pregnant I was on high alert around losing him to another bleed, but also I carried a vague fear that he’d reject me as his mother. That he’d somehow find me lacking or regret that he’d ended up with me. It sounds silly, I know, but this deep seated stuff usually defies logic, so bear with me. I worried that even in utero, he might not love us or see us as foreign or ‘less than’. (Don’t even ask me how a fetus would express all that in my uterus!!)
As I lay spinning or vomiting in those early days, I’d imagine scenarios when he was 13, where he’d angrily lash out at me by saying, “So what! You’re not my real mother anyway!” And my heart would break into a million pieces as I tried to square a circle: I am his mother! But I’m not his biological mother. I’m carrying him. I’m puking for him. I love him. And what about DH? DH isn’t able to carry him but he’ll be a good, loving father. Oh God, I hope Smoochie loves us!
I guess I worried about all that because I was falling in love with him. AKA becoming a parent :-).
Every day, he grew stronger and every week we passed a milestone and all the time, every moment, I loved him more. He became more real, more alive and now I can’t imagine life without him. I love him like I have loved nothing else in my life – that doesn’t take away from my love for DH or my friends or the fur babies, it adds to it, because one day soon he’ll moving about in the world – interacting with all the other people I love. (Sorry to be so mushy – I just made herbal tea with honey and apparently he REALLY likes honey. This is the first time I am feeling him move without ‘props’ like a massage table. It is seriously unreal!!!!!!!! so I’m a sentimental mess right now).
I worried that he might not love us, and I think that lasted for all of a week? I think it’s a common experience in this kind of situation – it’s like the stages of grief, I think you’ve gotta pass through it to get past it. And I think it will come up again, from time to time. I think the key is remembering it’s my baggage, not his.
I also realized that the fear of him not loving us was based on my wanting to sabotage the experience, because I was afraid of another loss, and of being a shitty parent, like my parents were.
That’s almost a separate issue, but I’ll touch on it here, because it is interrelated.
Before Smoochie even came into our lives, during a time when we weren’t sure if we’d adopt, foster or stop completely for a few years, I started down the path of working some of my shit out. Which neither of my parents did when it mattered most (though credit to my Dad, he did get sober when I was 15 and later on it was a huge reason why I had a relationship with him before he passed away).
I will never claim to a) be ‘perfect’ or b) have this all figured out. But I feel pretty confident that I will be a better parent to Smoochie than mine were to me, and more so, that being a better parent than my own isn’t good enough, (admittedly, the bar is pretty low), so part of this journey is that I see it as just that: a journey.
My ongoing journey is to be a better me, for me, and continually work to to come from a place of integrity, compassion, empathy and respect. So while I can’t predict the future, and I will make TONS of mistakes as a parent, any problems between Smoochie and I will hopefully be of the garden variety, honestly earned type.
The funny thing about embryo donation is that depending on who you ask; it’s either a major a life defining event like a traditional adoption, or a super casual exchange between consenting adults.
I think that the latter is how adults like DH and I tend to see adoption or donation and the truth is somewhere in between depending on what stage of life you’re at.
We’re all adults and have a lot of lived experience under our belts, and we also hit a wall in terms of being able to make a baby without help, so while DH and I have a TON of gratitude for the gift we’ve been given, we also see donation as a practical and communal act of family building. So the practicality outweighs any sentimentality. It’s this, or nothing.
But the key word there is ‘adult’.
I’m listening to Simon and Garfunkel right now, The Sound of Silence. And it reminds me of being an earnest 12 yr old and how the first time I heard the song alone, on my headphones, (on a yellow and black sony walkman, remember those!), I cried because it was so beautiful and sad. The world they described, a better, kinder world where we all ‘felt’ each other was not possible because adults are selfish assholes… and in my 12 yr old mind, they eventually made all us kids into selfish assholes, too.
So that’s a long way of saying Smoochie will need us to be his advocates, to see this through his eyes and pave the way for him to understand and feel confident about his origins.
To do that, we have to be open about how he came to be, we have to demystify the process and decision, and normalize it. He’s going to bump against society’s messages that when a man loves a woman they get married, buy a house, make a baby. Blah, blah, blah.
The good thing is that the idea of the ‘normal’ family has changed so much, and really, it’s all about the people you surround yourself with. Though again, that’s my adult thinking coming out! I keep forgetting that as a kid, Smoochie will be exposed to all kinds of people, with different and very opposing belief systems. So it’s important that DH and I lay the ground work early: that he was very wanted, and, how he came about is normal and valid. [Side note: I FUCKING hate the term test tube baby and will slap anyone who ever says it about him – sorry that was a momma bear moment – but luckily our friends don’t think that way, either.]
As he gets older, we’ll share more info as is age appropriate and when he’s ready, we’ll look towards making the first meeting with his biological brothers happen smoothly. And then be there for him as he processes it. (I assume he’ll want to meet them and vice versa).
Honestly, I don’t have a template for how it will all work out in terms of ages for sharing the info, but I do know it will be really organic, like our decision to raise him to be an animal lover. He won’t have much choice if he’s gently surrounded by it in how we live (in both instances!).
Usually I get really planny with timelines, GANTT charts and a colour coded system (I am not joking, binders are usually involved). But from the very first, I realized this was a time for me to not be type A – but instead to go with the flow.
I have a rough outline – and I mainly use the information available for children of traditional adoption as my guide. But I also found the Donor Conception Network out of the UK, and let me tell you: if you’re doing egg or sperm donation it’s awesome, if you’re doing a ‘double’ donation like us, it’s a lifesaver. I’ve bought a bunch of their PDFs called Telling and Talking for different age groups, and DH and I have been reading them while I’ve been home sick and it’s lead to great conversations and sharing.
Unlike with traditional adoption, the circumstances around embryo adoption are really very different. Usually it’s other people who have gone through IVF, so right there, totally different ball game, and usually it’s from having frozen embryos they can’t use for purely logistical purposes – people don’t have 12 kids very often nowadays, combined with an understanding of the pain of not being able to conceive.
In traditional adoption, the reality is that the birthparent had to give the child up for largely economic reasons (or age, addiction, or, war and over population in the case of int’l adoptions).
So a lot of the trauma of ‘why did my bio parents give me up?’ isn’t there.
But there are still issues that pop up and it pays to have a very established stance as a couple about how you’re going to proceed with telling your children. (I am extremely biased and think not telling is lying. I know some people choose not to or some choose to wait, and I don’t want to be that person, but the research is now overwhelmingly in favour of early identification. It is easiest for the kid to process, and DOES NOT negatively impact the parent/child relationship, it strengthens it before problems can set in. However, not telling DOES negatively impact the parent/child relationship. Also I truly believe that if you’re not willing to tell your child, it’s based on your fears and that’s something you need to examine before you get pregnant – I’ll get off my soap box now….).
In addition to using the info out there about traditional adoption for hetero couples, I also look to my gay and mostly lesbian friends for how they handle this stuff.
The great thing about the last two decades is that there are tons of people who are now in their 20’s +, who grew up with gay parents, whose families were built communally. Lesbians have especially pioneered the field, imho. We know couples with genetic material from only one mom, or mom’s carrying each other’s children using the same donor, both mom’s breast feeding; and in the case of a male couple we know, no genetic material from either Dad.
Not to mention all you ladies whose blogs I follow. When you’ve got two moms, it’s just common sense that the sperm donor/father question is gonna come up eventually, so why avoid it or complicate it?
The biggest thing I’ve learned from my gay and lesbian friends is to NEVER let your kid feel ashamed of how they came to be, and that comes from being open and okay with it yourself. People with a limited worldview are always going to exist and to them our Smoochie will be a test tube baby [angry shudder – what is it about human beings that we have to denigrate each other by dehumanizing one another so much?] But my gay friends have also taught me to relax and not over think it, which is why I’m not getting all type A about it.
In terms of the practical side of making sure none of this comes as a surprise to Smoochie, we’ll be talking to him about it from birth. I had planned to do this and thought maybe I was being too gung ho. But to be honest, I tried explaining it to one of the dogs, and I was rusty on the wording. (The dog really appreciated that I took the time to explain it to him either way, then went back to licking his balls). Then I asked DH to practice and we ended up cracking ourselves up. We were both super awkward. Sperm donor? Seed? Nice man? Nice man with seeds? Seeds in my tummy? LOLs. Apparently, according to the literature I was right on track to practice, starting with baby (or dogs) so DH and I are committed to working out a script when Smoochie is little, so we can get into a bit of a rhythm.
(The word choices are the hardest!!)
We’ll also have some books in his nursery rotation from birth. There are two embryo adoption/donation books that I know of (one is super cheesy and I am thinking of writing my own and getting it cheaply printed and then having his picture put in it). We’ll also add in a book about other kinds of families, too. We want him to grow up with similar values to ours and the more of a mix we present to him, the more he’ll feel confident and see a spectrum.
When we read the embryo donation books to him, we’ll keep it light and easy and finish off by saying, “That’s like you!”
We’re keeping it high level and age appropriate. I’m guessing that the questions will start at about 3-4 years of age and that’s when we’ll start sharing that he’s our baby, and we wanted him so much that we got help to make him from a nice lady and a nice man and a nice Dr. (Seeds and garden will be referenced as well, I’m sure!)
When he’s a little older, we’ll share more and again, I plan to keep it high level. Not because I am trying to keep anything from him, but because I think too much information about something so scientific could be overwhelming and confusing.
I see it as building towards more and more information that will answer (I hope!) his questions in a way that reassures him, is honest, and eventually forms into the whole story organically, so that it feels natural and safe. Like he’s always known.
I think the tricky part will be when he’s old enough to understand that the man and lady who helped us by giving us sperm and eggs are his biological parents, but that he grew in my tummy and I’m mommy and DH is his Daddy. (There’s some contention around the use of bio mother or father in the donor world, but I think by about 9 most kids will put tow and two together, so while I don’t plan to use those terms until he does, I am preparing myself for that conversation now).
Later, I think the next tricky part will be when he learns that the man who was his biological father is not alive and that we don’t know, and have no way of knowing, who his biological mother is, as she was totally anonymous and the records are sealed. (The woman who donated the embryos was married to the bio father, but they too needed help to get pregnant the second time, hence the female donor). But we have plenty of time before we get there.
And after that it will be navigating curiosity about his siblings. What if he’s ready sooner than they are or vice versa?
Again, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
In a strange, and completely unpleasant way, this stomach flu was the perfect thing to slow me down a bit and get me to focus on something bigger than slogging through the next day. (That’s how I am choosing to look at barfing so much I couldn’t drink fluids for 24 hours). This was a long post. I apologize. (Also I suspect you’re all used to my rambling by now!) Thank you gals for reading (or skimming) and letting me put all these thoughts down.