Having blind faith to trust a total stranger and break down the barriers to accept a new kind of family.
In the years leading up to my decision to become a single mother by choice (SMC), I noticed the topic of donor insemination (DI) children seemed to hit the mainstream consciousness. Feature films, documentaries, books, and even news stories – all with a subject matter relating to DI families, both the pros and the cons. I have no doubt that the public awareness, and subsequently the increasing acceptance of DI and SMC, did help inform my decision to move forward knowing that my child wouldn’t be a total anomaly in his paternity.
Once I became pregnant I signed up for the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR), but only as a lurker. I decided not to enter a profile since I wasn’t sure I wanted to open the door to that kind of contact. I did look up my donor’s number and saw that there was one person with a profile for the same donor who was also pregnant. I was curious but cautious so didn’t reach out.
Knock, knock! Who's there?
Then seven months in to my pregnancy I received an email from the nurse coordinator at my fertility clinic. She had received an email through a somewhat circuitous route from a mother who had a child from my donor and was looking to connect with other families with children from the same donor. She was also the same person that I’d seen in the DSR profile. The nurse wanted to know if I was interested in making contact.
It was an unexpected and jarring email to receive. I felt very protective of my situation and was suspicious of the motives of this other person. What did she want? What if she’s a lunatic? Would I be opening a Pandora’s Box that I couldn’t close? What if her child was ill and she was looking for a genetic match for some reason? As much as I’d like to think I would give of myself in those situations, thinking about giving of my unborn child was an entirely different thing to consider. No, I didn’t want to have contact. Not now. Not while I was pregnant and getting ready to become a mom on my own. It was too fraught. Too terrifying.
A change of heart
But once my son was born, it all shifted. Now that I looked into my beautiful baby’s face and knew that he had a biological half-sibling out there, I couldn’t help but think about it. Around the same time the Other Woman (as I’d started to call her) contacted the nurse coordinator again. This time the nurse forwarded the email to me and said she would leave it in my hands. I thought about it for a couple of months and then decided to trust in humanity, give the Other Woman the benefit of the doubt, and respond. I opened a generic email account and sent her a note. I didn’t use my full name, didn’t tell her where I lived, didn’t give any details about my son. I let her know that, with all due respect and honesty, I was curious about her and her reasons for getting in touch but wasn’t sure about regular or ongoing contact.
Turns out I was wrong. She wasn’t a lunatic. She was also an SMC to a little girl, my son’s half-sister, and since her daughter had been born she was exploring and struggling with the idea of family and wanted to keep all possible doors open. I felt like I could relate. We shared a number of emails during the first couple of months, both of us keeping it very respectful and talking of our experiences, how we had gotten to the point of deciding to be SMCs, and asking a few cautious questions about each other’s children, always with the asterisk of, “Please don’t feel any obligation to answer this, but…” What color were his eyes? What color was her hair? What was his temperament like? Was she a good sleeper?
I cried the first time I saw a picture of her daughter. She looked so much like my son. I was absolutely floored. His beautiful red hair had been a surprise to me. Where had it come from? I’d even had a fleeting moment of wondering if they’d mixed the files up at the clinic, but just as quickly decided I didn’t care. But her daughter had the same hair. And the same nose. And the same lips. And she had briefly wondered the same thing about the hair, but also decided it was irrelevant. Before we began writing I had wondered if this little girl actually counted, if they could really be considered half-siblings given the circumstances of their parentage and the anonymity of the paternity. But now I knew it did count. They share the same DNA, they may have some of the same personality traits, foibles. Maybe even a shared sense of humor. My son has a sister.
A different kind of extended family
So the Other Woman and I now share emails once every month or two. We give updates, send along a picture of the kids, share our most recent challenges and delights, give support, and find comfort in contact with someone else who totally gets it. We don’t live in the same city, but I imagine we’ll meet some day and I imagine our kids will meet as well. Neither of us seems in a rush to make that happen though. I’m of two minds about it. Part of me feels like it would be best to introduce them to each other when they’re little, so they can grow up with their half-siblings being a fact of their existence and perhaps it won’t be such a huge thing for them to wrap their minds around. But the other part of me feels they are owed the opportunity to decide for themselves if they want to meet, and we should wait until they’re old enough to be able to consider the meeting for themselves. And so, for now, we wait.
There is now a new family on the DSR. Another half-sibling born to two parents. Another sister. I’ve had one email from them and they’ve decided not to maintain contact with myself or the Other Woman until their daughter is old enough to weigh in on the conversation. I respect their decision one hundred percent. I’m glad they made contact and I hope they do again in the future when they’re ready. Regardless, I think the Other Woman and I will always be in touch. We share a unique bond: Graciousness towards our donor, compassion towards each other and the choices we’ve made, an understanding of how we got here, and our amazing little humans. Confirmation of the lesson for me that family comes in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes it even includes the Other Woman.
MamaSolo lives in Canada with her 20-month-old son. When not pulling him down off of high ledges and other precarious perches, she works part-time at an entertainment research company. The rest of her days are filled with walks in the park, play-dates, grilled cheese sandwiches, navel contemplation and laundry. Lots and lots of laundry. And she wouldn't have it any other way. You can follow her on Twitter @MamaMamaSolo