Meeting each of my brothers was literally a childhood dream come true. Being an only child can be a lonely existence, and of course I never expected to find siblings at this age. Both brothers have held my hand throughout this process, guiding me through the unknown. The more I get to know them, the more excited I am to belong to this unconventional family.
No matter when or how someone finds out they were conceived via donor, there are questions and significant emotions to wade through. Loren has known for as long as he can remember that he was donor conceived. Tim found out at 13 and I found out at 33. When we discovered that we had a sister, we knew that her experience could be similar to our stories, or something else entirely.
Her name is Andrea. We didn’t know much about her, but we were immediately interested, and also concerned for her. Whether she was learning about being donor conceived for the first time, or was just finding out that she had three new siblings, we knew that Andrea was probably going through a lot. Maybe this was brand new information. Maybe her trust in her family had been damaged. Or maybe she wasn’t donor conceived at all; maybe her dad was our donor.
We were connected via a genealogy website, but hadn’t heard from her yet. The waiting was becoming unbearable, because we wanted so badly to know her. Finally, we decided to work together on an email to introduce ourselves as a group. We told her a bit about how each of us found out we were donor conceived, and that we understood she might be experiencing a lot of new and scary emotions. We tried to express that, although this journey has not always been easy, finding each other has helped to answer so many of our questions. We ended by telling her that we would love to connect with her and would be happy to help in any way that we could.
After the email was sent, we were hopeful that we would hear back right away. But we continued to wait. Reaching out to Andrea and not getting an immediate response taught us that this journey will be very different with each sibling that we find. Not everyone will jump at the chance to meet us. Others might need to go at a slower pace. And that’s ok – we get it. We know that our intentions are pure, and that we come from a place of love. We hoped that message came across.
After more waiting, I decided to send her a Facebook friend request – and she accepted! Progress! But then, it was crickets again…until I posted part one of this blog, where I finally told my loved ones (and the world) the truth about my crazy story. Just three hours after I hit post, she finally emailed us back. That alone made the first post so worth it!
Andrea shared a little bit about herself. She said that even though she’s known she was donor conceived since age 14, finding three half siblings still felt surreal. She admitted that she had no idea how to go about the next steps, and hoped that we could walk her through the process. Lastly, she told us that she is so happy that we’ve found her, and that she wants to get to know us.
It felt so great to finally get some answers about who she is and how she was feeling. More than anything, we breathed a huge sigh of relief that she, too, was interested in getting to know us. The relationship is still very new, and Tim, Loren and I are excited to see where it goes.
Confronting my mother
As my relationship with my brothers strengthened, I started to feel more comfortable identifying as a donor kid. But my curiosity about my history – how I was conceived, and why that choice was made – continued to grow. I also felt a responsibility to my brothers to find out whatever I could in hopes that it might lead us to our donor. Every little piece of information about a donor can be one step closer to finding them. My brothers have spent years of their lives wondering who he is. If it was in my power to help, I wanted to do that, even though I wasn’t ready to know him myself. If I was going to get any answers, that meant confronting my mother – again.
Before I contacted her, I thought long and hard about my approach. I practiced and rehearsed what I would say over and over again. It was important to me to set the conversation up in the right way, so that she wouldn’t automatically go to a place of anger or defensiveness. My mother is not a reasonable person, and so I knew I had to put extra effort into this conversation.
I called her on the phone. I made sure that my tone was calm and non-threatening. I told her that my dad’s family members had undergone DNA testing, and that the tests confirmed we are not genetically related. I also told her that further testing proved that my brothers and I are indeed half siblings. I desperately tried to help give her the right words to say to make this conversation easier for both of us. I said that If they used a donor because my dad was infertile, that was ok. If he was fertile, but didn’t want to pass his health issues onto potential children, that was ok, too. I explained that I wasn’t mad that I hadn’t been told as a child, but now I am an adult. Now I know the truth. I just want to know my history, and I deserve to know what happened.
Despite my careful wording and having the best of intentions, all she could do was yell at me. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but a part of me still was. “You are just ridiculous,” she told me angrily. “What would make you do this?! Why would you ever take a test to learn about your ancestry? Why do you need to know about your health?! You should have just asked me!” She continued to deny my claims, saying that she wanted to see proof of the test results herself.
I tried to remain calm. “This conversation isn’t about whether he is or isn’t genetically my dad. It’s about why he isn’t.” But she wouldn’t budge. As it became horribly clear to me that she wasn’t going to admit the truth, the little girl inside me started to come out. The little girl who felt helpless, and wondered why her mom continued to hurt her at every opportunity. The little girl whose heart was already covered in scars. I felt the wounds opening again.
I broke down crying, pleading. “Please, please tell me! I need to know where I came from! I feel so lost not knowing!” I was overcome with desperation. She had to tell me – she just had to. No one else had the answers to my past. What would I do if she refused? Over the years, I had developed a thick skin to the cruel things she said and did, but this time, my emotions got the best of me. I absolutely fell apart. I continued to cry and plead with her. She didn’t care.
Then – something happened. The Mother in me, who is stronger and more powerful, came out to protect that little girl. “How can you do this?” I asked her. “Your little girl is crying and pleading with you, and all you can do is yell at me! Not once have you asked me, ‘How are you doing with this shocking news, Jaclyn? I’m so sorry you had to find out this way. Let me explain it to you and try to help you feel better.’”
There was a brief pause on the other line. I held my breath, hoping against hope that maybe she would be human for once. “It is none of your business, and I will never talk to you about this.” Then, she hung up on me.
I cried uncontrollably. I knew that she would probably never give me the information I wanted – the information that I needed. This was exactly the position she had always enjoyed – she held all the power and I was completely helpless. Without having any answers, my mind went in every direction. The fact that she wouldn’t take the obvious route – to explain to me that my parents had trouble conceiving but very much wanted a baby – made me think that the reality was much more complicated. Did she use a donor behind my dad’s back? Did she cheat on him? What possible scenario could be so terrible that she wouldn’t admit the truth, despite all the scientific evidence I had presented?
I texted my brothers, needing support, and Tim called me immediately. I told him the whole story in between sobs. I told him that I was so sorry that I couldn’t get any information to help us find our donor. I felt like I’d failed them, even though they never asked me to make the call. Tim immediately replied, “I would rather never find our donor than ever have to see you go through this pain again.” I was completely taken aback by the protection Tim felt for me and his selflessness. Ironically, this painful interaction with my mom ultimately revealed to me the true love and support my brothers feel for me. Shortly after my call with Tim ended, Loren texted me: “I’m really happy with what we have. Everything else is just icing on the cake.” I truly have the best brothers.
A different kind of Family Reunion
About two weeks after we returned from meeting Tim, he and his family drove up to Northern California to spend time with me, Loren, and our families. It would be a big family “reunion” of sorts, but in a way, it was more special than that. Our genetics connected us in that we all started from the same place, but this was bigger than genetics now. We were choosing to unite as a family moving forward.
My anticipation could not have been greater. I even canceled a pool party at our house the week before, terrified that one of my kids would get sick from interacting with other children. The day finally came, and we drove to Healdsburg to meet everyone for lunch. We hit traffic on the way, and I could not stop squirming in my seat. “Why today of all days?” I wanted to cry out impatiently. We got there late as they were finishing up their food. I was too excited to eat much, anyway, and all eight cousins were eager to play. Luckily, there was an open field nearby, and my husband and two sisters-in-law took the kids out to run around. With the long trip behind us, and the chaos of all the kids at bay, I was finally experiencing the moment I had waited so long for. Me, Tim, and Loren. Just the three of us, like normal siblings, hanging out. A moment that might seem mundane to anyone watching us was incredibly special, and the start to an amazing few days together.
My husband later told me it was surreal to see me and my brothers together for the first time. Our families fit together seamlessly and everyone was automatically open, accepting, and trusting. With six adults and eight children, we rarely had a quiet moment all weekend, but everyone was incredibly joyful. It was beautiful chaos.
My favorite moment took place on the last evening when the kids were inside watching a movie and eating popcorn, and the adults were sitting out on the porch. Everyone was laughing and giving each other a hard time as we sipped on some drinks. After a little while, our spouses went inside, and it was just the three of us again, together under a beautiful night’s sky. We talked about everything – I wanted to make up for the last 33 years and find out all that I could. What was their biggest regret? Favorite book? Best concert? Biggest adrenaline rush? I could have stayed up all night listening to anything they had to say.
Loren’s wife at one point said something that will always stay with me. She told my husband, “I love that she’s doing this – asking all these questions and causing the boys to get to know each other better.” Loren recently texted me and said that this entire experience has really forced him to reflect on his feelings about being donor conceived. It seems that not only are we getting to know each other, but in many ways, we are getting to know ourselves. I can never truly express the sense of belonging my brothers have given me.
Luckily, Loren and his family live close by, so we have been able to enjoy several family get togethers – BBQs, hang outs at his cabin, and I even got to visit him at the fire station where he is a firefighter! In November, I will travel to Southern California to spend more time with Tim and his family. I absolutely cannot wait!
After the conversation with my mom that led absolutely nowhere, I wracked my brain, trying to figure out if there was anyone else who might be able to give me some answers. My dad had been married previously for 13 years before he met my mom, but they never had any children. When I was growing up, he explained that his ex-wife never wanted kids, so that’s why they split up. I met her once, at my dad’s funeral. She came up to me, tears in her eyes, and said she was so happy to meet me.”Your father wanted a child so badly, and I’m so glad he had you.”
For many years, I wished that I had her contact information. Not many people knew my dad so intimately. I had long wished to pick her brain. But I didn’t even know her last name. In my grief stricken fog at 18, it didn’t occur to me to ask her for more information. Apparently she had remarried years ago, and no one on my dad’s side of the family could recall her new last name. If I could find her, maybe she could answer some of my questions. Did she really not want kids? Or were they unable to have them on their own?
I contacted a Private Investigator with the little information that I had: her maiden name, their wedding date, and her age at the time they got married. I didn’t have high hopes. I had been looking for her on my own for years. I didn’t even know if she was still alive. But I was completely shocked to receive an email just days later with a name and a phone number. Could this really be her?
My heart was pounding. I picked up my phone immediately and dialed the number. She answered on the first ring. “Is this Sandi?” I asked, a slight quiver in my voice. “Yes,” she answered pleasantly, “Who is this?” I took a deep breath. “This is Jaclyn. Gary’s daughter.”
I knew from our interaction at his funeral that she would be happy to hear from me, and she was. The conversation with Sandi was all that I dreamed it would be. We both shed happy tears remembering my dad and I could hear her love for him in her voice. It was such a gift to be able to speak with someone who knew him, who loved him, who spent over 13 years of her life with him.
I asked Sandi if she and my dad ever wanted kids. There was a pause. “We tried to have children for ten years,” she said sadly. “We never knew if the problem was me or if it was him. Testing just wasn’t something that was done in those days.” My heart broke for them. How awful it must have been to want children and try, unsuccessfully, for ten years. What a toll that must have taken on them and their marriage. “I had no idea,” I told her. “I’m so sorry.” They were married during the 60s and 70s, and in those days, sperm donation was far from common. She said they never even considered it.
Sandi and I agreed that I would visit her very soon. Finding her was like coming upon a treasure trove of memories of my dad. She has already shared some amazing information with me, and I look forward to meeting her again in person.
I may never have all of the answers that I seek, but speaking with Sandi has given me a measure of peace. From all that I’ve found out, it seems that my dad was not able to have children for some reason. But it is clear that he wanted them – he wanted me – very much. As a parent, I can imagine what a joy it would have been to finally have a daughter after so many years of trying unsuccessfully. I am proud to be the daughter that finally made his dream of being a father come true.
I’ll probably never know for sure why my parents didn’t tell me I was donor conceived, or if my dad ever planned to tell me as an adult. I do know there was a stigma of shame attached to sperm donation and infertility back in the 1980s. I think I can safely assume that my parents wanted to protect me from that stigma and let me live life like any other child.
When I took the 23andMe test, I wanted to learn more about my background – and did I ever! I could never have imagined all that would be revealed by a simple swab of saliva. A part of me will always be sad that my dad and I aren’t genetically related – that is a loss that I will carry forever. But when I look at all that I’ve gained, I can’t help but feel grateful that I finally learned the truth. I now have an entire family – brothers, a sister, sisters-in-law, nieces, and nephews. My children have more cousins, aunts, and uncles. In my search for answers, I’ve uncovered new information about my dad, and in some ways, feel closer to him than ever. I was his dream come true.
In sharing my story, I have gotten so much love, support, and feedback from others, including other donor kids who can relate to my journey. In many ways, this is just the beginning – being donor conceived means that I could be surprised by new family members at any time, over and over again. I truly don’t know what the future holds for me. But despite all the unexpected twists and turns of this journey, I consider myself lucky. I couldn’t feel more grateful for this crazy, beautiful life.
Thank you to Annika Campos for her collaboration in writing this post and her love and support. 25 years strong!