This is Part Two of my journey. You can read part one here
Adjusting to a new reality
At the time I write this post, it has been three months since I received the results of a DNA test that confirmed my dad is not my biological father. A lot has taken place since then, and I continue to navigate unfamiliar situations and emotions every single day. Some days are filled with joy and blessings I never could have imagined; others are a struggle as I try to figure out how to reconcile my new reality with the past 33 years.
One thing I have come to believe is that the universe revealed my new truth to me at just the right moment, and in fact, has been preparing me for it for a long time. A few years after my dad died, an amazing women came into my life. She put her arms around me and has never let go. She taught me to trust again, and that it is possible to have family without blood to connect us. Because of her, I know what a healthy mother/daughter relationship feels like, and I wholeheartedly consider her my Mama now. She walked me down the aisle at my wedding and witnessed the birth of my daughter and son. My kids know her as Grandma and our family bond is deep, despite the fact that we don’t share DNA. I have also spent the last 10 years working with an amazing family whose children are all adopted. They are a normal, loving, rambunctious family, and the fact that the kids and parents aren’t biologically related has no effect on their love for each other.
I have known for a long time, deep down to my core, that genetics aren’t necessary to create beautiful family relationships. From the beginning of this crazy journey, I have never for a single second questioned the bond that I shared with my dad. I never doubted his love for me or my love for him – not once. He will always be my one and only. What has changed is my perspective, and the way I see my past and all I believed to be true. 23andMe revealed a HUGE secret that I’m sure no one ever expected to be uncovered. I have to adjust to living a different life – one with siblings, an unknown number of potential siblings, and a “donor dad” who is a stranger and yet makes up half of my DNA. I have a million questions, and my mind is constantly playing out different scenarios and possibilities. It gets exhausting. But the one thing I cling to in my world that has been turned upside down is that my love for my dad is unchangeable.
Even though my love for my dad can never be taken away, I do feel like the news has taken some precious moments from me. When I found out that I was having a son back in 2015, I couldn’t help but hope that maybe, just maybe, I would see parts of my dad in him. I spent hours wondering if he would have his hands, his smile, his hair, his eyes, his dimpled chin, or his freckles. Something in me wanted to see a physical manifestation of my dad in my son – that genetic connection. When Jack was born, I searched his sweet face and was overwhelmed with joy to see a little dimple in his chin, one of my dad’s most prominent features. I cried out, “He has my dad’s chin!” and was on a high for weeks. I was so grateful to look at my son’s face and see a part of my dad. When I found out that my dad isn’t biologically mine, I felt robbed of that beautiful moment. I try to tell myself that I can still think fondly of my dad when I see his cute dimpled chin, but somehow it’s just not the same.
Trying to understand
One of the first questions that I had was to wonder why my parents used a donor, and why I didn’t find out about it until now. It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that, perhaps unlike other donor conceived kids, I was happy that I found out as an adult. To say it’s been a shock is an understatement, but I still know myself. By nature I am a person who needs answers. I obsess, I research, I ask a million questions. If I had known from a young age that I was conceived via donor, I would have always wondered about my biological father. Who is he, what does he look like, where can I find information on him, will I ever get to meet him, would he ever want to meet me? I am inundated by these thoughts now at 33, but as a child, I was blissfully ignorant. I wasn’t distracted by the idea of another father figure. My wonderful dad was the only father I knew. Since I only got him for a short 18 years, I am happy that the question of another biological father never entered my mind.
The days following my new reality were filled with many late nights trying to understand what it meant to be “donor conceived.” How did it work in the 1980s? Where was it done? What were the regulations? My research led me to websites where I was able to upload my DNA to try and match it with others in the database. I spent a lot of time on the Donor Sibling Registry, which I heard is a great place to find potential siblings and donors. At first, I was excited at the possibility. Maybe I would find other siblings. Maybe my donor was curious about children that were conceived from him. A thousand possibilities played out in my mind. But as I looked through all the profiles, some years and years old, reality hit me that searching could last a lifetime, and I may never get the answers I am looking for. I may have to accept that I will never know how many siblings are out there. I may never know who “he” is.
I learned more about the process of sperm donation in the 1970s and 80s from my brothers. Unlike today, parents didn’t select the donor based on a lengthy, in depth profile. Instead, the doctor selected the donor that most closely resembled the husband. The parents received VERY little information about the donor. It was meant to be as anonymous as possible. All that my brothers were able to tell me is that apparently our donor was tall with blonde hair and blue eyes, and that he was a Berkeley grad student. That’s it. So I am left to wonder. I pray that he was a good man – kind, smart, accepting and loving – someone like my brothers, I guess.
Because there are few records and because by law we can’t see them, our only hope of finding him is the small chance that he takes a DNA test like 23andMe, or one of his “natural” children takes one. And even then, who knows if he would even want to meet the children he created but did not raise?
By far, the scariest thing I’ve learned is there were very few regulations in place back then. There was no limit to how many times a man could donate sperm. I learned that it was common for men to donate on a weekly basis at ALL of the local clinics – for YEARS. We’re talking about hundreds of potential donations. My brothers and I are 4 years apart, so based on that information, we know our donor was donating sperm from at least 1979 to 1983. I could very likely have a crazy amount of siblings out there. Can you imagine finding out that you might have 10, 20, 30 siblings – or more?
My brother, Loren
Loren is the first brother that I found out about – this whole journey started with him. We arranged to meet for lunch in Berkeley on a sunny afternoon. I was nervous and asked my husband before I left, “Do I look like a cool sister in this outfit?” The whole ride down, I was giddy and excited, blasting music and imaging what it would be like to meet my brother for the first time. As soon as I parked the car, the reality of what was about to happen hit me like a train. I was early, so that gave me enough time to walk around for a bit to calm my nerves. It didn’t really work. Instead, I grew more emotional with each passing minute. “I’m about to meet my brother,” I kept telling myself. As a former only child, the words seemed foreign to me. I felt like I was going to cry, or laugh, or pass out all at once.
I got a text that he had arrived, and I started walking to the restaurant, my eyes filling with tears. As I turned the corner, I saw him, and he saw me. Both of our faces lit up with nervous smiles. I saw my face mirrored in his, not just because we were experiencing similar emotions – but because we look like each other. We hugged. I never wanted to let go, but I also never wanted to stop looking at him, so I just kept hugging him with two second breaks to look up at his face. I immediately felt safe, at peace – I felt like I was home. Meeting Loren for the first time was beautiful, and I wish that it had been filmed, documentary style. It plays in my head in slow motion sometimes.
The next three hours were filled with every topic you can imagine as we learned about each other. The conversation flowed easily, and I felt comfortable asking him even the hardest and most complicated questions. After weeks of emotional hurdles, finally something felt easy! Sitting in front of a sibling for the first time was incredible. I recognized my eyes, my smile, my adventurous spirit; I knew instinctively that we could have a lot of fun together.
After lunch, I was lucky enough to meet his beautiful wife and kids. As I watched him shift into father and husband mode, it hit me – this was so much more than finding two brothers. I was gaining an entire family. Between my brothers, I now have five nieces, a nephew, and two wonderful sisters-in-law. My kids have six new cousins, two new uncles, two new aunts – this is so much bigger than just me. And it feels amazing.
More unexpected news
Meeting Loren made me crazy curious to meet my other brother, Tim. Through all of our emails, I could already tell that I had an equally strong, but different, connection with him. “This must be what’s it’s like having siblings,” I told myself. We connect in different ways and on different levels, but the love is the same.
My family and I had a pre-planned vacation to Southern California, close to where Tim and his family live. We immediately rearranged our plans so that we could finally meet. We left at 4:30 am, my children sleeping soundly in the backseat, but I was wide awake. All I could think about was meeting Tim. I tried to distract myself by checking the news and reviewing my email. I was surprised to see that I had a new email from one of the sites I used to upload my DNA. It said my profile was complete – and I had matches. I exhaled deeply. Was I ready for more results?
I logged in. At the top of my list – again – was another half sibling. This time, a sister. I couldn’t believe it. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but every new piece to this puzzle has completely thrown me. For some reason, the news this time made me feel numb and quiet. I didn’t even tell my husband, who sat right next to me as we drove to Southern California, for several hours. I had to process the information. I wouldn’t just be meeting Tim for the first time – I would also be delivering the information that we have a sister.
My mind was spinning for so many reasons. What did this mean? Does she know that she is a donor kid, or will she be blindsided like I was? What if she’s not a donor kid? What if she is a “natural” child and our donor is her dad? In either scenario, what if she wants nothing to do with us? How should we approach her? One of us, or all three of us? There is no guidebook to finding out you were conceived via donor and then approaching your half siblings. At that moment, I wished more than anything there was. I wanted to do the right thing, but the right thing is different for everyone.
I realized that things were different this time. When I first connected with Loren and Tim, they already knew they were donor kids, and had found out about each other years before. They helped me to navigate the next steps. But neither Loren or Tim knew anything about this new sister. We were entering new territory, and I would be the one to deliver the news. I felt a lot of pressure and got a taste of what my brothers must have felt when they first found out about me. I just wanted to play my cards right. I feared that this news was turning her world upside down, just like it did for me. Would she feel excitement and joy? Or would she be shocked and terrified, and not want anything to do with us?
My Brother, Tim
We were staying at a rental on the beach for our vacation. Tim and I arranged for our entire families to meet. When the morning finally came, I paced outside the front of the house. Every time I heard a car approach, I got so excited! Many drove by, but finally, a car pulled into the driveway. My husband and kids heard it too, and they came rushing out of the front door. From then on, it was a whirlwind.
Tim came around the car, and I was there to greet him with a gigantic smile. I could have hugged him all day, but there were six kids exploding with excitement and ready to play. I was on the verge of happy tears, but I didn’t want to freak out the kids, so I tried to keep it together. Tim was calm and measured, and his wife was beautiful. Their four daughters and my two children were so excited to meet their new cousins. I watched with delight as they instantly connected. As complicated as everything was for me, to the kids it was as simple as could be.
The next few hours were crazy as we did our best to parent our kids and also engage in conversation. I was much quieter than I usually am – I was overwhelmed. Amidst the chaos of six kids, I was able to witness Tim be the most amazing dad and husband. It seemed like he never missed a beat. I watched my husband interact with my new brother and sister-in-law, and it felt like such a gift. Our approach to parenting is so alike, and the respect and bond we share with our spouses is so easy to see. We all fit together effortlessly. It was hard to believe this was our first time meeting.
Tim and his family planned to leave in the early afternoon, but he surprised me by asking if they could stay longer to have more time with us. I was overjoyed! I felt like I must have proven myself to be a cool sister and not some crazy person, because they didn’t need their early exit plan. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach, and I have so many beautiful, happy memories of that day. I remember watching our daughters walk hand in hand along the water line…my son Jack and his Uncle Tim dancing to Moana, the rest of the kids surrounding them and enjoying the dance party…connecting with Tim’s wife, Liz, whose joy was infectious as she expressed her excitement that Tim and I had found each other. I felt welcome and happy, and excited for the future. If this is what it’s like to be a sister – count me in.
To be continued…
In my next post, I will talk about my very first family reunion with both of my brothers, connecting with my sister, and confronting my mother – again.
The outpouring of support, love, and kind words from all of you is more than I ever could have imagined. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. It feels so good to be out in the open with my truth. I know this is a crazy and complicated story. If you have any questions, please send them my way via a comment or private message, and I will do my best to answer them all in a Q&A post.
You can read part 3 here.
Thank you to Annika Campos for her collaboration in writing this post.