This week I am sharing another original piece, but this one is a bit more personal. This piece is about coming to terms with my familial history and somewhat ‘unnatural’ conception.
How Much did Your Father Cost?
Her face was slightly thinner than mine, her cheeks a bit more pink, and her hair a shade yellower, but the girl staring back at me was undoubtedly my sister. She was a shy five year old at the time and as I, an intrepid six year old, bounded toward her, she shrunk back into her mom’s arms.
I reach out with my pudgy two year old hands, grabbing for the wide-eyed fawn that looks back at me. My mom gently pushes my hands away as she carries us, one babe in each arm.
I was born into a family of two mothers, three dogs, two rabbits, and endless acres of land to run and tumble until my face was caked with mud. My mom who gave birth to me and my mama who just held her hand. Life in our old red and white farmhouse was as sweet as the persimmons we picked on long walks.
My birth mom and birth “father” have never met. We do not know his personality, his face, or his name. Spread across the country there are an unknown number of children with the same tangled, dirty-blond hair as me. We have hazel eyes on a good day, brown on a bad day; we love mac & cheese, we are sensitive to a fault, and we share a father. But, as a child these facts did not settle in my mind. My mothers were my only parents, and my dogs, Ally, Twyla, and Pekoe were my only siblings.
I climb from branch to branch, the boxwood tree swaying under my seven year old weight. A hidden world of deep green and silence.
I sit at the kitchen table of our new beige house. I am 14, and in a month I will start high school. My moms have been divorced now for 7 years and another girl has made an imaginary world in the big boxwood. The news that I have just been told is swirling and tightening in my stomach and my head feels heavy and then so light I’m scared it might fly away.
My donor supposedly came from good stock. In fact, my two moms chose him based on his intelligence, family history, interests, similarity to my non-birth mother, and mental health. Yet, as I sit at the table, my mom explains that as more of my half-siblings have appeared around the country, the parents have expressed struggles with their children’s mental health. A common theme began to form with each facebook message lamenting about identical issues. We have been deemed anxious, ADHD, depressed, even autistic. Doctors told Wyatt he has ADHD, Pierce is on the spectrum, and Ellie and I take the same anxiety medication. My mom squeezes my hands and tells me the parents believe that the donor did not disclose a history of his mental illness.
I hang onto the side of a mountain in North Carolina. My fingers are worn and bloody as I try to pull myself up to the next notch. Suddenly, everything falls away and I'm grasping desperately for a divet in the rock to hold onto until the rope pulls taught and I slam into the cold stone.
I was supposed to be perfect; supposed to only inherit the good qualities of my parents. Instead I am a product made with malfunctions in a factory. An experiment gone wrong. With this recognition comes the question of whether I am meant to be here at all.
I sink down into a bed of moss, my body fits into the contour as if I have lain here before. The downy earth swallows me; welcoming back what always belonged there.
Father. The word feels lumpy and burdensome on my tongue. I seldom have to use it and have never particularly cared to. When friends and acquaintances ask me about my father, I say I don’t have one. Their faces drain in confusion, “Is she a medical anomaly?” They probe until I tell them I have a donor, and the relief floods their face, “oh so you do have a father.” My donor is not my father. The word implies at least a face, at least the possibility of a reunion some day. Too often, when donor children try to contact a donor, they never receive a reply. Countless articles detail the devastation of these failed attempts. I don’t know if I even want to meet him, for that would transform him into a human being.
I sit in a stroller and my mother’s strong legs propel me through the woods. We break out of the muddy mess of trees into a field and stop to watch the Monarch’s flocking to the Milkweed bush. I reach for a leaf and the ichor is sticky on my fingers. My little face scrunches up in awe of the natural connection between plant and insect.
My conception was a transaction, a test tube, a contract. Artificial and without connection. My donor likely wanted the money and none of the responsibility. He likely has a family of his own; children whose names and faces he knows. But, do his eyes flit around in every crowd like mine do, wondering if each tall, blonde, brown-eyed child could be his?
The picture of our little family, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, far from confusion and upheaval, has developed a stain. It spreads and permeates, changing the picture as it expands. When I was six, my moms explained that I was conceived with a donor. My memory is clouded when I try to remember, but they say I was utterly uninterested. On that day at 14, at the kitchen table, a barrier I had unknowingly put up at six years old finally fell down.
I am blindfolded, walking through the forest at midnight, following only the sound of a beating drum. I stretch my arms out to feel for the next branch or stone that will cut into my shins or slash my face, yet I am not scared or alone. I can feel the warmth and watchful eyes of the creatures stirring in the trees around me, and the rich soil cushions my bare feet as I creep along.
Voices saying “blood doesn’t make a family” ring in my head, yet I can not curb my curiosity about my father. Is he kind, does he love to be outside, does he read often? A whole half of my being is unknown. Will attempting to contact my father shatter my perception of who I am? Could it make me doubt my relationship with my mothers? Would I suddenly feel I had been deprived of a father?
Honey bees surround my head, landing lightly on my outstretched hand and lifting off again moments later. The silent swarm comforts me and my breathing begins to slow. Passersby dip and dart to avoid the feared predators, but I bend, glide, twirl to the rhythm of their composed chaos.