Washing my hands in front of a three-way mirror in one of those swanky NY hotel bathrooms, I caught that weird angle of my face looking elsewhere. I typically use three-way mirrors to make sure clothes aren't too tight on the derrière, but this was an accidental glance. I saw what I look like to other people. and for a milli-second I didn't realize it was me. My profile has always perplexed me, in pictures especially, I often see a ghost lurking in my features. I look a lot like my mom but friends always remark that from the side I look different, like someone else.
My hands still wet and full of soap, I stared at the awkward reflection and thought to myself, "I must see 'him'." Thoughts like this often drift into my mind and then quickly exit, but on this occasion I got stuck and felt a mist of sadness fall over me. I saw this tall woman in her black dress, pearls and a somewhat serious gaze. I thought how sad it was that she would never get to know who her father was.....that she would not know his identity....or ever see his picture. I snapped back to reality and asked myself, "Is that really true?" My mind was like a bicycle with a chain that wasn't gripping the gears. I went a little blank but then realized, "yes it is true, it's extremely likely you will go to your grave having never known who your father was." A surreal moment.
As usual, I was having an emotional crisis at an incredibly inopportune time. There I was, gut wrenched as toilet bowls flushed behind me and a conference full of coworkers waited for my return. I packed the feeling in a small little box and pushed it to the back of mind...all the way behind the old boyfriends and failures I hate to think about. As a practice, I try not to have pity parties for myself -- especially in bathrooms. Being analytical tends to numb bad feelings but despite my best efforts, longing still catches me in vulnerable moments.
Since the bathroom episode I've had trouble talking and writing about donor conception. It feels like I have something caught in my throat. In the past, expressing my views on anonymous donation or engaging in debate with the donor-conceived community was invigorating. Writing especially was extremely cathartic; a way to capture conflicting feelings and process them. I might have been naive, but I felt I shared something valuable. Yet, lately I even find reading news on donor conception makes me feel a bit sad. I get a paragraph or two into an article and I can't concentrate. I avoid my laptop for fear of experiencing the guilt for not writing.
Only weeks ago my emotions hit a crescendo when my Family Finder DNA results revealed a number of third cousins as well as an Eastern European heritage. I was filled with hope. For the first time in very, very long time, I felt less lost....less unknown. I've connected with many of my "third cousins," but sharing just great-great-grandparents isn't as definitive a link as one might think. The likelihood that anyone I've connected with has met glances with the ghost in my profile is slim to none.
This truth is neither surprising nor unrealistic so I'm not sure why it's suddenly occurring to me. Nonetheless, it feels like a sudden, and somewhat heart-breaking loss.
I don't really talk much about it on this blog, but I don't have the best relationship with the father that raised me. I'm not sure why I'm mentioning this now, but somehow in my mind its all connected to the feeling of deep loss. Thirty years ago my father and mother decided to create a family bound by a painful secret. They agreed to conceal the nature of my conception as their doctor had instructed (though my mom told me at 23, but that is another story.) My dad has some great qualities and he was nice sometimes but for the most part my memories of him were of fear. I remember feeling like I couldn't breath when I heard him come home from work. He was emotionally, verbally and sometimes physically abusive to my brother and I throughout our lives. At risk of over-simplifing what is an incredibly complex story of pain and denial, I believe my brother and I were the personification of what he perceived to be his greatest failure: the inability, as a man, to produce a child. What's more, he was completely emotionally unavailable. Sometimes fearing him was an odd and dysfunctional way to feel connected to him.
To this day, I conceal the nature of my conception from all of my extended family members so that he doesn't suffer the pain and embarrassment of them knowing he is sterile. Sometimes I forget the truth. Other times, in random and inopportune moments, the truth feels like a hammock full of bricks weighing down my heart. My mother says letting others know the truth would "destroy him." Throughout my twenties, despite his behavior towards myself and my brother, I felt overwhelmingly sorry for him. How could I be so ungrateful as to want to share the nature of my identity with close family members? He may have been detached and often downright mean, but he stayed, he went to work, he told people he was my "Dad." How could I be such a selfish child? Of course, my mother and father's emotional well-being should take priority over my own.
I think a lot of people with opinions on anonymous sperm donation operate under the assumption that the children are going to homes where they are wanted so very much. The typical pro-donor conception argument involves sperm being given away by one man who doesn't want to father a child, to a man that does ...a man, that will love those children like his own. Though few are willing to admit it, this isn't always the case. Some men decide on donor conception without knowing what their reaction will be and some men have reservations but feel pressured by the pleading look on the face of a wife that deeply wants to be a mother.
Nonetheless, people will still contend that those DC children unhappy with their situation should get over their feelings of loss and be grateful for life.
At least right now, I find it hard to be grateful for my parents decisions.