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Monday, February 20, 2012

Being Donor Conceived...A Definition of Self?

"Does this define you?" asked a colleague in a group I went out with overseas. The question elicits an internal sigh because I know the answer is so much more complex than the asker expects.

"I take it you mean the donor conception thing?" I turned and responded to him. Five of us were seated at a small table leaning forward to hear each other.  A serenade of dish-clanking, laughter and multi-lingual chatter surrounded us. It felt very intimate despite the fact we were just coworkers.

I paused to mentally rewind because our current conversation had moved to other things.  I mentioned donor conception about three topics ago and it was so lovely to gloss over the mention. 

"Yes, yes" he said calling everyone else's attention to his question. Their sudden silence seemed to say.. "Well....go on......answer him.."

Rather than try to recount word for word what I'll admit was a bit of a wine-soaked conversation, I'll summarize.  I explained that while being donor-conceived is a very large part of understanding who I am, it does not define me.

His question reminded me of the emails I sometimes receive in response to Connect It that urge I "stop focusing" on being donor conceived or "wasting time " contemplating it so much.  Such proclamations always make me laugh a bit --- it's as if they think I'm consumed day and night with writing this blog-- thinking of nothing else but my conception, sitting in a dark room feeling bad for myself and relentlessly ruminating. I don't fault that assumption because it's understandable if Connect It is the only means by which you know me. It's then reasonable to assume the focus of the blog is the focus of my life. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. 

If I'm guilty of letting anything consume my identity it's probably my job. I travel extensively for work doing things I love and often find myself in a hotel in South East Asia wondering where my life went. I continue to struggle to balance the excitement of travel I love and the stability I need to sustain myself....but that is another entry on another blog.

Being donor-conceived is better described as a theme in my life. It's an innate framework that effects how I perceive and react to life. You can certainly ignite my passion in a debate about anonymous donation and freedom of information, but my days do not start and end with thoughts about donor conception. 

What I find instead are sudden moments when the "theme music" of being donor conceived becomes too loud to ignore. In those moment, I'm consumed.

Hearing friends describe characteristics and traits they inherited from each of their parents, for example, frequently brings my donor-conceived "identity" bubbling to the surface.  Such descriptions occur far more often than one might think. There is something so universal about looking for the source of our traits. I come across it all over the world. From Singapore to Amsterdam, I've had people tell me they got this or that from their mother or father.

My reaction is always one first of curiosity -  meaning I wonder what it feels like to be able to disassemble your elements and neatly organize them by origin. I listen intently and ask questions about how the speaker has determined a less tangible trait or skill, like say  - rhythm, has been passed down from one of their parents. You might think - well doesn't she get that experience with her mother and....yes.... to some degree, but I'm always left with a whole pile of traits that can't be sorted. Hence the very act of determining the origin of my traits causes confusion rather than a feeling of belonging or entertainment. It's a topic that has always generated sadness or tension in my family. Discussing the origin of my traits is something I've learned to avoid and I've heard this from other donor conceived adults as well.

Another "defining moment" for donor conception is interaction with people who comment on inheritance or likeness but are unaware of the truth. I'm never more 100% conscious of being donor conceived as when I am with my father's extended family, who continue to be unaware of my true origin. Whenever they comment on something "I get from them" it's like a little me pops up on my shoulder and whispers "pssst --- remember you aren't genetic related to these people." In that sense, the donor conceived "identity" feels isolating. It's like these people don't truly know you because their is something you are holding back. When something fills in or barricades the space between you and another individual it feels so definitive and poignant - like their indeed is "a part" of you that prevents you from crossing the gap.

So - no....being donor conceived does not define me but I could go on and on about the  moments when donor conception becomes all-encompassing.  Ironically, its the moments when you can't identify with the majority of a group or relate to a somewhat universal human experience that being "donor-conceived" does seem to utterly define you.

This explanation to my colleagues aside, there was something far more interesting that came from the discussion.

As I finished explaining most were quiet but one of colleagues looked me straight in the eye and said,"I totally get it."

I thought perhaps he was donor conceived or adopted but in fact he was not. He went on to describe that he was gay- of which we all were aware - and as such he could relate. "Let me to explain" he said, English being the weakest of the 4 others he spoke fluently.

To paraphrase he shared that being gay was a small part of his identity, merely to whom he was attracted. While sex is a part of our lives it isn't everything and there are many other dimensions to life and relationships that are far more definitive. Think of, he reminded,  all the people in our lives with which we have non-sexual relationships, friends, family, colleague. In all these relationships, sexual orientation is completely irrelevant. Yet, he relayed, in certain situations being gay suddenly seemed like an identity. While he doesn't wake in the morning or go to sleep think about being gay certain situations highlight what is different about him and cause his sexual orientation to feel more relevant, more like it "defines him."

What really stuck with me was his description of feeling separated and for that very reason, defined. "I understand what it is you mean" he said and explained that in close relationships like with his mother and sister, you want to be truly known. Being gay was a dimension, albeit a small one, of who he felt he was. This wasn't about sharing his gay identity with his family...he explained  -  "I want them to know me and I am gay." This is not because his sister or mother should or even want to know about his sex life -- rolling his eyes and making a face- he said " that is do you say....'ew'...I do not want to know about my mother or sister's sex life or to talk about my sex life."  He just wanted to be known, wholly for who he was. In essences, it's about being able to be authentic about your unique experience in the world -- whatever that may be.

So it's brought me to the conclusion that being donor conceived is part of my "unique experience in the world." A unique perspective in certain situations that I share with a group of donor conceived and adopted individuals that are most often not in the majority in large groups.

Being donor conceived does not define me, but it is still a vital part of who I am.

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