I recently acted as moral support at a counselling session for a friend who is plannng to have a baby on her own through IUI. One of the questions the counsellor asked her was whether she’d be comfortable telling her baby that they are the product of a sperm donor. (Sure, why not?) What followed was a bit of a discussion about how different families are these days, and how most people accept that. And then she said something that didn’t occur to me: she cited me as one of the few examples of a “traditional family” in her life.
I’m not sure if she meant my parents and brothers and me (probably not, since half my brothers are only half-brothers) or Brad and Teddy and me. I’m guessing the latter, although it surprised me. I guess we are a traditional family: married heterosexual couple, raising our own biological child. It probably didn’t feel all that traditional to me because we had trouble conceiving him. I was infertile (something that is, paradoxically, genetic) and we had to go through a lot of heartache dealing with invasive tests and countless needles and fertility medication with hideous side-effects that left me wrecked and insane. Month after month we hung in the balance – and month after month we were disappointed. I felt like we were living in limbo. Like I could have been happy with or without children – we could take either path and life would be fantastic – but I just had to know which it was going to be.
People kept asking if I was pregnant yet. They kept telling me having children would be the best thing to ever happen to me, in case infertility was something that could be cured with a pep talk. They kept assuring me that some people try for ten years or more before they conceive, and then they finally have half a dozen children and they all lived happily ever after. We spent more than two years of our lives thinking about nothing else. It almost destroyed our marriage. I couldn’t have lived in limbo like that for a whole decade – an opinion which, of course, prompted more of the pep talks.
Anyway, I’m tired of thinking about those years. It’s been difficult. But in the end we have our little boy and we’re all going to live happily ever after and that’s fantastic. And it turns out, despite the fact that in some part of my head I assumed traditional families produce their 3.4 children with ease, my friend is right: Brad and I, our Limited Edition Teddy, and my brother Jeff (he lives with us) actually do add up to be a pretty traditional family.
Not that it matters.
Like I said, there are so many different families out there. I know several single mothers. I know families with half-siblings and step-parents. All of those kids are very matter-of-fact about their worlds. As they should be. If no one else makes a big deal about it, neither will they. And it’s going to be the same for my friend’s donor-conceived child. She’ll be surrounded by people who adore her: mother, uncle, grandparents, family friends. (She’ll also be a girl, by the way.) She won’t know a life any different. And we’ll tell her the truth about where she came from, because why not? It isn’t secret or shameful. It’s just a fact of life that every family is different. And she’ll be perfectly happy as she is, because we’ll love her and care for her and that’s all that matters.
So now, we just head down the path of making her happen. I know from experience that some of the things my friend is headed for are tough. The tests, the needles, the drugs, the waiting. I’d give a pep talk, but I know how much worse they made me feel.
So instead I’ll say this: I deeply sympathise. And I’ll be as supportive as I can. And I’ll bring chocolate if you want.