By: Shannon Ralph
It happened. Sooner than we expected. More suddenly than we anticipated. Out of the blue, actually. While we were out of state on a hard-earned family vacation, our 12-year-old son asked us the question we had been dreading for years.
Can you tell me about my donor?
“Donor” is a word that’s never really been a huge part of our family vocabulary. Like many lesbian couples, my wife and I used two unknown donors from a local sperm bank to have our children. We received minimal personal information about the donors (height, eye color, hair color, hobbies), a bit of medical history (our donor choice gave our oldest son a slightly elevated risk of developing mild hay fever), and childhood photos (that could have been any kids in any town in this country). We knew little more than that. Nor did we care to know.
We decided on an unknown donor for just that luxury. The luxury of ignorance. We are grateful that a poor college kid chose to donate sperm in return for a few bucks a month to spend on ramen and beer. We appreciate that his sperm allowed my wife to become pregnant with the amazing kid who is now our 12-year-old son. Beyond that, however, we have given very little thought to this man over the last 12 years. We have had no need to think of him. He certainly hasn’t been a “parent” to our children. Our children know they had a donor, but there has never been any real discussion regarding who this man was or is.
Can you tell me about my donor?
It is hard not to react viscerally to this question. Especially when you are standing in an expensive hotel room decorated like a backwoods “lodge” in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin after spending three hours in a wave pool with your three entirely-too-energetic children. I’m not sure if it was the lingering effects of the wave pool on my forty-two-year-old body or my son’s question that caused my stomach to suddenly flip and flop. Probably a combination of the two.
The thing is…you are never really prepared. You know it is perfectly normal for your child to wonder about the person who provided half of his genetic make-up. And you know middle school is the time when children start to look for meaning in life—when children start to question. To wonder. To try to figure out how they fit into this world. I should have seen it coming. I should have had an answer committed to memory. I should have been practicing for years.
Kids have a way of bringing up these life-altering questions at the most inopportune of times—like the time the same son asked me to explain God to him in a McDonald’s drive-through. As parents, we muddle through and hope we do not scar our children too terribly. This time, I mumbled a brief explanation about how the information on his donor is at home and we will discuss it when we get home from vacation. My wife stood in shell-shocked silence.
Of course, as children often do, my son remembered. He asked us again as soon as we got home. The very night we returned from our vacation, I pulled the dusty manila file from the bottom of my crammed nightstand drawer. I handed the file to my son and sat in silence as his read. My wife and I held our collective breath as we waited for the tears. For the explosion. For the emotionally charged declaration that I was NOT his real parent. In short, we waited for the worst.
But the worst never materialized. My son smiled. He commented on how he must have received his musical talents from his donor, as my wife can’t carry a tune in a bucket. We talked about how tall he will be as an adult with a 6’1 donor. We discussed his blonde hair. His dimples. We talked about genetics and how little they mean when it comes to love and family. We told him what an amazing gift his donor had given us and how grateful we were that we were his parents and that he was our son.
Then my son handed the folder back to me. He brushed his thick hair (a gift from his mom) out of his blue eyes (a gift from his donor), looked at me (a woman with no genetic tie to him whatsoever), and said, “Thanks, mom. Can I have a pop-tart?”
Somehow, by chance or luck or divine intervention, my wife and I raised an amazing young man. Perhaps we have our son’s donor to thank for a wee bit of that. I know that both my wife and I played a huge role in the boy he has become.
The day I had been dreading for years passed like any other day in the life of our busy family of five. That night, I went to bed confident in not only my son’s place in the world, but in mine.
I am a mom. I am his mom. And I have never been prouder.