It’s the first week of January, I spent the day yesterday organizing and purging our pantry and putting away the Christmas decorations. Today is the first day my husband and the kids are back to school and work. School lunches needed to be made, drop offs and pick ups resume. I have my short morning break, where I walk my dog, take a shower, and hopefully can write or work in my studio for an hour. The house is quiet, and although I have a pile of laundry to do, I am still feeling accomplished from my housework yesterday. I started to pull down all the cute little reindeer collages with googly eyes, the paper plate Christmas wreath, the candy cane picture, the green construction paper cut out Christmas trees pictures off the wall before I sat down to write. I held the pile in my hand, feeling sad and nostalgic. Tempted to keep them. I imagined myself opening the box where they would be kept one day in the future and crying. I folded the pile up and put it in the trash. At that moment I thought about my homeless friends, who I found out today never found the bag of clothes I left them before Christmas in our designated stash spot. I thought about how they have nothing and that I can’t keep everything. There’s an in-between, I kept a picture I had taped to the wall for several years, it has Jacks tiny hand prints. I decided I’ll frame it.
Jack and Fiona are so interested in stories, I hear them repeating stories I’ve told them about their lives, things they can’t remember happening. They ask me about my life as a child. Lately Jack is interested in the story I told him about when I was a kid and I used to go dirt biking. There was a vacant field next to my house.
“We used to build jumps with a piece of old plywood and cinder blocks or old tires” I said.
I can still feel myself jump a big jump on my new dirt bike I got one Christmas. I remember feeling so cool because I was a better dirt biker than most of the boys on my street. I could do the highest jumps. Jack asked how old I was.
“I think about 7 or 8” I said.
“A bit older than you”
I don’t have anything physical from those days, except a few pictures. I moved around so much as a kid and at one point, when I was eighteen, I was homeless and lost everything. My mom didn’t keep much memorabilia from when my brother and I were kids. After she died, I found a couple art projects I did, a ghost of a monoprint that I made in fifth grade. The original won a contest, it was part of a traveling show, Youth in the Arts. It was in the San Diego Art Museum in Balboa Park, then traveled the world and someone bought it. I also found a stitched horse I made.
I just glanced out my window and noticed I forgot a paper wreath that Fiona made with hands shaped in the I Love You sign. I didn’t even see it before. I think it should stay.
I read an article yesterday about a woman who found out her father was not her biological father, she was fifty-four years old. She found out because she did a DNA test and there were discrepancies between the stories her mom told her about her ancestry and the results of the test. Her father was infertile, and her parents used a sperm donor but never told her. The woman who wrote the article was very upset with this news and in her article, she raised many questions about transparency between parents and their children when donor eggs or donor sperm is used. I worry about this often, when and how I can explain to my children their ancestry is not shared with me. I fall back on the fact that they share Alan’s Irish heritage. They share their father’s DNA. I struggled with this when I was going through infertility. When I had gone through too many egg retrievals myself that my body stopped responding to the fertility drugs.
The IVF clinic gave me counselling, they said they recommended complete transparency between parents and children. They said I should be honest about using a donor egg. I plan to be, I will tell them everything when they are old enough to understand the science of conception. It doesn’t make it easier to have the conversation even though it’s what I am going to do and it’s what I think is right for my children. I think it’s harder to envision the conversation about not sharing my genetics with my children than the conversation about my babies not gestating in my womb. Both are difficult places to spend time ruminating in.
And in the hierarchy of our family stories what’s important, the life we live with who ever our parents may be? Or the life our ancestors lived? What takes center stage?
I don’t have any connection with my mother’s family. Her parents died when I was very young, and she never talked about her family or ancestors. My mom was an only child and her dad was adopted. I remember her wanting to know more about her father’s family, but she didn’t take it very far. She painted many pictures of her father and mother, maybe a psychological investigation into their gazes in the photographs she painted from. My father’s side was told to me as a typical German Jewish family who escaped their homeland and came through Ellis Island to make a new life in New York. I’ve never felt unique in my ancestry, I’ve felt the opposite, I’m a mix, I say. I just feel like an American, like an individual. I’m just me, my ancestry doesn’t mean as much to me as my time I spent with my parents. The memories I have with my mom, the things she taught me are far more important. And the relationship I have with my brother now is what I fall back on to remember who I am. To remember where I come from.
I don’t know what will be important to Jack and Fiona when they get older, especially after I’m gone. They may have questions I didn’t answer about their ancestry. Things I don’t know and can’t know because the egg donor’s privacy is very protected. It’s interesting because the surrogate is completely accessible to me and my family. In my case we are very close and visit each other at least once a year, so when I tell Jack and Fiona their birth story it will be easy for them to conceptualize and understand. But I’ve never met the egg donor in person. I don’t keep in contact with her, we could pass each other on the street and never know.
There’s still a lot of secrecy around infertility and the things we do to become parents. There’s still so much shame surrounding donor eggs and donor sperm. And even now, I wonder, am I violating Jack and Fiona’s privacy by being public about their unique birth story? Will they resent me for writing this?
Collateral damage for talking about my experience, what I went through to become a parent. Maybe by the time they are old enough to read my story, things will have changed so that women feel less shame about infertility and there’s less secrecy about using alternative ways to become a parent. Then it will be worth it.