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Friday, June 22, 2012

the birds and the birds (one of whom is good with a hammer)

It isn't as though we didn't know that eventually we would have to talk to the girls about how they were created.

I guess I just thought we had some more time.  Hopefully it would sound cool and scientific to explain to a ten-year-old that half of her biology was delivered by Fed Ex in a tank of liquid nitrogen whose insides were  minus 320 degrees.

I did not however, picture the birds and the bees discussion, in our case the birds and the birds I suppose, having to sound so confusing to my own ears when mildly explained to a seven-year-old.

It started this winter when when Mindy, pregnant with their twins, was visiting.  She said something while Miss Eagle Ears was sitting with us about explaining to Emerson about baby seeds and how they had grown into babies in Mindy's belly.

Ella is like a dog with a bone once she gets thinking on something.  She misses nothing and wants to comprehend everything.  The questions started.

It wasn't as though we were trying to keep her origins from her.  For me, it is more that I wanted to be careful how much role we placed on biology and genetics.  Short of reading her a scholarly article on the human genome project, I felt that it would be insufficient, and frankly unnecessary, to introduce the idea that she was physically created with the help of someone we don't even know.  Her donor's contribution means everything and nothing in who she is today.  The truth is she has two parents, two moms, who created her and I never want that to be minimized by the introduction of this very important, yet singular, genetic contribution. 
I suppose I am essentially summing up the nature/nurture debate.

One of Sandi's family members has been known to ask about Ella's "father".  Did her "father" have those almond shaped eyes? What was her "father's" ancestral heritage?  I was deeply offended by these questions simply because she referred to Ella as having a father.  Ella and Maya have donors.  They have two mothers. No father.  Being a parent to me is a verb, not a frozen sample of swimmers.  You can't cryogenically freeze your DNA to be used in the world and be awarded the reverent status of "father" or "mother".

I've always been so far over in that camp I have often downplayed the role of the donors in creating half of who Ella and Maya are.  Yet, in each of them I can traits that are not of their respective biological mothers.  This observation is somewhere between seeming really cool and really intrusive.  The truth is, I wish we could have created children using half of mine and half of Sandi's biology.  Yet, even if somehow we could,  we wouldn't have these exact children who, to quote the Little Prince, we have tamed and called our own.

Maya asked me the other day while we were driving in the car (the place for all sound discussions):  how does the baby get in the belly?  It grows from a baby seed, I told her.

"Yes, but how does the seed get in the belly?"  she pressed.

One good rule of thumb here is to answer only questions that are asked and be careful not to over answer.  Maya is four, after all, and was searching for something concrete and simple.  As if the answer to the baby seed question could ever be simple, especially in our case.  So I told her it takes girl parts and boy parts to make a baby seed grow in a woman's belly.  She was content.

We told Ella essentially the same thing in the winter when it came up and explained that we had a "helper" since we don't have any boy parts.  We told her that there are people that help couples that don't have all the parts to make a baby and that got such help to make them.  Sounds so simple, doesn't it?

But the origin of our girls has been a process for me.  I possess a certain defensiveness about the parts of them that don't come from us, but rather from this unknown genetic line.  It is as though I somehow feel undermined when someone from Sandi's side says, "Oh, Maya has this because Uncle so and so had it."  I feel, essentially, left out.  Yet, when I witness Maya's early athletic prowess or Ella's emotional storminess and sentimentality, I can't deny some of the things we've passed on.  And if I accept that then I have to accept that there are parts that also come from their donors. 

Perhaps this is really just the gift we need.  When Maya acts like a complete lunatic and we shrug and say to each other, "Where did we get her?" maybe what we are really doing is making a deposit in the parenting bank so that when they are teenagers we can be like, "Well, she certainly didn't get that from ME."

I'm joking of course.  In most ways we are no different than anyone else. Our children come from us but they are not us and they are only really "ours" for a little while.  Donor, adoption or the standard two parent biological model, it really makes very little difference in the end.  We love our kids for who they are and they love us because we are their parents.  I love Maya the same as I love Ella even though we don't share a genetic code.

In the end, there are plenty of things that can erode a relationship- resentment, careless anger, sloppy habits of speaking. There is no need an unknown genetic contributor to be one of them.  Certainly, genetics matter, but they don't possess us either.  We created our children in love (and with the help of an excellent doctor) and we have both been their from the second they began.  No donor could ever intrude on that.

Some kids at school questioned Ella this year in a way she hadn't been as of yet.  "So is one your mom and one your aunt?"  "You can't have two moms.  That isn't possible."  I loved her response:  "Yes, it is.  Go ask the teacher if you don't believe me." 

But the most heartbreaking one was, "Maya must not be your real sister."  I guess the child meant that Maya was Ella's cousin (following the line of reason that Sandi was her aunt) and Ella came home and asked us about this.  I know that the norm now is blended families and kids are just trying to figure it all out.  But it bothered me to see the doubt and question in Ella's eyes.

I mean, for the love of Pete, these girls are sisters:

And we are a family, with our Fed Ex, liquid nitrogen roots and all.


Raina @ Mamacita Spins The Globe said...

Suzanne, I think you are divine.

Katie said...

I love all of your posts, but - I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this one. I really want you to write a book. You know, in your spare time. ;)

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