Thursday, April 29, 2010

A lesson I want to learn

When we meet other parents (straight), if it happens to come up in conversation that each of us carried one of our children, the relatively consistent response is approximately "What a great idea!" or "I wish we could do that!" Members of two-mom families, who understand the work and luck it takes to get pregnant as lesbians, and who have experienced some of the pitfalls and struggles of building our families, know it might not be all that rosy. But in general, I tend to agree with the positive assessment of surprised straight parents who sometimes seem to think we've invented something new and amazing by structuring our family this way. It is great. We got a deeper level understanding and empathy for each other by both experiencing both paths to motherhood. Residual tension around the donor's place in our family, that we hadn't even known we still had, has fallen away not least because he no longer poses as much of a threat (albeit hypothetical) to our family structure. Instead of moving onto parenting our second child with the previous relatively comfortable roles we'd developed, we were forced to question some of our assumptions and find some new ways to interact as a family. Parenting Ira has made me appreciate even more what I built with Leigh, and I'm loving watching Gail and Ira form a similar bond. I think Gail has experienced a similar shift, all for the good.

But among all the good, there's one thing I'm finding somewhat difficult about this arrangement. This isn't all about looks, but I'll start there. Our donor, bless him, seems to have a peculiar genetic quality of producing "mini-me's." If anyone were to look at our family portrait (that is, if you could get all four of us into a photo at one time), there would be absolutely no guesswork involved in figuring out who was genetically linked. Ira has my coloring to a T. Comparing pics of him as a baby to me as a baby, the resemblance is undeniable. Leigh looks like a mini-Gail, to every detail except her dimples (which I like to claim credit for…). But the similarities don't seem to stop at looks. From all the stories I've heard from my in-laws, Leigh is much like Gail as a child, extremely talkative and curious, thrilled to connect with people but a little shy around new ones, deeply compelled by stories of all sorts, intent on figuring out how people interact and why they do what they do. There are differences, and she certainly also has many of my speech patterns and mannerisms, but still, it's hard to deny the similarities. Now that Ira is getting older, we see pieces of my personality in him. He's a little more sensitive, and focuses intently on his little baby "projects," patiently trying to figure out how his sister's scooter works, or diligently and persistently undoing our various childproofing efforts.

But the thing I wonder about is how much of this is that we're perceiving our kids with too much of a framework of genetic determinism, particularly since the only genetic piece we see is our own contribution, and the donor is still anyone's guess. We've both birthed one of our kids, so I think we may end up missing the lesson that straight families learn easily, that kids are different, even with identical genetic contributions. I should know this. My sisters and I, all of us with the same genetic make-up, are different as night and day. We look around our neighborhood kids and see this, too, but it's a lesson we're not primed to learn in our own family, in it's current structure. During the fleeting moments when I wish for another child, it is this lesson that I'd love to learn. In the meantime, I'm looking for ways to remember more often that our kids are not us. They really are their "own people" -- as we frequently remind Leigh when she tries to treat Ira like an overgrown doll.


Lo said...

Yeah, we also get that "what a great idea!" comment. I have to say, two sets of boobs....priceless.

I hear you on the mini-me stuff. I find myself positively terrified that baby Cho will be like me. Jo is not, in particular, a mini-me of Co (certainly not physically) but so far Cho looks a great deal like me. I don't want to fall into the trap of assuming she IS me.

Amy said...

Awesome post! Our family dynamic is the same as yours. We both carried a baby using the same donor and we both got mini me's as well. it may seem differently if we knew the donor but it's as if we conceived these children ourselves. We also experience everyone who finds out thinking it's really clever and unique etc. While not unique to us, we think it's pretty cool too!

Lex said...

I gestated our first three children, and my wife gestated our fourth, and they all have the same (unknown) donor. Our first two kids are twins (full genetic siblings, and the same exact age to boot), and I have always been grateful for the lesson that came with their multiple birth status: kids are their own people. Genetics and circumstance play only a small role. Our twins are so different from each other (in appearance, personality, everything), and our third son, again, is a completely new example of the combination of mine and our donor's genes. I suppose that all of the kids look like me in some way (yes, at times, I am told that they are "mini-mes"), but they all look so different from each other. Our fourth son is absolutely a miniature version of my wife and I LOVE this about him. It's so fun for me to have a baby who looks so much like my Love.

We also are in touch with a lot of other families who used our donor, and it has been helpful to see the ways in which the kids (32 so far!!!) are alike and different. With such a large pool, the biological link starts to seem less and less significant.

And, yes, I think you SHOULD have another baby. But not for this reason, exactly. Just for the joy of it.

Skye Xyan said...

You may learn this lesson anyway, as people continue to change as they grow. When I was in my 30's, my mom discovered that I kind of looked like my dad's sister as my face matured and that I had my grandfather's personality in some regards. My whole life I've just been told I looked like my mom.

Unknown said...

We don't have children yet but are TTC at the moment using my wife's brother as our donor. We decided that just I will carry the children which then meant that we could use this option. I am so thrilled to think that our child will share both of our DNA! I got pregnant twice already, but sadly MC both babies at 12 weeks, but the feeling of knowing that the child I was carrying had blood links to my wife and was as close to her genetically as possible was an indescribable feeling. When I lost them one of our issues was that we were not sure if D's brother would easily and quickly get another visitor visa to come back to New Zealand to try again. People were suggesting we just find another donor (as if that's an easy thing!!), and I tried to explain to them how incredible it was to feel that I am carrying a child that is part of both of us. I cannot wait to see how they turn out! I'm also really hoping that at some stage we get a girl so we see a combined mini-me. Oh and my wife and her brother (of course) are black, so we will really see an interesting combination. I hope the baby/babies get their Afro-caribbean hair as I think it's so adorable on babies especially.