Today is LGBTQ family blogging day, so I thought I’d write something appropriately nuclear, but my cursor takes a turn towards the less known, lingering on a veiled part of our family, the anonymous donor whose eyebrows and fingertips convey little whispers of his shadow self as I watch my daughter move through her day.
One of my adjunct jobs is teaching some variation of a history of sexuality class at the “liberal” Catholic university in the city. The person who hired me and renews my half-time contract year after year (fingers crossed) feels a moral obligation to educate the students about sexuality, since our school does not provide birth control information or much in the way of sex ed. This means at some point in the term we cover the Lesbian Baby Boom.
My favorite part of teaching this topic is trying to get them to see how all kinds of families routinely use fertility clinics; they think gay people are the only ones using sperm donors, egg donors, or surrogates. My students smile and laugh, some of them admitting they had never thought about fertility clinics or assisted families before. I like telling them our family story, how we pored over the sperm donor charts, with their height, weight, ethnicity, eye color all laid out for our eugenicist musings. I talk about how carefully we weighed interests like music and math, only to have the clinic director flat-out nix us: “Nah. He doesn’t have any pregnancies.” Startled, we asked who did have pregnancies, and were given the number of a successful donor, who we “chose.”
What I don’t tell them is how much I wonder about him, and what he might have given–or not given–our child. Slow to ride a bike, running behind the faster kids, she seems anything but athletic, until she gets in the water. At 5 she can put her head all the way under and swim, holding her breath, through the blue pool, so much farther than the other kids her age. Her backstroke is amazing, and she is unafraid to float and dive, her bobbing head a sleek brown seal’s, joyous. Seemingly inattentive at times, slow to read, she can still perfectly recite stories she has heard only once. Reluctant to practice her preordained piano songs, she announces her desire for voice lessons, then rocks out to bossa nova mashups of My Heart Will Go On and whatever else she can find in the preprogrammed buttons on her electric keyboard. She can sing back any tune you sing to her, with perfect pitch. She insists on making birthday cards for her friends.
She has a keen sense of fashion, and of gender. I know I disappoint her with my butch refusal to wear dresses and girlie bathing suits. She throws together startling, interesting outfits that somehow always work.
A couple of years ago another two-mom family with a child from this donor contacted us, and sent us pictures of the donor as a child. I saw some little resemblances there, but what moves me are the ways my daughter looks like her half-sibling from another state. Their fingers taper to elegant points. Their eyebrows are set wide on their foreheads. Their little faces have the same shape.
I wonder if our donor can imagine how often I think of him, and thank him for his help in giving us this child, our nameless donor who once drew a picture of a cat on his information form, whose favorite color was purple, and who liked to dance and do long division in his head. Because of him, because of donor 232, whoever he is, I can’t be vanquished, even when I feel the world has defeated me. It is a cliche that children bring their parents joy, but cliches are often true, and I have a child who kisses me every morning when she goes off to school and and every afternoon when she gets home, who tells me about mermaid shows on Netflix and imagines a mermaid world in our urban neighborhood, who dreams of travel and loves counting to one hundred by twos. What can a person do in the face of this, but rise, sing, and swim?