Opening Pandora’s box

By Lindsey Webb

For most of my life, I have known that I am donor conceived. Yet now that I can look back from this point in time, I see myself as living with thick blindfold over my eyes. Growing up, I didn’t really have any remarkable emotions when I thought about my biological father. A few occasional small sparks of curiosity would come about but then would quickly fade away when I reminded myself of the word I learned at a young age: anonymous.

As I progressed into my late 20’s, I started to look less and less like my mother. My mother who many always remarked how much I look just like her. By this time, I had made a few small but failed attempts to find him. California Cryobank agreed to dig out his donor paperwork from the 1986 archives. In 2014, I saw his handwriting and read his own words for the first time. I opened the file as tears welled up into my eyes, as this was the only tangible thing I had ever had of him. That empty place that had been hidden deep inside my being slowly began to crack open. Soon after, at-home DNA testing became widely advertised and I pondered the possibilities. Yet at the same time, I was scared of what I would find and proceeded to avoid it for several years.

I was certain I was the only donor offspring based solely on the fact that CCB had no record of births and their donor sibling registry provided zero matches. It never crossed my mind that recipients didn’t report pregnancies because the entire process was kept as a family secret and never likely discussed again. I also didn’t consider the fact that I was in the minority – that parents hid the truth from their donor conceived children. I wrongly and naively assumed that everyone knew, just like me. DNA testing has also revealed that I have two donor conceived half sisters, born just three months before me in 1988.

I’ve now read many stories from other donor conceived people and often see the same sentiment, “I just want to see his face and then I’ll be satisfied” and that’s exactly what I would tell anyone who was close to me who questioned my motives. I tried to convince myself of that for a long time. In a way, to protect myself I think. I knew that he may want nothing to do with me and that hurt to think about. Yet anyone who has found their mother’s donor and then has seen even just one photo likely has had to come to the harsh realization that just seeing his face and stopping there feels impossible. It’s a Pandora’s box. You learn just a few details, see a few photos, see the commonalities and the pull to learn more becomes gravitational. Unstoppable. 

So much has happened over the past three months and even more so in just the past seven days. Last Thursday our biological father responded to our letters after three months of silence. The next day, one of my half sisters came to visit me and we met for the first time. And then on Saturday, we video chatted with our biological father for two and a half hours. He continued this week to message us daily with questions and kind words and flooded us with family photos. It was more than I could have ever hoped or imagined. I think we often try not to get our hopes up and keep our expectations low, which is very sad to think about. We try hard to protect ourselves. The connection between all of us was uncanny. As he spoke, his thought process mimicked my own. Our hearts all felt as one. He shared countless photos, family memories and history. For the first time, I felt complete.

Today he left on a flight to return home to Europe after spending the week with his family here in the States. His girlfriend initially responded in the worst way to the news of contacting us. Hearing of this filled us with dread. He now has to sort out this issue with her and we are left heart broken, yet somehow painfully optimistic. It’s funny how a connection formed over just one week can feel so strong—so important and powerful. 

These experiences I’ve had in these past three months have taught me what it actually means to be a donor conceived person. When I first found this online donor conceived community last November, I had just purchased my first DNA test kit. I was still sitting on the sidelines, but my blindfold was ready to come off. I didn’t know who my biological father was and didn’t know anything about my half sisters out there in the world. I had thought little to nothing about the unregulated fertility industry and the injustices we are born into. I didn’t ponder the future implications and complications of having an incomplete family medical history. I was unaware of those of us who have had this hidden from them their entire lives.

This experience has been life-changing and absolute emotional madness, but I do not regret a thing. This is who we are, and we deserve to know our own truths.

Photo by Daryn Stumbaugh on Unsplash