Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Following the yellow brick road

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how far I’ve come in my search the past five years. Prior to 2003, the only information I had under my belt was that I was conceived via artificial insemination (and for whatever that meant to me then I now can’t recall). I knew I had a biological father out there, but I knew absolutely nothing about him and figured that it was such a bizarre circumstance that there was no way I would even have any information EVER about this man. In May 2003, after the Oprah show featuring none other than the Donor Sibling Registry, my innocence was lost and I finally started to truly question my own existence. I look back and see that as my point of enlightenment.

With the help of my therapist at the time, I wrote a letter to my mother’s OB/GYN asking for information. Unfortunately, I hadn’t the nerve to send it for fear that my mother would find out. I spent the summer of 2003 becoming very informed in donor conception issues and strongly spoke out against the practices.

After learning that the Oprah episode was to be re-ran in September, I knew this was the spark to talk to my mother. Albeit slightly cunning and manipulative, I played dumb to my mother and innocently brought up that I had seen an Oprah show about artificial insemination! I said that I couldn’t believe there were so many others, much older than me in fact, and there were sperm banks, and donor numbers, and that I could even have half-siblings!! I told her how the people on the show had information about their donors and I wondered if I had some too.

My mother confessed at that point that she asked her OB/GYN to order a donor who had ‘brown hair, blue eyes, about 5’8”’ and she remembered that the sperm bank was in Georgia and it was supposedly the best at that time (mid-1980’s) for screening diseases, especially the newly discovered AIDS virus.

Alas!! I had something, no matter how little I was becoming a super-sleuth and it took several months later to conclude the only possible sperm bank she could have used was Xytex Corporation. I emailed Xytex several times with no response. I still had no donor number, and there were very few older offspring listed on the DSR from Xytex. By this time I was studying in Australia, and had surrounded myself in donor conception issues and activism with the Aussie TangledWebs members.

Not long after, a girl [name withheld to protect identity] joined PCVAI who was a Xytex baby!! Thrilled to talk to someone who was near my age and conceived from the same sperm bank, all of the sudden I had a one-track mind. I soon learned that the sperm bank contacted her donor on her behalf to see if she would want contact, and they then had quite a meaningful relationship! After getting to know Myfanwy Walker and Michael Linden while in Melbourne and seeing how incredibly close they were and how much they looked alike, I realized then that all I wanted was to find my biological father as well. My mind also swam with the remote possibility that my newfound friend could also be my half-sister. Comparing photographs of myself and her and her biological father, I kept hoping that maybe there was some slim chance, and I knew that if I didn’t have an answer, yes or no, that it would haunt me forever.

I finally got the nerve to make a call to Xytex, and considering a 14 hour time difference between Augusta and Melbourne, it required me to call in the middle of the night. I spoke to the secretary there and was informed on several different occasions that transactional records were destroyed after 10 years, and since I had no donor number there was no information they could give me. Sheridan Rivers did send me a list of supposed donors from 1983 and 1984, but I quickly realized it was not every donor, as several that I knew of from the DSR were not listed even though they donated at that time.

Seeing that I was not getting anywhere with aggravating Xytex at least once a week (as well as emptying my checking account for ridiculously expensive international calling cards), I had a brief thought of filing a lawsuit to demand my information but soon realized it was a hopeless cause in my case. For all I knew, they could be telling the truth and really did not keep any records of transactions. I let it lie until I was stateside once again, and then my curiosity piqued in regards to the possibility of my friend being my half-sister.

In September 2005 we finally set out to do a DNA test, and at the same time a reporter from my hometown (who had seen me in an article in the Chicago Tribune and contacted my parents while I was still in Australia) wanted to do a public interest story on me and my search. As fate should have it, the day he called me to set up a time for our first interview was the day I received the devastating news that the DNA test came back negative. Of course being young and naive I immediately told him of the negative DNA test. His story, little did I now at the time, had changed from simply about my story to my negative test. Even during the interviews I informed him that I did not want anything about the DNA test or names of people used, nor did I want him to contact my mother since I had not told her about the DNA test. Several days later I get a nasty phone call from my mother threatening me about living in a ‘fantasy world’ and did I ever once think about how much this was hurting her. It turns out the reporter called her and told her of the DNA test and what she thought about it…that bastard!!! I was about ready to call the editor and complain, but didn’t want to make any more of a scene.

After she retreated from her soapbox, I thought all was over and done with, until the story came out – on the front page of the Sunday paper!! He seemed to have left out that slight detail as well. My little sister called and told me I was on the front page of the paper and how furious mom was going to be, and my mom (who was on a weekend getaway in Canada at the time) came back and went through the roof!! Like her decision to conceive me with a sperm donor was so humiliating that it should be locked away and kept secret from the world. Even my maternal grandmother, who had and still does always support me in these senseless family battles was outraged and told me how could I ever do something to her my mom like I did.

I still to this day to not understand the rationale of people who think that our pain and suffering is not near as devastating (or should even exist) compared to the decisions and lifestyle choices our parents made, and how painful it must have been to be 30 years old and want a baby of their own and not be in a relationship. I mean ::gasp:: how could I EVER be ungrateful to be alive after I was soooo loved and wanted, and to top it off I have to publicly state this to the world?!?!

Now I was to speak at a conference in Toronto three weeks after this incident, and since my poor car I worried about driving the 7-hour trek each direction (and without AAA assistance, which I relied on heavily), so I had to convince my furious mother to let me use her car that weekend. After throwing myself a pity party about getting stranded out of the country if my car broke down, she agreed to let me take hers. She still was against me speaking at the conference, but was slowly learning that I wasn’t going to give up, regardless.

After that conference I was busy with school and spent the next year and a half fairly distant from the DC community focusing on my studies. Last summer (2007), I received an email via the DSR from a donor, but since I was not a paying member of the registry – I had joined long before there were yearly dues – I could not access my messages. Since I knew my mother was so opposed (and she could see my debit card transactions), I used a friend’s credit card to pay my $40 so I could read this message. He was a donor from Xytex at the right time and had characteristics that definitely fit what my mom had asked for – brown hair, blue eyed, 5’9. I messaged him back and waiting over a month to hear back from him. We corresponded for several months and finally agreed to do a DNA test.

As soon as I sent mine in and we were waiting for the results I got what I can only describe as ‘cold feet’. It was this enormous fear, not of a negative result, but of a positive result!! I suppose because I had already done a DNA test that came back negative, I knew how to react and I knew the emotions I would encounter but after a couple weeks I would get over it. A positive test was uncharted territory. The fear that somehow if I had found my biological father it would destroy the relationship with my mother, or that’s the only thing I could think of that seemed justifiable. It was almost as if, having spent 22 years wondering and dreaming about my biological father, that I would somehow be disappointed if he wasn’t all I had dreamed him up to be!! Now, it sounds ridiculous I know, and had it been positive I’m sure my fears would have been diminished in place of that knowledge.

But sometimes I wonder if this ignorance is bliss mentality might be keeping offspring from searching or wanting to know. You see so many people who hate their biological parents already, so what’s to say my biological father might not be some bum or complete jerk and I wouldn’t want anything to do with him anyways?! While this is entirely possible, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to know who he is. He’s still my father and that will never change.

I finally got my donor number this past February, after once again using the Oprah show (and a DC friend who was on the program) as motivation to once again bring up the subject to my mother. She nonchalantly told me that she had seen some sort of vial number in her medical records back in 2005 when I asked her to release them to me (she got them but interestingly enough she conveniently forgot to show them to me when I came back to the states). She didn’t think anything of this number, but when she told me that it was D20-35 I know instantly that this was in fact my coveted donor number, as all the donor numbers listed on that sheet Xytex sent me in 2005 were written as D-_ _ _ _, and most of the numbers began with 2. She told me she hadn’t mentioned it b/c it didn’t look like the examples I had shown her. While I could go on all day about a conspiracy theory, it’s not worth my anger, as now I have my number.

We hadn’t talked about it since 2005, and I had since then done another DNA test and was in the middle of possibly a third with two offspring who found each other on the DSR. It was like the dam burst and I suddenly in the excitement and momentum of the moment I spilled everything that I had done, and amazingly my mother didn’t object. She simply took it in as I’m a grown up young adult and these are my decisions. She didn’t say she agreed, or even supported me. But she didn’t threaten to disown me, or tell me how ungrateful I am. She still does occasionally bring up the subject and doesn’t understand why I can’t agree with her decision to use DI to have a baby. But luckily the seas have calmed and at least I am now able to search without fear.

If you are wishing to begin searching for your donor or half-siblings, the first step is to register on as many registries as possible (see list of registries from across the globe to the right under searching for donor families). It doesn’t matter if you have a donor number or not, but definitely helps. For male offspring, there is Y-chromosome genealogical DNA tests, such as FamilyTree DNA, which can trace your Y-chromosome lineage and give you most common ancestors with surnames. This is helpful if you know at least a little information on your donor, such as if he was a university student, med student, name of the university, year of birth, or anything else that may set him apart. Simple paternity and siblingsip DNA tests, such as through Genetic Tests Laboratories which can be used if there is another offspring or donor who you think may be a match, but you don’t have a donor number. There are also Private Investigators and adoption reunion groups that can help if you have a name (after maybe doing a genealogical DNA test). In the United Kingdom, a program called UKDonorLink is a voluntary registry, which UK conceived offspring as well as donors could submit a DNA sample that is then cross-referenced to all the samples in their database to search for matches. With the Internet and many other modern technologies, searching for biological families has never been easier or more accessible, so take advantage of it!!

No comments: