For the shared love of a girl

Back when I first started talking about the Buddy Walk, Laurie – you may remember being introduced to her family last August – contacted me to say they were thinking about making the trip to Tennessee to join us for the event this year. I was thrilled, and the planning commenced.

Unfortunately, their family has terrible luck with air travel. They got stranded in the airport for hours last year trying to get home, and this year, storms and horrible flooding swept through their area just as they prepared to leave and threw flight schedules into chaos. They finally arrived in Nashville 16 hours later than planned, meaning they were able to catch only the tail end of the Buddy Walk. The delay was very disappointing, but we honored their determination to get here by soaking everything we could from the too-short visit. That meant a couple fun outings, but mostly a lot of hanging out together.

This visit felt different than last time. We were more immediately comfortable with each other, and the kids are a year older and able to really play together. Watching them interact was the highlight for all of us, I think. I have wondered how they will relate to each other as they grow older. Andrew and Corin hit it off fantastically, and Claire and Lina adored each other.

There is no definition for the relationship our families have. This is the uncharted water we entered when we chose embryo donation as the path to our second child. In a sea of the unexpected, this relationship with Lina’s biological family is a gift. It probably sounds crazy to a lot of you, and it probably would have to an earlier version of myself. But now, Dan and Laurie and the kids are family, and we are so grateful to have them in our lives.

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Best we could do for a costume photo

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Bowling!

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Corin directing the ball after his roll

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Playing in the matching jammies requested and chosen ahead of time by Claire

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“Ring around the rosie…”

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“We all fall down!”

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And time for a break, with the requisite hair rubbing and finger sucking

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In closing, I’d like to share what Laurie posted last night about our weekend together. Some of you have seen it already, but it seems important to have the other side of this experience represented here, as part of this family story.

Every time I tell this story of how Dan and I donated a frozen embryo to a couple in Tennessee, I hear “oh what a gift! That was so generous of you!” And I never understand why people would say that. It never felt like giving a gift. It felt like a terribly painful decision to do the responsible and ethical thing while pulling all my heartstrings out of my body across three states. It felt like tons of tears and therapy. It was sleepwalking for months, looking for a baby in my sleep that I was afraid I had forgotten to take care of. My proudest accomplishment is being a mommy and it went against everything inside me to think of a blonde munchkin being raised in another family. Jon and Jolene are the ones who gave us a gift. Peace of mind that we did the right thing. Their willingness to share their lives with us has made this a million times easier. And they gave Claire and Andrew a sister. Even if she’s a sister that lives with her own family, they still get it. Andrew has a new friend in Lina’s big brother. He was too busy playing with Corin to let me take many photos of him, so this weekend felt like a bonding of the sisters. When the girls were playing ring-around-the-rosies and Claire told Lina “you’re my baby sister,” it’s when I knew this was also a gift that would keep on giving. Forever.

Guess who’s coming…for the weekend?

The tickets have been booked, so I’ll say it: Lina’s donor family is coming to visit!

It’s been in the works for quite a while, since Lina’s donor mom asked me months ago how we felt about the idea. She said she realized she really wanted to see Lina while she is still a baby (a time that is quickly fading), and their kids are old enough now to remember and really enjoy the trip – their first on an airplane. We were absolutely game to meet the people who have come to feel like extended family.

If you had told me several years ago that this is what we would be doing, I might have called you crazy. I know it probably sounds so weird to most people. This is not a common scenario (although I have met a surprising number of people who are familiar with embryo donation). The old me might have thought it would be threatening somehow to have another mom of any sort in the picture.

But the me who has lived the last three years of this experience knows that we’re just lucky to have more people in our lives who love our daughter and our family. There is no territorialism here, but a shared bond. I can’t wait for them to meet Lina. I can’t wait for our kids to play together. And yes, I admit, I am a little nervous. My inner school girl really wants them to like me!

It can admittedly be a little tricky to explain to kids who are still too young to fully understand our connection. Obviously, it’s not an issue for Lina yet. Corin knows that babies start out as tiny embryos and that Lina’s embryo came from another family, but that she grew inside mommy. He is familiar with her donor family and has seen plenty of pictures, especially of the kids. We’ve mentioned several times that they are coming to visit, and we’ll talk more about it as the visit gets closer. Lina’s donor parents have told their kids that Lina is a special kind of sister who will grow up with a different family. They felt – and I agree – that applying a false label, like “cousin,” just didn’t fit.

I think I can safely say it’s the hope of both families that our children will learn to appreciate this connection, and that they will care about each other all through their lives. At the very least, I feel it is a tremendous advantage for all of this to be in the open, freely talked about and made familiar. We have the opportunity now to get to know each other in person, a relationship built from opposite ends of a shared experience.

So, coming mid-August: The blog post where you get to meet Lina’s donor family!