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.

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My heart is full.

We spent this past weekend with family of a new kind. Four people already very dear to us flew all the way from San Antonio so we could meet in person for the first time. Dan and Laurie and their two children, Andrew (who is five) and Claire (who is almost four), are Lina’s donor family.

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Yes, that’s my son resisting photos with all his might.

The weekend surpassed our hopes. The time we spent together was amazing. It’s staggering to realize that a profile containing a few pages of personal data was the basis for a connection like this. We had fun together, taking the kids on adventures, hanging out at home and staying up until 1 a.m. talking every night. Lina took beautifully to Laurie and the family, and the kids had a blast together at the splash pad, playing in mud, roasting hot dogs over a Saturday night bonfire, and catching fireflies with plastic bottles in the back yard. It was a lot of quality time with some truly lovely people.

That’s not to say it was all exactly easy. It was emotional for all of us, but particularly for Laurie, I think. I put myself in her shoes and imagine what it would be like to hold Lina, to see my older children in her, to love her deeply, and then to head home without her, knowing she belongs to another family. I certainly had fleeting moments of wondering, “What if Lina decides she prefers her biological mom?” Perhaps in some ways, it would be easier to keep a greater distance. But we have collectively decided that for us, the benefits far outweigh the risks. Our time together proved that we are all richer for the relationships that have grown out of this crazy-weird situation.

Laurie and Dan made the decision several years ago to donate their two remaining embryos because they knew they didn’t want to go through fertility treatments again but recognized the value of those tiny clusters of cells. They gave Lina the opportunity for life, and now our families are connected in a way that defies explanation or definition. We are grateful to them, and I know they are grateful to us for being the right family for Lina.

After our guests departed yesterday morning, we found they had left us a book. It’s called The Invisible String. It’s the story of a mother who explains to her frightened children that they are never really separated from her because they are connected by an invisible string made of love. The children realize how many invisible strings connect them to all the people they love. There was a note for us in the front, and I barely avoided tears as I read it to the kids.

I am truly grateful for this particular set of invisible strings.

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Our guests shared a fun Mexican tradition with us: cascarones.

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For anyone reading this blog who might be exploring the option of embryo donation, I want to be clear that our arrangement with Lina’s donor family is neither required nor typical. This relationship has grown over the course of long correspondence. This kind of arrangement will not be right for everyone, and donors and recipients are able to determine how much – if any – contact they wish to have with each other. We can personally recommend the National Embryo Donation Center for anyone interested in learning more.

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!