Friday, February 14, 2014

Parenting, yes. Normal? Not so much

I took a day off work yesterday because Magpie's caregiver couldn't make it to our place in the snowstorm. So my busy busy busy girl and I spent the day playing and in the course of things had a playdate with a neighbor mom and her child who is about the same age as Magpie. Yay for in-building playdates on snow days!

Some of the mom-mom interactions during playtime brought up what is usually dormant for me now but used to be this huge barrier between me and "normal" people. By "normal" I mean, in the case of this mom - she is very nice, but (1) not infertile; (2) much younger than me (because she tried and succeeded to get pregnant and have a baby, not spending years and years in the process like us); (3) she has no loss history.

It's funny. Because for the most part, I think I've fully accepted our history and road to having Magpie. And hey, she's here, right? Which is what counts. So in that way, I wouldn't really change a thing. It might sound weird to say I'm "over it," and while that's an oversimplification, I don't dwell on our journey in any mournful kind of way. If anything, as many of you know because I've written about it repeatedly, I'm just still in this "pinch me, is she really here?" kind of place.

But then something happens. Some small interaction that would be nothing if not for our history.

Sometimes it's someone innocently asking if we're planning to have another child. Sometimes it's someone asking if Magpie is my only child. Or why we started our family so late. Sometimes it's someone complaining about the "annoyance" of being pregnant or trying to engage me in the discussion of "optimal" spacing between children. (Ha ha!)

Yesterday it was a benign comment: "Wow, Magpie doesn't really look like either one of you! Who does she look like?"


So we've actually been told by many others that Magpie is the spitting image of daddy (the majority), and by the minority that she looks like me (usually that she has my eyes). But why do people always have to comment on who she does or doesn't look like, anyway? No idea. But people are obsessed with this.

Because we came so so close to Magpie NOT being related to me genetically, because we were a hairsbreadth away from using an unrelated egg donor and would have done so if the donor hadn't turned up with a rare chromosomal abnormality (and been quite happy with that choice, I might add), I had a different reaction to this comment than I might have, without that context.

So my reaction was a little bit of indignation. What do you mean?! Um, Magpie looks like herself, you know?! And also just a noticing of my potential reaction - that if she had been an egg donor baby, this is the type of question that might have stung a bit, might have poked at that tender place of loss about the genetic relationship that I was unable to share with her.

So there I was, on our playdate, holding both realities. Knowing Magpie IS related to me, but is so very much herself. Knowing that she might not have been related to me genetically, which would have been wonderful too, but different.

And feeling that chasm reveal itself for a minute between me and the "normal" mom. The one without infertility, without a loss history, the one who's never had to consider the idea of having a baby who is not her genetic relation.

And that this is my new reality: to be the incredibly lucky person who got out the other side of a terrible situation and is left immensely grateful. To be the incredible lucky person who gets to parent, but is not quite normal.


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  1. Uncanny.

    I'm actually writing an essay about this issue. It drives me CRAZY how often people comment on children's appearance and where it comes from. With LG, it's her height. With Tiny Boy, it's eye color. And although I did use both donor egg and donor sperm, these traits are genetic flukes, unlikely to happen based on the donor's appearance (short, brown hair brown eyes). Even LG said recently "he doesn't look like he belongs in this family." Oh-kay.

    I'm also okay with using donors, am totally grateful for my two children and for the way they came into being..... but really what is this questioning about? And what of the day when my son knows how he was conceived and we get those comments?

  2. I used an egg donor to have my daughter and it still bothers me when people tell me she looks nothing like me. I also wonder why people are so obsessed with who the baby looks like. It drives me crazy because I've never done this.

  3. Based on comments I read from others, I think I am in the minority in feeling this way. . . But I am a mother to twin boys who were conceived with the use of donor eggs, neither of whom look a bit like me, and I don't care one bit when people make comments about it.

    One of my sons looks almost exactly like my husband (except for his hair and eye color, which is the donor's); the other looks like my MIL as a child (but this would not be readily apparent to a casual observer, since he doesn't like my MIL as she looks now, at age 69).

    Appearance is a complete crap-shoot, genetically speaking. Your post just illustrates the fact that even children who are genetically related to both parents do not always resemble them.

  4. S., You are awesome! And while I aspired to get to the place of not being bothered by these kinds of comments if I had used donor egg, I didn't think that I would have started there. You are totally right - appearance IS a complete crapshoot. My (imagined) response isn't rational, more speaks to the unresolved bit of loss I think I might have felt. Do you think the fact that you have twins helps illustrate that? (since they are 100% related but aren't exact replicas of each other?)

    1. I hadn't considered this, Mo, but you may be right. There's no doubt my sons are twins--I was there so I'm sure, LOL--and were two embryos transferred together from the same Petri dish. . . and yet they look quite dissimilar.

  5. I have occasionally commented on resemblance if somebody looks a lot like their mom or brother or sister or father, especially if it is not an overt resemblance or something you can't put your finger on, but I would definitely never walk up to somebody and comment on how their kid did NOT look like them...that just seems unnecessary, and very slightly rude.

  6. This used to happen to be with our son all the time, and it drove me batty. People would carry on about how much he looked like my wife (no genetic relationship) and others wold go out of their way to tell me he didn't look like me (genetic/gestational mom). I understand the first impulse -- we had tried to find a donor who looked like her, so yay for success. But I will never understand why people tell any parent s/he doesn't look like the child. Why bring that up?

    When all this was going on, I was havng a tough time with breastfeeding, too, which made it an extra kick in the teeth. Like, oh, you had a hard time conceiving, birthing, and now caring for this child? None of that amounts to anything anyway! At the same time,even feeling hurt by those comments felt like I was betraying my wife, like I was saying having a genetic relationship makes a person more real as a parent, which I don't actually think.

    The good news is that it has tapered off a lot now that he is older.

  7. i am also IF, history of losses, older parent, IVF, complicated pregnancies, and also have used GC once, so definitely not a "normal" parent. some time has gone by, so, well, nothing has disappeared in my past, but i am busy trying to live in the present and hopeful for my kids' futures... but, the past is a part of me, it totally defines who i am.

    many people think that we adopted both of our kids. one day i just appeared with an infant, so i can understand the assumption. not many people saw me pregnant with my son- i was on hospital bed rest in a different city for half the pregnancy- and with my daughter, we used a GC. we told people we were picking up our baby in a different state. i am sure we will get questions from our kids later on in life about this.

    i think especially because of my diverse and complicated maternal history, i am sympatico with all of the possibilities that could have made me a practicing parent- adoption, donor egg/sperm/embryo, foster, whatever... so if people want to make these assumptions, i mean, whatever! does it really matter in the end? NO. if i had adopted my son and daughter, i would love them the same, so, i can't control what others think or assume! my daughter looks nothing like any of us, even though she is the same genetics and the same batch as my son... sometimes i wonder if dr.schoolcraft's ears have that little nick in them like hers, LOL... omg, so inappropriate!

    at some point, these histories and distinctions become less and less relevant on a daily basis. when we were in the delivery room watching the GC birth our daughter, the OB looked up and said "you guys look a little freaked out!". haha. well, she didn't know it, but 9 years ago, we had to watch as our first daughter was born still, having died during labor... uh, yeah, we are a little freaked out... but no one really knew, it was a part of our past that was relevant only to us at this point.

    i think we are sensitized to these comments because we have been 'through the trenches'. at some point, it will sting less, become less noticeable.

  8. I was fortunate not to have late losses, and even tho I struggled to 6 years, multiple IVFs and clinics, 1st tri losses, spent over 100K, now that my family is complete I do feel essentially over it. That exact egg and sperm combo made our precious kids, and since sperm live only like 70 days if we had had earlier success we wouldn't have these exact kids. Luckily both kids resemble us a lot so we don't get those questions. We have unfortunately been asked if they were our grand kids! I won't lie, those hurt. We don't look that old, sure it's biologically possible, but really--if you don't know, don't ask!!! I also feel uncomfortable when I hear someone make a random older parent comment.

  9. I have to admit, I am fascinated by children who are replicas of their parents. And Mo, magpie DOES have your eyes!! i've thought that more than once. It makes me happy to look at my sweet girl's mouth and see myself in her; I'm not ashamed to say it. People will make stupid comments. I cannot imagine telling a person that their child does not resemble them. It's a bit like asking a marginally pregnant-looking woman when she's due.
    I can see how such a comment about looks would be hurtful and awkward when your child does not share your DNA.
    I had a spot of trouble conceiving my children but our path was not too torturous. As another mentioned, it led me to THESE children. i can't imagine doing it any other way.

  10. I was a teen mom so I had the discomfort of all the other moms being older than me. My mom had five kids with the age difference between #1 and #5 of 16 years. A lady at the ballpark asked her if they were all by the same man! I thought that was incredibly rude! People sometimes say that my cousin and I resemble each other - she's adopted. Honestly, I think some people just need a better filter between brain and mouth.

  11. I tried to explain the genetics of my twins (from donor embryos) to my stylist (is that what you call the person who cuts your hair??) who was asking about where the babies got their hair. She seriously didn't get it. I probably will just make vague generalizations in the future.

    I have yet to figure out how to respond to the "who looks like you and who looks like dad?" comment (I am single, there is no dad).

    I am grateful that they look "enough like me" that I don't think I will get too many comments.

  12. People say really stupid things without thinking, things they seem to think they have the right to say, or things they think are not a big deal. You know, no, she doesn't know your story, your history. But we also don't know hers.

  13. I'm fascinated with genetics and just see it as another way we are connected to those around us. It is only one way that we might be connected and physical at that so pretty shallow. That being said I do think its rude to comment on how someone doesn't look like a family member. Its like pointing out how disconnected they are from you.


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