Where Do You Come From?
We have some pretty random eggs in our family, and find ourselves often asking ‘Where do you come from?’ Sure, everyone thinks people in their family are a bit odd, but in our family, we’re not the only ones who think it.
Part of that, I suspect, comes from our genetic variances. You see, infertility and fertility issues are rife amongst our lot, particularly and on my Dad’s side. In just my nuclear family, my brother is adopted and I am a donor baby of the era before you got to pick a donor from a resume, but instead came from a random unknown delivered via turkey baster.
My parents weren’t able to have kids the usual way, and that in itself must have been unimaginably hard in the 1970s, when everyone who wasn’t a pot-smoking barefoot traveller was cast in the mould of ‘get married, have kids’ – although, to be fair, some of my friends are the result of the pot-smoking barefoot travellers popping out babies as well.
The adoption route was the one most childless couples were steered down at that time. My brother was the ‘love child’ of a young woman who was too scared to tell her parents she was pregnant. It was a common story. At the time there was a long list of couples seeking to adopt, but after a few years of going through the process Mum and Dad got the call, there was a baby boy for them. He was the first grandchild on both sides of the family and was adored, particularly by Dad’s parents.
A few years later, and having been told that since they now had one child, there was next to no chance of them being able to adopt a second, Mum and Dad looked at other options. This led to Melbourne’s pioneering fertility clinic and what was Australia’s first donor sperm program (and, incidentally, was the same clinic that produced the world’s first IVF pregnancy). The program, as my family GP once joked, paid male medical students pretty well to do what they were doing all the time for free anyway. Too much information?
And, across the extended family, there are plenty of other stories. We’ve got cousins who were adopted, cousins born via IVF, cousins who were abandoned by their dads and one cracker of a great-aunt who was taken in as an orphan and went on to become the family matriarch. Actually, we’re pretty sure she was actually our great-grandmother, but no one was game to talk about it in front of her, as it was all very hush, hush. What we do know for sure is that our great-grandfather was booted from the house by his immensely strong wife, who then moved with the still young teen, and the baby, to the country where she raised them both as a single mother.
It’s all very Days of Our Lives.
For us, there were few secrets and how we came to be a family was just another part of life. For the people who said things like, ‘Gosh, he must be adopted’ about my very tall brother (the rest of us are Oompa Loompa short), only to be told, dead pan, because it’s funnier that way, ‘Actually, yes, he is’ it always came as a bit of a shock. Telling people I was a sperm donor baby had them making that red-faced goldfish mouth expression that people get when they’ve accidentally hit on an uncomfortable truth and they don’t know what to say next. It’s the same face people make when they’ve congratulated a woman on being pregnant, only to be told that she’s not.
At a family wedding recently, my eight year-old son had the shock of his young life when my mum, who suffers from terrible verbal diarrhea, proceeded to tell him about his uncle being adopted over breakfast. To be honest, it’s such a normal part of my life that I hadn’t even thought about going through it all with the kids. My mistake!
Later that day, at my brother’s wedding, my son happily told guests that his uncle was my step-brother, because we’ve got a few step and half siblings too, but we just call them brother and sister because that’s how they feel to us. So I had to stop and have another conversation with the poor kid, who I’m sure was totally confused now – that no, his uncle was my very real, very full brother.
I’m not sure he completely got it, but one day very soon I’ll sit down and have the family talk with them, which will have to loosely include the sex talk because you just can’t explain it in any way that makes sense without that talk.
And one day, probably not that soon because there are only so many hours in the day, I’ll sign on to that voluntary registry and see if there are any medical history nasties on that medical student’s side … because every time I have to go in for a medical whatever they ask the question, ‘Do you have a family history of…?
Family history? Do I ever!