Published on February 10th, 2022 | by Megan Hanlon2
The Unknowable Weight of Origin
There will come a day when a teenager will stand in my hallway, eyes bright with rage, and yell, You’re not even my real mother!
They will curse me with a veil of separateness, walling me off as “other” and “less than.” As though I didn’t endure more than three years of torture before pushing them out of my body. As though I didn’t ache for their sweet faces and small hands before they were mine.
Maybe their outburst will be prefaced with you can’t tell me what to do or you never let me do anything or I hate you! Sharp, inverted echoes of the same sorrows I once wept onto so many shoulders. What am I going to do and my body can’t do anything and I hate this.
I know this is coming, and I will never be ready.
Today is not that day. Today my five-year-old gazes up sleepily from her pillow nest and asks, “Can you show me how to get an egg donor? Because I want to be a mama someday too.”
I look tenderly at the daughter who is both mine and not mine, curled up against me in her bed.
“I bet your body will work just fine, and you’ll be able to make eggs all on your own,” I tell her, and hope it’s true. I don’t want the joys of her parenthood experience to have any shadows of sadness like mine.
Every year on each of their birthdays, I tell my children their origin stories. That Momma and Daddy longed for kids—a boy and a girl, just like them—but Daddy had limited sperm because of an old sickness and Momma’s body didn’t make enough eggs for the doctors to use. That a kind and generous stranger called an egg donor gave us tiny pieces of herself, which doctors combined with pieces from Daddy. How I saw on an ultrasound screen the briefest white spark when each of them entered my womb and became my children.
The story I recite is watered down for now—softened with time, age-appropriate descriptions, and positive language. I leave out frightening words like testicular cancer and the gore of removing suture fragments from your husband’s swollen, purple abdominal scar. I exclude the medical jargon of diminished ovarian reserve, skip past all the appointments where my insides were scraped and scanned and measured in cold procedure rooms. I don’t mention the days I sobbed in bathrooms at baby showers, or when I shattered a glass vase against the wall in anger and felt more broken than all those heavy, jagged pieces.
I gloss over the physical and emotional exhaustion that led me to give up on genetic children at only 32 years old, and the strength it took to say I couldn’t keep pushing my body to do what it refused to do.
They’re just five and eight, ages too tender to hear how surreal and bittersweet it felt to pick out a woman from a photo line-up of potential donors who would be in a biological threesome with us for life. She has wheat-blonde hair like my daughter and kind brown eyes like my son. I’ve never met her, but I see her face every day as my children look up at me.
Sooner than I want, they will learn the finer points of human reproduction. In simple terms it will click for them that we share no DNA, that I couldn’t have passed on any biological traits. It is scientifically impossible for my daughter’s Dimples of Venus or the auburn glints in my son’s hair to have come from me. We are bound together, yet uncombined.
I won’t tell them how deeply it hurts to know they will never look like me, now or in some kind future. But I might point out that they inherited from me other identifying features – empathy, a love of reading, a weakness for chocolate. I may say how I think my son’s sharp chin and my daughter’s long eyelashes, so like mine, are a wink and a nod from God. A small message of approval despite building my family in unorthodox ways.
My biggest fear is that I will not be enough, that the children I carried and birthed and tended through long nights will grow with holes in their souls aching for a connection I can’t provide. Standing in that heartless hallway, refuting my motherhood, they may want to seek out the anonymous woman who offered herself to start my family. On days when there’s something like peace, they may decide to see her photos, read her words, search electronically for the possibility of half-siblings. But I have no specifics or identifying information. I have nothing more to give them than all of the self that I sacrificed. I don’t know how.
“But I don’t know how,” my daughter says to me.
“Your body knows how. It will grow eggs all on its own when you’re a grown-up,” I explain, and I try to hold hope for the future—both my children’s and mine. May it continue to be a sweet walk of togetherness, an embrace of family instead of just circumstance.
All people start out unseen, floating, uncertain. Mother is an action more than an origin.