Your Brother by Another Mother

Sibling, half-sibling, donor sibling, halfsie. Brother, half-brother. What’s in a name?

I have four younger siblings. The youngest has a different bio-dad than the rest of us. Once when he was about six, and we were walking to get ice cream, he said, “you’re just my half-sister, right?”

It floored me. I scrambled to tell him that it wasn’t true. Then I realized that it WAS true, of course, at one level, in that we have different genetics on the father’s side, and he was curious about that. I responded honestly – it’s not like we kept it secret. But I clarified that he was absolutely my “full” and “real” brother. We have never once used the qualifier “half” to describe our relationship with him, and we never would.

So. Our boys have the same donor, and different bio-moms. They share only half of their genetics. They are 100% brothers: we do not ever say “half-,” or god knows, “donor sibling.” I bristle when anyone expresses something about how “nice” it is that they’re “real” brothers. They’d be real brothers no matter what: they have the same parents, they’re being raised in the same household, as brothers. Obviously.

Let’s talk about donor siblings, though. That’s where things get a bit tricky.

I just got a newsy email from the the Donor Sibling Registry, and skimming it stirred up a lot of thoughts. I’m generally supportive of their work, which emphasizes transparency and better regulation of the gamete-donation industry, along with the rights of donor-conceived children to know about their genetic origins. Unlike some other organizations that purport to do this, the DSR seems genuinely celebratory of all kinds of families. There’s no scary right-wing agenda lurking beneath the surface. They are very firm in believing that it’s best for all donor-conceived kids to contact/meet/know their donor siblings and their donors. This might not sit well with everyone. Admittedly, it makes me a bit squirmy. After all, we chose to build our family in this way, and it can feel like there’s some sort of rebuke inherent in the transparency argument, like this was not the ideal thing to do, so now you’d better make up for it.

At the same time, I really, really, really want to see this from the point of view of the offspring. I grew up wondering about my biological father’s family; I knew who they were, but didn’t have contact. My closest cousin had no relationship with her birth father, who had never acknowledged her. Granted, these are very different scenarios, because they involve loss and pain and abandonment. Our boys were created purposefully, with great love; everyone involved, including the donor, I like to think, had the best of intentions.

Regardless, I think it’s natural to wonder about one’s genetics. I did, a lot. Thanks to social media, I’m in touch with some members of my father’s family now, and it satisfies a deep curiosity. I will never be close to my dad’s family, nor do I want to be, but I did want to know more about them. I think about this when I hear statements like, “IF the children want to know about their donor,” “when they’re older, IF they’re curious, we’ll look for donor siblings,” etc., because it seems almost certain that they’ll wonder. I don’t mean they’ll want to reject their family of origin! I just think they’ll be curious. And frankly, I don’t think that “love makes a family” is going to be a satisfying answer to adolescents in the throes of identity formation. That’s ok with me. My bond to my boys is unshakeable; I am not threatened by them exploring the donor side of the equation.

Well…maybe I’m just a WEE bit threatened, but I am doing my best to quell that, or at least, not let that get in their way.

Hence, our decision to reach out to other families who used the same donor. We are FB friends, and have met once in person with a few of them. Jaybird and Starling have 14 donor siblings that we know of, thanks to our bank’s private registry. We know the identities of about half that group. (This is because families can opt to post more or less info on the registry, and some have chosen to remain anonymous, which I totally get.) Those sweet-faced kiddos are technically their “half-siblings,” right? And in fact, they share as much genetic material with those relative strangers as they do with each other. Isn’t that weird? It’s weird to me.

I’ve noticed that the other moms in our little group use different language to refer to our kids’ relationship. A couple of them casually say “brother” or “sister,” while others are careful to say “donor sibling,” and one uses the term “halfsie.” Interestingly, all the sibs that we know are only children in their families. There is one exception: one of the single moms lives in the same city as one of the other single moms, and they loosely share parenting duties, though they live in separate houses. They refer to those two boys as “brothers.” I assume they chose the same donor intentionally.

I’ve also noticed, in the various donor sibling documentaries I’ve dug up, that donor-conceived teens and adults seem to like the term “brother” or “sister” instead of the other variations. I wonder if this is about identity: a way to stake a claim, to show investment. The featured teens, especially, have a defiant, fiercely loyal attitude about their donor sibling relationships. I can see that adolescence would engender this. Plus, some of these teens haven’t been raised with much info or transparency about their donor origins, and they’re understandably frustrated about that.

Our plan is to be honest about our choices, what we know about the donor, why we chose him, and that these siblings exist. My hope is that my boys will be able to talk to their donor sibs about the experience of being donor-conceived, and that they’ll find camaraderie there. What will their relationships look like, beyond that? I don’t know. They will determine that, eventually. For now, I just want to make sure the door is open.

That’s the idea. In practice, it can make me feel uncomfortable at times. I’m not sure how to navigate our relationships with these families. At this point it’s all via social media, pretty much.

What I didn’t expect is the level of affection I feel for the kids. I “know” them only via a constant stream of adorable photos and videos, but I just love them. I want to have them all over for cookies. I feel such a jolt of recognition when I see some of their expressions. There is quite a bit of resemblance between some of them, including our boys – Jaybird looks more like this one donor sibling than he does like Starling, for instance. They all seem to be confident, inquisitive, outgoing little people with a flair for the dramatic. They’re just so familiar to me, in a heart-squeezing sort of way.

Maybe that’s just because they have loving families who encourage them, though. I mean, how much is genetic? Who can say? Maybe I’m reading too much into the connection.

Beyond the kids, I like their parents. I feel close to some of them. We are similarly feminist, intellectual, witty, political, amused by and in love with our kids. (Yes, fine, I DID just describe 75% of the queer parent population.) But it goes beyond that – we share some definite career interests, educational experiences. A love of cooking, art. This is especially true with a couple of the families. I think we’d hang out, if we lived in the same city.

And, well …

One of the as-yet-anonymous families on the registry IS in our city. We know they have three kids, their genders and birth dates, and the first name of one of the parents. It’s an unusual first name, and thanks to Google, I’m 97% sure I know who this family is.

Oh, god, I know. I am SUCH a stalker. It’s terrible. Now I can’t un-know it! We aren’t friends IRL, but we do have friends in common, and they live in our area, and I can see the kids’ photos on FB and they look like the donor sibs, and are the same ages as what’s listed on the registry, including a set of twins – it’s just pretty obvious.

I’ve thought of sending a message to one of the moms. Then again, she’s chosen anonymity and I’ve gone and violated that, so maybe I should just keep my knowledge to myself. That’s what I’ve been doing.

How about all of you, dear readers? How do you name and navigate donor sibling relationships? Do you use the DSR, and what do you think of them? Do you think I’m super creepy for finding out who that family is? Wait, no, don’t answer that.

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8 thoughts on “Your Brother by Another Mother

  1. Your story sounds very similar to ours! Thanks to my blog, we have located 15 other families with donor siblings to our son. Or rather, I should say they have found us! A quick search for our donor brings my blog to the forefront of Google.

    There is such a wonderful mix of families and we are all on FB together and in a private group we created just for us, with the exception of one mom who wasn’t comfortable with the idea, but is open to emails. We have families all over the world and many here in the States, and the closest family to us is about 3 hours away. We feel similarly to you, in that we look at their children and can’t help but feel invested in some way. There is even one girl who could be our son’s identical twin, they look so much alike. The moms and us all have a special bond and some are more interactive than others, still hesitant to fully open up and are content to just post once in a while for big milestones. We’ve discussed having a meet-up one day, but that will have to wait until all of our children are much older.

    As for your predicament with your local fellow donor-sibling mom (not sure how to say that!), I don’t think you’re creepy at all. Once I found one or two of the moms on FB I proceeded to scroll through their friends list to see if they had connected with other moms so that I could add them. A few of them had met via the DSR prior to when I started my blog. One mom was really secretive and quiet about everything and when I reached out to her via FB she was extremely hesitant to proceed in forming any relationships with other donor siblings and their families. Time passed however, and she came around, and is now an active member of our FB group. She just so happens to also be the mom who lives 3 hours away from us. All this to say, that maybe one day curiosity will get the better of them and they may come seeking you out. It seems like you may meet sooner than later though, being in the same city and moving within the same social circles. Good luck! 🙂

    1. Hi! Thanks for the comment! I’m impressed that you have families all over the world, even. Isn’t it weird – the level of investment, the way that these kids are related but not related to your family, etc.? I can totally understand that some people are open and eager, and others are more reticent, when it comes to defining these relationships.

  2. My ex and I did exactly what you two did. And we always consider our boys brothers.

    I’m in touch with 6 other donor sibling families who share our unknown donor. We met on DSR. We share photos on Facebook and update each other on what’s going on in our kids’ lives. Of these families, 4 are 2 mom families. 3 are straight, but of those, 1 is a single mom by choice. Sadly all of the 2 mom families (including mine) have split from the original configuration of moms. I’ve met one family when our oldest was nearly 2 years old. The oldest of these 9 donor sibs is 14 and the youngest is 10. None of the kids have interacted yet as siblings though 2 of the families meet up annually when on vacation. My oldest (13) is aware of the sibs but says that he has no interest in meeting them. My ex (bio mom of the 10 year old) does not want to see photos or connect with these families.

    1. So interesting to hear this! I’m v. curious about what things will be like as the boys get older. So far J. has zero interest and never asks, and I mean never, about having a dad or whatever. He is curious, mildly, about the photos of his donor sibs, but we don’t bring it up much.

  3. Love this! Speaking of stalkerish (just kidding), this friend is VERY excited you are blogging again. I may have too much to say for a blog comment. But sending much love and understanding if that is even the correct word.

  4. I have been meaning to respond to this as soon as I have a decent chunk of time at a computer…oddly, this hasn’t happened yet. But for now: Thanks for posting. I identify with so much of this and the rest is real food for thought.

    Also, I’m a total stalker myself and would maybe welcome this overture if it were about anything other than my children’s privacy, I think. I remember a couple I know stumbling unknowingly onto a shared donor family and while they’re okay with, even enjoying, the connection now, were completely thrown for a loop at the time. Such a sensitive topic and one that absolutely must be grappled with on one’s own terms. I think if I were in your position I would drop hints about wanting to have the conversation but not that I knew of the connection. And I am almost certain my wife would disapprove strongly of this course of action!

    1. Yes, so strange that you don’t have much time to yourself these days … ! Ha. I’ve also heard about a couple who unwittingly discovered that another couple had used the same donor. In this case, I can see that we have mutual acquaintances via FB with this family, but we don’t actually know / haven’t met them. I wonder if we ever will, just randomly. I think I might, eventually, put more of a nudge on the registry itself – my email, more about the neighborhood I’m in, that kind of thing.

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