Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sharing Health Information with Donor Half-Siblings

I have ulcerative colitis.  It's one of the two diseases under the Inflammatory Bowel Disease umbrella (Crohn's is the other).  I have to take pills twice a day to keep the inflammation down, and I have to have a colonoscopy every couple years to screen for colon cancer since IBD increases my risk.  Mine is a very mild case that doesn't otherwise interfere with my day-to-day life.  Most people aren't so lucky.  Some need medications with significant side effects, or need surgery, or never get the inflammation quite under control. 

IBD is largely considered to be a heritable illness.  Every gastroenterologist I've met since the time of my diagnosis over a decade ago has asked if I had a family history and, when I said I didn't but that my father was an anonymous sperm donor, the doctor assured me bowel disease ran in my father's family.  Therefore I was unsurprised when I learned that my paternal grandmother had colon cancer when she died.  It did mean, however, that I should probably stop avoiding my regular colonoscopies the way I have been for the last several years because now I knew of two increased risk factors:  the IBD and the family history of colon cancer.

My half-siblings probably know about the cancer.  Our father talks to them, after all, and they actually met our grandmother, who died nearly fifteen years before I learned of her existence.  But I don't know if I should tell them about my IBD.  It seems awkward to bring up, but I do know if they ever go to gastroenterologists themselves for whatever reason, the intake paperwork will ask if they have any family with ulcerative colitis, among other things, and having a sibling with a disease does count as an increased risk for developing the disease yourself.

If I develop cancer, I will tell them.  If they told me about their own health information, or that they were having some kind of health problems, I would be comfortable bringing it up then too.  But for now, I think I will keep the IBD to myself.  I'm afraid they'd think I'm weird for bringing it up.  We just aren't that close.

I'd be interested to hear what other people -- donor conceived or adopted or not -- think on this topic.  What would you do with this relevant-but-not-necessarily-critical information?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

An Open Letter to My Father

I found you.  I did the thing I thought I'd never be able to do and I found you.  I wrote you a letter, and you wrote back.  You answered my questions and told me never to contact you again because your wife doesn't like it, and that is where we stand now.  I am so fortunate to have gotten this far.  I know your name and your favorite book and where you grew up.  I know how my grandparents died and I've seen their wedding photo.  I have photos of more of your extended family than of my mother's, thanks to Ancestry.com.  More photos of you than of the parents who raised me.  There used to be more photos of my family, but a lot got lost when my mother fell apart.

I don't know if you meant for your letter to sound condescending or if I read that tone into it.  It doesn't matter really.  I never expected you to want a relationship with me.  Lunch someday would have been nice, just to hear your voice and have a conversation, but if I'm being honest, I never expected it to happen.  My friends didn't even think you'd respond.  In hindsight, I wonder if you told your wife about my letter because you're so open with her or if she opened it herself because she reads your mail.  It doesn't matter really.  Just curious.  I know so little about you and your family dynamic.

Thank you for telling my brother and sister about me.  In hindsight, I realize you were probably up against a wall.  After your brother saw me on a DNA database, he had to contact your son to get a hold of your current phone number to ask you if you had any illegitimate children he should know about, so a dangerous number of people already knew something was up.  You probably thought you couldn't keep me a secret if you'd wanted to.  Regardless, thank you for telling my brother and sister about me, even if you did forbid me to contact them myself, as though forbidding me is a thing you have the power to do.  They both reached out to me before I even received your letter, so that took some of the sting out of it.  Did you ever consider they might want to know their donor conceived siblings?  They do, and it seems like it didn't occur to you.  I'm glad you told them though.  I know you aren't close with them and they're not close with each other, but they seem like good people and they welcomed me. 

Your son and I look a lot alike.  You'll know that if you've looked me up online.  I guess we both look like you.  We have the same sense of humor too.  Yours?  Your daughter tagged me as her sister on Facebook, much to the shock of some people who thought they knew the entirety of your immediate family.  I think that's what she was going for though -- shock factor.  She does that a lot, doesn't she?  It was exactly what you forbid me to do in your letter -- exactly what I wouldn't dare to post online myself -- so I got a kick out of it too.  I hope to get to know them better.

If I find more siblings, I'm going to give them your name and the information you gave me.  You know that, right?  They might contact you, just like I did.  Prepare yourself for that. 

I don't really talk to my parents anymore.  I could never actually tell you this, but you brought them up in your letter as Paragons of Child Wanting, so I want you to know.  I don't tell most people about my parents because it's not their business and I don't want them marking me as damaged goods or a terrible person, but the people who know my parents -- my best friend and my husband and my extended family -- they understand.  If I wanted you to know about my parents, I could post one of my wedding photos to Facebook where your kids would see it and wonder what's wrong with my mother.  They might be shocked enough to mention it to you, though the more I learn about your relationship with them, the more I doubt they tell you much.  That's how severely mentally ill my mother is -- it's obvious even in still photos.  Just thought you ought to know.  The things wrong with my dad don't come through in a photo.  They'd just see his wheelchair.

I don't know what I still want from you.  I wrote to you in the hopes that you'd tell your kids about me and tell me about yourself and maybe someday agree to meet me for lunch.  You gave me most of that and I still want more.  I realize I'm in a place of privilege to be able to want so much.  I didn't think I'd ever know who you are and here I am wanting to hear your voice and wanting to know what kind of jokes make you laugh.  I've already found everything about you I could online.  I wish you'd start a blog or something.

I think what I really want, at least what I really want for now, is for you to feel something for me.  Even if it's regret for the actions that led to my existence.  I'd settle for regret, you know.  I want you to lay awake at least once thinking about me, even if what you're thinking is how much you hate me for finding you and writing to you and getting your wife all "irrationally angry," as your son put it.  I want to be something to you, and I will never tell you these things.  Even if we were in contact and you wanted to get to know me, I could never tell you these things.  I would be always on my guard, always showing my best self, never taking my mask off because I know that I have always been nothing to you, just as I have spent the last thirty years being nothing to my half-siblings, and I have to constantly be earning the privilege of their inclusion.  One slip up and they can write me off forever because, while people say you can't choose your family, we both know that isn't true.  If my mother can say you're "just a donor" and you "don't count," that's a choice, even if you both made it for me.  My parents adopted another child -- that was a choice that was made for him.  And when I decided I didn't want to see any of them ever again, that was my choice.  You can indeed choose your family.  I want your children to continue choosing me, and I am afraid they won't, and you won't, no matter what I do. 

I'm glad I reached out to you.  I don't know if I ever want to hear from you again.  It's not a secret wish I hold onto or anything.  Mostly, when one of us dies, I just want the regrets to be on your end.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Father's Day for the Donor Conceived

Father's Day hits a lot of donor conceived people hard.  This will be my first Father's Day knowing who my biological father is.  We aren't in touch.  There is no question of if I should reach out to him or send him something -- he said he wants nothing to do with me, so he will never hear from me again.  I wonder if his Real Children will say anything about him on Facebook that day.  We're Facebook friends, my younger half-siblings and I.  I'd like to see more old photos of him, hear facts about what he's like as a person, but I don't expect them to say anything about him to me or on social media.  They post a lot, but the last time either of them posted photos of our father to social media was close to a decade ago.  I can't believe Facebook has been around for so long.

I won't be reaching out to my dad -- my non-biological social father -- on Father's Day either.  I made a decision not to spend more on that relationship than I get out of it, and not to do anything that will make me feel resentful of the fact that he seems mostly indifferent toward me.  Initially that meant I wouldn't manage his finances anymore or do him favors unless he occasionally prefaced his requests with "how are you?" or acknowledged my daughter's existence.  I told him I wanted him to ask after me and my daughter.  He said okay, but he never did it.  His messages were about doing things for him, so they could have been to anyone. 

It took time and effort to turn the reins of his finances over to him, but it saved me a lot of time and effort soon thereafter.  I also appreciate not having to watch him squander his new savings on tens of thousands of dollars of music equipment and a car he can't drive and -- for some unknown reason -- a collection of over one hundred pipes.  Hoarders need their collections, I guess.

A year or two ago, I decided I could afford mentally and emotionally to send greetings on holidays and his birthday.  Email only, and never more than a line of text because that was how much I could do without having to think about it.  That was how much I could do without starting to feel bad.  But even that much started to feel like a drain.  Last Thanksgiving I realized I didn't even want to expend that minimal amount of energy trying to stay in contact.  I would respond to anything he sent me, but I wasn't going to struggle to keep this relationship alive.  The 2014 holiday season passed with not a word between us.  Surprisingly, it felt good to me.  I had more energy to spend with friends and family who are pleasant and seem to love me.

Father's Day has never been particularly hard for me.  I've been lucky that way.  My dad always accepted gifts from me with a smile, so the holiday never held the stress or looming threat of Mother's Day.  This year my daughter is old enough to color a card and help make plans.  I mentioned the possibility of taking her dad out for ice cream, and she hasn't stopped talking about it.  Maybe we'll make pizza or go out for lunch too.  My husband never has expectations for holidays, so we'll do something simple and have fun together, like we do for Mother's Day.  I expect my brother Hans will have similar traditions.  He's a father too now.  I expect I'll see a photo of him and his son on Facebook this Sunday.  I wonder what my sister will do.  I wonder if they'll call our father privately, or send him a card or a gift.  I wonder how he responds to cards and gifts and phone calls.  I wonder what he's like.

I hope he thinks of me.  He is my father, after all, regardless of how he looks at the situation.  I don't recall thinking of my biological father much on Father's Day in the past, but this is the first year my father has been a specific person, rather than some nebulous idea.  He's Joseph Von Trapp now, rather than "a doctor with blue eyes who is a probably good at math."  It's strangely new and real, having a person for a father, and I think of him.  I don't expect him ever to care for me, but I want him to think of me occasionally too, even if it's with regret.  Regret would be better than nothing.  Regret would mean I'm real to him too.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Kid Left Behind

My dad emailed me a few days ago to say that he is out of the hospital and living in his own house again.  My older brother Dante moved back home years ago, shortly after my mother moved out.  He told my dad he was being evicted for failing to pay rent.  He has always been against paying rent.  He brought his girlfriend and her son with him.  He has apparently broken up with his girlfriend since then, but her son, Aiden, still lives at the house.

It's a bachelor pad now, my dad said, just the three of them.  He also said Aiden missed his last year of high school because his mother didn't enroll him before she left and Dante "didn't have the right paperwork."  He's spent the last year alone in his room (my old room, by deductive reasoning) playing video games.  This angers my dad, who says he needs to get a job or at least enroll at a trade school.  It reminded me of the way he used to talk about Dante.  He didn't like Dante. 

Dante at least had parents who made him go to school. 

I only met Aiden once, at my wedding when he was about ten.  He seemed like a sweet kid, ginger hair and a shy smile and a lisp.  Dante was the father figure in his life from the time he was four.  That thought scares me.  I have known Dante since he was six, and we lived in adjacent bedrooms for 18 years.  My bedroom door -- now Aiden's bedroom door -- has a knee-shaped splintering from one of Dante's rages when he tried to break it down to get to me.  Another time he wrapped his hands around my neck and simultaneously choked me while lifting me off the ground.  These events happened when he was in his twenties and I was a teenage girl.  These are not the worst things he did, but I don't want to talk about those.  I believe he is a psychopath. 

My mother told me Dante had grown up and changed once he was in his thirties, that he was so great with Aiden that the kid was the only reason he hadn't broken up with his girlfriend.  That Aiden loved him so much that he'd suggested as a very young child that they could both leave his mother and live together, just the two of them.  None of this seemed weird to her, just complimentary.

I am ashamed to admit it didn't even occur to me until Aiden was 17 that my brother might have abused him.  It only occurred to me when I was talking to my therapist about him and she gave me a look and asked how old he was, so basically it occurred to my therapist.  She was a mandated reporter and wanted to know if she needed to contact the local Child Protective Services.  Apparently the things I said would have warranted a call if he'd been younger.  He's at an age where no one cares about him now.

The times I've met Dante since moving out, I saw no change in him.  He's very good with strangers, very personable, and we're effectively strangers now, so we're cordial.  The last time I talked to him was three or four years ago.  We exchanged pleasantries -- he congratulated me on my new baby he would never meet and I asked about his garden I would never see -- but only because I'd called my dad at home and Dante had answered.  It's the sort of relationship I would expect to have with a neighbor I saw commit a murder.  The goal is to keep my distance and not to seem like a threat.

I don't know what to do about Aiden.  I don't think there is anything I can do.  He's still young.  He could still get out and do things, but he's 18 so no one will help him.  He still seems like a sweet, albeit mostly grown, kid, at least based on my skulking quietly on his Facebook page.  He has some local family on social media, but they haven't taken him in.  He posts regularly about anime and being lonely.  I don't know where his mother went.  I know it's unlikely, but I'm not 100% certain my brother didn't murder her.  She has no internet presence, and I don't know anyone who would have seen her.  I don't want to turn up on Dante's radar.  I don't know what to do.