Unlocking Family: Discovering Diblings

“You’ve got siblings.”

It’s not everyday that you open your email to discover your child has another sibling—or two. But this summer it seemed to happen every few weeks.

These emails or online connections came from moms who used the same donor I did to conceive Little Man, so technically they are half-siblings, also know as donor siblings or, my fav term, diblings.

Once a family has conceived using a donor, there are several registries (national or cryobank specific) where one can connect with diblings and their parents. I hadn’t really thought much about it before I became pregnant, but after my son was born I became curious and searched. At first there were only two other families listed and neither had left contact information. Then as Little Man neared his first birthday, I decided to check again and, sure enough, found an email. Then another. Then a couple moms contacted me. As of today we’re just a couple diblings short of a round dozen.

But what’s the big deal anyway? These women have no relation to me, they and their children are spread across the country, and they may never be more than an acquaintance online. Yet each and every time I’ve connected with a new family, I’ve gotten a thrill and felt an instant connection. Yes, it’s exciting to see pictures and compare physical features, but it’s deeper than that. These women were drawn to at least some of the same things I was in a donor, and they are raising children who share 50% of the same genes as my son. Choosing a donor is such a personal choice; in the moment I was thinking only about my decision, my family. I didn’t spent a lot of time thinking about the other families we’d be tied to. Yet, while it’s hard to explain, I definitely do feel a bond with these families, one that I never would have expected.

Mostly though, I’m excited for my son to have donor siblings with whom he can connect in his future. I will likely never be able to afford a second child on my own, so he probably will not have siblings in the traditional sense. Maybe that won’t faze him. But maybe it will. And if it does, I’ll feel good knowing he has people he can reach out to. I was not donor conceived, or an only child, or a son of a single mom. Heck, I didn’t even know anyone who fit any of these descriptors growing up. So it’s hard for me to know how important biological ties will be to my son. It’s easy to say I’m providing him with a loving family and a network of amazing friends, so he shouldn’t “need” these other connections. But if the tables were turned, I’d want to know. I’d at least want the option or hope of someday getting to connect (which is the same reason I eventually changed to an open donor).

For now, I will follow his diblings online, ’liking’ all their moms’ adorable posts as I watch the kids grow along with my own little man. I will compare features, cheer on milestones, and reach out to the families as needed in order to stay in touch. I even hope to meet a few of the closer ones once our babes are a little bigger and better able to travel. But ultimately what becomes of these dibling relationships will be up to my son. Whether he chooses to unlock this added layer of family or not, I’ll support him. In the meantime, I’m just the keeper of the keys.


Photo: © Judith Dzierzawa | Dreamstime

Don’t Cancel Father’s Day on Account of This Single Mom’s Son

In the days before Mother’s Day this year, many of our favorite parenting sites shared articles about a school in Canada who cancelled Mother’s and Father’s day, “In an effort to celebrate diversity, inclusivity and also nurture our students who are part of non-traditional families” (Albert McMahon Elementary School’s letter to parents). It seemed everyone had an opinion about this controversial decision, and many online commenters pitted non-traditional families against traditional mom and dad families.

Since I’m a single mother by choice, my son has no father, only an anonymous sperm donor, and I don’t think Hallmark has invented a card for that yet. Due to this, my son may someday be a little sad or jealous of his peers who have two parents, especially of his male counterparts with a dad in the picture. So you might think I’d be in favor of such a ban. You’d be wrong. It’s not that I want my child or any child to suffer or be sad, but eliminating, ignoring, or erasing differences is not celebrating diversity or inclusivity.

I absolutely want my child’s school to someday understand the struggle he may have surrounding Father’s Day, but I want them to do that by acknowledging and teaching about all types of families—because that’s what celebrating diversity looks like. Eliminating all mention of Father’s Day for all the kids with dads and saying it’s for the sake of my child will only serve to stigmatize him and other children from non-traditional families. This is as far from “nurturing” as it gets. To that I say, no thanks.

Instead schools need to know the families they work with and be in communication with them about such events. Ask parents in non-traditional families for suggestions of books teachers can read that include, explain, or celebrate differences. Provide alternative activities to the traditional card making, such as writing about what makes each child’s family unique or just writing a card to any special adult in their lives. And probably most importantly, schools should reach out to parents of children who may be struggling to see what resources the school and community can offer. Most districts have guidance counselors, psychologists, and/or mentor programs available. If a child is struggling with being from a non-traditional family, the last thing we should do is ignore all discussion of families, making him feel it’s not something he should be talking about, leaving him to suffer in silence.

Now, obviously there are extremes. After the initial letter to parents in that school in Canada came out and caused such an uproar, Mission Public School District Superintendent Angus Wilson added that a student suffered a “recent trauma,” and that was one of the reasons for cancelling traditional celebrations of Mother’s and Father’s Day. If a school decides to take a year off from mentioning or celebrating these holidays while a member of its community is dealing with some fresh tragedy, that’s completely understandable. Perhaps next time, though, they could be more open about their real and reasonable motivation (while still protecting the privacy of the family involved, of course), instead of trying to please people by throwing around catchphrases like “celebrating diversity,” when that’s not at all what was being done.

Similarly, as a teacher I understand that there often isn’t time to cover most states’ mandated curriculums, never mind to add separate lessons on every holiday, religion, family structure, etc. So if a school decides to focus entirely on academics and can’t or won’t incorporate lessons on diversity into their units, so be it, but call it what is: choosing content over character education.

Celebrating diversity means taking the time to acknowledge differences and then to show they are valued by highlighting what makes them special, not by ignoring they exist. And nurturing students of one family structure, race, or religion shouldn’t come at the expense of others. Let’s find the time and the means to educate and celebrate what makes us us.

And hey, if a few years down the road my little guy wants to make me, my dad, my brother or all three of us a card on Father’s Day, we’re not about to turn it down!


For anyone looking for good books about different types of families, this is my favorite so far. (And I’d love other recommendations!)


Photo credit: © Subbotina | Dreamstime.com

Honesty Over Ease: Why I Won’t Avoid the Daddy Question

Originally posted December 13, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

As a single mother by choice I expected the “Who’s the daddy?” question to come up. I’ve actually been surprised at the restraint people have shown when I’ve told them I’m expecting while not wearing a ring and still going by Miss. Sure, in some ways it’s none of people’s business, but as someone who is at times overly inquisitive herself, I understand it’s also natural to wonder.

Since I’ve been so open throughout my journey to single motherhood, I didn’t mind the not-so-subtle fishing of some acquaintances. (Saying, “Oh, you and your husband must be so happy!” or “Are you Miss or Mrs.?” when these topics have never previously come up, is not exactly subtle, but I appreciate the attempt at politeness.) And while some single mothers by choice are sensitive to it, I’d never be upset or angry with a stranger for assuming there’s a daddy in the picture. My getting pregnant did require some male assistance, after all.

That said, if someone brings up the topic, I’m not comfortable pretending there is a dad.

I won’t smile and nod and let people think their assumption that all families include a mom and a dad is correct, because it’s not, and people need to be exposed to all kinds of families in order to understand and accept them.

Yes, it would be easier not to explain that I’ve chosen to become a single mother to complete strangers at the doctors’ office or the maternity store, and it might be more comfortable for them, too. But then I wouldn’t be comfortable. I’m not ashamed of the way I’m starting my family and not speaking up would feel like I had something to hide.

More important than my feelings though, are those of my son. There will be a day when a stranger says in front of him, “Oh, he must look like his daddy.” Again, it might be easier for me just to agree. After all, my son may look like his donor, and to a stranger what’s the difference? Nothing. But to my son, there will be a difference. I want him to know that while he doesn’t have a dad, his family structure is just as legitimate, and special, and loving as any other. If he thinks I’m not comfortable talking about it, how can he ever be comfortable with it?

I also want others to understand that while they mean no harm in their assumptions, times have changed, and the language we use to talk about families needs to change with it. According to some statistics, ‘non-traditional’ families now outnumber ‘traditional’ families. That doesn’t mean we need to stop talking about families with moms and dads, but it does mean we need to start talking more about other kinds of families. And that starts with those of us willing to be forthright gently reminding those who ask, hint, or assume that we exist and are not ashamed or uncomfortable with whatever make-up our families consists of.

So, no, I won’t lie or even smile and nod to make others feel more comfortable. Because while they may be mere acquaintances or even complete strangers to whom the truth means little, my child needs me to tell the truth, not only to him, but to the world. Because the truth will help shape the world he grows up in—and I want that world to be educated and accepting of all the types of families that exist. Ours included.

Photo credit:  enterlinedesign

Who’s Your Daddy? The Daunting Task of Choosing a Donor

Originally posted on February 22, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

Let’s face it, by the time I reached the decision to become a single mother by choice, I had become an expert at online dating—or at least an expert on reading and decoding guys’ online profiles. “I’m a bit of a geek” sounds cute but equates to “I have limited social skills outside of my ability to speak Klingon,” while “I’m working towards a degree in . . .” means “I’m still living in my mom’s basement.” So I thought wading through the waters of donor profiles would be a familiar and simple task. You know, just like finding a husband. *Bangs head on computer desk*

Healthy and handsome, and a little height wouldn’t hurt. That’s all I thought I needed to worry about when I started my search. After all, genes are tricky, unreliable buggers; I know this as the five-one daughter of a five-eight mother. So why get too hung up on all the details of baby-to-be’s donor daddy? I could choose a donor with features like mine and those of my family, but there’s no guarantee which traits B2B will get, and, really, will it matter? I’m going to love this child like crazy no matter what he or she looks like or how tall he or she grows to be.

But after twelve years of living alone, I need to get used to the idea that very soon I’m not going to be the only one that matters in my house. If all goes as planned, sometime in the not-so-distant future I will have a child that will some day likely grow curious about his donor. (Funny expressions aside, the word daddy doesn’t apply.) When I realized I would some day have to answer the question, “How’d you choose?” to someone to whom the answer would matter very much, the jokes about getting tipsy and playing Russian roulette with the search feature on the cryobank’s website all seemed a little less funny.

To me, the donor will simply be a very generous guy who helped me achieve a miracle. But to B2B, he will have a much greater significance—not just a medical history, but a whole half of his or her being. From what I’ve read and from my conversation with the social worker who meets with families using donor sperm or eggs, some children place very little importance on their donors. But others do. I can’t promise my child he or she will ever get to meet the donor, but I certainly can promise him or her that I picked him for a better reason than his height and eye color.

So, how did I choose? Well, I suppose my online dating profile expertise did actually play a roll. Just like with those profiles, donor profiles have a number of sections. After reading far too many, I decided which were important (aside from health histories and, yes, a little height). For me, the personal responses, staff impressions, and the expression section meant the most.

From the handful of answers the donors provided and the section where donors could choose to share a little more about themselves or their passions, I could get a little glimpse of their voices and a little insight into what was important to them. I looked for someone who cared about his family, was driven but also somewhat laid-back, and who cherished creativity and learning. In other words, I looked for someone who shared my values.

That said, having spent enough time online to know it’s relatively easy to paint yourself a wee bit rosier than perhaps you really are, I then compared my impressions to those of the staff. Granted, in all the profiles I read, none of the staff ever said, “This guy’s a real jerk.” But by reading between the lines a little, I could tell when they were digging for something nice to say versus when they genuinely seemed to mean it. It seems odd to rely on the opinion of a stranger, but I believe good people leave good impressions, and that’s important to me.

Though the childhood pictures were helpful to narrow down the final few, in the end I went with a judge of character. My child may never know his donor, but he or she will know that I did the best I could to pick a donor who spoke to me as someone who shared those traits I value most in myself and others: intelligence, kindness, and creativity.

Oh, and he is tall. So if B2B is pint-sized, he or she can blame genetics, not me!

Photo credit: via photopin (license)