My two-year-old daughter's biological father died recently in an accident. The feeling of loss I have experienced in the days since has been unsettling to me, her biological mother. How can you mourn someone you've never even met?
I am a 36-year-old lesbian. My partner of 12 years and I tried for five years before being blessed with a daughter.
We wanted our child to have full access to his or her complete biological story, so our goal was to find a known donor. After first approaching some of our close male friends with no luck, we turned to a sperm bank.
We thought when we completed the painstaking task of choosing a donor that the hard part would be over. But I suffered four miscarriages, multiple painful surgeries and a total of seven months on bed rest to bring our daughter to life. I have learned from these experiences that from the moment of conception until the day your child walks down the aisle, you can meticulously plan as much as you like, but control is never fully within your grasp as a parent.
So I shouldn't have been surprised when I arrived home to find the letter in the mail. It was from our sperm bank, informing us that our donor had passed away recently as a result of "trauma sustained during a traffic accident." They felt we should know now instead of having it be a surprise in 16 years when we try to make contact.
Since opening the letter I have been surprised to find that I am reacting as though someone in my immediate family died. To get news like that in the mail was a shock. It felt like it was 1941 and I had received a telegram that Johnny had died in the war.
And it hit me how surreal it is that our donor's short life, so removed from ours, had such a significant impact on mine and my wife's. Yet we have no recourse to grieve. There will be no funeral, no memorial service or burial that we can attend. We cannot sit shiva for him. We won't receive any sympathy cards that say "in the loss of your sperm donor."
I never met the man, but he changed my life drastically. I never laid eyes on him, but we have photos of him in our house from infancy up until adulthood. I would have easily recognized him on the street. I listened over and over again to a 45-minute audio tape of him speaking eloquently about his life and interests, so I know his voice as well as my own.
I know he was flirtatious and funny and that the girls at the clinic thought of him as a favourite because he was so charming. I know he was a good man, a volunteer firefighter, who wanted nothing more in this world than to help people and to enjoy living life on the edge - flying planes, riding motorcycles and running into burning buildings.
He loved summer camp when he was a child. I know he loved to cook and studied to become a chef at one point. I know that he was close to his parents, both in the medical profession, who clearly instilled in him the value of helping people in need. He had sisters and grandparents who are probably missing him an awful lot right now.
Our donation wasn't entirely anonymous, meaning he was willing to have limited contact and would meet our daughter when she turned 18 if she wished. Knowing this, I had sent him several letters and photos and received notes of thanks in return, via the sperm bank. He knew she existed. His mother might have pictures of my daughter hanging on her living room wall. Yet I don't know his name.
My sweet baby daughter will never get the chance to know him. We not only have to explain to her when she is older that she had a Donor, not a Daddy - complicated enough - but that he's now deceased and she can never meet him. I grieve for her - too young to know what she has lost - and can only speculate on how much it will mean to her in the future. She looks quite a bit like me but I can't help but wonder while I look at her what parts of her are his? Are those his ears? Are those his toes? I'm sure she'll have the same questions as she gets older.
I'm aware that this is the norm for millions of happy and well-adjusted children of anonymous donors and children of closed adoption, but I wish we could have answered those questions for her. I wish I could talk to his mom. I'm sure she's devastated.
And then there is the future. Proceeding with any more children now with the limited sperm supply we have left, while knowing that he has passed away, is a complicated psychological conundrum. Any children we bring into this world would be with the assistance of someone who has already left it. That is not easy to wrap your head around no matter which way you look at it. Would he even be all right with it? Would his family?
He never had a chance to get married or experience the joy of raising children, but we will be forever grateful to him for the incredible generosity he showed us and likely many others in making our dreams of a family come true. A man from the United States, thousands of miles from my home in Canada, made our lives complete by giving us our daughter. I am so much better for his brief but prolific life.
Allyson Smith lives in Toronto.
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