While I’ll admit, I don’t watch much television, I am a huge fan of the show This Is Us. Brilliant isn’t a word I tend to associate with television programming- I grew up in a time when TV was more hit or miss, dominated by a lot of mindless sitcoms. But these days it just gets better and better. Like This Is Us- I think it’s quite possibly the best show ever written. Big statement, I know, and feel free to argue with me. It’s true, I’m likely pulled in because parts of it are reminiscent of my own journey.
In the show, Rebecca, mother of twins and Randall, her adopted son (better known as “the big three”), locates Randall’s birth father but keeps this fact from everyone, including her husband. Like most secrets, this one comes out after Randall finds his birthfather on his 36th birthday. Finding William is bittersweet for Randall, as he quickly learns that this man, that he wondered about his entire life, has stage 4 cancer and won’t be alive for long. There are so many elements to this story that parallel the lives of the donor conceived. While Randall came from an incredibly loving family, there was one thing they could never give him…. the simple act of seeing pieces of himself in the eyes of his parents.
It’s a hard concept for those of us who grow up looking like our family- but when you don’t look like a single person in your family, it leaves one with a unique feeling of bewilderment. The term “genealogical bewilderment,” coined by psychologist, H.J. Sants in 1964, refers to the plight of children who have uncertain, little or no knowledge of one or both of their natural parents. Genealogy provides us with knowledge about ourselves; knowledge about ourselves shapes our identity. It has been proven that normal psychological development requires knowledge of identity, which requires knowledge of heredity. While the character Randall comes from a family who were open about the adoptive nature of his family and openly embraced differences, Randall still longs for what is his inalienable right to know his identity. People will argue that biology doesn’t matter and that coming from a stable, loving home is all one needs to be a well-adjusted, productive member of society. It’s true that not all adoptees and/or those born via non-traditional conception will express feelings of loss, but is that out of fear of appearing ungrateful? Reality is, in relation to those of us with biological ties, adoptees and donor conceived individuals begin life at a disadvantage. They begin life with a loss. Period. And no matter how many times we tell them how wanted they were, their life started with the abandonment of one or more of their biological parents.
In the episode I watched last night, Randall confronts his mother. “You knew my father?” he cries. “You kept him from me my entire life?” No doubt, Rebecca’s crushed and maybe even wishes she could go back in time and make different choices. But there is no going back. There is no turning back the clock. William is dying. Time is limited for Randall and his birth father.
The episode brought me back to the day I was confronted with the shocking discovery: “My daughter has donor siblings.” I had a decision to make. Do I introduce them now, later or withhold the information forever? It was a terrifying time. I wanted so badly to do what was best for my daughter but, back then, these relationships were so new that few studies existed and there were even fewer professionals who had ever worked with such kids.
So I took out pen and paper and started drafting a list. On the left hand side of the page, pros; cons on the right. It didn’t take long for me to get my answer. First entry on the right hand side read, I say nothing and 11… 13… 15 years from now my daughter learns that I knew of such siblings and said nothing. She’s devastated and feels cheated and I’m left to explain how I stole all those years from her knowing her siblings. In the end, there was no decision to make. My daughter, Gabi, had brothers and sisters and she had a birth-given right to know them. To not tell, was no different than lying.