Inheritance Isn’t Always in the Genes


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By Heather Martin

This is a post to encourage you to consider a donor egg, donor sperm, a gestational carrier or all of the above if conceiving a baby with some or all of your genetic material isn’t an option.

But first, I want to talk about how people on both sides of my family have noses.

I mean, of course they have noses. But these are noses: The Ridgley nose is broad, with nostril edges that curve in toward themselves to create deep creases at the cheeks. The Campbell nose is long and sharp, making the upper lip look like it’s pulling in the other direction to compensate. These noses are not terribly well-designed, to be honest, but they’re unmistakable.

Time and marriages have reshaped the faces of my generation, the next-to-youngest. But other family traits persist—if not in our beaks then in our fair, freckled skin, our limited height, our alarmingly loud sneezes. I look at photos of relatives I was born too late or barely in time to meet but I still feel connected to them. There’s something about genetics, man.

So, our son’s nose: The face engineers got that one right. It takes up just enough room, letting his large brown eyes and perfectly curled lashes be the stars of his face.

It’s certainly not my nose. It’s not my grandmother’s or great uncle’s. It’s not my husband’s, either.

It’s his birthmother’s nose.

When we tell people that we adopted Simon they often say, “But he looks just like you guys.” I reply, “Well, between the two of us we cover a pretty wide range of physical features, so it wasn’t a long shot that we’d be matched with a kid who has some of them.”

But we have no Ds, Ns, or As in common.

When we first knew that adoption was the best way for us to build our family I had a hard time accepting that, at least on my dad’s side, I’d be the end of the line.

Adoption became our path when we learned that I’m a carrier of the genetic mutation that caused my brother’s developmental disability.

Genetics, man.

There was as strong chance as not that if I were fertile (some Fragile-X carriers are not) that I would pass the factory-defective chromosome to our baby. Not the inheritance we wanted for our child. Parenting isn’t a realistic option for my brother, and my dad was an only child. So I’m it.

Here’s the thing, though: I’m not it.

Simon has inherited the Campbells’ love for the groaniest puns. He is a naturally strong swimmer—like his birthmother, it turns out—but also like my mom. He feels more comfortable with a clear plan but paradoxically appreciates open-ended free time, like I do. He’s impatient like I am but like my dad, can sit and wait for hours for the next train to come by.

But here’s the other thing. I see and hear Simon’s birthmother’s laugh in his laugh. I see Simon’s birthfather’s coarse, tightly curled hair on Simon’s head. These things make me smile because they remind me of a family that made an unbearably difficult and selfless choice for us. More than that, they are Simon’s physical connection to a family tree. He can look at pictures of his birth family and feel what I feel when I see Ridgleys and Campbells looking back at me from other decades.

There is something primal about the need to know where our bodies come from. We don’t want to feel like we were formed out of thin air. It’s also hard-wired into our species to want to see ourselves in our children, because it means we’re somehow immortal, I think. So when we’re faced with the reality that we may not be able to make a baby with our own hardware, we grieve. It’s ok.

But if you take the leap to start your family with help from another family, and professional reproductive specialists at a place like SpringCreek, your child will be this amazing blend of the love and courage that so many people had to give.

He or she might look unmistakably theirs, and he will be unmistakably yours.

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