Recently, I received an email from a parent with a child born through artificial reproductive technology seeking advice. As part of their email, they asked what they thought my ideal relationship might have looked like with my birthmom. I loved this question and wanted to expand on it here in case it benefits someone else.
For context, my birthmom and I were in different states on different coasts making quick trips and meetups extremely unlikely. This is important to point out as some kids born through ART have easier access to their genetic parents and in those cases I imagine the dynamic would have differed simply due to proximity.
As a younger child, I imagine we would have written letters (or emails now) mainly facilitated through my parents before perhaps having more private dialogue. In my mind, having this be a ritual perhaps on my birthday could have helped make this less daunting and more normalized. This would give me the chance to think about what to share with my birth mom in an age appropriate way and in a way that had more participation from me. Even further, it would have given me a chance to ask her questions and learn about her as I grew up (and vice versa). In theory, early on, my parents could likely learn more about what my needs were around surrogacy as well and help fill in any accidental gaps. In reality, my parents sent sparing updates that I had no part of creating and the topic of surrogacy had to be brought up by me in order to be discussed.
I’ve heard of some kids visiting their surrogate mothers but for my introverted soul that would have been entirely too much to handle. I did meet my birthmom when I was 12 for a dinner one night when she just happened to be in town. While this was both an anxiety inducing and lovely evening, it left me a bit disoriented due to the lack of follow through by the adults. In the ideal, I would have preferred more clarity and consistency in the option to have in person visits rather than a random, one-off drop by.
I don’t imagine any regular phone calls as that was generally not a part of any aspect of family life for me when it came to grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, etc. However, depending on the theoretical letters and how our relationship could have evolved, that could have been a welcome medium.
Thinking about how the ideal relationship would evolve beyond a young child is quite difficult to map out. I believe that as long as I had the power to make decisions around the relationship (to continue it, stop it, etc) and support of my parents to do so, I would have a foundation from younger years to fall back on that would enable me to navigate any complexities. Thinking further, I imagine earlier and more regular exposure would also demystify my relationship with my birthmom and normalize it in a way that would cause my needs there to even out.
A large part of any ideal I can think of would simply be regular, expected, and age appropriate contact with my birthmom and discussion about surrogacy with my parents. This great need comes directly from what I felt was lacking growing up. I had to bring up surrogacy and my birthmom if we were to talk about it. I only saw her randomly once as facilitated by my parents. Updates were not sent routinely to my birthmom which, in my efforts to get to know her now, has caused a great divide between us in the form of foundational information about each other’s lives. The opposite is true — I had very little information about her as a person and limited ability to gain any beyond vulnerably asking my parents questions they often couldn’t truly answer.
A refrain I often hear from folks in this space is that “you were so wanted! You’re so lucky!”. I think the key here is that one can be so wanted but one can also have wants. I worry a bit that with this phrasing of being “so wanted”, it leaves little room for a kid born through artificial reproductive technology to have a deeper conversation about how they were born and to express their wants. Being wanted is a wonderful thing but room must be left for more particularly when in some ways the great Want from the intended parents further highlights what feels like the lack of want from a birthmom.