Wednesday, April 17, 2024

THE ONE THING… I Wish I Didn’t Know About My Father

There was a family secret that Margot knew nothing about, until she stumbled upon it in her 30s, quite by accident. And what she has found out has left her feeling unsure of her own self and identity.

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One Christmas, things took a turn that Capsule reader Margo was completely not expecting.

She was 34, with one child and a husband, working in a corporate job. On the last day of work for the year, her boss gave everyone in her team a gift. She opened it to discover a DNA test from one of those big companies.

“It was actually very sweet of her,” says Margo. “We’d talked about our shared Scottish ancestry and our fascination in where else in the world we came from.”

So, over the holidays, Margo took the test and sent it off. Things were so busy, she had forgotten to tell her wider family about it – her husband knew, and friends she’d spoken to, but not her parents.

“It had given me a couple of options – to just learn about my genetic make-up, as in, where in the world my genes were from,” she says. “But I also ticked the other option, of being able to get in touch with anyone who was genetically related.”

Margo has no siblings, but a number of cousins – some live in the States (a parent was born there), but many are here in NZ and of a very similar age.

So at first, Margo wasn’t too surprised when her results finally came back. There seemed to be a number of familial matches that were likely cousins or close relations.

Except, when she clicked on the options to contact these people, she realised that none of the names were familiar. None of the names were even related to each other. And most of them were in the States – a lot of them.

“It seemed a bit weird,” says Margo. “I was at work, so I couldn’t look at it for too long, but I reasoned that there must be other relatives I didn’t know about in the US”.

That night, she went to look into it more in depth. But first, she had a message from someone – they’d connected to her on the DNA site.

“I’ll never forget the message,” she says. “It said:  ‘Welcome! Have you been looking for your donor father too? I think we might be half-sisters!’”

Margot tried to make sense of the message. As far as she knew, her parents had her after years of trying, and in the end, conceived her in the States while on a long trip. They moved back to New Zealand in the middle of the pregnancy. She knew who her biological parents were.

“I screamed for my husband to come into the bedroom, and then we ended up asking this woman to call me immediately as I had no idea what she was talking about – I knew who my dad was,” she says.

Thankfully, despite the time difference, the woman called her quickly. She was very kind – and apologetic that she had made such assumptions in her first contact with Margo – but that she had always known her mother had used a sperm donor to have her, and she had been trying to track him down.

She’d found him through the website, after finding two other women on the site who were also on the same mission – one of them who had found their donor father and had met up with him. There were now eight of them who had connected on the site.

“I thought there must have been a mistake,” says Margo. “But then, she said where she was originally from. It’s not a big city. But it is the same city where one of my parents grew up, and it’s where I was conceived.”

The woman emailed Margo a picture of herself, and of her two daughters – as well as three half-sisters and two half-brothers she had met through the site.

“That’s when I knew this was real,” said Margo. “I could see the resemblance with this woman. The brothers looked exactly like my son. I didn’t really look like any of my cousins – but I looked like these people.”

It was now pretty late, so Margo knew it was too late to call her parents.

“I don’t think I slept at all that night,” she says.

The next morning she took the day off work and went to her parents house – shaking. Her mother was home, but her father was out for the day.

“I told mum about the DNA test and what had happened,” she says. “Her face was quite confused and concerned. Then I asked her if they’d used a sperm donor.”

Her mother seemed confused about it first.

“She just kept repeating, ‘Oh my lord’ and wringing her hands,” says Margot.

But then she explained that while they were in the States they had used an experimental new procedure to help them conceive. Essentially, her father’s sperm was mixed with sperm from a donor to give it a ‘boost’. There was a chance that her father was also her biological father, but yes, he might not also be.

“I couldn’t believe this,” says Margot. “I mean, obviously, if you do this procedure and it’s because of an issue with sperm quality, that it’s going to mean you fall pregnant with the donor sperm? I think mum didn’t want that to be true.”

Margot talked about her half-siblings and about how she wanted to meet them – maybe go to the US. She and her son were the only ones in the family who were coeliac. She wondered how many other things could be explained by understanding her heritage. She said she wanted to meet her donor, but also didn’t want to hurt her father’s feelings.

But her mother had other thoughts.

“She pleaded with me to not tell my father,” she says. “She said they’d put it out of their minds and that I was their biological daughter together, no question about it. This would be too traumatic for her father, who already had a heart condition.”

It’s been four years since Margot found out. And, it’s now a secret she’s kept from her father for four years. She hasn’t spoken with her mother about it again – she seems unwilling.

“Most days, I wish I didn’t know,” says Margot. “I feel like there’s this distance from my parents now. I have so many questions about my background, it’s like I don’t even understand my own self anymore – who am I?”

Margot has sought counselling to get her head around this massive bombshell. And, she also has a trip planned to meet her half-siblings and donor father.

“I’m sure my mother must know what the trip is really about,” says Margot. “But we’re going to Disneyland, where we’ll meet my half-sister in California, and then make the onward trip to see my biological father and a group of half-siblings. I’m terrified, but excited. I’m hoping it brings me some answers and peace, but right now I just feel very guilty that I am doing this behind my father’s back.”

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