By Natalie Albaran
July 1, 2018, was proving to be no different than any other day of my final summer before college. The morning sunlight cascaded through my bedroom and bounced off my new high school diploma onto the Filipino flag hanging on the wall. My triplet sister had made herself at home at the foot of my bed, and we alternated between scrolling through Instagram and talking about whatever 17-year-olds talk about.
It was already too late to leave for 12 p.m. Mass, which made it incredibly confusing when our father walked into my room at 12:15. Even more bewildering was when he called us to a “family meeting.”
My parents were divorced. We never had family meetings.
We heard him go to our brother’s room and tell him the same.
My father is many things. Easygoing. Self-assured. Pragmatic. He is humble, and oftentimes reserved, but never timid. Yet, for the first time in my life, I saw my father actually timid. His uneasiness was palpable. It was like he had a secret. A secret he wasn’t telling us.
My triplet siblings and I met in the hallway and exchanged the same apprehensive look as we hesitantly walked past our older, special-needs sister’s room and down the stairs.
Usually, my siblings and I greeted our parents with an amin.* If it was the first time we saw them that day, it was the first thing that we did. It was a sign of respect. A means of keeping our Filipino culture and values alive. But this early afternoon was different. We forwent any greeting and my parents dove right in. They made no mention of this meeting’s purpose, but instead started listing off information we already knew. This list quickly progressed into an explanation of several other things, like in-vitro fertilization, mitochondrial DNA, and our elder sister’s condition: Pyruvate dehydrogenase deficiency syndrome. I felt the gravity of my parents’ words and demeanor, but all I heard was a bunch of facts that I struggled to connect.
*A Visayan term for a Filipino hand gesture that is used as a means of respect. More commonly known as “mano po.”
Somewhere in that speech my mom said, “… and the doctor told me that I shouldn’t have any more biological children.”
And suddenly, everything slowed down.
“If Mom couldn’t have any more biological children after ate,* what the hell am I?”
*Pronounced “ah-teh”;Tagalog/Filipino title for an older sister.
My parents then looked at the three of us and asked us to guess who our egg donor was.
Babies do not come with a handbook on how to raise children, let alone one on how to reveal that they are donor conceived. But even without a handbook, I must say, asking your children to guess the origin of their other biological half is certainly… a strategy. I was in utter disbelief—I could barely make sense of the fact that an egg donor was involved in my conception. I was struggling to compute that I had just been told my mother was not biologically related to me. And now, I was supposed to guess who we were biologically related to?
While I couldn’t even form a guess, let alone a correct one, my triplet sister guessed correctly on her first try.
Dazed, I shifted my focus from my sister to my parents. They were the people who had raised me. They were the ones who had taught me right from wrong. They were my tether to my cultural identity. It was because of their hard work that I had everything that I had. I had never forgotten the sacrifices that they, as immigrants, had made for me and my siblings. They were people who I trusted. They were the people who had helped create my fundamental understanding of the world. They were the same people who were shattering it.
And they shattered it with a single nod in confirmation. My sister’s guess—our “aunt” (our mother’s close friend)—was correct.
A few things about this “aunt”:
- My triplet siblings and I had known her as “aunt” for our entire lives.
- She had four children of her own.
- She is a white woman.
Within a matter of minutes, I was abruptly shoved out of my body and into the liminal space between existence and identity. I was confronted with a body, life, and world I no longer recognized.
My ideas of family and identity immediately shattered. In a society that reinforces the notion that half-siblings are not as legitimate as “full” siblings, I felt a deep sense of loss as I realized that, technically, my ate—who I had known and cared for all my life—was, technically, my half-sister. I have since adopted the belief that my blood relationship doesn’t entirely dictate a relationship’s legitimacy, but nevertheless, this feeling of loss wasn’t any less real.
I joke with people that my first thought was, “I’ve been diluted.” And as humorous as it may be to joke that finding out I was half white contributed to a sense of identity or cultural “dilution,” it simultaneously created an incomparable sadness that took years to deconstruct.
Let me be clear: This is not an attempt to villainize white people. But donor conception does not exist in a vacuum. Neither does race.
Being a person of color in the United States is to lead an un-camouflaged existence. From a very young age, we are taught by our parents, peers, or society that to be non-white is to be on the outside. My father taught me, as his father taught him, that we, as Filipinos, must be better to be equal. We are held to a higher standard that we must meet if we are to excel in this world. This is not to say that I, or any other person of color, hate white people, but we recognize the systems that make it more difficult for us to excel. We recognize the way our white peers are not put under the same level of scrutiny as us.
Furthermore, as many people of color know, there is a certain defiance that underscores any action we take, especially if that action is cultural in nature. It’s why assimilation is a strategy for survival. Any time I spoke about anything Filipino, especially in the primarily white community I grew up in, I was speaking into existence a culture some people had never heard of. Many people would hear “Philippines” and think of the Book of Philippians in the Bible. In calling myself Filipino and participating in Filipino culture, I was making a statement of how I was different from the majority. Such is to be a minority.
Looking back, it is ironic that at 7 years old, I wished that I was blue-eyed and blonde. It took time and a certain mental fortitude to become a 14-year-old who desired connection to my ancestors via food, language, and stories. After all, my parents and grandparents did not immigrate to the United States for me to detest the way I (or they) looked.
As I sat with myself in the moments following my parents’ revelation, beyond my reconsideration of everything I held true about the world, there was also the incredulity. Complete mystification. Anger, absolutely, but more than that, shock. This was something that happened in movies or needlessly dramatic TV shows. There was absolutely no way it was happening to me. No. Way.
Even so, while all of this was news to me, it was not news to my parents. They had known since the day I was born—even earlier. Every interaction I had ever had with them was recontextualized with the knowledge that every time they had looked at me, they had this information: When my mother made comments on how my nose bridge was defined and categorically not Filipino. When an assignment for my sister’s high school genetics class involving recessive and dominant traits didn’t add up and she asked my mother for help. When my parents said we “looked American.” The patches of red in my brother’s facial hair. My sister’s freckles.
And every time the truth ever crossed their minds, my parents had chosen not to share it.
What’s tough about the anxiety I developed after the revelation was that it wasn’t entirely irrational. It was rooted in reality—a reality in which my parents lied to me for my entire life. It proved that anyone could hide something monumental right under my nose. I had seen my birth certificate. It had my mother’s name on it. I had never suspected a thing. To say I felt betrayed is an understatement. I felt I had been made a fool. I felt that everything I believed about myself and the world was built on a singular deception. It was traumatizing.
And then there were my new(ish) (half) siblings. They weren’t new to me in the sense of having never met, but a few days after learning the truth, I met three out of four of my former “cousins” as siblings for the first time. And we were all thrilled. Excited, even. But as the Tetris blocks in my head continued to shuffle around, another realization clicked: These half siblings of ours, the biological and social children of our egg donor, had known we were their half siblings for our entire lives. Since we were born, our egg donor had been very upfront with her children that we were their half siblings. She had sworn them to secrecy, but it was nevertheless a fact that they had known since they could understand. And from this developed a slight envy but more so a yearning that I have yet to quash.
Nobody tells you how to start a sibling relationship as adults. I know what it’s like to have siblings. I arguably have one of the purest forms of siblinghood imaginable: I came into this world with two “built- in” siblings. My notion of siblinghood started squished against my brother and sister in my mother’s womb. Now, I was tasked with starting a new siblinghood from two different cities, two different states, two different time zones. My first understanding of siblings started with an immaterial amniotic sac separating us. Now, it was 2000 miles.
Just two months after our “family meeting,” I turned 18. Less than a month later, I found myself in Los Angeles, floundering in a sea of fellow young adults all trying to redefine who we were. I explored academic and personal interests I never had before. I met all sorts of people and formed incredible friendships. And while I found so much of this fulfilling, my head and heart still ached. There was so much back home I felt I was missing out on.
I came to hold a lot of grief. Mourning. For birthdays missed; graduations passed; sport tournaments competed; inside jokes not made.
Yes, these new siblings were people I had regarded as “cousins” for most of my life, but even then, there was a 10-ish year period during which my triplet siblings and I had no contact with them. The bottom line was that we didn’t know each other the way I knew traditional siblings know each other.
I take a lot of pride in the siblings that I do have. I love all of them very dearly. But if I’m being brutally honest, it breaks my heart that sometimes I feel that my siblings via my egg donor are solely siblings in name. It’s not a reflection of their personal characters in the slightest. And they have been more than welcoming and accommodating in making space for me to process everything.
Yet, there is a large part of me that yearns for yesterday—a yesterday that doesn’t exist. A yesterday in which I could have better known my siblings. We are all adults now, and that presents its own opportunities, but there is something different about bonding with your siblings via sleepy car rides to school or petty fights about who was responsible for different chores.
A lot of my feelings have been sorted through hours of introspection, journaling, education, therapy, and deconstruction and reconstruction of my understanding of family, identity, and culture. One thing that has not changed though is who I believe and know to be my parents. Still, it is not lost on me that I will have to wait until I am 35 years and 10 months old to say I’ve known for even half my life that I am donor conceived. By the time I get there, maybe being donor conceived will be only a footnote in my story.
Part of me hopes so; I hope to lead a very interesting life. But the reality is that the past 5 years have been defined by life change after life change—one being this late discovery. I have learned so much and I’ve become a much more empathetic human being because of it all, and for that I am grateful. But in the back of my mind, I still wonder how much of the hurt—how much of the betrayal, yearning, anger, and sadness—could have been avoided if the truth had come out earlier in my life. What’s done is done; I understand that much more than I ever have before. But the questions, as do those feelings, linger.
About the author
Natalie Albaran is a recent graduate of UCLA, who will be pursuing an MFA in Literary Reportage at NYU this fall. She is a born storyteller who is passionate about analyzing her life and the world through various lenses and finding the humor in both wherever possible. She is originally from southeast Michigan and was raised as the child of two Filipino immigrants, alongside her triplet siblings and her elder, special needs sister, which has served as the foundation of her passion for a variety of social and political issues.
This post was contributed by a guest author as part of U.S. Donor Conceived Council’s mission to educate on the lived experiences of donor conceived people. Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of USDCC.
Top Image by Charlein Gracia via Unsplash