How important is biology to your definition of family?
Are you still a “real” family if you lack a genetic connection to your children?

I was talking with a couple last week about their options for creating their family.  Given her age and their lack of success with IVF, the options we were focusing on were donor egg, donor embryo and adoption.  This couple’s pain was palpable.  At one point, the woman lamented with a choking voice that it looked like now that she would never have “a real family”.

The last thing this couple needed from me was a semantics lesson.  They were hurting, and it was clear that what she meant was that she would never have a biological connection to a child.  That sucks.  For her, it really really sucked.  It wasn’t at all what she had planned for her life, and she was grieving this loss big time, as well she should.  It isn’t fair.  They don’t deserve this.

It is my hope, however, that as they continue to grieve, they may eventually come to a broader definition of family.  And from where I sit, biology has little to do with it.

Most folks don’t give a lot of thought to how families are formed.  Let’s face it, most folks don’t have to.  But for those who are forced into this thought process, it’s easy to fall back on the all importance of biological connectivity.  After all, if we gave any thought to it at all when we were younger, we thought in terms of pregnancy, comparing our kid to our baby picture, and carrying on the family name.

There’s nothing wrong with craving that genetic connection.  Most of us do.  The problem comes when that door is closed, and we’re forced to make peace with a different choice.  It ain’t always so easy.  I think the rub comes when we are forced to distinguish what our fantasy of a family is from the reality of what our family will be.

When I was a young mom with only one child, we had a neighborhood play group.  One of the moms announced after the birth of her second child that she finally felt like a family.  Apparently, in her fantasy, a family consisted of a mom, dad, and two kids.  It kind of ticked me off that my life and family structure didn’t qualify as a real family by her definition.

There are so many ways to be a family.  I play tennis with a woman who is a number of years older than me.  She told me one day, that she and her husband had never been able to have kids, so they poured their energy into each other and into community services that help kids.  Currently, she tutors at an after school program for low income kids and he coaches a middle school tennis team.  They seem to be one of the happiest couples I know, and by anyone’s definition, they are a family.

I heard back from one of the first couples I consulted with years ago.  About a year ago they became parents through egg donation.  They struggled with the decision for years.  She wasn’t sure she would “connect” with a child that “wasn’t hers”.  She wrote that she knew now that this beautiful boy was 100% hers in every way.  I don’t think she’s in denial; I think she redefined family.

I’ve blogged many times about adoption and the meaning of family. (Adoption is Not the Same as Having a Child of Your OwnChristopher’s MomThe Myth of Love at First Sight. Suffice it to say, that in my mind, biology and genetics don’t count for much when it comes to my definition of family.

I don’t know where the couple I was consulting with last week will end up.  While there is no “right” way to resolve the conflict between fantasy and reality, I firmly believe in the power of getting educated and getting connected.  We provide the education through our website, radio shows (we’ve done a ton of shows on all the options you may be considering so check them out), and infertility and adoption videos.

We live in a time that provides multiple ways to connect with others who have walked down the path you might be considering—support groups, discussion forums, blogs, and videos.  It may not always be possible to find an in-person group, but by golly, it is possible to find a group online for any choice you are considering.  We focus on finding and listing support groups and blogs of all stripes.   If you are thinking about egg donation immediately get yourself over to the support group and discussion forums at Parents Via Egg Donation.  If you are considering single parenthood, run, don’t walk, over to the Choice Moms site.  If embryo adoption is an option, check out the support groups listed on our embryo donation page. We list the best of the best blogs on any of these options, both on the resource page and on my blogroll.  (If you know of some great blogs that we’ve left off, post them in the comment section and I’ll add them.)

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Image credit: BC Gov Photos