A Complicated Family

Mark, one of my oldest friends, came into town on Sunday, and we had brunch before he headed out to the Pitchfork Music Festival here in Chicago. During our meal, he asked about my husband’s and my four sons: “So two are yours, and three are his?”

My husband was married before, and he and his ex-wife have two sons together. My husband is their biological father, and I am their stepmother. I consider them my sons, although I do not call myself their mother, nor do they, for they have a mother.

I had my 8-year-old son Patrick as a single-mother-by-choice using anonymous donor sperm. I am his biological mother, and my husband is his adoptive father.

My husband and I had our 3-year-old son Luke together, so we are his biological parents.

So, yes, three of our sons are my husband’s biological sons, and two of our sons are my biological children. But my immediate answer to Mark was that all four of our sons are my husband’s, since he adopted Patrick.

But, of course, Mark was asking about biology, whereas I was responding from a place of emotion because my husband and I both feel as if he and Patrick were meant to be, as if their relationship is special because my husband chose for Patrick to be his son.

My husband says he doesn’t feel any differently about Patrick than he does his three biological sons, and he and Patrick even have more in common than he does with the others–at least so far.

Patrick’s donor is anonymous, so Patrick will never know him, and, because this donor has never been–and will never be–in his life, we do not call the donor his father or his dad, although I know some donor-conceived children refer to their biological parents as “Donor Mom” and “Donor Dad.” We call this man only “the donor,” for that was his role: He donated the sperm that created my son.

I explained our complicated family structure to Mark, and he laughed at how convoluted it sounds. I understand how it sounds. But it doesn’t feel cumbersome to us. Patrick, for example, has two adoptive brothers and one half-brother in our home, but he only views them as his three brothers. And the rest of us are the same: We look upon each other as family, just family.

Some believe “blood is thicker than water,” but I don’t think blood is the defining factor. I think it’s love.

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