It's a commonly shared quote that "blood (or genetics) make you relatives but love makes you a family." As a child raised with adoptive parents, an adult with a newfound connection to my biological relatives, the parent of one donor-conceived child and one traditionally-conceived one, I have been blessed in life to have been embraced by an abundance of relatives, family, and love. I know firsthand that there is more than one way to build a family.
My parents raised me from before I even have memories to know that I was very loved, even without being biologically related to them or to my older (also adopted) brother. Their message was that our family was built on commitment, and that a special emotional alchemy occurs when a person holds a baby for the first time, knowing they are the one responsible for this child's every need. My own mother knew that from experience, being raised by her aunt and uncle when her biological parents were unable to take care of her. My father, too, knew that his family was recreated after the early death of his mother when he was two years old and his father remarried a few years later to my dad's "second" mother. Despite their marital fertility troubles, my parents never doubted their capacity to love children that weren't biologically theirs because they already knew that what they wanted was family and not just offspring.
But my parents also understood that it was very normal for an adopted child to be curious about their biological background, so they always let me know that I could contact The Cradle (the adoption agency in Chicagoland that placed us together) anytime after turning 18 for more information. After my first marriage, at age 26, I was in the early stages of planning my own reproductive future and decided to learn what I could about my birth family. Within a month of contacting The Cradle, I suddenly had a wealth of "new" relatives that wanted to invite me into their lives: a birth mother, two young half-siblings, a grandparent, and a bunch of fun young aunts. That time period of originally meeting them and finding a place for them in my life was simultaneously thrilling and emotionally overwhelming. They were my relatives, but could they be my family if I hadn't grown up with them?
Twenty-five years later I have learned that we could and did grow into a family by choice. My adoptive parents passed away and, while my birth mother will never replace my mother who raised me, she does have a special place in my life, as a family member to me, a grandparent to my children, and a friend and support person I can turn to when in need. Ironically, I catch myself sometimes thinking of her as my "newfound adopted family," despite our biological relation, because she only became my "family" after I met her and bonded with her as an adult.
Along my life journey, I decided I wanted to become a parent myself. I was in my early 30's, recently divorced from my first husband and newly committed to a woman with whom I wanted to raise a child. We were apprehensive about adopting a child as a same-sex couple because we had heard stories about how many adoption agencies limited their pool of potential adoptive parents to heterosexual couples, so we began researching sperm banks and found one that worked exclusively with "willing to be known" donors. As an adult adoptee, I liked the idea of giving any child of mine the opportunity to be raised in a loving family, but also have the opportunity to meet their biological father if they chose to when they became an adult. After a few rounds of intrauterine insemination, I became pregnant and gave birth to a gorgeous, chubby, colicky, stubborn baby who is is now a gorgeous, lean, muscular, funny, stubborn teenage boy. In an interesting twist, for my same-sex partner to legally adopt our son, I had to technically rescind my biological parental rights before co-adopting him together as a couple. So I am my son's biological AND adoptive mom.
My reproductive family journey then took another turn. My partnership with my son's other mom evolved into more of a friendship than a romantic relationship and we separated, but always continued to co-parent respectfully and amiably. We both remarried (she to another woman, me to a man) and share 50/50 custody of our son, who now has three moms, one dad, two houses, and many grandparents, aunts and uncles. My husband and I decided to try to conceive a baby despite being somewhat "older parents." I got pregnant for the second time at the age of 41 but had a miscarriage at about 8 weeks along. We tried again, however, and at age 42 I gave birth to another gorgeous, chubby, hungry, cuddly baby, who now at 9 years of age adores his older brother and is a thriving, happy child.
I know that my journey into building a family has been non-traditional in many ways, but has also brought me indescribable joy and meaning in my life. There is a certain magic in loving someone unconditionally, even when you have no biological tie to necessitate that emotional bond. I try to live my life as an ambassador of love, compassion, and acceptance and I truly believe that my experiences as an adoptee, the child of adoptees, and the parent of a donor-conceived son have proven to me that biology does not have to be a part of building a strong, healthy, committed, loving family.