He looks like his daddy. Everybody says so. The face shape, the lips, those long eyelashes I just knew he’d inherit. I am amused – but not surprised – when a mini version of what I politely call Mr Maybehood’s basic look comes out in baby sensory, his gorgeously dark blue eyes flickering around mine as he imitates his father perfectly, bonus drool trickling down the chin. I see with the clarity afforded by matresence, bubbling hormones and fuck all sleep there will never be enough kisses or time with this magical little person, how could there be; that every day I have with him is perversely one day less. Around us, everyone’s relief in the relief that so nearly didn’t happen is palpable. I start to hear it, that first innocuous touch point, said with humour, observation, warm familiarity. He’s such a little Dave. I can totally see Dave. Doesn’t he look like Dave? Doesn’t he?
In the (you could tell people but no one in their right child free mind would bloody believe it) adrenaline fuelled fog of the first months, I am comforted by this. Many sons look like their daddies. It was – cue peak noir – the right embryo after all. He is here. In his bedside crib, his angel bath, in my arms, I am full to the brim. My emotions are satiated, ecstatic. I’m overwhelmed that my son with his skin of the teeth arrival and conception is now breathing, blinking, living before me. He is our miracle, the baby after Pumbaa I believed instinctively was coming and would come. Racked with ruptures in other parts of my life, the exhaustion coping with their physical manifestation and untethered by religion, my faith became science. Much later, irrespective of outcome, it became myself.
This was – is – the deal we made with science and ourselves: removing my genetics for the increased chance of a viable pregnancy, to be the “chef” growing our baby and seasoning them accordingly with my epigenetics. (The irony, remarked Mr Maybehood, given we’ve been together fourteen years and I can count on both hands the number of times you’ve actually cooked for me.)* A final fling for the greater fertile good carrying new, deeper consequences for us as a couple and a family. In theory, a decreased risk of miscarriage over the age of 40. In practice, a baby? An actual baby with my husband’s genetics and without mine? I remember weeping as I went back to work (CRGH a handy five minute walk away). Just when I thought this shit show couldn’t get any worse, I was being biologically kicked into touch over the finish line. A year later, as the pandemic raged and my 40th birthday came and went in a show of splendid isolation, I knew I was drinking in the last chance saloon. The decisions we took now would set the course for the rest of our lives. I clung to epigenetics and being pregnant again. Was this a late in the day shot of false hope? Our consultant at CRGH looked at our three-egg egg collection and resultant chemical pregnancy and decided clinically for the broken woman in front of her it wasn’t. We would need to move clinics to find an “English heritage” donor that looked like me. We would need to start again from scratch. We all have our psychological red line and my desperation to birth a live child co-existed with a desperation I realised was even greater: never to go through losing another baby again.
Our emotional and physical gamble worked. It has delivered the type of exquisite joy King Charles wishes he could have bottled for the Corrie Joobs – to us and everyone who knows us. Our story and its decade of flat lining hope brings tears to strangers’ eyes. On one occasion, having my son’s footprints taken for the father who tells me “there’s no more room for anymore of *your* (read sweary) mugs”, the pottery ladies at baby sensory are so moved creating the unnecessary mega cup they remove all clay firing costs. This is what ten years of taking yourself to the brink does. Your story is shared haltingly, words and sentences struggling over a constricted throat while every part of you cannot believe, cannot reconcile you’re doing the things you’ve only dreamed of, and paying through the mat leave nose for it.
Every week I look at the NCT babies and see, with an acute sense of someone who will always be silently attuned to loss, how much they look like both parents. Whispers of one, clear resemblance with the other; cells developing and merging as the months pass. Eyes from their mamas. Mouths from their daddies. They are all so beautiful, so precious and just as I can still spot a pregnant person a mile off, I see their joint parental heritage now with such immediacy I know my time has come. Can I see myself in my son? Will I ever see myself in my son?
I grapple with parenting, cow’s milk protein allergy and a quiet genetic reckoning. I’m the first to comment on a baby’s physical appearance whilst trying to silently unpack what the reverse is doing to me. This instinctive societal go-to has been a natural part of the narrative since time began. Only now do I see that for those of us using donor eggs it has the power to wound. His eye colour, so different to yours. Where did he get that from? Skin just as pale, copper hair one step up on the ginger scale from your auburn – so how does he look so much like his dark haired, dark eyed daddy? Days become nights which become day-nights which become…..existing. We survive, give or take, on three to four hours of broken sleep a night for almost nine months. Somewhere in this never-ending parental twilight, around month five, I realise not one person, friend or family member has drawn a physical parallel, a ghost of resemblance, between my son and I.
For the first time since our son’s birth, I allow myself to cry for Pumbaa, his half brother. Half me.
There isn’t much time or energy for a psychological self-assessment – that would require the requisite qualification and ability to string two sentences together – but in stolen moments I plough on with a hatch-it job regardless. All babies are born strangers. Commenting on their appearance in the absence of them being able to talk and show their personality is natural. Society isn’t going to stop doing it and from what I say to an NCT friend on the number 343 bus to Aquatots about her gorgeous chonk of a son, ironically neither am I. It’s that grey area, the one where we risk losing balance and nuance, which is unsettling me. This isn’t a now thing, it’s forever. When comments come from strangers it feels quite rightly uninvited, unsolicited; when it comes from family and friends who know (or we think they know) my husband and I have used a donor egg, I come to realise three things. That we have used a donor egg, its consequences, the bearing it will have on my child and us as we explain his story are for the most part simply not uppermost in some people’s minds. Gratuitous comments are few and far between; there has only been one that my husband and I agreed was completely unnecessary, delivered without warning. And perhaps at the very heart of all of this? It’s about (proud) possession and relationships. My family, while knowing there is no genetic link, insist they see my auburn-haired grandpa in him. My in-laws lay similar physical claims. My husband, despite me seeing more and more they are two peas in a pod, says simply he sees him, and him alone. it comforts everyone, genetics at play or not, to set their individual emotional scene, validating their personal relationship to our son.
I have walked over hot coals for him, Pumbaa and their embryonic siblings. I need to make peace, again and again with the irredeemable fact that the most precious person I pour all my love, my soul, myself into may not show any or little physical resemblance to me. My tribal burns bright. My blueprint will be in every bit of love, support and guidance I wrap around my child. My mother’s instinct will transcend the physical. And when I meet our donor in years to come, as I would like to, I will tell her about Mr Maybehood’s chef analogy. I will say that from the moment I knew I was pregnant again, I didn’t feel anything other than this was my baby, my child and she had given us a gift so priceless it had saved me. Should we own, or claim every part of our children? I will explain how I had to learn this very early on: no.
The finished recipe had unexpected ingredients. Despite – in spite – of a singular lack of experience and interest in the kitchen, in the end I Cordon Bleu-d it. It took longer than the books said it would (“Dave, Jamie Oliver’s lying again, it isn’t a fifteen minute fucking meal”). It tastes beautifully, wonderfully unique, a testament to the moment I looked up at the ceiling of University Hospital Lewisham and knew my son and I, so inextricably linked, were finally going to meet. When I ask myself why I kept going all these years to such detriment, the only inadequate conclusion I come to is we all just want to be someone to someone. I hope my husband and I are everything to him.
I don’t talk about this much to the people closest to me. It feels like yet another form of loss wrapped up in the most incredible gift, emotionally indulgent to get upset about given our landscape, the odds and feeling in my heart when I look down at his sweet face. Like I’m pissing on the happiness parade which thanks to my sacrifice I made happen. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority contact me with a questionnaire about the law regarding donors and anonymity. I realise I haven’t started to write the book for my son explaining how he came to be, because I’m so tired I can’t even write this blog let alone what I want to create for him.
I meet one of my oldest university friends for a rare boozy lunch. She knows me so well that the first thing she does is take my hands and says “the photos….I want you to know I see glimmers of you all over him.” I am choked. A few days later I’m chatting to another extremely close mum friend. She casually drops into the conversation that one of the other mums has seen me pushing the pram around the neighbourhood. I look at her and wonder what’s coming. She smiles. “She said to me, blimey, doesn’t he look like Annabel?”
*FYI I ended up cooking for him 3 times a day when I was 4 weeks’ pregnant and he had covid
3 thoughts on “The Egg”
To become a parent is the biggest mystery of life. And even the Science around it, leaves us with some incredible stories like those of fetal microchimerism:
You both will always carry parts of each other… whether the egg was yours or not. It is biology. And as your post shows, there is so much more to it than that.
Hope the more restful nights arrive soon. xx
Annabel. What a beautiful blog. Wondered at lst where it was going. Very Interesting and whoever Alex favors he is 100% Yours and your life dream with Dave. You’re an amazing Woman and Mom and if ever in Winnipeg look us up. Love you and enjoy baby. Our baby Jamie 1 yr old In July. Time flies eh
Hi Annabel. Very interesting and well written blog. Wondered at lst where it was going. No matter what that wee boy Alex is all yours and yours and Dave’s life dream. You are an amazing woman and Mom and my goodness nearly 1 yr. My great nephew 1 July 13. Gee if u are ever in Winnipeg Manitoba Canada please look us up. Take care and great work