In the span of two weeks in January 2019, I got married, went on my honeymoon, and returned to discover that I had another new brother.
Welcome to the life of a donor conceived child.
Mercifully, I’d left behind the ability to be shocked by the discovery of new siblings after I was blindsided by finding numbers four and five in my twin sisters, Amber and Meghan, just five months prior. I was blindsided at the time. Yet, when the dust had settled, my twin sisters had proven to be a harbinger of a greater truth — I will never regain control over who I might be connected to through my blood.
If there were five, then there were 10. Or 20. Or…
Control. I need control. But how?
That night, I wandered through Highland Park in Rochester, NY feeling concussed by emotions I hadn’t known and hardly understood. But by the time I’d walked out two hours later, I knew for certain that I was done being involved.
Wow, two new siblings! How lucky you are…
Sure. Until you’re related to half of the greater Rochester area, and your identity is no more unique than the 10,000th Model T to roll off of Henry Ford’s assembly line.
In the breezes of the park, rustling through fragrant lilacs, I’d resolved to bury the future. No more additions to a happy family; newcomers be damned. I’d been molded in fire with Morgan and Thomas. This is ours. This doesn’t belong to anyone else but us, I’d reasoned. We were in the bunker together, warring with the inexplicable, forging a bond by the minute that was beautifully crafted by the hands of God himself.
Twin sisters threatened that, though my public information had already been there for the taking. I was part of their discovery; the same way Morgan and Thomas were part of mine. But from then on, I was done. Thomas had felt that way for a while, but I’d finally decided to join him. I told Morgan as much too.
Engage with who you’d like, but (please) leave me out of it. I am strong, but not strong enough to be the world’s brother.
And not strong enough to look at the name of my newest match. I logged in to Ancestry.com upon returning home and saw, as expected, a new half-brother. That didn’t get my attention. But his name did.
The surname Lore was unique enough that I’d recalled hearing it only one other time in my life. In middle school. In home room, and later that day, in Italian class. As a 12-year-old, I’d sat right next to a kid named Carl Lore, studying a language to connect with familial roots I’d later learn were never mine.
I messaged Morgan. “Hey, I know I’ve asked to stay out of this, but…do you know what the ‘C’ in ‘C.J.’ stands for in our newest brother’s name?”
The three gray bubbles of an in-progress text message lit up. “I think it stands for Carl,” she replied.
My mouth fell open.
I called her and explained the thoughts running through my head. But the little she’d collected on him had confirmed it. The same Carl Lore I’d sat next to at (the since-renamed) Apollo Middle School for two-plus years is my brother.
We studied Italian as an homage to our Italian fathers. Instead, we were Jewish imposters, brothers, obliviously learning a tongue we had no connection to — together.
In a growing string of discoveries that once felt impossible, this somehow felt entirely plausible. Because why not? The universe has no obligation to me, and so this self-indulgent notion of control that I’d adopted just months prior had been thrown back in my face just weeks after the dawn of a new year.
Control. Ha! And yet, for the next eight months, I’d abided by my self-imposed exile from this ever-evolving sibling saga. I knew him, but I couldn’t tell him. I’m protecting myself, I’d said. And more than that, in January 2019, I was protecting my father — me being donor conceived was still a tightly-held family secret.
If someone who knew me, who shared some of the same friends and acquaintances as me, knew my identity, then he could know my father’s identity too. And he could out us all.
Fast forward to September 2019, or more specifically, September 20, 2019 — the two-year anniversary of the date I’d first learned that I was donor conceived. Morgan, Thomas and I had grown increasingly interested in unmasking the identity of our sperm donor. So we opened ourselves up to more consumer world DNA kits; I’d taken one from MyHeritage.com a month or so prior.
My results came back: I had another half-brother. Hmm. I wonder if it’s him? Regardless, though, I knew this was my chance to see if my newest match had access to the identity of our shared biological father. So I drafted a short note, and in it, I’d explained I wasn’t looking for new relationships. Just clarity.
On September 20, 2019, I got my reply.
David, I was told by our half-sister, Morgan that you don’t want anything to do with any “new” siblings. She told me that everyone agreed that if there were 6 then there were probably 60 and that you and Thomas weren’t interested in pursuing relationships with anyone “new”… I find the way you and Thomas have handled this discovery to be very troubling. It bothered me when Morgan told me that you all knew who my name and I couldn’t know yours because you wanted “Privacy.” You’ve completely excluded me from a group that I’m rightfully a part of, for what? Did we not get along in Jr High? Now you’re reaching out to potential new siblings offering information, nice.
How do you think it feels to find out about 5 half-siblings and immediately be rejected by them? You didn’t even want me to find out who you were. Then I found pictures of you all together having an awesome time and supporting each other… It’s a lot of rejection at a very, very vulnerable moment in time. This email makes it worse because you’re obviously interested in finding new siblings (excluding me).
Finding out I was donor-conceived was life-altering enough, combining it with feeling excluded and rejected from 5 other people in the exact same boat is a little over the top. The golden rule comes to mind, I think you’re all assholes for treating me this way.
Side note, if you’ve thought this was all a ripe-for-the-picking Netflix special because “wow, how unique!” well, try getting a note from your own brother calling you an asshole — and realizing that he’s right. I replied immediately.
CJ – I have the really difficult and weird distinction of agreeing wholeheartedly with how you feel. And yet, I obviously made a decision that was intended to protect myself and my father anyway. I am sorry we’re reconnecting this way, and that I had anything to do with how you’re feeling as a result of it.
I am sorry you’ve gone through much of this alone. I’m sorry that you discovered this after having already lost your father. And if I were standing in your shoes today, I’d feel exactly what you feel – hurt, angry and probably several other mixtures of the two.
You’re right that, after discovering twins a year after this first started for me, I decided I was going to step away from pursuing new siblings. In what feels foolish now, I really thought it was just Thomas, Morgan and me. It was that way for a year. I made that decision before I knew there was anyone else, least of all you. It was jarring to learn that the next discovery was in fact a former classmate of mine (though I don’t have any recollection of us not getting along).
But at the same time, this is to this day still a secret for some of my family. I felt a need to protect my father from potentially being outed by someone who knew me. Selfishly, I felt it was something I needed to do to finally step out from under the weight of having sacrificed my own emotions for so long, just to get to a point where I was okay on a day-to-day basis. I was happy with that decision. It created boundaries for me. And it was a semi-successful attempt to gain control over something I felt I had no control over.
Based on all I knew and all I’d felt at the time I made the decision to stop pursuing new siblings, it was the right decision. Today, I wish I’d have perhaps told you myself that I needed boundaries – rather than block you completely with no explanation. If that had happened to me, I’d have been hurt deeply by it. And while I can’t apologize for self-care, I am sorry that you were a casualty of it. The truth is, you and I share something – beyond blood – that very few people can begin to understand.
In writing this, I want to revisit the decision I made to stay out of this entirely. And I’d like to start with you. If you’re up to it. I know I’m not in a position to offer more than an open line of communication, for my own sake, but I also think it would be foolish of me to think I could guarantee any more than that in the first place.
On a final note, I want you to know that this note I sent – without realizing it was you – was because Morgan and I had recently decided we wanted to see if we could confirm the identity of our donor without having to go through any legal means. So, in sending the note to you, I wondered if perhaps I’d stumbled upon someone who knew that answer. It had nothing to do with starting new relationships at your expense. I hope you know I am sincere in saying that.
If you’re open to a call, let me know. I’m boarding a flight in a couple of hours and will be in Italy for a week with my wife, but if Sunday 9/29 is open, perhaps we could find some time then.
I am sorry for any role I’ve played in preventing you from getting the care and understanding you deserve throughout this process. If I can offer nothing else, I hope to at least offer that.
And then I hit send. I wiped away tears as I wrote it.
My latest emotional reckoning wrought by someone I’d had only vague memories of and who just happens to be my brother. If for nothing else, this experience is proving to be an ongoing emotional wake-up call with a tone that never stops ringing.
I said my peace, but I wasn’t at peace. I’d blown him off, and hardly considered him since discovering who he was eight months prior. And now I was mashing the refresh button on my inbox, waiting, begging the universe for a reply.
I didn’t have to wait long. 35 minutes later, a new message showed in my inbox.
David, Thanks for getting back to me, I really appreciate it. I would love to catch up and I’m glad to hear that you don’t recall us not getting along in Jr High. I was racking my brain trying to figure out if I had gone wrong somewhere back then. I don’t remember us not getting along either, I was just searching… I understand that you are going through the exact same thing I am. I don’t know what else to say, it’s the weirdest feeling I’ve ever felt and I’m sure you have a ton of similar and unique feelings about it. I look forward to hearing how your story has unfolded, there aren’t a lot of people who can relate to this.
Have an awesome trip to Italy, I’m very jealous. I intend to make it there sometime soon, in fact, I thought I was Italian before all of this. The reason I did Ancestry is that my Girlfriend and I are planning a trip to Europe to visit our “Homeland.” Ancestry was her Christmas present to me so we could really get into detail about where we wanted to go…
We’ll talk on the 29th, feel free to text me.
The phone call was perhaps the longest I’d had since high school. We tallied two-and-a-half hours, exchanged tears and life stories. I felt…at home. Lighter. Peace.
Finally, on December 26 — a week ago today — we met for coffee.
Next Week: Up until Memorial Day 2019, we’d somehow kept this a family secret. But I hadn’t wanted to. After finally getting permission from my parents, I made plans to meet with my uncles and my grandfather to tell them the truth.