The Raeymaeker triplets.
I am still searching for words to describe how I feel right now. I feel numb, I deny, recognize, forget, realize, … since last Thursday I experienced all possible big emotions a human being can experience.
I am trying to grasp the news, but I am not succeeding. I don’t know where to start. Maybe I should start at the beginning, so that you know more of my background and personal story.
My name is Stephanie. I’m 1/3rd of triplets. My sister Sophie, my brother Bernhard and I are the result of a treatment with the sperm of a donor. We were born in 1979.
My father was diagnosed with infertility. My mother’s desire of becoming a parent was so huge she eventually persuaded my father to agree on an insemination with the sperm of an anonymous donor. She took hormones, the sperm was injected and eight months later we were born. The doctor advised my parents never to tell the truth and to pretend that they were both biologically related to us. He assured them that any awkwardness would fade in time and the illusion would become a welcomed reality.
My father, however, would never be able to accept that we were not his biological children. For him – as he explained later – we were the constant reminder of his infertility. He never wanted us. He regarded us as a giant burden. For years the secret was covered up.
In vain we kept hunting for his love but we always ended up smashing against an invisible wall. We grew up with the self-image that we were never good enough: too dumb, too ugly, not funny enough … we were convinced that whatever the reason was, it was our fault. Hidden and nasty comments by his near family member only contributed to the overall feeling of inferiority.
When we were 3 years old, my mother spontaneously became pregnant with a biological child from my father. My brother Diether was born. My father felt hugely betrayed by not only the doctor, but also by my mother. Besides that, he realized that he was unjustly stuck with 3 children he never really wanted.
There were always tensions in our family. There were so many things in our childhood that were and went wrong. It resulted in the fact that 4 children walked their path in life carrying a huge backpack of emotional baggage.
At the age of 25 we uncovered that we, the triplets, were donor conceived. I know that when they broke the news, my younger brother was the one who struggled the most with grasping it all. He ran away from the table. My sister and I found him crying in the bathroom of the restaurant. He expressed his fear of not being brothers and sisters anymore. We told him that we will always be siblings even if we only share half of our genetics. That our bond was there to stay. We had already been through so much together. We are survivors: we would also overcome this issue together.
When my father found out that we knew the truth, he pulled the genetic card. My brother, sister and I were literally erased from his life: photos were taken away, our existence was denied and we were banned from his life. It’s not that he was a better father to his only biological child. For him parenthood is a one way relationship: as long as he does not have to make any effort, you are in his good books. If not, he couldn’t be bothered. Meanwhile, my brother Diether also cut all ties with him.
Trying to process the lie(s) and the exile, another issue hit the surface; who am I, where do I really come from? Who is my (our) biological father? Do we have half siblings out there, genetic baggage? …. My personal story was the start of the first platform/organization to help other Belgian donor conceived. Over the years, I met so many nice people, did a lot of research, uncovered and exposed so many scandals, trying to make a difference … being a critical voice towards an industry and even a current policy that ignores the wellbeing of the children who are produced by it.
Donor conception is not just a fertility treatment. It’s much more complex and there is more to it that just fulfilling someone’s desire of becoming a parent. It’s the creating of a human being.
Society has shifted when we started to dehumanize our children by creating them at their own expenses, just so that personal desires could be fulfilled. We even legalize and facilitate it, regardless of the harmful implications for the children. I will always fight against this great injustice.
In my quest of raising awareness regarding the welfare of children (but also their families), I put my personal search aside. The questions I had, I put them to the background. Maybe I was afraid for the answers. The truth often lies somewhere in between. If you don’t know for sure, all options are open. And sometimes this feels safe(r). But you can’t hide from the questions, they slumber in the back of your head, whether you like it or not.
One of the questions I had was if my sister, brother and I had the same biological father. Yes, we are triplets conceived in the same womb. Usually, you can assume that we have the same biological father. The chances of it not being so are so small.
But years of research and actual life experience has taught me never to assume that the presented reality is the actual truth.
Three weeks ago my sister, brother, my mother and I submitted our DNA to get it tested. An information card was handed over stating that on the 30th of June at 9 o’clock we could phone in to find out the result.
In anticipation of that moment we, along with friends and family members, joked and speculated about this. If anyone of us had a different biological father, I was sure it would have been me.
And then the moment arrived. The professor phoned me up personally to tell me the results.
1 set of triplets, 2 biological fathers
The DNA test proves undoubtedly that my sister Sophie has a different biological father from Bernhard and me. Feelings of disbelief, confusion, numbness, acknowledgement, sadness … has hit me. I still can’t grasp it all.
It all feels so strange. I always said that whatever the outcome would be, it wouldn’t change a thing. Essentially nothing changes, but it rearranges everything.
I am hugely saddened because the news means that our journeys will separate from one another. I always assumed that when I would find a sibling or biological father, I would find them for the three of us.
It also means that if my sister finds her biological relatives they will not be related to me and vice versa. Different branches will occur on our individual family trees. It hurts. We always stood by one another, we always faced bleak moments together.
But I am also angry because we did not ask for this. We all had the right to know the truth from the start so that unexpected blows of this caliber would not knock us off our feet. It’s one of the many negative side effects of an indifferent industry’s policy that doesn’t care how it affects donor conceived.
What now? Two options are possible. Both haunt me.
Option 1: our social father could be the biological father of 1 or 2 of us
Even though my mother claims she thinks that this is not the case, we can only exclude this option by running an extra DNA test. This is why our youngest brother (biological child of our social father) will submit his DNA next Wednesday.
We will have to wait two weeks for the results. If the test shows that one or two of us is/are the biological child(ren) of our father, we will not only have to come to terms with the fact that we were unfairly rejected throughout our childhood, for more than a decade we wrongfully thought that we were donor conceived. It will be a big mental insult to digest.
Option 2: different sperm samples were mixed
But it is also possible that a cocktail of different sperm samples generated the fertilization of multiple eggs.
We know of other stories where doctors considered themselves to be like Brian Flanagan from the movie Cocktail, who liked to mix stuff before filling up wombs. Anything goes as long it resulted in conceiving a child regardless of the consequences he or she would endure.
But also numerous stories of siblings who – despite the given guarantee by the doctor or clinic to their parents – discover that different donors were used. Not only the children, but also their families feel cheated.
It all feels so strange. With no manual on how to deal with this situation, we are obliged to walk a path littered with pitfalls created by others. Already fundamentally wounded and covered with bruises, my soul braces itself for additional injuries.
Stephanie Raeymaekers is chairman of Donorkinderen, a Belgian organisation that promotes cross-border registration of donors and the right of donor-conceived persons to know their parentage. The above article is reproduced from the Donorkinderen blog with permission. email@example.com