Something that I had always feared was my child crying themselves to sleep and I never knowing. Every parent would fear this happening. It’s a parent’s duty to protect their child, to know how they’re feeling and to fix them when they’re sad. If you don’t know that they’re sad, how are you supposed to help them? It turns out that my 4-year old daughter had been crying herself to sleep for the past couple of nights unbeknownst to me.
When I found out I was pregnant, my best friend Dinah and I moved into a fairly average apartment in New York, paid for initially by my father and, almost 5 years on, we are still repaying him in a small instalments. The both of us work at a local café with alternate shifts so there is always someone to look after the little ones. You see, Dinah moved in with me for moral support and to help look after my daughter. But before my daughter Emelia was even born, Dinah also fell pregnant. It’s now just the four of us. Dinah, her daughter Khiara, Emelia and I. And it’s kind of perfect. With our shift patterns, our incomes as well as financial support from Khiara’s father, and a babysitter whenever one is required, we care for our daughters very well. Or so I thought.
Dinah normally has the night shift at the café and it’s just the girls and I for most evenings which we love, even if we do miss Dinah. The youngest girls treat each other like sisters, like Dinah and I do, and the bond between us all is incredible. Tonight however, Dinah had pulled a sickie. She wasn’t actually sick, she just didn’t want to miss our Disney Movie marathon. Khiara’s father also came over to watch the movies. He tried to see his daughter as much as he could but with his other family, they didn’t spend as much time together as each would like. The truth is, Jonathon, Khiara’s father, loves her to bits. He and Dinah were only a one-time thing, and despite the pregnancy, a relationship would never work. Jonathon already had a girlfriend and a son. Dinah, of course, was pissed at his revelation but she was always going to go through with the pregnancy. Even though Jonathon couldn’t spend too much time with his daughter, he did try, and he supported both Khiara and Emelia with child support – he really was a great father. It rolled around to the girls’ bedtime and we put them both to sleep, each into their own beds which are placed alongside each other in their little pink and yellow room.
Initially, the girls went down fine, like every night. Emelia was always a little quiet when Jonathon had been over though. He did the typical ‘Dad’ things. He played with the girls, made stupid jokes, did everything he could to make them smile and he always bought them new toys. He did this with both girls but ultimately, he was Khiara’s father, not Emelia’s, and both girls understood this so Khiara always got more alone time with her daddy.
Emelia had never asked her about her father so I never felt the need to explain the situation. It wasn’t a dramatic story where her father had left more or something terrible had happened which led to my pregnancy. Starting a family was the only thing I desired. I had no real aspirations at school to start an incredible career, I just wanted to enjoy life, and that started with having a baby. At 23 I decided that a child was the only thing that would make me happy but I was single and I am a lesbian so my options were kind of limited.
Dinah helped me look through profiles of sperm donations but I never wanted it to be an arduous process. When you meet someone and fall in love, you don’t sit there and think about their medical history or the colour of their eyes to decide whether you want to have a baby with them. I never understood why people saw that to be the case for sperm donation. My daughter was going to be perfect no matter who she shared DNA with. One of the first profiles I looked at had very little information about them: brown hair, green eyes, Cuban-American and no hereditary illnesses found in the family.
So I just went with it. Other than Dinah, nobody knew of my plans. Once I was inseminated and the five pregnancy tests I had taken showed to be positive, I told my family and they were less than happy about it but once they had overcome the shock, my parents were happy to be grandparents and my little sister was happy to become an Aunt.
9 and a half months later and I had Emelia. As soon as I laid my eyes on her I knew I had made the right choice for the sperm donation. Nobody I could ever meet will create a child with me as perfect as her. She is beautiful. There is no doubt she is my daughter either. She has long, dark hair, a matching skin tone revealing her Latina roots, and like me, is slightly on the shorter side among others her age. These traits she could easily have inherited from me but there were others that I had to put down to her anonymous father. When she first opened her eyes to my parents, the first thing my Mother noticed were her piercing green eyes that she undoubtedly did not inherit from me. Looking a little bit closer and you will see freckles dotting her nose and a V-shaped point in her hairline forming a widow’s peak. Whoever her father is, they have incredible genes. There’s no doubt about it. She may adopt a lot of my physical traits, but there are features about my daughter that definitely belong to the donor.
Until tonight, Emelia had never asked about her father. I had never had to give her the story, after all, she is too young to understand it. But then, on the way to the bathroom, Dinah heard my daughter crying.
2 hours ago, Dinah had come into my room with a crying Emelia in her arms, bringing tears to my eyes immediately. Emelia was initially silent to Dinah and didn’t explain why she was crying, until Khiara spoke up and mentioned her daddy. Dinah knew what was wrong straight away. We both had noticed that Emelia was quiet whenever Jonathon was over, we had assumed it was nerves being around someone who wasn’t family because she’s normally a very happy, energetic and passionate child, something she must have also inherited from the unknown father because hell, I’m still as shy and reserved now as I ever have been. After getting Emelia to calm down with me, Dinah had gone back to sleep, ensuring Khiara do the same who had woken up to the noise.
“Why doesn’t daddy love me?”
That was the first question Emelia had asked once the crying had stopped; bringing new tears into her eyes. “All my friends at school have a daddy who loves them, where is mine?” Wheels were turning in my head, trying to think of ways to not only explain the situation to a 4 year old and trying to think about why I was so stupid in the first place to be so selfish. Having a child by myself was always going to be hard. But it’s harder on her. She sees Khiara with her Father and she sees the other children at her school with their Fathers who pick them up some days. I never thought it would be issue what with Dinah and a loving family around her, but I was so wrong.
And that’s where we are now.
Emelia is staring up at me, tears brewing in her eyes once more. How do I explain this to a 4 year old? I guess we start from the beginning.
“Emelia, now I need you to listen to me carefully. You are loved by everyone, I promise you. You are so perfect and so, so beautiful, how could anyone not love you?” She offers me a smile. “Before you were born, I decided that I wanted a baby. I wanted you. I knew that you were the only thing that could make happy and I knew that I could do it by myself. Most children will have mummies and daddies, some children will have two mummies, others’ two daddies, any others will only have one parent – like you. That was a choice I made before you were born. The truth is, I knew it would be perfect with just me and you. We didn’t, and we still don’t, need anyone else to make us happy because we have each other. I know it’s upsetting for you baby and I’m so sorry I didn’t realise it sooner, it was so selfish of me. I love you baby, so much. And I’m sorry you don’t have a daddy around to love you as well but I promise, if he was here, he would love you just as much as I do. Do you understand that baby?” She nods slightly, confusion still present on her face. “What is it? You can ask my things if you want.”
“So I don’t have a daddy at all? I thought you needed a mummy and daddy to have a baby?”
“You’re right Emelia, you do need a mummy and daddy to make the baby but you don’t need a mummy and daddy to raise the baby. Anyone who has love to give can raise a baby,” I explained.
“So I don’t have a daddy?”
“Somebody helped me make you into the beautiful girl you are today but I don’t know who that person is,” I answered truthfully.
“Can I meet my daddy?”
“Baby, listen to me. Somebody did help me make you but the Doctor made sure I wouldn’t know who it is. You don’t need a daddy. You have me and Aunt Dinah.”
“But I want my daddy,” she cries again. Her tears are soaking through my shirt, my tears dropping into the top of head that is tucked into my neck. “I want a daddy so bad.”
It’s the next morning now and Emelia is still cuddled up to me in my bed. For another night, she had cried herself to sleep. But I knew this time, and I still couldn’t change that. It hurt. It hurt a lot. It hurt to see her cry. It hurt to see how much she wanted a Dad after all this time I thought Dinah, Khiara and I were enough. It hurt to read the text message this morning from Dinah saying that Khiara had told her this wasn’t the first night Emelia had been crying in bed. I thought I was a good mother but it turns out she wants something more. I don’t really blame her. Sometimes I do think about what it would be like if she did have father and we could do family things. But it wouldn’t be a father, it would be another mother, another difficult situation that I would have to explain, and if I was with a woman, then Emelia wouldn’t be here. I still do believe I did the best thing but going through a sperm donor, it just wish she had the presence of another parent.
After explaining my plans to Dinah, once again, she decided to help. We both have been able to talk to Emelia again by the topic of her father, this time with less tears. She reassured me that she still loved me, more than anything, she just wishes someone else could love her like their child too.
Dinah and I had visited the doctors and the sperm bank in search for any information about her father. A lot of men will donate anonymously in fear of being later tracked down by their children or having to pay for child support despite not even knowing their child (which I found it is possible!) Others however, allow for their donor number to be passed on. I found the donor number in my medical records for both the pregnancy and my visitation of the sperm bank and we able to recover more “non-identfying” information about Emelia’s father.
“Born June 27, 1996. Brown hair. Green eyes. 1.63m in height. Cuban-American. Graduated from NYU with a double-major in English and International Affairs. Donated Once.”
He had only donated once and my insemination was successful first time and we produced an incredibly beautiful and intelligent daughter. Those are some good genes, I thought. There was more information about his blood type, occupation, weight and interests which I refused to look at when I first looked through the donor registry because that type of information was of no importance to me.
“What the hell is intersex?” Dinah questioned while looking through more of the donor’s information.
“What? I don’t have a clue. Wait, what are you talking about?” I answered with wide eyes.
“Listen to this in the ‘About Me’ section: The only thing I think people deserve to know is that I am intersex. I understand that this is not hereditary so please do not worry about that. My OCD however, that probably is hereditary. What the fuck is intersex? He’s kind of funny I’ll give him that but is he a freak or something?”
“Wait, wait, hold on. Don’t say that. Let me google it.”
“I can’t believe you had a baby with a freak. THIS IS WHY YOU READ EVERYTHING THAT IS GIVEN TO YOU!”
“Hey, shut up. We don’t know. And Emelia is perfect so fuck you”. I reasoned with her. “Intersex is the abnormal condition of being intermediate between male and female. I don’t know what that means.” I explained with confusion edged into my voice.
“It means he has a vagina, he’s a weirdo!” I rolled my eyes at this.
“Dinah. Just think about that for a moment. We are looking at sperm donations. Just think about that you just said”, I folded my arms waiting for her to catch up.
“Ohhhh, right. I get it. Don’t be a bitch about it. So he must have a penis, right?” Dinah tried.
“Maybe it’s a girl?” Dinah looked at me wide eyes, eyebrows furrowed. “Maybe it’s a woman who’s intersex, hence the penis and sperm”, I attempted to explain to myself and Dinah.
“That explains why your daughter is so beautiful with no masculine features whatsoever. You would think the sperm bank would explain that though?”
“But it’s all anonymous. She contributed her sperm which means the bank must know but I don’t deserve to know the details. She did say it wasn’t hereditary so maybe it doesn’t even matter.”
“It doesn’t matter that you had a baby with a freak?”
“DINAH! What the fuck? Stop it. You don’t even know her. I’ve never once regretted which sperm donor I picked and I still don’t. Emelia is perfect. Sure, she has a lot of my physical traits but those eyes, her intelligence, her whole demeanour; that’s not mine of your influence, that’s the donor’s. Don’t call her a freak. She’s given me a daughter who is perfect and you can’t deny that,” I replied with exasperation.
“I think you should meet her.”
“Boy, you’ve changed your tune. Not a minute ago you were calling her a freak and now you want me to meet her? Make up your fucking mind.”
We both just looked at each other. Dinah narrowing her eyes at me, waiting for me to realise that I actually might want to meet her. Whoever this woman is, she must be perfect. Emelia sure is and what makes her perfect are some of her behavioural and personality traits that she definitely didn’t get from me. Her sassiness makes me laugh. Her intelligence makes me proud. Her ambition and determination is admirable. She just looks like me, she definitely doesn’t act like me. But I love her, I love her so much. And I will forever be indebted to this woman. It really is too bad that I won’t know who she is.
“You know, Jonathon is a doctor. He has connections. If a donor number was given it means she doesn’t want to be totally anonymous. Maybe she’s left the door open in chance that Emelia would attempt to contact her when she’s older,” I remained silent in thought. “How I see it is, Emelia wants to meet her other parent. I’m sure you would like to meet the person who created such a beautiful girl with you. And you can. I can help. Jonathon will help you. Camila, we can find this person if you just take the time and give it a chance. I’m sure it’s a difficult process to get all of her information but if the sperm bank can’t provide us with her information, we have her date of birth, where she studied, her blood type, previous employment. Camila, we can find her!”
I fell back onto the sofa, squeezing my eyes shut and rubbing my temples. I am so in shock that 1) Dinah could be so wise but 2) that I could actually meet the donor. It’s what Emelia would want and if I’m honest, I think that’s what I want.
“Okay. I’m gonna do it. I’m going to find her!” A toothy grin plastered my face, my eyes blinking rapidly in pure disbelief. I’m going to find her. I’m going to find Emelia’s other mummy.
It’s been 2 months now and we are getting close. Jonathon has been tons of help. He has informed us how to go about finding the woman’s information, who to contact, provided us with these contact details and he’s been on hand to help babysit Khiara and Emelia whenever we’re out on the road chasing doctors.
We found out that a lot of sperm banks are connected to colleges and big organisations, weird right? We were given access to a list of sperm donors from each college but of course, all came up as male. We used her date of birth to confer with each donation but came up blank, she wasn’t using a pseudonym either. We concluded that she couldn’t have gone to the sperm bank through her college, instead she did it independently. We attempted to use a ‘birth date’ database to use her birthday alongside those who graduated from NYU but without knowing what years she attended and graduated, we came up blank once again.
Going through to process of finding her, I became more excited. I always knew that I could raise my daughter by myself, and I’ve done that. I’ve done that successfully. Now, though, we are all just curious. I haven’t told Emelia we are looking for her “father”, I don’t want to get her hopes up and not be able to find her or worse, find her and find out something bad has happened to her or she doesn’t want to know Emelia. I haven’t given myself time to paint a picture about she could be like because I don’t want my hopes ruined either. I don’t want to tell myself that she’s beautiful, intelligent, caring and everything else that would make her perfect.
I don’t really know what I’m going to do if I ever find her. Emelia wants to meet her and on some level, so do I. But I really don’t want her to be a disappointment. Emelia would be so happy to finally meet her other parent, she wouldn’t care if it’s a father or another mother, she just wants someone else to love and to love her. After our first conversation about it, I’ve been seeing the signs a lot more. When we’re at the park, she looks at the families in the want. She sees the daddy chasing the child while the mummy stays back and looks after the picnic. She sees the mummy helping the child feed the ducks while another mummy is reading a book. She is happy with me. I know she is. And with Dinah and Khiara, it does feel like a family quite often but it’s the same. Emelia wants to have what’s missing in her life. And if that’s what she wants then-
“MILA, WE FOUND HER!” I’m broken from my daze by Dinah’s eruption.
“Mila, we found her. We got her,” Dinah answered loudly, wearing the biggest smile I’ve seen on her face.
“Wait, what? How? We’ve done everything that was suggested how?” I tried to reason, still in disbelief. They found her. Dios mío.
“Why are you asking me how? Why not who? Chancho, we got her. We found Emelia’s donor!”
“Oh God,” I release, my hands fanning my face. “Are you serious right now?”
“Yes, Mila. We have her. Turns out we didn’t need to be so professional after all. Hell, she’s intersex. People are gonna remember her! Jonathon’s wifey Sasha is a nurse, a buddy of hers works at a sperm bank in Michigan, she asked around, somebody remembered her. I mean, well, she’s a girl with a penis, of course someone was gonna remember. I don’t know why we didn’t think about it! She said she couldn’t release any information because that’d be breaching a law or some shit but she managed to release some unofficial information to Sasha,” Dinah started to explain.
“Oh God, is this really happening right now?” My limbs go stiff and my body starts to shake, tears welling up in my eyes.
“Hey, Mila. Snap out of it and let me finish. Sit your ass down if you need girl, come on, I’m excited here!” I followed her instructions and sat on the couch, her following after she burst through the door with her news. “So Sasha received some news, told Jonathon and I went over there. Just come back actually-”
“Dinah, hurry up. Tell me”.
“Now you wanna know! Damn. Anyway, her name’s Lauren, not sure on the last name and she donated soon after she graduated. The person who gave Sasha the information said that she remembered her because, well, like I said, she has a penis, that’s pretty memorable, and that she’s hot and really cool”, Dinah explained further.
“Do you know where I can find her?”
“Sasha was telling me that apparently Lauren was starting a new job as an English teacher at a high school somewhere here in New York”, Dinah answered. “It means she might still be here, Mila.”
“That was 4 years ago”, I rubbed my eyes with my palms. I don’t even know her last name.
“We have her name, date of birth, where she lives, where she graduated. We can find her.”
Soon after, Emelia and Khiara came stumbling into the living room from their bedroom, asking if we could paint with them which of course we would never say no to. I got out all of our painting supplies, the pictures they drew last night, watercolours, children’s paint and blank sheets paper. The four of us all started to paint, like we do on most Sunday mornings, but I couldn’t help but be distracted. We are so close to find Lauren. But I need to be that little bit closer. A phone ringing bleared through the room, neither of the small girls really paying any attention to the distraction. I get up from the floor and walk over the counter where my phone displays an unknown number. I answer anyway.
“Hey,” there’s a small silence. “Erm, is this Camila?” The caller stutters.
“Yes, this is Camila Cabello. Can I help you with something?”
“My name is Lauren. I heard you’ve been looking for me?”