Around the time I started telling friends and family I was dating a girl – in other words, when the whole gay thing became official – I unexpectedly mourned the idea of having a child that was genetically descended from both me and my future partner.
Maybe I cared because, growing up in a mixed family, comparing nose widths, head shapes, and hair thicknesses was a form of entertainment. Over the dinner table on a good day, my dad would make fun of my mom’s long, skinny Caucasian nose, and my mom would make fun of my dad’s wide, meaty Asian nose. Maybe it was just silly banter, or maybe it was a way of making sure that my brother and I felt lucky about our moderate noses and secure about our blend.
Almost a decade later, when that same girlfriend (now wife) and I decided to have kids, I initially wasn’t interested in doing any kind of (in my mind at the time) “unnatural” fertility or insemination procedures, at least none involving my own body. Coming from a family of holistic health freaks, Christian Scientists, and cheapskates, I was distrustful of any medical intervention that wasn’t 102 percent necessary. “We’d just adopt,” I thought, believing I was being the logical one.
My wife, who’d been adopted at birth, was determined to carry a baby and pass on her DNA. The arrangement wasn’t ideal, my brain reasoned. I’d be the only one left out of this genetic scheme, and out of any future conversations about who looks like whom. We’d have to use sperm from either someone we knew or someone we didn’t know. (Which would be weirder? It was hard to say.) Plus there was all the medical “stuff” we’d have to deal with.
Then our baby was born, and after six intense weeks that felt like one six-year-long day, those worries all seemed so far away that they were completely irrelevant.
“DNA doesn’t make you family,” a hand-stamped keychain from Etsy will remind you, “love does.” Now I know it’s way more than that.
Family is setting the alarm (actually, two: one for backup) for 11:30 pm, 1:30 am, 3:30 am, 5:30 am, and 7:30 am, and spending an hour and a half each time wrangling a little wire attached to a syringe filled with formula into our newborn’s mouth, in addition to breastfeeding, so she can gain the recommended one ounce a day.
Family is holding our breath listening to a tiny human’s shrieks, sneezes, and wheezes in the bassinet next to our bed and hoping she’ll make it through another night. Family is walking out of the drugstore into harsh sunlight and shielding my kid’s eyes before even thinking of putting on my own sunglasses.
Family is having 97 nicknames for someone who doesn’t even know her own name yet. Family is making up enough original songs in two weeks to produce three absurdist children’s albums and headline four experimental live performances at the (insert hottest New York venue here, I have no idea about these things anymore) but not caring about any of that except for soothing one very small person for the next 30 seconds.
Family is wiping someone else’s spit-up chunks, belly button cheese, and eye crust. Family is counting pee and poop diapers so we can defend our collective honor to the pediatrician at our next appointment. Family is being part of the same freaking fart cloud.
Maybe I’ll never be able to recognize our daughter’s nose in the contours of my ancestral line, but I’ll know it’s the one I’ve coaxed boogers out of with my bare hands and watched the light shine off of as I bounced her into a temporary state of serenity by her favorite window. That’s more than enough for me.