Contributed by Natasha Friend
Every book has a conception story. Mine begins with the shameless binge-watching of an MTV reality series called “Generation Cryo.” Over the course of six episodes, the show follows 17-year-old Breeanna, daughter of a lesbian couple who was conceived via sperm donation, on a search for her genetic half-siblings. Thanks to the Donor Sibling Registry, Bree connects with Jonah and Hilit and Jayme and Jesse and Paige and Molly and Will, and ultimately brings everyone together to track down their biological father.
Prior to watching the show, I had only a cursory understanding of sperm donation and its effects on families. I understood the science, but I knew nothing of the emotional fallout—of how angry and hurt and confused some donor-conceived children could grow up to be, or how fraught the relationships with the non-biological parents who were raising them could become. I was fascinated by the idea of a new “insta-family.” Unlike children conceived via sperm donation prior to the 1990’s, today’s generation of donor-conceived kids have access to Internet search engines, registry websites, social media, and video chat technology, all of which allow them to connect with their genetic half-siblings, and even with their sperm donor, in a mind-blowingly short amount of time.
As a 21st century mom, psychology major, and YA author, how could I not write a book about this?
The traditional definition of family as a married mother and father and their children living under the same roof is woefully outdated, not to mention exclusionary. In crafting The Other F-Word, I wanted to represent a spectrum of families—kids with lesbian moms, kids with single moms, kids with happily married heterosexual parents—linked together by the Twin Cities Cryolab and donor #9677. I wanted to present a range of emotions from the half-siblings as they discover each other and begin to track down their donor.
Fifteen-year-old Milo, who loves both his moms but has always wondered what it would be like to have a father, is the catalyst for the search. Even though he knows it’s stupid, he wanders through his Brooklyn neighborhood, looking at all the dads and wondering if one of them could be his.
Fourteen-year-old Hollis, angry and confused after the death of her non-biological mother, Pam, wants nothing to do with her donor. In fact, she’s pissed at the guy. Sometimes she fantasizes about meeting him, setting up a time and place to meet, and then—right after she says, “Hi, I’m Hollis”—slapping him across the face.
Sixteen-year-old Abby already has a half-sister because—funny story—about 17 years ago, when her mom was trying to get pregnant, her dad was diagnosed with “azoospermia oligospermia,” which basically means low sperm count. The odds of Abby’s parents conceiving a baby together were slim to nil, so they started looking into donor sperm. Enter #9677. Abby’s mom got pregnant with Abby, and then, two months after she was born, surprise! Abby’s mom found out she was pregnant again, with Abby’s sister Becca. Turns out Abby’s dad had a few swimmers after all.
Noah and Josh are twins. They share 100% of their DNA, but they are nothing alike. Noah wants to find their genetic father. Josh thinks searching for their sperm donor is a slap in the face to their “real dad.”
Milo. Hollis. Abby. Noah. Josh. Where do their loyalties lie? Where does the line between nature and nurture blur? What is the true meaning of “family”? I loved grappling with these questions while writing The Other F-Word, and I hope that my readers, whatever their families look like, will enjoy the ride.
Natasha Friend is the award-winning author of Where You’ll Find Me, Perfect, Lush, Bounce, For Keeps, and My Life in Black and White. She lives in Madison, Connecticut, with her family.