Stephanie: "Is the postman our real father or what?" - February 2021

Twenty years ago, when I was 19, the world seemed to be falling apart around me. Before that day, my parents had not planned to tell us anything, it was just one of many secrets that hung over our seemingly "perfect" family. During my childhood and adolescence, I often thought that my sister, so different from me, could not really be my sister.... and yet, I never doubted our family constellation.

Twenty years ago, my brother was starting medical school. While studying blood types, he realised that something was wrong: it was not possible that he had blood type O while our father had blood type AB! Back home, he joked: "Is the postman our real father or what?

My parents, finding it much less funny than we did, were then obliged to tell us the truth and invited us to the family table the next day. The context is banal: a couple who love each other and cannot have children, tests reveal that my father is sterile. They were told about artificial insemination. During the medical consultations that followed, the doctors strongly advised them never to reveal the truth (which, in my opinion, suited my parents at the time, as it allowed them to pass, in the eyes of others, as a "normal" and "perfect" family, as they wished).

All three of us were in shock that night. My brother and sister, fraternal twins, had been conceived at the Inselspital in Bern. In this clinic, so-called "sperm cocktails" were the norm. This meant, strangely enough, that even as twins, they probably had different biological fathers. Having been conceived in the St. Gallen clinic, I therefore also had a different biological father. At this point, when the world seemed to be falling down on our heads, our father was thoughtful enough to ask my mother to confirm in front of us that infertility does not affect sexual competence. The more the years go by, the more inappropriate, shocking and deeply egocentric this comment seems to me! The evening's discussion ended with a "That's it, you know everything, the discussion is over. Don't talk about it around you, it's nobody's business but ours, and anyway, nothing is different from before, we are still the same family." Chapter closed. The shock. That night, before going to bed, the three of us looked at ourselves in the mirror. Then, as if trying to cope with this traumatic news, we began to mockingly describe what each other's biological fathers would probably look like....

I still don't understand why, but for years we respected our parents' wish (order?) not to tell anyone. How could a father who was a doctor and a mother who was a psychologist have demanded this silence from their children, when they would have advised all their patients otherwise? However, it is not necessary to be an expert in psychology to understand that in such a situation, it is essential to talk about it in order to be able to digest the news! It was a cruel confirmation of the proverb "the shoemaker's shoes are the worst".

This news also shook the family foundation that I believed in with my eyes closed. What was there to believe or not to believe now? If my parents were able to hide such an important thing from us for so many years, was there anything else we would ever learn? And what about the values, like honesty, that they instilled in us? What was going through my mother's mind the many times she had pointed out the similarities between my sister and her father's family? Was it to try to forget? To convince herself? To convince us? What about my father? Had he always been so absent and distant towards us because of this lack of blood relationship or was it just his personality?

I went through several phases after that night: the phase of shock, of losing my bearings, of wondering who I am, where I come from... Who is this man who passed on half of my genes? What does he look like? Does he look like me? Does he share the same values as me? I often tried to piece together a 'person' from everything that didn't come from my mother and tried to imagine him. I dreamed of meeting him one day, just to see him, just to know, just to have an answer to all these questions and to know this missing part of the puzzle of my identity.

Years passed... I thought about it much less. Then, when my first child arrived, questions resurfaced: who is this unknown grandfather? This 25% of my child? Is he still alive? Did he start a family too? Does he sometimes think about his old job as a student? Does he know that this "job" gave birth to a lot of children who became adults? I naively approached the clinic in St. Gallen, which of course was unsuccessful, and then put the matter aside again for a few years.

In 2020, I hear about DNA testing and I discover poignant testimonies of people in the same situation as me who meet half-siblings through it, and I think "WOW"! Maybe I'll never find my biological father, but maybe I'll be lucky enough to find half-siblings through this! That would somehow find that missing part of my identity! So as not to be disappointed again by unsuccessful attempts, I told myself, when I sent the sample to MyHeritage, that this test would surely come to nothing. The results were an emotional bombshell: They indicated that I have 3 half-sisters !!!! After digesting this incredible news, I wrote them an e-mail. The same evening I received a reply from one of them! It was so unreal to receive a message from a half-sister I didn't even know existed the day before! She was happy to hear about me too, had already met one of the other two and soon a meeting was arranged between the three of us.

We spent a very pleasant day together, full of sharing, discussion, questioning and understanding. It was also nice to recognise certain similarities between us (certain physical traits, our values and hobbies, and is it really a coincidence that the three of us have the same job?)

This first meeting did me a lot of good! Through my half-sisters, I found answers to some of my questions because they represent today precisely that part of the unknown that I was looking for. Through a WhatsApp group, we have regular contact and we understand each other and hear each other in a very natural way, as if something has bound us for a long time. That something is our common family history, a biological father and therefore a lot of genes in common.

And it doesn't end there: In one year, our "family" has grown: we are now 11 half-siblings, 7 of whom are in regular contact. And we are all looking forward to spending a weekend together as soon as the situation allows! Together, we still hope to find this famous donor. Thanks to the DNA test and some information gathered by our dear mothers, things are becoming clearer about him: We know that he is Italian (Sicilian region) and that he was a collaborator ("Mitarbeiter" according to the precise terms of a chief doctor at the time who had to answer a medical question about a genetic disease concerning one of us). His sperm donations resulted in births between 1979 and 1988 or more. An Italian collaborator (most probably a doctor), who has been working in this hospital in St. Gallen for many years. The research is becoming more precise every month and who knows, perhaps he will one day read this testimony and recognise himself. We have no particular expectations of him. But we hope one day to meet him, to see his face, to know where we come from, to know who he is and if he is a good person.

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