“Does Molly have a dad?”
It probably wasn’t the first time someone asked the question, and definitely not the last, but it set the precedent for the answers to come.
I was around 5 years old and sat in the back of our Volvo alongside a soccer teammate of mine. She had keenly picked up on the fact that my mom was my sole cheerleader among a sea of dads at every game, and asked the question in the blunt, matter-of-fact way that only kids can.
My mom later told me she had prepared for this moment and wanted to get it right. She didn’t want me to ever feel like there was something missing from my life; our family was just different — not better or worse.
“Do you have a dog at home?” she asked my teammate, glancing at us both in her rearview mirror as she drove.
“Yes,” the girl replied.
“We don’t have a dog, but we have two cats. Do you have cats at home?”
“No,” the perplexed child responded.
“Well it’s kind of the same thing,” my mom said. “Just like we have cats and you have a dog, every family is different.”
The truth was a bit more complicated — I was conceived through a sperm donor. At 38, my career-driven mom decided she wanted to have a child on her own. She joined a group of like-minded women in New York City called “Single Mothers By Choice,” and learned about options for nontraditional parenting. It’s something I’ve known from a young age and never questioned. Kaiser, party of two.
That was all I knew for years — until the coronavirus pandemic. It was August 2020, five months into quarantine, and like many people, I was bored with more downtime than usual. I’d always wondered about the other half of my family tree — sperm donors usually make more than one donation, so it was more than likely I had multiple half siblings. I wondered, though, just how many. Did we look alike? How would I feel when I found out? Would they even want anything to do with me?
I ordered a genetic testing kit from 23andMe. After about three weeks, I got my results. I anxiously scoured the report until I found the portion I’d been most anticipating: DNA relatives.
In a matter of minutes, my family tree grew. I went from being an only child with a small extended family to a puzzle piece in a network of at least eight other known donor siblings who had registered on 23andMe.
I giddily messaged several of my siblings on the platform, introducing myself and letting them know I would be interested in getting to know them.
One of them was Cameron (Cam), my half sister. According to 23andMe, we share 30.86% of our DNA. She responded to me within a day of my message and we started chatting. We are from opposite coasts: She grew up in San Diego; I grew up in the Philadelphia area. She is five months older than me, has two moms and a younger brother, Drew, who is also my half brother. She has long, straight, strawberry blond hair; I have a short, curly red bob.
We made plans for Facetimes and visits that fizzled out — life happens. But we kept in touch via Instagram, where we occasionally commented on each others’ photos and wished each other a happy birthday.
This is the part where the world gets very small: In May 2022, I had just graduated college and started as a page at NBCUniversal. I had a welcome call with an older page named Emi, who was also tasked with showing me the ropes of my new assignment in the page program.
That weekend, I scrolled on my Instagram feed and stopped in my tracks: Cam posted a selfie of her and Emi. Emi, who I had seen in the office the day prior, and Cam, whose existence until then had felt so abstract. I DM’ed Cam right away. It turns out that my new coworker’s college roommate and one of her best friends also happens to be my half sister.
I met Cam on Thursday, Sept. 22 at Emi’s 23rd birthday party. I walked into an apartment on the Lower East Side of New York City, where 10 silent partygoers witnessed our meeting for the first time. Teary-eyed and vulnerable, we held each other for two minutes.
No one tells you what it’s like to hold someone who is also half of you for the first time. Especially after living most of your life unaware of their existence. There isn’t an A24 movie about the half sisters whose parents happened to pick the sperm donation of the same struggling actor a quarter century ago meeting through a college roommate and coworker — at least not yet, anyway.
Within 10 minutes, we’d figured out the following: we’re the same height (5 feet, 6 or 7 inches, depending on our posture), same shoe size (8.5) and we share the same liquor of choice (tequila).
We spent the weekend together learning about each other’s upbringings, our relationships with our parents, shared passions (sustainable fashion, Lucy Dacus, contemporary female-led fiction, boys with thigh tattoos), most embarrassing teenage moments and our visions of our lives in the future. We ordered the same salad at lunch and even cried in the club. We held Emi tight and thanked her for bringing us together. Cam said she is considering moving to New York, a proposal that made me giddy with excitement.
Saying “I love you” at the end of the weekend felt like I had said it many times before. Saying goodbye after making up for 22 years in three days was like leaving a theme park at the end of the day as a kid: so much excitement, emotion and activity jam-packed into one small pocket of time. You want to stay on the roller coaster until your face turns blue, but the lights are shutting off.
I don’t know what the future holds for Cam and me. Maybe she will move to New York, and we’ll become a bigger part of each other’s lives. Maybe we’ll continue to keep in touch virtually from across the country for years to come.
What I do know is that I might have grown up an only child, but a domino effect of people’s choices (our moms’ choice of donor, Emi and Cam’s choice of college, my choice of post-grad job, and so on) brought me a sister. Another person in the world to love and be loved by. Someone who shares 32 of my DNA segments, a shoe size, a love of thrift stores and good music and for our friend Emi. And that’s good enough for me.