Friday, October 22, 2010

Betrayed by Blood

The first thing you have to do when you get pregnant is make a doctor's appointment. At this appointment you will fill out so much paperwork that you will feel like you're closing on a house and one of the things they will ask you about is your blood type. O+ I confidently scratched in the blank and moved on to all the questions about STDs. Have you ever? No I have not.

After that the doctor will order the most elaborate round of blood tests to make sure you are telling truth about all those things you've supposedly never had. They will also check to see what your blood type is even though you just told them. I did all this. The last thing I thought about was my blood type. O+ O+. All my life I've been told I was O+. The simplest, most common blood type and exactly the same as my mother's.

"You are identical to me," she repeated throughout my life, as if our shared blood type were a source of pride.

"I remember when you were born, as soon as I woke up I asked them what blood type you were and the nurse told me you were O+ just like me. We're the same."

There is a card pasted into my baby book which had fit into a slot in the front of my incubator listing my measurements. Weight 7 lbs. 11oz. Length 21 1/2 inches long. Baby Girl. Born 11:15pm. Blood type O+. 

Thank God I never needed a transfusion.

At my next month's appointment my folder arrived in the examination room plastered with large, neon orange stickers declaring me RH NEGATIVE! as if I were radioactive. What did that mean I wondered. I had never heard of it.

"It means you have a negative blood type. You're A-," the nurse explained, "so you're husband will have to get tested and if he's positive you have to get a shot at 28 weeks to prevent you from becoming sensitized to the baby in case it gets his blood type."

This was all news to me.

"There's a mistake! I'm O+."

"Nope, the test came back and you are A-."

How was that possible?

The doctor explained to me about hemolytic disease and what they used to call "blue babies" in the olden days. Before the Rhogam shot, many RH negative women could only have one child if their partner was RH positive. Without the shot, subsequent pregnancies were affected. The women would miscarry or the babies could die. In some cases the women themselves died. It used to be a serious thing, but now it's nothing. One of the miracles of modern medicine and as a result, millions of lives are saved every year. Because of the effect the RH status used to have on pregnancy, negative blood types are rarer. It's natural selection. Only about 4% of the world's population overall is A-. It is the third rarest blood type.

So where could I have possibly gotten that? I was retested because of the discrepancy from the hospital where I was born. Turns out, Millpond Memorial made the error. Possibly they mixed up my mother's blood type with mine? Maybe they mixed me up with another baby. I will never know how the error occurred, only that it did.

My mother was livid. It truly did seem to offend her that we did not share a blood type. At first, I didn't understand why this would matter.

For my entire life my mother has loved pointing out our similarities. She loves when people tell us how much we look alike. She gets mad when I disagree, thinking that I don't want to look like her or that I think she's ugly. It's not that. It's just that I don't always see it. I think we look different, aside from a couple of similar features.

"When I was pregnant with you I dreamed to have a little girl identical to me," she has always said.

Frankly, this creeps me out. I have tried not to take her literally. I have never really understood what she meant by that and when I was younger, her saying that she wanted me to be identical to her infuriated me. As I got older it occurred to me that maybe she just wasn't saying exactly what she meant. I think what she meant was that when she got pregnant with me she was lonely and felt unloved. She felt like she didn't get to have the childhood she wanted so in her mind, if she could create another little her, she could fix everything and heal that littler version of herself. I think too that what she wanted was someone all to herself to love her and understand her.

Oh, but how these kinds of plans never work out the way we naively imagine. I think the Universe needed her to learn that lesson.

Sharing a blood type was symbolic of the bond she wanted to share with me. We had the same blood running through us. There is so much meaning when we say "blood." 

So where did my blood type come from then? It's obvious of course to anyone with any sense, but I was in denial. My blood type came from my biological father, the last person on earth who I'd want to share blood with.

I called everyone on my mother's side of the family. There had to be a recessive gene,  I thought, but no one was A-.

I called my biological father's mother and asked what her and my grandfather's blood types had been and proceeded to open up a can of worms I never anticipated. She and my grandfather had both been positive blood types. If my biological father were A- somebody had some explaining to do because that's not genetically possible. I mentioned this and said that well, he must not be A- then.

My grandmother proceeded to throw a fit.

"Don't you ever ask me about this again, do you understand me? Your stepmother brought this up with me years ago and I'm not discussing it with anyone again. I've told you what I know. I'm not  negative and neither was your grandfather and your stepmother insisted that your father was and that it wasn't possible. I don't want to discuss what that woman was implying and neither do you, so drop it!"

I did. It took me a while to realize that my stepmother Louise, in her signature catty, smug manner, had probably implied that my grandfather wasn't really my father's father.

I couldn't call my father. I haven't spoken to the man since I was eleven and I've only seen him at extremely tense and awkward distances. The last thing I wanted to do was call him up and question him on his blood type, but I still had to know because deep down I hoped he wasn't A negative because maybe that would mean that he wasn't really my father after all either. What a relief that would be.

I called my half sister Chastity and asked her what her father's blood type was.

"Is this about your pregnancy? Yeah, you're really A-. We all are. All six of us now. We all got it from Dad. Strong genes huh?"

It sounded so strange to hear someone call him Dad.

"So you and all four of your siblings are A-?"

"Yeah and you too apparently."


Breaking this news to my mother was troubling. I felt like she would be disappointed to know that for 36 years there had been a mistake and that we weren't as identical as she'd hoped after all. Worse yet, acknowledging my blood type meant acknowledging that genetically I was only half hers and that while we could deny and deny that this awful man played any role in my life, biologically he was an undeniable part of me. I felt like I had somehow failed my mother as long as my father's blood ran through my veins.

It was more than that though. It was more than disappointing my mother. It was that I truly believed that I had inherited nothing from that man and wanted it that way. I thought of all the terrible things he'd done, most of all abusing and abandoning a child, his own blood as they say. I thought of how he'd treated my mother and how cold and cruel he'd been in family court. It wasn't just us. He denied his own parents and brothers. He let himself be controlled by a selfish, vicious woman. He gave up his life and identity to a cult-like church with a sick, hateful and vengeful set of beliefs which he clung to because he himself was sick, hateful and vengeful. My father was given to violence. I know this because I had been the object of it. He couldn't get along with people. More than one young girl, now grown women, claim that he molested them and forced himself on them. I received an upsetting email from one of these women whose life had been so traumatized by him that she'd felt it necessary to track me down to tell me about her experience and ask if I was ok, because the image of me as a toddler haunted her. She thought he'd hurt me too like that.

And that was the blood inside of me? No thank you. I could not be half of that man and now I was having a baby who would be a quarter of something that terrible too. I had nightmares reminiscent of Rosemary's Baby.

What terrible genes was I passing on? What darkness pooled in my biology? Was there in me the potential for my father's anger, bitterness and violence? What if I too could hurt a child the way he had? How could half of me be made from something so evil? I was betrayed by my own blood.

I began to look at all of my worst traits. I am judgmental. I often pride myself in how judgmental I can be. I fly into rages and am given to bouts of envy and insecurity where I compare myself relentlessly to other people who I think have it better than I do, even when this is probably not true. I can be rigid, perfectionist, moody, morbid and introverted. But I have never been cruel to a child. I have crossed lines but not that one.

I denied my father's existence in me for years, considering myself entirely my mother's creation, but the truth is I am more than a composite of those two very different people. I am not half one and half the other. I am very different from both of them and while I admit I may have inherited some negative traits from each side, I also inherited good things from both my mother and my father. In me, some of their more extreme traits seem to have balanced out. Yes, I am easily distracted like my mother and share her rebellious streak though it's way toned down in me. I am exacting and inflexible at times like my father but never to the point of hatefullness like him. My creativity comes from both parents. This hair color of mine that I love so much is all my father and for all of his insanity, I would be remiss in leaving out that the man is brilliant and holds two PhDs. Crazy yes, but also smart. I think my ability to draw and paint comes from him and my greatest gift of all, storytelling, is from my mother. Combine her oral tradition with his book-smarts and you've got me here writing everything down. I can't complain about that.

I am not a cut and paste of traits from my parents. I am influenced by my environment and experiences too. There is more to me than biology. I have a spirit with its own plan and destiny to fulfill. I also have free will. I can control my actions. I'm not like a sparrow or giant tortoise or a marine iguana stuck within a small set of instinctually driven urges and habits passed down from mother and father, changing only through the occasional random mutation. I can choose which traits of which parents I'd most like to emulate.

It doesn't matter that when I was eleven that I was betrayed by my blood or that it happened again at 36. It doesn't matter that many years ago a nurse wrote the wrong letters and symbols on my birth card. It is of no consequence that my mother can't donate blood to me and my biological father can even though he wouldn't. The blood I share with my mother has nothing to do with antigens and protein coatings. The blood I share with my father does and yes, my blood type may be A negative, but my life doesn't have to be.


kerry said...

"There is more to me than biology."

Absolutely! Like you say, we inherit some things from our parents, but they're only tendencies, not destiny. Maybe you're inclined to be inflexible, but you can watch for that, and decide if flexibility is maybe a better idea, and then you can do it. You are not locked into behaviors that you don't like.

Mother nature has a way of balancing things that is sometimes nothing short of astounding: like you say, you got some of the bad things, but you also got the creativity and the storytelling that so delight your readers.

FreeDragon said...

In a college biology class I learned that I have all recessive genes. I tried out some of the tests on my parents and discovered they each have both dominant and recessive genes. This made me feel like a freak of nature. Two normal people got together and produced utterly strange me.

Dayna said...

A- here too!

Anonymous said...

what a powerful essay.

Dyanne said...

I agree with Anonymous: powerful writing. I can't wait to show my students your blog next week! You are going to be my example for them :-) Thank you for being such a fabulous storyteller!

Anonymous said...

Two parents with positive blood types can have a child with a negative blood type. There's nothing particularly suspicious about that. If they had like... ten children and they all had negative blood types, now that would be suspicious. Rh+ is a dominant trait.

MtnMama said...

That was a fabulous post.

It's a weird complex weave that makes us who we are. And thank goodness for modern science.

Paige said...

That is one of your best posts ever. I loved it

BoB said...

beautiful, thank you

Converseleigh said...

As someone else pointed out Rh- is recessive. Be sure to let your grandmother know that so she doesn't have to feel so defensive. I am Rh- too so I sympathize with you, it sounds scary when you are pregnant but you and the baby will be fine. The only thing is if you donate blood be sure and tell them that you have had the shot, it may be a disqualification. It was at the time I got mine, don't know if it has changed or not.

Anonymous said...

Widelawns, you truly struck a cord within me today with this post. I've naively never imagined anyone else feeling the way I felt when I realized I had more in common with my biological father than I had thought. Originally, the commonality we shared was my love of reading; now we had the same blood running through our veins. I felt a million feelings and none were good. Over time those feelings and thoughts have subsided and I have become ok with what is me. We do not speak and will never meet; I smile to know what he has missed out on. Thank you for sharing this post.

mcgrimus said...

I loved this post too. Now that you have a child, you'll be fascinated in discovering what traits she has from not only you and your husband, but your parents as well. When I see the extreme inflexible nature of my younger son, I think of my father-in-law, a man I don't particularly like. But of course I love my son and also recognize the wonderful side of him. We are much more than the sum of our parts!

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