The Children of Donor X
Two years later, they are still strategizing. "In some ways, I look at her as an older sister, someone who listens and guides me," Theresa tells me when the families meet up again for another weekend playdate. "I'd have gone crazy if it weren't for Gwenyth."
This time, Theresa and the triplets—who are 4 now and more portable—have made the trip to Gwenyth's Manhattan apartment, which is chic and artfully spare, the living room painted a cool blue, with a huge Monet print on one wall. Theresa stands in the door to Dylan's room, where he and Anthony send cars down a track; Joseph is hunched over another toy in the corner, and Anna tries to open a tube of paint. Gwenyth walks over to help her. A 46-year-old associate professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University, she has reddish ringlets piled on top of her head and wears a silver choker and toe ring. Theresa, who is 38 and works in human resources, is dressed for schlepping—jeans, a flower-and-glitter-covered T-shirt, her dark hair falling loose at her shoulders.
With a laugh that is infectious, her speech filled with the sound of Long Island, Theresa says she decided to have a baby when she was in a serious relationship with another woman. They've since split up, but the triplets see their "other mommy" regularly. Theresa also has a new girlfriend, whom she's planning to move in with.
Gwenyth had a string of relationships in her 30s with both women and men, and as each fizzled she toyed with the idea of having a baby on her own. Two months before her 40th birthday, 9/11 hit the city, and she called the Cryobank. When she gave birth to Dylan, a good friend who'd become her labor coach was there to cheer her through an emergency C-section. He is one of Dylan's two godfathers, but Gwenyth has raised her son on her own, dating only occasionally in the past five years.
When Dylan was first diagnosed, Gwenyth went through a mourning process. As she puts it, "You have to grieve a child you thought you were going to have. And then this whole new life gets handed to you." In hindsight, though, she thinks the panic she felt could have been at least partly eased. Autism is not a monolithic diagnosis. Some of the children struggle mightily and find their lives constricted as they become adults. Others without impaired intelligence, however, can learn to get along, often with the help of specialized therapy, and even to pass for "normal." Dylan has shown steady improvement, moving from a special-ed preschool to a mainstream one. And in many ways he's exceptional. Before the age of 5, he was reading at a fourth-grade level, playing two-handed compositions on the keyboard, and adding three-digit numbers.
Joseph's status is even more fluid. His diagnosis, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), is a catchall term for children who exhibit some, but not all, of autism's attributes. In his case, the symptoms seem relatively mild. When he was 2, Joseph received one-on-one therapy five days a week; as he progressed, he only went twice a week. He attends a mainstream preschool with Anna and Anthony; by this summer, his teachers expect he will no longer need special help.
And then there's David. About a year after Gwenyth helped Theresa get through the shock of Joseph's diagnosis, she found herself in an eerily similar phone conversation about another child with developmental problems. Elizabeth (who asked to use only her middle name) is a speech pathologist who lives in western Massachusetts and also conceived with Donor X, twice. Her son David (a pseudo- nym) was born three months premature with bleeding in his brain, and for a long time doctors thought his behavioral quirks were a result of his birth. But Elizabeth stopped thinking that David would "grow out of it," as one of his teachers said, after she learned from Gwenyth and Theresa about Dylan and Joseph.