Laura Khalil is a metro Detroit storyteller and public speaker. At the age of 37, she made a discovery through the DNA-testing service 23andme: The father she’d known for decades was not her biological parent. She had been conceived by a sperm donor in the 1980s. The revelation took her on a journey to discover her identity — and a family she didn’t know she had.
Click on the player above to hear Laura Khalil’s story of uncovering a 30-year-old secret, a pioneering lesbian mother support group, and meeting her half siblings.
I’m the whitest Arab you’ll ever meet.
I’m an only child, born in 1980. My dad is Egyptian and my mom is Lebanese. I’ve always felt different from the Middle Eastern community I belonged to in metro Detroit.
In 2013, I submitted my DNA to 23andme, a service that has come to the forefront of ancestry research. The results were unsurprising: half Middle Eastern, half European, a reflection, I thought, of the French colonizing Lebanon.
Five years went by. Then, one day, I received a message.
The message came from a woman named Anlyn Addis, who I’d never met before. I was shocked and confused.
I asked my parents, and they admitted a secret they’d kept for 37 years: My dad was not my biological father. Instead I was conceived by a sperm donor due to fertility issues. But the bigger shock came in the year after Anlyn’s message.
In the 1980s, it was nearly impossible for lesbians to find a doctor that would help them conceive. There were even stories of lesbians having their children taken away from them.
One by one, my other siblings — nine, so far — came forward: Anlyn, Gwen, Liz K, Liz M, Dana, Shawn, Katie, Kristen and Nick. We were all born between 1980 and 1986. They are my half-siblings and we share a sperm donor.
Another Family, A New Mystery
Since finding each other, my half-siblings and I have come to learn a lot about each other, and our parents.
I sought out the doctor who worked with all our mothers, Dr. Donald Taylor, who was doing something few other doctors in the metro Detroit would do in the 1980s — helping single women get pregnant by artificial insemination.
I asked Dr. Taylor why he did something so many doctors refused to do.
“I never went a day of my life that I didn’t want children. I wasn’t sure how I was going to pull this off.” — Susan Seaburg, mother
If “somebody was single and wanted to obtain a pregnancy by artificial insemination, I felt that there should be no reason to deny her privilege of being pregnant,” he told me.
Dr. Taylor said he couldn’t reveal the donor. But the mothers of my half-siblings weren’t just single women. Almost all of them were lesbians.
And in the 1980s, it was nearly impossible for lesbians to find a doctor that would help them conceive. Homosexuality was still classified as a mental disorder back then. There were even stories through the grapevine of lesbians having their children taken away from them.
Susan Seaburg, Liz Mesberg’s mom, remembers learning about Dr. Taylor.
“I never went a day of my life that I didn’t want children and assume that I would have them,” Seaburg told me. As a lesbian, “I wasn’t sure how I was going to pull this off.”
A friend of hers heard that a baby had been born to a lesbian by way of artificial insemination. When the baby was about six months old, she went to see her. That was my sister Gwen. She was the first known baby born to a lesbian in Ann Arbor, Mich. That was in 1982.
News of Gwen’s birth spread quickly throughout southeast Michigan. Dr. Taylor became the doctor to go to if you were a lesbian who wanted to get pregnant.
As more babies were born with Dr. Taylor’s assistance, the new mothers created a kind of support group. They would meet every week or two. The moms would talk, the children would play together, and none of them knew who their biological fathers were.
They became known as the Taylor babies.
Sisters, Family And Friends
Many of my half sisters grew up with one another, not knowing they were actually related. There are even pictures of them playing together as little kids.
Liz Mesberg remembers bonding with our sister Katie at an early age.
“It sounds corny, but I have always been her number one fan,” Mesberg says of their friendship. ”Even as a little kid. I remember just begging my mom to take me over to Katie’s house.”
Sometimes you’re born into a family, sometimes you choose them and sometimes family emails out of the blue and you find out you have a sister… or eight.
The whole time, they never knew they were sisters.
Liz’s family moved to the west coast when she was little, but she came back to Michigan for college. They started hanging out a lot, this time as adults. For almost two years, they shared a house as roommates. Katie was even a bridesmaid in Liz’s wedding.
It amazes me at how easy it has been to become good friends with my siblings. We share a sense of humor and talk all the time. The other day, we learned that several of us share a love for Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran cereal. How weird is that?
I’ll probably never know who our donor is, but I’m fine with it. I already have a dad that has always treated me exactly like his own daughter.
We all define family in different ways. Sometimes you’re born into a family, sometimes you choose them and sometimes family emails us out of the blue and you find out you have a sister… or eight.
And I’m happy a piece of my identity has finally been solved.
My name is Laura Khalil. I’m an Egyptian-Lebanese American. I’m a storyteller, funny lady, public speaker and now, I’m a big sister to eight sisters and one brother. And maybe more. Only time will tell.