Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Spotlight of Love and Genetics by Mark McDonald and Rachel Elliott





This story will resonate deeply with the many readers who have experienced adoption within their own families, those who have considered surrogacy or assisted reproduction, and with anyone who loves stories of real-life hope and heroism. 


It includes intensely emotional original correspondence between Mark, his siblings, and his biological mother.




"Love and Genetics is a brave deep dive into the hearts and minds of Mark MacDonald and his mother and siblings as they navigate their adoption reunion. In alternating chapters, the characters share their private correspondence and innermost thoughts, creating a narrative that feels urgent and raw. We live the experience with them: a journey to family that is layered, complicated, and glorious."—Jessica O’Dwyer, author of Mother Mother and Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir 




This was not the first time I had been in the Calgary  airport, but it was the first time in years and my first time  as an International arrival. My flight from Portland,  Oregon had only taken ninety minutes and hardly seemed  worthy of the designation “International,” but the sign  directing me to Customs and Immigration seemed  stalwartly sure of it. My grey and tan North Face  backpack was nearly empty. It had served me well since  grad school and would continue to be my preferred carry on for many years to come, but with just my laptop inside,  it felt too light for air travel and refused to ride as  comfortably over my shoulder as it should have. I had a  checked bag too, but that was largely empty also—just a  change of clothes, some toiletries, and a good bottle of  wine that I hoped to share. I wouldn’t be staying long, just  the one night.
The morning plane touched down uneventfully and I  was soon navigating the glass-walled maze of the  international terminal. The myriad of signs and arrows  were ostensibly guiding me toward customs, although the  route clearly prioritized security over expediency. Fair  enough. I readjusted my pack again, trying not to lose  myself in thoughts of the day ahead. Through the glass I  peered into the passing moments of other travelers— travelers already in Canada, travelers on the other side of  the glass divide. I watched families trudge their way  through the terminal with kids and bags straggling  behind them. Lone adults passed time in a Tim Horton’s with a cup of coffee and a MacLean’s. Where were they headed on this Saturday morning? Where had they come from? Were they on time? Were they glad to be traveling?  Were any of them worried about what they might find at  their destination?
Airport customs was a small affair in Calgary; they  must not get many international flights. There were only  a half-dozen kiosks and only two of those were staffed by  an agent that morning. But at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday  there was no need for any more. I paused at a high, narrow  table near the back of the open room to scrounge through  the second pocket of my backpack for a pen to fill out the  blue and white customs form. Fortunately, I never cleaned  my pack out completely, so there was always a pen,  business card, or cough drop to be found in there when  needed; I had, of course, double-checked for contraband  before I left, knowing full well there wouldn’t be any, but  it’s always worth being sure. My completed form in hand,  I chose the kiosk on the left, the one with the woman agent  and only one other traveler in line. After a rolling stop at  the broad red line marked on the floor, I made my way to  the side-counter of the kiosk, trying not to look nervous. It never helps to look nervous at a Customs and Immigration inspection. I reminded myself that I had  nothing to hide here, I was not doing anything wrong. It  was the rest of the day that I was nervous about.
The customs agent took my Canadian passport and  opened it to the photo page. She looked me square in the  eyes and then proceeded to size me up head-to-toe before  returning her gaze to my hopefully anxiety-free face.

“Citizenship?” She began in a voice that was both  friendly and tired, yet still held an undercurrent of  authority.


I had just handed her my passport, of course I was  Canadian. I suppose they have to ask, perhaps to get a  potential perjury on record, or perhaps just to see who  they can trick. But it did say clearly right there on the  front cover: CANADA PASSPORT (and then again in  French, of course, PASSPORTE). It even goes a step  further on the first page, explicitly listing my citizenship  as CANADIAN, in case the reader had somehow missed  the lettering on the outside cover. I imagined that once in  a blue moon someone answers the citizenship question  “Italian” while holding a passport from Albania and that's  how they catch bad guys. The people who mess that one  up must be extremely nervous-looking.
“Where do you live?” Her focus had now returned to  her computer screen, which presumably listed all sorts of  interesting details about my immigration credentials and  prior travels.

“Portland, Oregon, in the States.” I had been living in  the US for more than a decade and had had this same  conversation many times while crossing back into Canada  at various borders. I had learned from experience that it  did not serve to rush to any explanations or caveats, just  answer their questions directly and succinctly and they’ll  get to the next part at their own pace
“Why are you living in the USA?”
“I work for Intel Corporation there and live with my  wife, who is American. I have a green card.” I had my proof  of residency at the ready and it was halfway across the  side-counter before she asked for it.
“What are you doing in Canada today?”
This was the question I had been bracing for. Except  for Tina, my wife, I hadn’t told anyone why I was taking  this trip: not my friends, not my job, not even my parents.
In that moment, my life as I knew it shrank from me and  I felt utterly alone. But by law, here at the Immigration  kiosk, I needed to be honest, and I had resolved to be plain  about it. “I’m meeting my biological family,” I said.
The agent paused and turned to look back up at me,  ignoring her screen for a moment.
“First time?” she asked with genuine interest. “Yes” was my spoken reply, although I was on the  verge of tears and I’m sure that she could see that piece of  my response as well.
“Well, you win the prize,” she said with a wry smile. She stamped my passport and slid my documents back to  me across the counter. “Best story of the day. Go on.”
As I turned to head toward the baggage claim area, I  heard her add “good luck.”
“Thanks,” I replied without turning back. I don’t  know if she heard me. I meant it, but I was too busy  holding on to my edges to care about properly completing  the social nicety. It was strange, surviving that one  moment of honesty and the agent showing herself to be  an ally of my quest. It allowed me to breathe normally  again and gave me a tiny flush of confidence. Within  minutes the world was slowly sinking back into the  normalcy of airport navigation and I found myself  successfully continuing to put my feet in front of each  other as I made my way through baggage claim and on  toward the rental car pickup. Searching for the right numbered stall in the sparsely lit garage, I paused and felt  the ground more solid beneath me than it had been in  days. As I stood there, staring at the white Ford Focus in  front of me, the customs agent’s prize comment ran  through my mind again, and it made me wonder.


Mark MacDonald was adopted. This was something he always knew, but never really examined until he was wanting to start a family of his own with his wife, Tina, in Oregon.
Over in Kentucky, Rachel Elliott had two brothers—or so she thought. When her mother tells her of a first-born son that was given up for adoption, her world is turned upside-down.
These events start a chain reaction that leads to a family reunion and new relationships that would change their lives forever.

Reunited siblings Mark MacDonald and Rachel Elliott team up for this unique debut memoir from Unsolicited Press, publishing March 22, 2022. Love & Genetics unpacks the experiences of a family discovering and rediscovering itself.

It is a tale of fear and love and an astonishing act that would salve old wounds and provide the foundation for a new family together, as Rachel offers to be the surrogate for Mark and Tina due to Tina's life-long kidney disease, and is the one who carries their twin girls, Aly and Zoe. Mark, Tina, and Rachel's story became the precedent for maternity in surrogate cases in the state of Oregon, as before them, the woman who gave birth (regardless of the actual genetic material) would be automatically, legally named the mother.

This is a first-hand look at how new and uncommon surrogacy still was in the early 2000s, and the difficult path they had to take to all become a family.





Mark MacDonald and his family live in Beaverton, Oregon. He is an Adjunct Professor at Portland State University and a Principal Engineer at Intel Corporation.  


Rachel Elliott grew up in the prairies of Alberta, Canada, yet somehow (miraculously) finds herself living outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, and became a US citizen in 2016.


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