Donor Sibling Registry
A Party of Five
By Gary Hurtubise
There are many variations on the theme of finding true love. The story of Laurie and Valerie, however, is unique: strangers from opposite ends of the country who found love through the coincidence of their biologically-related children.
Laurie Bertolacci was born to an Italian catholic couple, being raised with her sister in Smithtown, New York. Growing up, Laurie considered herself straight. “I’d always been with men,” she reveals, even dating the captain of her high school football team.
It wasn’t until Laurie was 28 and living in New York City that she started to date someone who also happened to be a woman (and who also happened to be ‘straight’, up until that point). When she inadvertently came out to her mom over the phone, Laurie learned the next day that her mom had been so shocked that she’d run to her car, mistaken ‘reverse’ for ‘drive’, and backed into a parked car.
For Laurie’s parents, the concern wasn’t so much that their daughter was gay, but how she had told them. In truth, Laurie’s mom was always her biggest fan and supporter. In 2006, when Laurie brought her then-six-month-old daughter home to visit, a pair of relatives commented to Laurie’s mother how beautiful Jordan was, but that “those people shouldn’t be having children.” Laurie’s mom drove the relatives home in silence, dropped them off, and never spoke to them again… ‘them’ being Laurie’s mom’s own mother and aunt. Laurie only learned of this story two months before her mom passed away in 2010.
Moving to San Francisco had a huge impact on Laurie’s comfort level with her sexuality. She highlights how she felt empowered at a diversity conference in 2003. “The facilitator was talking about how educating people dispels prejudices about minorities,” she recalls. “I don't know what possessed me, but I stood up in front of over a hundred colleagues and came out. It was emotional, but important for me to share and be an advocate that being gay wasn't wrong.”
Valerie Interrante was born in West Norriton, Pennsylvania, also to an Italian catholic family. Her father served in the US Air Force Reserves and both her mother and father raised Valerie, her older sister and two older brothers.
Valerie became aware of her sexuality in high school, but brushed it off as merely ‘admiration’ for other girls. “There was no education on being gay,” she recalls. “Had I been exposed, I probably would have been able to put a label on my admirations.”
Further hampering Valerie’s ‘education’ of sexual diversity was a decision to commute to college, rather than live in residence. “Both my parents encouraged it, as I had gone away before and been homesick.”
Valerie finished college, and promptly married an Irish Catholic boy. Being married and away from home gave the new bride an opportunity to be young and free. “I went out with friends and did what I should have done in college.” It was then that Valerie met a woman whom she admired. “I’m pretty sure she felt the same way, because after a night of drinking, I found out what ‘gay’ was,” Valerie admits, cheekily.
In a more serious tone, Valerie turns to the consequences of her behaviour at that time: “It’s nauseating to share things that were painful; I unintentionally hurt people I love because of my choices and my sexuality.”
Valerie shared her conflicted feelings with her husband. Much to her surprise, he was very supportive, wanting only for her to be happy, and stood by her every step of the way. With him at her side, Valerie went through the lengthy process of coming-out to her family.
Valerie and Laurie both had children with previous partners via sperm donation. What neither of them could have known was that their donor was one-and-the-same. The story of their mutual discovery via the Donor Sibling Registry, and subsequent relationship, was featured in a 2014 Yahoo Parenting article.
In 2015, after maintaining a long-distance relationship, the women decided that Valerie and her kids – Michael and Lena – would sell their Philadelphia home, and move-in with Laurie and Jordan in San Francisco. Valerie and the kids arrived at Laurie’s place on December 31st, ringing in the New Year as a newly-blended family. After one year in slightly cramped quarters, the Bertolacci-Interrante family moved across the city, where they enjoy being close to Ocean Beach and Land’s End.
The two women were married in an intimate ceremony on Oahu. “We have a lot of family and friends on the East Coast, but we didn’t want to have a huge wedding,” Laurie explains. Instead, it was just the ‘Party of Five’ – Laurie, with Jordan as her maid of honor; Valerie, with Michael as her best man; and Lena as their flower girl. A friend from San Francisco agreed to fly out and perform the ceremony for them. Then, they all hit the Disney resort at Aulani.
Merging the two families has incurred its share of growing pains. “There’s another layer of complexity with the kids being half-siblings, raised with different parenting styles,” Laurie explains. Overall, though, the kids have bonded completely. They look out for each other; they fight with each other. Jordan – an only child until Michael and Lena arrived – has discovered sibling rivalry. Michael is learning what it’s like to be the only boy in a household of five. Jordan and Michael are in the same grade; Lena being several years younger than her older siblings.
Valerie and Laurie are kept even busier now that everyone is together: running the kids to football and soccer practice, theatre and girl scouts. They also find themselves making trips back east to Pennsylvania and Long Island, and look forward to visiting more exotic places, such as New Orleans, and of course, Italy!
Of their personal trip towards love and family, Laurie and Valerie say, “it has been quite a journey… and continues to be!”
For information on Donor Sibling Registry visit www.donorsiblingregistry.com.
This article was first published in Gay Parent Magazine’s November-December 2017 issue #115.