The Family We Built

28/08/2016 20:29 | Updated 28 August 2016
Jasper James via Getty Images

thriving families

It's Sunday today, usually reserved as a family day. Often all the kids are at home, and we share good times making happy memories together.

But this Sunday I'm introspective as I remember this fateful date 11 years ago when my firstborn son died.

Marlon had been born with a mystery illness just 14 weeks earlier but when he died suddenly without a diagnosis for his condition my fledgling family was crushed. Little did I know as I floundered in bewildered devastation that deep within my DNA lay a fault that would also take the life of my second born.

Louis' birth brought a diagnosis for the fatal genetic condition that I had unknowingly passed on to my sons but also the unthinkable prospect of losing him too. I clung to him with all of my maternal might, willing him to stay with me. When he died in my arms 14 months later and I faced the consuming grief a second time I was convinced that I was destined to be alone without the family I yearned for.

I bobbed along rudderless, treading water, at risk of being defined by loss in a sea of families flourishing all around me until my mum threw me a line of hope. She suggested I try one more time to have a healthy baby by IVF with donor sperm. Despite my protestations mum steadfastly promised her support with anything I might need.

I would give it one final shot but receiving just three pieces of paper containing minimal vital statistics of just three sperm donors, I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. With no photo and very little to go on I chose the donor who said he was happy and had 4 healthy children. I desperately wanted to be happy and I knew a healthy baby was a big factor so I called the clinic back and booked in to make a baby with Mr Happy.

Three gruelling cycles of IVF failed and I was just about ready to give up but thankfully cycle four, resolutely my last, brought me a beautiful healthy baby daughter and with her abundant happiness.

She refilled my empty well and together we thrived in our family of two. It wasn't the family I had envisaged but she was everything I needed to believe in a future filled with purpose and promise.

As so often happens when one gets comfortable, the most unpredictable twist was still to come.

Leila's blonde, blue-eyed fairness was in stark contrast to my dark Caribbean looks and so, curious, I reached out to her donor via the Voluntary Register. His profile had said he was blonde and also happy to be contacted by families he'd helped create and so I wrote him an email of thanks.

For six months we exchanged emails before agreeing to meet around the time Leila turned one and as it turned out we all got along famously.

Now, as I sit here nostalgically remembering the day I lost Marlon, I'm also thankful to him, and Louis too, for bringing me to this happy place.

In a big family house by the sea, I watch my four-year-old blonde daughter launch herself across the couch to gleefully 'body slam' her doppleganger blonde father. One and the same Mr Happy our sperm donor, Scott is now my husband and Leila's dad.

Leila's equally blonde sister laughs out loud and runs for cover before Leila makes her the next 'body slam' target. On Sundays Belle is always with us and Leila absolutely adores her. They are the best of friends. At 11 she gives me a glimpse of how life might have been with my firstborn.

The youngest of Leila's three big brothers is in the kitchen with his girlfriend cooking up a storm. The two older boys will be coming home to eat, probably with girlfriends in tow. It's a busy household. It's loud. It's chaos. It's mess. It's music. It's endless dishes and washing. It's cold showers. It's infectious giggles. It's a completely indulged four-year-old who was an only child but is now the spoilt youngest of five. They all adore their little sister. You'd never know she wasn't born into their family. It's being a mum again. It's being in love again, being a wife again. It's being stepmum to four kidults. They all have mothers who love them so I try to be their friend. We seem to get on well and I learn as much from being their stepmum as I do from being Leila's mum.

And it's weird. None of us expected it. I doubt any of us could have imagined it even in our wildest dreams. But we're all doing it pretty well and I love every unruly day of life in this big patchwork family that Scott and I have woven together.

This summer The Huffington Post UK is spearheading an initiative helping families thrive, with a focus on parent wellbeing, the challenges facing stay-at-home and working parents, friendships and navigating the landscape of modern parenting beyond the 2.4. To kickstart the campaign, Jamie Oliver guest edited the site, bringing a focus on feeding healthy families.

We'll be sharing stories and blogs with the hashtag #ThrivingFamilies and we'd like you to do the same. If you'd like to use our blogging platform to share your story, email to get involved.