I was told a pretty story, growing up. It went like this…
I was given up for adoption at birth. My birth mother was 19, and already had a 3 year old boy. She was a navy brat, living with her parents. Her mother, my birth grandmother, was sick with vaguely described “women’s issues.” She was not willing to take in a second grandchild (me), and was the one insisting on putting me up for adoption.
My birth father was a gaping black hole. It is unclear if he was even aware my birth mother was pregnant when he disappeared, or he might have left when he found out. He was only described, cryptically, as “dark.” My mom thought maybe that meant Hispanic or Indian, given this was in Texas.
The agency said they tried to match babies with families of a similar appearance and heritage. They said my birth mother was mostly Irish and British, just as my adoptive mother was.
It didn’t turn out to be a good match in appearance. I was short, and dark of eye and hair, in a family of towering green and blue eyed Texans.
How much of the pretty story was true? I’ve heard from other adoptees that “the story” was often made up. The potential adoptive parents were told what they would want to hear, to clinch the deal. So it could be entirely false, or totally true, or somewhere in between.
Why does it matter now?
Because I have a DNA test being processed at 23andMe. It sat here for a while, before I sent it in, as I pondered what the possible outcomes could be.
This will sound idiotic, but when I ordered it, I wasn’t thinking at all about how I might find my birth family through it. I really got it to find out my heritage. It matters to me, where I come from, geographically. And I got it to look for answers to my multitude of health problems.
The testing kit came, and suddenly I realised it could open a whole can of worms, or even two cans, and I didn’t know if I wanted to do that.
See, as near as I can tell, no one is looking for me. I’ve been registered at online adoption registries since the birth of the internet. They’re easy to search, reach out, and make contact.
But no one has.
In 20 years.
It’s likely I have more than one half sibling out there, but they might not even know I exist.
How will they feel if I show up on a DNA test? I have no idea how it would feel, growing up in a family, and then to find, as an adult, that you have an unexpected sibling. Would you feel betrayed? Let down? Angry?
Both my daughters already have their results from 23andMe, and I’ve been poking around in them. They have different fathers, so, in looking at the “DNA relatives” they matched, if they both matched to the same person, it’s because that person is related to me.
And, wow, are there matches. A lot. Some are as close as 2nd cousins to my girls. And more matches keep turning up.
I have blood relatives, other than my girls.
I doubt you can understand what that statement feels like, unless you’ve been where I am right now. It’s not something I can put into words. I stopped thinking I’d find my biological family quite a few years ago.
I’m actually terrified.
What if they didn’t know of my existence? What if they don’t believe it (it happens, from what I hear)? What if they want nothing to do with me? What if they do? Will they be able to answer my questions, about the circumstances of my birth and adoption? Can they tell me my birth parents’ names? And in a soft whisper… Could I see pictures, of my biological mom and dad? Is that too much to ask?
All the possible outcomes are terrifying. There are forums on 23andMe where folks like me talk about this exact situation. It often turns out badly, with rejection. There are a few good outcomes.
But I have to try.
I told my daughter, Rhiannon, the other night, as she calmed me down, after I freaked out when I found my girls have even more matches, this thing called adoption has been a huge weight I’ve carried around my whole life.
In elementary school one year, we learned about genes and heredity, and were assigned a big genealogy project, to research and chart our family tree on posterboard, with the most pictures and details possible.
I’m an Aspie – person with Asperger’s syndrome – although we didn’t know that then.
I did the only thing that seemed right. I raised my hand and asked what I was supposed to do. I explained I was adopted, and I didn’t know my family tree.
My teacher was momentarily befuddled. She told me to use my adoptive family. “But that’s not right. It’s not my genetics,” I argued.
You have to understand. Aspies have an “unusually strong” attachment to the truth and what we perceive is right, true, and honorable. Making a family tree, to be displayed, using my adoptive family, was a charade, a huge lie, so much that it was anathema.
I had to do it anyway. I remember a lot of tears. Of feeling like I was cheating, feeling guilty.
Holding my hand up and asking that question had repercussions throughout my schooling years. Someone figured out that only bastards are given up for adoption.
They never let me forget it. Even in high school, I remember the taunting.
There are other stories, but you get the idea. And there was a song that did a great deal of damage, too – it was worthy of its own blog post years ago: “Love Child”, “Bastard”, & Asperger’s
So, here I am, in my mid 50’s, and for my whole life I’ve known nothing of my biological family. I haven’t known where I come from, or who I am. It is such an odd, disconcerting, yet exciting, feeling, to know, in a week or so, that’s all going to change, when my results come in.
(And just like that, my phone went beep, to tell me there’s an email from 23andMe saying my reports are ready! I haven’t even finished editing this yet! Omg!)
Some adoptees don’t care about their birth family. I don’t know how much of that is because they “fit” into their adoptive family really well, like my (also adopted) brother did, tall and light eyed as our parents. Maybe it’s just personality.
No one has ever loved me as much as my mom did, who did everything she possibly could for me, up until the end. We didn’t become close, though, until I was an adult. I wasn’t lacking in love, growing up, but I just never felt that I belonged.
Like a lot of adoptees, there’s been this aching hole that’s been waiting to be filled. That’s as much about the countries my ancestors come from as anything.
Seeing my daughter’s list of cousins that had to have come from my side, that was a holy cow moment. I have family. Biological family. And there they are, a long list, with initials and a few names. It is both the lifting of the weight, of being without blood kin except for my daughters, and a new and great weight, not knowing how all these people will react.
Unless you are adopted, you cannot know how that feels, and I am failing at expressing it.
Figuring out who is who based on DNA tests can be very challenging, unless a very close relative (parent, sibling) has tested with the same company. Even then, they have to have opted in to finding DNA relatives. I can send messages, and hope to hear back.
It’s going to be interesting.
And, hopefully, one day, fulfilling.