cM – Centimorgans

I had not encountered this word before today but with so many adoptees (including my mom and myself as the child of two adoptees) turning to inexpensive DNA testing for answers to the black hold of identity that adoption placed into our knowledge of our origins, I felt it worthwhile to share some knowledge about this word that I discovered today.

Therefore, I was attracted to an article in Family Tree. LINK>DNA Q&A: How Are Adoptees Related to Their DNA Matches?

The Question – I’m a 33-year-old adoptee, and I’ve tested my autosomal DNA at 23andme.com, AncestryDNA and Family Tree DNA. AncestryDNA predicts my closest match there as “Close family—first cousins.” This match and I share 1,622 centimorgans of DNA across 75 DNA segments. The person doesn’t have a family tree attached to his profile and hasn’t uploaded his results to GEDmatch. I don’t know how old he is. What’s our likely relationship?

The Answer – A close match is the goal of most adoptees who turn to genetic genealogy testing, as this can help reveal genetic heritage. Once you’ve identified a close match, the next step is to determine the most likely genealogical relationship with that match, which will help you figure out how the match fits within the family tree that’s beginning to reveal itself.

All the testing companies now provide the total amount of DNA (measured in centimorgans, or cM) shared with each genetic match, information that can be vital for determining the genealogical relationship. A cM is a measurement of the distance between genetic markers on the DNA based on the expected frequency of recombination with each generation. On average, one cM equals one million base pairs, although this can vary.

Once you know the number of shared centimorgans, your first stop for estimating a relationship is the International Society of Genetic Genealogy’s (ISOGG) LINK>Autosomal DNA Statistics page. This page contains a table summarizing the average amount of DNA (in percentages and centimorgans) shared in a wide variety of genealogical relationships.

Remember that these figures are the average amount of DNA that relatives will share; thus, the actual amount of shared DNA will likely vary. About half the time, the amount of shared DNA will be more than the average, and about half the time the amount will be less than the average. Additionally, if the two relatives are related through more than one recent common ancestor, the relatives could share more DNA than expected.

According to AncestryDNA, you share 1,622 cM of DNA with your close match. The closest category on the ISOGG’s chart is “Grandparent/grandchild, aunt/uncle/niece/nephew, half-sibling,” relationships predicted to share 1,700 cM, or 25 percent of their DNA. The actual and estimated figures are close enough to be very confident that you and your match have one of these relationships, provided that you aren’t related through multiple ancestors.

Another resource you should use is the LINK>Shared cM Project, which collects information about actual ranges of shared cM for different genealogical relationships. Last year, the project gathered more than 7,500 data points related to amounts of shared DNA. It also visualizes the distributions for ranges of DNA shared by various relationships.

The “Degree 2” relationship includes Aunt/Uncle, Grandparent/Grandchild, and Half Siblings. The shared amount of 1,622 cM falls within the Degree 2 range, but not within any other ranges. For example, a shared amount of 600 cM would fall within the range for Degree 5 and Degree 6, giving a wider array of possible relationships.

Based on the ISOGG and Shared cM Project pages, it’s likely that your close match (a male) at AncestryDNA is one of these:

  • your grandfather (at age 33, you’re unlikely to be a grandmother yourself)
  • your uncle
  • nephew, the son of a full sister or brother (if the nephew were the son of a half-sibling, you and he would share closer to 850 cM of DNA)
  • your half-brother

Knowing the age of the match would help you decide between grandfather and uncle/nephew/half-sibling. However, if your match doesn’t provide his age and doesn’t respond to requests for additional information, AncestryDNA offers a tool you can use to further examine this relationship: Shared Matches.

Shared Matches lets you see matches who appear on both your and your relative’s match lists. Although you can check for shared matches with anyone in your match list, you’ll see only individuals you share with that match at the fourth cousin or closer level.

If you share any matches with your relative, examine their profiles for family trees. These may provide other helpful information about this person who is likely your grandfather, uncle, nephew, or half-brother.

Difficult, Important Decisions

Life is what happens. Today’s story.

We have had custody of my great nephew since he was 4months, adopted at 4 years. He is now 7. His mom (my niece) comes in and out of our lives and they have a good, but not always consistent, relationship. This week she has been in a horrific car accident and has significant injuries. Currently she is alive but critical. Her partner died.

My question specifically for adoptees. Would you have wanted to see your mother in the hospital like this? My wife thinks it would be too traumatic and upsetting for him. I think he is old enough to remember her and (though I agree would likely be traumatic) would regret not having a chance to see her. We hope this isn’t goodbye but it is very unstable and I want to make a decision before we no longer have a choice.

Reality – You need to tell him, brace him for how bad it is AND TAKE HIM. HE MAY BE WHAT GIVES HER THE FIGHT TO COME THROUGH THIS.

On the other hand – let him make the decision. It is HIS life. HOWEVER, if she is mangled, disfigured and doesn’t look recognizable to the person he knows, then I would caution against it or wait for an open casket. That way she can still look like the person he knows. As an adoptee, I wouldn’t want to see a disfigured/unrecognizable version of her. I’d want to remember her as she was in my life. There’s no need to add more trauma to his history.

A trusted voice affirms – you know the right answer. Tell him what happened and that you will take him to his mother immediately. Yes, it will be upsetting, but you can’t rewind life. If she passes, regret and guilt can be even harder. Just before you get there, prep him for what to expect – machines, wires etc.

An adoptee adds – There are no do-overs in life, only I wish I hads… do not over protect them both to the point of not allowing him to live his own truth, bear his own sadness and deal with grief in whatever way he must, but also to have whatever memory he could have, so that he has proper closure, if that indeed is what happens in the end.

And I didn’t know about these support persons but glad I do now – LINK>Certified Child Life Specialists are educated and clinically trained in the developmental impact of illness and injury. Their role helps improve patient and family care, satisfaction, and overall experience.

From direct life experience – I lost my mom at age 7, due to injuries she suffered in a car accident. That resulted in my being raised under legal guardianship. I still would have given anything to have been able to see her/say goodbye.

Taking In Teens To Get Their Baby

Disgusting !! Bluntly predatory.  Like “We wish to manipulate a vulnerable, young unexpectedly pregnant woman into thinking we care about her, then snatch what we need and discard her immediately.” or “I don’t want to post this on my personal page out of fear of being called out for what I really am.”

One foster mother writes –  I foster teen moms. My foster daughter almost lost her son due to people like this. My current placement was separated from her daughter after birth. Fostering isn’t about adopting. Taking in teens to get their babies is disgusting. Teens need support.

This one from direct experience – and they don’t vaccinate – so they need to buy a baby, um I mean… save a baby… I mean steal a baby that will be under the medical radar, because you know… we deserve our freedom of belief. So the child better be healthy & needy too. I found out that my adoptive parents for some crazy reason did not vaccinate their youngest biological daughter. Because I was foster to forced adoption at the age of 10 – they did not have a choice with me. The agency made sure that all of my personal medical records reflected doctor visits (even if they lied about the “clumsy” bruises I often displayed).

Reality – messing with the biological attachment process, when they actually could have had a positive experience in spite of the circumstances (teen pregnancy). So, they further traumatize the mother and the baby AND mess with the natural hormonal bonding process. If it was about the baby, they would teach that teen mom how to do skin-to-skin, breastfeed the baby (helps with so many things, if you can manage it with hormones/bonding/chemical hormonal processes) and help her co-parent. NOT STEAL the baby and say how much better of a life it’ll have and tell the teen mom, now you can still be a kid and ‘achieve your goals’. These lies hurt so many people. Yes, they can have good lives. And yes, maybe the mom will achieve her dreams, if that route is taken but that isn’t to say, if the mom had been supported, those things also could have still occurred. And better, no primal wound and years wondering why you were ‘given up’ or for the teen mom, “will they share pictures with you”, etc.

I Love Reunion Stories

From the LINK>BBC – Adoption: Son finally meets birth mum after 58 years.

Timothy Welch was only six weeks old when he was separated from his birth mother, June Mary Phelps, who was 18 at the time. He describes his adoptive parents reasons – “They couldn’t have their own children so they started the adoption process and when they were 36 they adopted me.” Timothy described his life with his adoptive parents as “really happy”, and never considered trying to find his birth mother until his adoptive parents died: Bill in 2018 and Eunicé in 2020.

As an adoptive child you always think about researching your birth family. A lot of it goes back to identity as a person over the years. He admits, “I wondered who I was, certain personality traits that were different from my adoptive family.”

Yately Haven in Hampshire was a mother and baby home run by the Baptist Church. It is where Timothy was born. The Haven was open from 1945 until 1970. Almost 1,800 babies were born there. Timothy was able to get a copy of his original birth certificate. It contained his birth mother’s full name, date and place of birth. A search angel was able to use voter registration rolls and with that information, Timothy was able to find his mother’s current husband, Michael Mortimer. Timothy gave Mr Mortimer his email, which he passed on to Timothy’s brothers and they arranged a day to meet up in London. Timothy says of his brothers, “They are both wonderful men – kind, thoughtful and reflective. I feel very fortunate to have met them at this stage of our lives and am going to enjoy getting to know them and their respective families very much.”

He says of then meeting his birth mother – “It was emotional but at the same time it felt natural. We spoke about a variety of things but the part I enjoyed the most was just looking at her and taking in the person that she is.” He was also able to learn about his birth father – Hedayat Mamagan Zardy, an Iranian Muslim. The couple had a fleeting romance and loved dancing in Oxford.

Some adoptees, like my dad, are afraid to know where they came from. My mom yearned to. Reading stories like this make me wonder how they would have felt, if they had the option to experience a reunion. Since they have both passed away, I can only choose to believe that reunion took place in heaven.

Figuring Out Our Story

Shannon Gibney

Today’s blog is courtesy of LINK>an essay at Today.com. Shannon Gibney is the author of The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be. Her book is described as A Speculative Memoir of Transracial Adoption. It was published by Dutton just last month, January 2023. Her book details her search and reunion with her birth families, as well as the ongoing ripple effects of adoption intergenerationally. She notes – “For adoptees, figuring out our story requires work — scouring fragments of documents, stories and phone conversations. And sometimes, we still come up short.” As the child of two adoptees that basically had to do the same thing – I can relate and so, I share.

Shannon is a mixed-Black woman who was adopted by a white family. This is commonly referred to as trans-racial adoption. She writes, “In a culture that deeply values personal and family histories that appear to be seamless — at least on the surface — those of us who have little or nothing to go on can feel alienated and alone. Which is why so many adoptees search.” Certainly, for my mom and for my own self, we quickly became aware of the priority of genetic relationship in working with the DNA matching sites – 23 and Me and with Ancestry.

Shannon compares her own search to the more difficult efforts of international adoptees from countries outside of the US. Therefore, she says – As a domestic, mixed-Black transracial adoptee, my search for my birth family and my beginnings was far easier to navigate, although I didn’t know it at the time I began searching. I could say as much myself. My own search turned out to be surprisingly easy and relatively quick (within a year I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were, something of their stories and had connected with living genetic relatives that I had not known about before).

Her birth mother had given the adoption agency permission to share her identity with Shannon, if she should ever reach out and ask for it. She goes on to describe what happened next – Thus began a long, complicated, on-again and off-again relationship with my birth mother, which ended with her death from a rare cancer in 2014. While initially getting to know her, she told me that she had had a very brief relationship with my birth father and couldn’t give me any real information about him beyond his name. She also warned me that he was “dangerous,” that she didn’t trust him, and that they “were both lost souls” at the time they got together. And, as it turned out, I did not have any biological siblings.

A therapist who specializes in adoption issues helped her to track down information about her birth father, though sad – In 1981, he had died from injuries he had sustained from a high speed police chase in Palo Alto, California. She was 6 years old at the time. She notes his family – “held the blackness that set me a country apart from both my white adoptive and biological families. This was a kind of racial and cultural damage I hadn’t anticipated.”

Yet, also a happy outcome – I eventually tracked down my paternal grandfather, and was even able to talk to him some years before his death. Likewise, conversations and meetings with my biological aunt and uncle on my father’s side have filled in many gaps in my story, and have given me the great gift of a fuller picture of my father. I may have never met him, but I can surmise so many things about him from the little information I do have.

Similarly to Shannon, I have had to accept – Adoptees will never have fully fleshed out stories of our origins, but we do have the conviction that we deserve far more truths than we ever receive, and we have a dogged determination to seek them out. All of this can make us feel frustrated. And yet, I too have discovered “talking to other adoptees we realize that we are actually not alone in our struggles, and that there are strategies and communities we can build to help mitigate the difficulty and disappointment. We also have imaginations that we can use to explore the people and possibilities that brought us into existence and with whom we co-create our identities.”

Still Separated

The good news is that just under 3,000 of the 4,000 children separated from their families by ex-President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy at the southern U.S. border have been reunited. That policy was lambasted as cruel and inhumane by critics. It has taken years for government officials to reconnect relatives with their young children.

Nearly 1,000 children still need to be reunited with their relatives. It is the second anniversary of the task force created to help with the reunifications. Many of those kids are Central American migrants who were separated from their parents at the border and placed in detention centers. That method was part of the Trump administration’s hardline approach to immigration and was meant to deter millions of migrants from seeking asylum in the US during his term in the White House.

“We understand that our critical work is not finished,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to fulfill President Biden’s pledge to reunify all children who were separated from their families under the ‘zero-tolerance’ policy to the greatest extent possible, and we continue to work diligently to incorporate the foundational principle of family unity in our policies and operations.”

“We have made significant progress toward reunifying families and providing them with necessary services and support,” the Dept of Homeland Security said. “This critical work will continue until all separated families that can be found have been provided the opportunity to reunify.”

Unequal Treatment

This is really so common for so many adoptees that came out of foster care into families with biological children through adoption. I’m not going to catalog all of it but will hit a few highlights and say only – it is tough enough to come from a difficult environment and feel so completely disregarded. One wonders why these people do it. One theory expressed in the most recent story rings true – My adoptive parents have high status in my smallish town. Both very well known. I now believe we were trophies for them to flash and extra income that paid for fancy car loans.

The biological children were all younger. The woman notes – I remember thinking their two story home was a mansion. They had a tree house and trampoline. Sooo much property. Any poor kids dream. Even though she also notes – The family who fostered/adopted my sister and I were lower middle class. Their family photos never included the adoptees.

As me and my sister aged things got worse and worse. I had felt very loved initially. Me and my bio sister were much more well behaved than their own. We did as we were told. Mostly because, if we didn’t, we’d be disciplined. My biological sister and I would take on the majority of the house work, simply because the others refused to participate and no one enforced that they helped.

When me and my biological sister pushed back on things, we were told life’s not fair or just gaslit into thinking – it’s what we deserved, as we needed more structure due to our past. My older sister and I were placed into the foster care system the last time at ages 7 & 10. Our emergency placement that night was where we stayed for 2 years as foster kids, until ages 9 & 12, when the family adopted us. Her biological mother suffered mental illness with frightening episodes. She was dependent on sketchy men. They moved a lot, due to homelessness or the men the mother was using for survival. They went without food often.

When her biological sister pushed back harder and grew a bit defiant in her teen years, the adoptive parents went so far as putting her back into foster care. That was devastating for this woman as her sister had been her only constant in life. She admits that her sister was treated much more poorly than her and it causes her to feel regret that she did not stand up for her sister more often. Months later, the adoptive parents brought her sister back home, and readopted her because she had suffered abuse in that foster home. She notes that her biological sister eventually moved out at the age of 18 and went no contact with their adoptive parents for awhile.

She notes – Even so, I was grateful. I had been a good kid and caused as little disruption to their lives as possible. I wanted to please everyone so badly. I thought I should be grateful for what they did offer me because I could’ve had it so much worse without them. When I moved out at age 19, the disconnect got worse for me. My adoptive mother doesn’t acknowledge there’s a disconnect at all. Even though, we live close but go months without seeing each other and weeks without contact. Some outsiders notice how my sister and I were treated differently.

And so now, the woman accepts it for what it was and is. She is willing to play nice for family events and holidays. Without them, she wouldn’t have any family. She responds promptly to any of her adoptive mother’s texts, where the adoptive mother pretends to care. Like, she will make empty promises or fake plans, but clearly she never actually intends to follow through. Which leads the woman to fully believe, anything that does happen is just due to concern for her adoptive mother’s public reputation. What if the adoptee went no contact completely ? Sometimes, the adoptive mother actually follows through and does something special for her, like a baby shower for her 1st child. She notes, however, that it was a very public affair. Anytime, it is something private, her adoptive mother is clearly not as nice.

Grieving Many Times Over

Today, I share a piece by LINK>David B Bohl, who is an author, speaker and addiction & relinquishment consultant. It is titled On Grieving Many Times, And Many Times Over. I was attracted to this because yesterday was my deceased, adoptee mother’s birthday. I don’t suppose we ever get over the grief. I don’t think she ever got over the grief of never being able to communicate with her birth mother, who Tennessee told her in the early 1990s was already dead.

David writes his adoptive mother’s death was the fifth death of a parent he’d had to go through. He explains that he – hadn’t learned of the first two until much later after they’d occurred. The first one to go was my birth father, who died 32 years before I learned about it, the second one my birth mother whose death I did not learn of until 8 years after it happened (very similar to my own mom). Then there was my adoptive father 12 years ago, and now, Joan Audrey Bohl who died twice —first when the dementia robbed her of her mind and memory, subsequently rendering me a stranger when she would fail at times to remember who I was and why I was visiting. There she was another mom who had no idea I was her son. In those moments, in a most sinister coincidence, she was like my biological parents who relinquished me and existed in this world without any specific knowledge of me.

He wants us to understand “What all of this means to someone like me—a relinquishee and adoptee who now has two sets of deceased parents–is that I must face twice(?), five times(?) a yet-to-be determined amount(?) of grief and confusion. Add to that losing my adoptive mom to dementia, and there is plenty to process, a great deal of loss, and certainly much to grieve. I am, of course, not blaming any of my parents for dying or getting sick, and I’ve made peace with my biological parents for giving me up a 62 years ago. But it would be disingenuous to say that I am no longer affected by these losses and that my mother’s recent death doesn’t trigger some new layer of grief where all of those people who contributed to my existence must be acknowledged in how they shaped my life. And so, I think about mothers. The mother I knew and the mother I’ve never met. And then the mother I knew who no longer knew me. I think of fathers, the one who had never even met me, and the one who raised me and provided me with a life filled with opportunities. And I of course, as a father, I think about my children.”

When I try to talk about my own family, my youngest son says to me – you have a very complicated family. It is true. And it is true for adoptees as well. As I have learned who my original grandparents were and have made contact with that novel new experience of genetic relatives that never knew each other existed – it has actually given me a new sense of wholeness – while at the same time totally messing me up with the adoptive relatives and the feelings I have (and still have) and each of them. Very complicated indeed.

There is much more in his very worthwhile article – see the LINK.

Failed Reunions

Herb and Homer

When we don’t have a Netflix, we rotate through some of our dvd collection – one episode of The Simpsons (only the first 10 seasons as my sons claim they lost their way after that, though they remained commercially viable for Fox for a long time after) or one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation or one from “the hat” – a box with slips of paper we draw as to what we have to watch next.

Last night it was Oh Brother, Where Art Thou from Season Two. Grandpa Simpson almost dies from a heart attack and thou he promised Homer’s mom never to reveal to Homer about “that carnival episode” which resulted in a pregnancy and baby given away, he goes ahead and lets an adult Homer know.

Homer goes on a search for his brother and discovers that he is the head of a car manufacturing company and fabulously wealthy. He is also almost a mirror image of Homer – with exceptions. This is something that adoptees encounter when they finally meet genetic relations that look a lot like them. It is a very warm feeling.

But even reunions that start out happily, sometimes crash and burn. I have read about many. Same with this episode. Homer’s weird design sense tanks Herb’s car company and causes him to lose everything. At the end, Herb expresses the hope that he never sees Homer again. As any fan of the series knows, he does eventually return . . .

More about this episode in Wikipedia at this LINK>”Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

Analogies

Perspectives from the mouths of babes. Today’s story (as often is the case, not my own).

I keep thinking about the analogies the six year old in my care (guardianship) shared with me (a month ago and the other day) about the difference between a birth Mum and a guardian Mum.

••••••••••••••

#1 We were driving in the car chatting and she stated randomly that I’m not her ”actual Mum”

I asked her what does she think “actual” means, she said “real”

I asked what does ”real” mean to her (I ask her what these things mean to her, not to question her/doubt her, but to understand where her mind is at and also quite frankly, to keep any potential offence in myself at bay, so I know exactly what she’s saying and not just what I’m reading into things)

She replied “you know how you have real plants and fake plants? Well the real plant is the real Mum”

I replied “so does that make me the fake plant?”

“Uhhhhh” was her reply, we both burst into laughter, “it’s okay babe, I’m okay to be your fake plant”

••••••••••••

#2 “You know how you can have a thick ladder? That’s an actual Mum, one who gave birth to a baby. Then there’s a thin ladder, who didn’t give birth… that’s you”

I could be thinking deeper into deeper than necessary, but this is what I hear.

• A thick ladder – you can climb up each step without hesitation, you trust it to hold your weight, it was created well for the job at hand •

• A thin ladder – you’ll be slower to climb it, making sure it’s sturdy enough to hold you, you’ll be unsure on each step wondering will this hold ?, it will likely need some reinforcements at some point to keep it functioning well and safely •

Oh the mind of this incredible and sore in her bones six year old.