Today’s story comes from an essay in Right To Know. NPE stands for non-paternity event (also known as misattributed paternity, not parent expected, or NPE) is when someone who is presumed to be an individual’s father is not in fact the biological father. This presumption may be on the part of the individual, the parents, or the attending midwife, physician or nurse.
The story that was told to her was that her mother was 15 years old and homeless, living in a van, and making a lot of poor choices as many troubled teens do. She didn’t have adult supervision, and drugs and parties and a little bit of crime-ing seemed like good ideas to her at the time. One winter day, she was arrested for “breaking and entering.” The police found her in a pile of dirty clothes in the back of her mother’s van. Her mother went to juvenile hall and she went to the hospital. They say, she weighed only 2 lbs and diagnosed her as “Failure to Thrive”. The doctor told the social worker, “It will be a miracle if this baby lives through the night”. She acknowledges, “I guess I wasn’t ready to ‘give up’ because I lived to tell the tale.”
After some years in foster care, about the time she turned 4 years old, she was taken into court and her mother was there. When she entered the courtroom, her mother was telling the judge, “They can have her now and then give her back to me when she’s about 10”. He tapped the papers on his desk and said, “I’ve seen enough”. And with that, he ended her mother’s parental rights, and Krista was now eligible to be adopted by her foster family.
She shares, “Doctor visits were always weird because I had to remind them every visit that I was adopted and therefore did not know my family’s medical information. The worst was the school family tree assignments.” LOL, she admits, “I just made stuff up. One year, my family were missionaries in China and lived off bugs in the forest. Another year, my parents were in hiding from the Mexican mafia and we were in the witness protection program. Every year, the stories become more outlandish. And not one adult asked me what was going on with me—maybe because they all knew I was adopted and didn’t want to talk about that because people just didn’t talk about adoption back then.”
She continues her story –
When I was about 12, I saw an Oprah Winfrey show on “Adoptees and Happy Reunions” and I distinctly recall wishing I could have a “happy reunion” with my mother. I mean, I figured enough time had passed so surely she was more mature and sober. There were no computers or internet back then, so I walked down to the library and looked through phone books. I copied down ALL the people with her last name and then I snail-mailed letters to all five of them. One ended up with my birth mother’s grandparents and one with her sister. Naturally, I hadn’t told anyone I was even going to look, so imagine my parent’s surprise when one night my great-grandfather called.
My parents took me to meet my great-grandparents and they were nice enough. He showed me some of the genealogy he had done, and I was instantly fascinated. From that moment on, I’ve loved genealogy and researching ancestry. They told my parents not to allow me to meet my birth mother because “She had a lot of problems and it wouldn’t be good for me to meet her”. So, just like that, the adults in my world decided it wasn’t in my best interests to meet her without even bothering to ask what I wanted or thought.
And this part is sad – It wasn’t until many years later that I fully came face to face with a harsh truth about my great-grandparents. They knew about me when I was born. They knew I was in foster care. They knew Sharon was “trying” to get me back. And yet, they left me there. They didn’t help her. She was 15 and living on the streets. They let their great-grandchild spend the first four years of her life in foster care. Then they met me at age 12. Once. And never called or wrote or anything after that. I will never understand why they made those choices.
Krista chose the field of psychology as her career path. In grad school, she once again had that dang family tree assignment. This time she decided to do it with real people and real information. So, she dug out her biological aunt’s phone number and called her for help. She agreed and they arranged a day for Krista to drive down to San Diego to meet her. On that day, her aunt decided it would be a good day for Krista to meet her biological mom, their mother, and her brothers. She admits – The only problem was that she neglected to tell me. I walked into a family reunion of sorts and I was not prepared. It was very, VERY, overwhelming. I was 21 and I simply did not have the emotional maturity to withstand all the emotions that flew at me and in me and around me. I was stunned into silence.
She describes the moment she saw her mom, Sharon, and they locked eyes. The woman had no idea who Krista was. One of her uncles went over and told her mother. When recognition hit her eyes, so did something else. From where Krista was standing – it looked like shame and guilt and an intense desire to flee. Somehow they bridged the distance and hugged. Her mother kept saying, “you’re so beautiful”. Krista says, “And I felt nothing. And I felt everything. And time stood still. And the past rushed in. It was the most confusing moment of my entire life.”
Her mother told Krista “Michael” was her father. She found him and met with him. He told her he remembered Sharon and a baby, but that he wasn’t her father. Michael was with her the day she got arrested and Krista was taken away. Later he ran into Sharon and she told him the baby died, and he went on with his life. Then, Krista shows up 21 years later claiming to be his daughter. Leaving his house one day he said to her, “I’m not your father, but I will be one if you need one”. She says, he really was a sweet man who had made a lot of mistakes in his past, but he married an amazing woman and had two lovely children. For 26 years, she thought he was her biological father. And after the night she met her mother, Sharon, they did develop a pretty good relationship though their relationship was complicated.
Eventually, she did an Ancestry DNA test. Michael was right. He isn’t her father. Thomas is. He was 35 and her mother was 15, when Krista was conceived. A lot like the parentage of both of my own adoptee parents. Each was young (though in their 20s, not teenagers) and the fathers were both much older men. Reminds me of the time my husband and I tried to do some match-making for his dad’s twin brother only to discover he was only interested in much younger women. LOL
When Krista asked her mother who Thomas was and she just started crying. She let her mother know she would be willing to speak with her when her mother was ready to tell her the truth. They never spoke again. Sharon died unexpectedly a few months later and took her secrets to her grave. Well, actually, Sharon’s ashes are in Krista’s closet sitting right next to her stuffed monkey George. Sharon was 62 years old. Yet, Krista knows her mother also lied about so many things.
She says there were little to no resources here in the US. The UK had quite a bit of data (clinical studies) to pull from. Krista began to formulate a really good sense of how to define what she was feeling and put some contours around her experience. From there, she was able to identify healthy, impactful ways to walk through this NPE landscape. Solo. She didn’t have a single person who could identify with what she was going through.
Krista has turned this into her practice as a therapist. She trains other clinicians who are interested in working with this population. She has opened up virtual support groups for NPE (adult and adolescents), NPE Dads (biological dads), and NPE Wives (those whose husbands discover a child). She also works with people one-on-one and has worked with people from all across the US and from other countries. She is honored to note there will be a major clinical study here in the US (starting in the very near future) that she will be involved in.
She ends her essay with this – With the advent of home DNA kits, it’s not a matter of IF your secrets are revealed, it’s a matter of WHEN. The “recovery” isn’t necessarily linear, but it is survivable. I promise you that.