One Retail DNA Test Away From Truth

If a child has been adopted or conceived via sperm or egg donor, that information is significantly about who that child is at a biological level and they deserve to know the truth.  That truth can be introduced in age appropriate bits.

Withholding that information would be a lie and it is simply wrong.

Before anyone embarks on adopting a child or decides to utilize advanced reproductive assistance in order to become a family, it is important to become comfortable with what you are doing – BEFORE you do it.  If necessary, seek counseling regarding your infertility issues.  Denial will come back to haunt you.

There’s no reason for shame, no matter what medical assistance you needed, which includes IVF.  Adoption, however, has its own unique circumstances.  Every prospective adoptive parent needs to learn as much as possible about its impacts on every member of that triad before becoming embroiled.

The Blessings Of DNA

This morning I was reading, repeatedly, the sad stories of mothers who gave birth and were denied an opportunity to hold their newborn babies because they had made a decision to surrender their child for adoption.  I suppose some psychologist at some time decided this was a wise course of action – though totally misguided in reality.

Then, I read a story about a woman who surrendered a daughter 17 years ago and now she has shown up as a match at Ancestry because this young woman had her DNA checked.  My adoptee mom tried this too without any real results but she was so ahead of her time.

The availability of inexpensive DNA testing has been a large measure of my own success in discovering ALL 4 of my original grandparents (both of my parents were adoptees).  It has played an interesting role in my own life as well.  I have two children conceived with the help of a donor egg as I had passed reproductive age when my husband wanted to have children (we married with him being happy I’d been there, done that, no pressure on him).

Because of my own unique heritage, I have now given to each of my sons DNA test kits for 23 and Me.  I also gave my husband one.  It is a bittersweet decision because our donor has also had her DNA tested.  Though my children grew in my womb and nursed at my breast and have known only my own self as their mother for decades, at 23 and Me it now shows that another woman is their mother.  We are a brave new world of people but there is nothing un-natural or unusual about my children.

My donor said to me, “Who would have thought this could happen 20 years ago?” and that is the truth.  Families touched by “adoption” of some sort are legion now and the tools to reconnect all the threads of our existence are within easy reach of every one of us.

I prefer reality to fantasy and live with the truths.

In Memoriam

I am now reading a book titled – Lost Daughters: Writing Adoption From a Place of Empowerment and Peace.  I read an essay yesterday by Susan Perry and felt such a connection with her that I was seeking to reach out to her and discovered sadly that she had died some years ago.

She is quoted as saying –

“Sealed record laws afford more rights to the dead than they do to the
living and they bind the adopted person to a lifetime restraining order.”
~ Susan Perry

Just like my paternal grandmother and paternal grandfather, she was the product of a married man and a woman not his wife.  They were both of Danish ancestry, just as my paternal grandfather was.  An immigrant, not yet a citizen, married to a woman 20+ years his senior.

Susan’s adoptive mother had no idea how often her interior thoughts had turned to her ancestors. Who were they, and what was her story ?  My own mom had similar questions.

Mrs Perry did know that her adoptive parents truly loved her, and that love
and support helped to make her the person she was in life.  I believe I can say the same about all of the adoptive parents in my own family’s lives.

Yet, our genes are some part of what makes us the person we each are as well.

It is only natural that any adoptee that reaches adulthood (if not sooner) will want to know who passed those genes down to them.

I have bumped up against sealed records in three states – Virginia, Arizona and California.  I realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have uncovered ALL of my original grandparents.  I have the DNA tests that no one saw the inexpensive cost and prevalence of even 20 years ago as well as the matching sites Ancestry.com and 23 and Me to thank for most of my own success.

So many adoptees are never that fortunate.  Sealed records are unjust and damaging to so many people.  They encourage unhealthy thinking, repression, and denial as the means for coping with life.

I wonder if, because of adoption, my own mom did not feel empowered to take charge of her own story, just as Susan wrote in her essay.

Even so, every adopted person’s journey is unique.

It is difficult for me, as the child of two adoptees, to understand why as a culture we continue to shackle adopted people to an institution that is governed by such archaic and repressive laws, when the data clearly shows that most original mothers are open to contact. Those who are not, can simply say “no”.

Once an adoptee becomes an adult – they do not need outside agents supervising their own, very personal business.

Repressive laws set the tone – either/or thinking.  There is a belief that adoptees who search are expressing disloyalty to their adoptive parents, or that the adoptee should just “be grateful” and move on.  Attitudes of this kind are hurtful and dismissive.

Here’s the TRUTH, adoptees have two sets of parents – and a unique mix of DNA and upbringing.  It is belittling and unfair to tell adoptees that they are not entitled by law to access their own original birth certificates. Every other American citizen has no such restriction.

This is institutional discrimination and there is no really good reason it exists.  Adoptee rights bills have accumulated plenty of evidence that they are beneficial for the majority of persons for whom adoption is some part of their personal story.

Open Records And Abortion

Thankfully, I finally know mine.  No thanks to Virginia, Arizona and California.  If Tennessee had not been rocked by a baby stealing and selling scandal (Georgia Tann, the baby thief, of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society at Memphis), I would not have been able to get my mom’s adoption file and see a photo of my maternal grandmother.

I have DNA and the matching sites at Ancestry and 23 and Me to thank for my success.  It really shouldn’t be so hard to know one’s hereditary origins.

I personally think the main impediment is bureaucratic laziness.  However, there is also the strange argument that giving adoptees the same right to know where they come from that most everyone else on the planet has would somehow increase the number of abortions.  Therefore, the closed and sealed records advocates (mostly adoptive parents who fear competition from the original parents) have enlisted the pro-Life contingent to help their cause.

The facts don’t support them.  Case in point is the state of Oregon who was one of the first closed record states to open them back up (Alaska and Kansas always had open records).  The rate of abortions actually decreased 25% after the state of Oregon passed its historic adoption law that restored to adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates.

Know this – just because you have taken a stand on abortion, does not automatically give you an understanding of everything you need to know about the issues related to adoption.

Abandoned Babies

Gary Gatwick

Today, I read the story about the baby that was abandoned in 1986 at the Gatwick Airport.  He was later adopted, had a decent childhood and attempted to locate his birth family after having a child himself.  He has been successful but much like my own mother, discovered that the woman who gave birth to him has died and thus, he’ll never get the answer to the question closest to his heart of “why?”.

Not that long ago, I also read a story titled The Foundling: The True Story of a Kidnapping, a Family Secret, and My Search for the Real Me by Paul Joseph Fronczak.  His was also the story of a search for his authentic roots.

People who are not adopted or abandoned often do not understand why knowing one’s true identity is so important to some of us.  A writer friend of mine once asked – “If the adoptive family was good, why does it matter?”  As I talked to her about it, she came to understand how most people actually take such a deep knowing for granted.  Indeed, many don’t really care about it at all until they are much older, if they ever do.

A piece in the Huffington Post some years ago realized that “this was a shared narrative with no fixed racial or cultural background: my own search for identity, though anchored in part by my own experiences, is part of something larger. It is a collective and contemporary identity crisis.”

Maybe this explains the popularity of DNA testing and the matching sites of Ancestry or 23 and Me.  I also wonder, given the pushback on women’s rights taking place at the moment, if beyond threatening women’s health and autonomy, an unintended consequence could become more abandoned babies . . . and depending on where and when, may result in death.

 

Ancestry

Julie Sue Dittmer Hart
born as Frances Irene Moore

My mom had her DNA tested at Ancestry.  I know what she was trying to do, she was hoping to uncover someone she was actually genetically related to.  I had mine tested too and over the last year plus it has paid off for me in my search for genetic relatives.

My mom diligently tried to create family trees based on my adoptive grandparents.  She admitted to me before she died that she just had to stop.  It wasn’t “real” to her.  I understand.

A little over a year ago, a writer’s guild friend quizzed me.  If the adoptive family is a good one (and both of my parents were thus blessed), why does it matter ?  And I explained to her the loss of heritage and knowing who and from where one’s roots are sourced.  She understood and continues to encourage me to get my book finished (and yes, I am working on one).

So it happened in the last week or so, my mom turned up on a family tree at Ancestry that made absolutely no sense to me.  So I reached out to the person responsible for it.  Just last night she cleared up the mystery and the connection for me – the “relationship” is with my dad’s adoptive mom.

Yet, what she wrote to me in conclusion (“Therefore I would be related to you. Unless you are adopted.”) had me opening up to her in reply.  “BOTH of my parents were adopted.  So in truth, you are NOT related to my dad either nor would I be” related to you.

It DOES matter.  I now know I have more than a bit of Scottish and Irish in me, quite a bit of Danish, a smidgen of Neanderthal and Ashkenazi Jew and though it is true that DNA testing (including at 23 and Me) has informed me about all of that, the VALUE goes beyond all that.  It is that when I match a genetic relative who would not know me from Adam, I have credibility now.

 

DNA & Paternity

It’s becoming very common for people who do the inexpensive DNA testing available today, utilizing the matching sites Ancestry or 23 and Me, to discover they are somehow a “surprise”, as in their father is not who they thought he was.

During my study into all things related to my own family origins I have read two books related to this kind of discovery – one by a man and one by a woman.  In the book by the man – The Stranger in My Genes: A Memoir by Bill Griffeth – he is totally into genealogy, only to discover that he is the product of an affair (or in the age of #MeToo maybe it wasn’t totally a complicit situation) between his mother and her boss.

The other book by a woman – Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro – describes her discovery that the legendary Jewish heritage that she believed was hers – isn’t, when the percentage of Jewish genes she carries isn’t what it ought to be.

My dad’s mother was unwed and I thought it would be nearly impossible to determine who his father was.  A series of fortunate events uncovered him for me (after two suspects who turned out not to be him).  First a cousin tested at 23 and Me and wrote me that we had the same grandmother.  Then, another cousin through her had my grandmother’s photo albums in which she left us breadcrumbs.  Both in the headshot (shown above) with a name attached and in how she named my dad with the same name.

Interestingly, 8 month before that, Ancestry told me someone was my cousin.  He finally replied to my inquiry – “I have no idea how we could be related, none of those surnames are familiar to me”.  I gave him the “new” one and he came back – my grandmother and your grandfather were brother and sister.

My paternal grandfather was a Danish immigrant.  That made my dad half Danish.  And it explained why my strongest genetic contribution was Dane.

Denying Reality

Our family had a very personal experience this week related to DNA that I won’t really go into with specifics here.

My point being that because of inexpensive DNA testing and the matching sites such as Ancestry or 23 and Me, pretending something that isn’t true is really a short sighted decision.

Because of my parents adoptions and this journey of discovery I have been upon, I have read more than one book about people who got unexpected and life-shattering discoveries when they had their DNA tested.  Some of these persons had been adopted, one was believed to be the child who had been stolen from the hospital shortly after birth but was actually a child abandoned on a sidewalk.  Another one had believed in a strong Jewish heritage from her father and discovered with feelings of betrayal that she was conceived by donor sperm.

Honesty is the best policy even when being honest is somewhat painful.  That was something I learned from my own parents as a child.

I am also grateful for that inexpensive DNA testing.  As I have uncovered genetic relatives who never knew about me or I them because both of my parents were adopted – our shared genetic heritage convinces them I am actually “who” I say I am.

It is a brave new world thanks to technology and families now can be created where they were impossible before.  For that, I will always be grateful.

Why Anonymous Isn’t Anymore

There’s been a bit of controversy recently about assisted reproduction and the use of anonymous donors and previously created embryos.  I’m quite familiar with the issues as it became a part of my own life.

I know of others who have gone down this path who I believe made foolish choices not to be truthful about what they did.  There is a difference between not sharing private details publicly and not telling one’s own family members an important truth.

I have also been blessed by inexpensive DNA testing and the matching sites – Ancestry and 23 and Me – for revealing the truth that my parents were prevented from knowing due to closed adoptions and sealed records.  It is hard to imagine being forced to live a false identity so that strangers can claim you as their own (changing birth names and certificates to fit a manufactured reality).

I am grateful we followed a path of our own making and have been honest about the details with our sons.  We’ve not lied to them – ever.  We’ve also not made a big deal about how their conception was different than the more common method.  We are pioneers in a brave new world.