Yet Another Story of Misattributed Parentage

Mark Overbay

Story thanks to the Right to Know people.

Every MPE (misattributed paternal event or misattributed parentage) story has a starting point. The discovery comes entirely by surprise for many, whereas it confirms others’ long-held, conscious or subconscious, suspicions. If there truly is one, the typical story involves submitting a direct-to-consumer/recreational DNA test yourself or being contacted out of the blue by someone who has. Mine has a little of each with an added twist.

One afternoon, a friend of mine called me with what he described as “interesting news.” He told me that he and his older sister had taken DNA tests and found something unexpected. He informed me that both had discovered the man they thought their father wasn’t. Their research afterward led them to believe that my father was their BF (birth father). Additionally, they had reached out and somehow convinced my father to submit a DNA test. The results confirmed their research findings. “We,” he informed me, “are half-brothers.” He sent me a screenshot of the DNA evidence to prove it. Because I was already aware of two other half-siblings from my father, this news honestly wasn’t that surprising. I remember laughing with him about the strangeness of our new situation.

What my friend didn’t know, however, is that many years ago, I had also taken a DNA test from the same direct-to-consumer company, primarily because I was ethnicity curious (as both of my own parents were adopted – this was originally my own motivation). When I told him about this, he informed me that I wasn’t on his match list and followed with the question, “You are the adopted one, right?” “Adopted? I was not adopted.” I quickly replied. Confused, he told me that my father had told his sister I was adopted. He must have misunderstood. I was 58 years old and was confident that I wasn’t adopted. My birth certificate listed my father and mother. I had seen it many times. I called his sister to see where this part of the story originated. She repeated her brother’s claim that my father had told her I was adopted. Further, she explained, he had married my mother, knowing she was pregnant with another man’s child.

When I learned the adoption news, I was more than two hours from home and my laptop. I wasn’t laughing anymore. My head was now cloudy and confused. The drive home was a blur. “Could this be possible?” I asked myself, “Was I adopted?” Once I arrived, I quickly checked my DNA matches. Neither my father nor these two new “half-siblings” were there. As I surveyed my 80,000 + matches, none matched my surname. I found that it was 100% confident regarding the connections tied to my mother. However, most of my “close” matches were surnames utterly foreign to me.

It was true then; I had been “adopted” by my BCF (birth certificate father). But, unfortunately, my mother had taken her secret to the grave. My BCF had told a stranger rather than me. I found out I was an NPE from a friend who was a completely unrelated NPE (nonpaternal event, also sometimes nonparental event). My friend was right about the adoption but wrong about the two of us. We were not related. In a nutshell, that’s how my story began.

Life does not prepare you for such moments. As abrupt and shocking as it was, this revelation explained so much. My physical appearance, personality, and temperament differed significantly from my father’s. I was athletic; he was not. We had little to nothing in common and even less to talk about. We have not spoken in many years. Those who knew both my father and me well commonly joked that I must be “the milkman’s child.” My wife has known my father for more than 30 years and never once thought we were related. I laughed these comments off, but I really couldn’t disagree. The differences were problematic to me. I knew enough about genetics to know that much of what defines our identity, the sense of who we are, is inherited. I feared that I would start to see undesirable attributes of my father revealing themselves in me one day.

The realization that I was adopted lifted an incalculable weight from my shoulders. The fear that I would someday become my father was a burden more significant than I had previously appreciated. Yet, strangely perhaps, as the reality set in, this genetic enlightenment was validating and liberating for me. The truth had freed me.

You can read the rest of his happy ending family reunion story here – Mark Overbay.

Contemplating Death

Yesterday, I was stung on my little finger by a Red Wasp. Whether we simply collided or it came after me as I passed by the wooden post that has become nest – through a knot-hole opening into a large hollow space, I do not know. It happened so fast, I never saw it. I only felt the hot iron pain. All I could do was put a couple of ice cubes on it at the time where I was.

It brought back memories of the time when my adoptive maternal grandmother gifted me with a trip to England with her. We were going to attend a 4 week long summer session at the University of Cambridge and it was a lifetime experience that I do not regret. That morning I was stung on my middle finger also by a wasp I never saw. There was no time to do anything about it, even if we would have had some remedy.

My hand became painfully swollen over the time it took to make the transatlantic journey. My grandmother pretended not to notice my suffering and I knew better than to make a issue of it. In my dorm, not even having washcloths and towels yet, I used my socks to make compresses and by dinner time it was bearable. Last night I reflected on how it must have been for my mother growing up with such an emotionally cold woman. I do know that when she died, lots of appreciative comments about her mother came my mom’s way and simple reminders of her perfume on her clothing were bittersweet for my mother. My mom yearned for a reunion with her birth mother but she had died several years before my mom’s effort, which came months before the state of Tennessee changed its own perspectives to allow the adoptees or their descendants to have the adoption files related to the scandalous Georgia Tann. I now have that file that would have brought my mom so much peace. In my own spiritual perspective, I believe she was reunited with her birth mother after death and now knows even more than I do.

In my all things adoption group this morning I read –

I was surprised at how many adoptees truly loved their adoptive moms and were devastated when they died. Is it strange to not seem to feel much of anything? Some days I think I might be sad and then I realize it might just be residual feelings from long ago. I’m so confused and feel so cold.

A soothing comment followed – Know that your feelings, whatever they are, are valid.

The next comment was this – My adoptive mother and I were not close. I loved her, but didn’t much like her.

One honest adoptee admitted – My adoptive mom was an awful person. I only felt relief when she died. Yet another wrote – I won’t grieve, I have no relationship with my adoptive mom or adoptive dad, as cold as it sounds ill feel like a weight will be lifted from my shoulders when they pass. They still think they haven’t done anything wrong and blame me for everything

I could appreciate this perspective – I think how people grieve and process loss depends on their relationship with that person, whether it’s adoptive family, biological family, friend, coworker. If you’re close to someone and love them, you might feel sadness, a sense of loss, emotional pain. If you weren’t close to them, you might not feel much at all. None of these feelings are bad, they’re just a reflection of your relationship to that person. Not missing or grieving someone doesn’t make you any less of a person with emotions.

The original commenter went on to share – It’s sad because I could never connect with her. She had bipolar disorder and always asked me why couldn’t I just love her. She tried to live her life over through me and it seemed to suck the very soul out of me. It’s hard to love someone when it’s only one sided. It’s like we are baby dolls meant to fulfill all their dreams instead of human beings with our own destiny, personality, and dreams to explore.

Another wise perspective was this – I think every relationship is unique and one should always honor whatever they feel, or don’t feel when dealing with death. Try not to compare your experience with loss to others. This also, grieving is different for everyone, and the way you grieve (or seemingly don’t) is valid.

There is this sad story – The last few months of my moms life were difficult. She was difficult (in general). Our relationship was difficult. I had to step in and took over care the last 4 days of moms life. She had a rapid health decline. I didn’t know for sure I was adopted at that point. And I never got that moment. My adoptive mom was a broken person. The Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents book helped me see that this year. I’ve been able to see her different and with a kindness that wasn’t there before. We had a hard relationship. And it’s helped me reach some of the grief that I’ve had shoved down inside.

And yet another sad story – My adoptive mom is still alive but I feel absolutely numb towards her. I think it’s the abuse and bullying and constant threat of sending me away as a child. I had one moment once where I felt for her, it was some random moment by myself that made me realize that perhaps underneath the hurt, I did care for her, but I am unable to feel it because of how much she has hurt me.

Another perspective – As adoptees, we have *all* lost our mother, during our formative years. So when my adoptive mother died, I felt that pain of losing a mother again. My adoptive siblings don’t quite understand why I reacted so strongly (and they also don’t realize how deeply her death impacted me, because I never really showed my grief in front of them). They are all her biological children, and also much older than me. So while we all lost our mother, I was losing *another* mother. As adoptees, we have difficult relationships with our adoptive parents, and however you felt is completely understandable.

Who Is Really To Blame ?

Most infants develop secure emotional attachments to their caregivers at an early age. This is often not the case for adoptees. Many infants show a healthy anxiety when their caregiver is absent, and they show relief when they’re reunited. Adoptees often do not respond that way and are labeled as having a disorder.

Some infants are not able to develop attachment disorders because they have been separated from the mother who gave birth to them. These babies are unable to bond with their adoptive parents and they struggle to develop any type of emotional attachment throughout their lives.

As they get older, they are often told that they are not grateful enough for having been adopted. Saying they have a disorder seems gentler than admitting they have trauma.

That first separation is where an adoptee first experiences a “CONFUSION” … and it takes hold of the rest of their lives.. if some adoptees have supportive adoptive parents, that’s better than not having that. Too many adoptive parents are seriously narcistic. Yet they somehow make it through adoption screening. If the truth were known, many of these “parents” should never have been allowed anywhere near children. One thinks, maybe when God made them infertile, God actually knew what she was doing. Some adoptive parents are tyrannical and rant and reprimand these children. They didn’t adopt a child for the child’s well-being but for their own gratification. Nothing an adoptee goes through as an adopted child is actually normal. No one should expect normal under the circumstances of an unnatural arrangement.

And where the adoptive parents were good, an adoptee can admit that. Know that they loved the adoptee but always felt like they didn’t belong in that family. The guilt is feeling like these “good people” deserved someone who loved them, the way they loved the adoptee. Guilt is a horrible weight to carry.

Often the original parents, or even more often the single mother, and the adoptee are experiencing a situation where, because our society doesn’t support families so they can stay together, there may not have been a lot of choices. And for the adoptee, they had no choice in the situation. Facing facts, they truth is that there are those who are profiting financially from this suffering that both mother and child have inflicted on them.

In the case of a single mother, if there had been “parents”, it may be that most newborn-adoptions would never have occurred. In the case of my maternal grandmother, she was married but for reasons I will never know, my mom’s father was nowhere to be found in the moment my grandmother needed him to be there for her the most.

Some adoptees were told as they grew up that they were a challenging baby, hard to console and sickly. Some adoptive parents then blame the birthmother and even make off hand remarks about the possibly she was using “substances”, or blaming the doctor for not recognizing whatever may have been a source of being sickly, like perhaps a milk intolerance. In times past, the adoption agency often handed a baby over to the adoptive parents several months old, 4.5 or 6 or 8 months old, without any written instructions about the baby’s routines.

An adoptee is left to deal with the fall-out. There is nothing they can do to change the past but it makes me incredibly sad to think about a baby, only looking for comfort and finding nothing but frustrated, ill prepared parents. This has a huge impact on that child’s life; and the impact can still have both bad and good effects. Like being able to survive less than ideal circumstances is a form of resilience.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

One of the interesting things about having become a mother for the first time in 1973 and then becoming a mother for the second and third time in 2001 and 2004 was how much some baby advice had changed.

Back in 1973, I had an acquaintance who lost a baby to SIDS, so I was terrified about the possibility.  I would stand outside my daughter’s bedroom door to listen for her breathing.  If she didn’t wake up at the usual time in the morning, I would go in to check on her and she was always beginning to wake up – thankfully.  Back then, we put a baby to sleep on their stomach in case they threw up, they wouldn’t choke on it.

But by the early 2000s, the advice had changed and I can only assume it was due to statistics that proved babies would be safer sleeping on their backs.  And both of my sons also survived their infancy.

The reason this is on my mind today is an awful story I just read about a hopeful adoptive mother.

She and her husband were going to adopt from a “friend”. The pregnant mother changed her mind only a week before she gave birth. And of course, this was a terrible disappointment for the couple hoping to adopt and destroyed the friendship that had previously existed.

Sadly, this baby died from SIDS.

The hopeful adoptive mother admits to conflicted feelings about this. She admits that the adoption failing to go through left her heartbroken because she had become emotionally attached to the developing fetus, thinking of it becoming her own baby to love. The baby now dying has left her feeling like she lost her baby twice. She understands that she really doesn’t have any right to mourn the loss of a baby that was never hers but never-the-less.

The hateful part is that she also feels vindicated, as though it is karma taking the baby away from its original mother, because the hopeful adoptive mother was denied the opportunity to raise this child.

She also admits to being irrationally angry. She believes the baby would still be alive had this child been in her care.

Weirdly, she is relieved the baby didn’t die in her care, if this was the child’s destiny from the beginning.

What to make of all of this ?  She is one very mixed up lady to put it kindly, which I would.

However, I don’t disagree with this woman in my adoption group’s harsher response to the hopeful adoptive mother –

What you should be feeling is sad that a baby died, and compassion for the mother. A decent person would stuff their selfishness and feel sympathy. This baby was never the hopeful adoptive mother’s responsibility. Some more advice, you could thank god that baby didn’t have to feel the torment of a mother/child bond being broken before she left this world. I’m sure her Mom’s kisses were what she fell asleep thinking about, as it should be. And this part hurts but you were never her friend. You are lying to yourself about that part. Unkindly, what you are is a predator, mad that your potential prey got away.

Post Adoption Depression

Yes, it is a thing.  I believe it is partly caused by unrealistic expectations.  Fantasy and reality have collided.  The difference between those expectations and reality create a very real stress and may even lead to depression.

It is a crash in the “high” of adopting (basically the excitement is over), the dopamine is no longer being released.  The sad fact is that the adoptive parent finds they still have the same emptiness troubling them that drove them to adopt to begin with.

Life had been a flurry of emotions during the adoption journey: hope, relief, frustration, waiting, excitement, and not to mention adding another person to one’s family.  Not having the hormone fluctuations related to birth does not mean that the adoptive parent won’t have their own share of emotional fluctuation.

Of course, new parents of both genders have emotional reactions to 1) sleep deprivation 2) new roles and 3) reconfiguration of daily life, but having this is not the same as hormone induced postpartum depression that a delivering mother experiences.

So, with a newborn, sleep deprivation can certainly be a factor. If an older child was adopted, then the reality of a traumatized child may be very different than the idealistic vision hopeful adoptive parents  expected.

An adoptive parent may even grieve for the child who is now in their own home, who they may love desperately, only to find that child dreams of his original mother coming back to reclaim him.  An adoptive mother can never replace the original one.

So a couple does CHOOSE to adopt.  If those circumstances turn out to be hard to live, like any biological parent, they need to deal directly with it.  If it’s all NOT what the adoptive parents expected, they should seek help and learn to deal with the reality. That’s parenting and adoptive parents have signed up for it voluntarily.

Depression sucks regardless of what it’s caused by. Affected parents need to seek help, see a trauma informed therapist, seek out specific resources, get on anti depressants if necessary – but NEVER just throw away a child.