Flashback to about two weeks ago. If you had asked me then if I was adopted, I would have answered with a definite ‘no’. It wasn’t even a possibility way back then, two long weeks ago. Now, I find myself in a completely unexpected situation. A few days ago, I discovered, at the age of 40, that I was adopted as a newborn. My mind is blown! Two weeks ago seems like a lifetime ago–another life completely, in fact. I know I am still me, but at the same time I’m totally not. I try to think about it logically (ex. I am still the same person) but it’s impossible not to think about on an emotional level as well. To say it has been life changing is an understatement.
In two days, it will be one week since I found out that I was adopted. Honestly, I think I am handling this discovery pretty well overall. I have moments of complete disbelief and anxiety, but they come and go. I know that I’m still me, but I’m also totally not who I thought I was–so it does mess with my head at times. Lots of people that have been around me my entire life knew the truth, so that bothers me a bit. It doesn’t bother me because they knew & didn’t tell me; it bothers me because I feel foolish. Foolish for somehow not knowing such a vital piece of information about myself, yet the people around me knew it all. As a parent, I think it’s incredibly unfair to withhold information like that from your child. I know that the attitudes towards adoption have changed drastically over the past decades, but I can’t think of any good reason to keep that information from an adopted person; it just feels so unethical. (though I do understand, in some situations, waiting until the adopted person is older to share some of the details of their history, such as incest or rape, though never withholding the fact that they are adopted.) I encourage anyone who is considering adopting a child to really research the harm withholding this information from someone can cause, and to develop a solid plan for how you will share your potential child’s origins with them. This should never be considered optional, or left to the adoptive parents’ discretion, in my opinion. You cannot erase someone’s origins simply by amending a birth certificate and creating a web of lies to support the narrative you want to create. I firmly believe that any solid relationship–including that of a parent and child–must be built on a foundation of trust, honesty, mutual respect, and a whole lot of love.
It helps a lot that my biological family seems really great and loving–it’s pretty much what has been keeping me afloat. If they had been riddled with problems, or weren’t open to communicating, this might not have been quite as easy to accept (and sadly, I’ve communicated with many adoptees who find themselves in that exact situation). So in that way I’m lucky, I suppose. It’s something I imagine I will have to work on for a number of years before it really becomes just another part of me. At this point it’s still very acute–it’s all I think about, all I talk about, all I can manage to focus on. When I talk about it, it doesn’t even seem like I’m talking about my own story. It feels like a character in a book or a movie. I wish I had been given this information decades ago when my life was much simpler. Having children and all sorts of adult responsibilities makes this so much more difficult to endure.
So how did this happen? Ancestry.com
I’ve been doing family history research for over a decade; it’s one of my favorite hobbies. A few years ago, I did DNA testing with Ancestry to find shared ancestors and new information about my maternal grandmother’s elusive family tree. Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of matches (probably over 1,000 by now) typically 3rd cousins, some even listed as “Distant Cousin.” I would communicate with most of my closer matches, but became very frustrated that none of them had any obvious link to my grandmother’s family. The names were always completely wrong, the geography was all wrong, the ethnic backgrounds made no sense—I could not figure it out. My genetic makeup report seemed wrong as well—predominantly Western Europe, Ireland/England, and Scandinavia. I was raised believing I was Greek, Italian & Ukrainian, so none of this made sense. I figured it was just a miscalculation from my DNA test (I laugh at that now) or that it was showing my ancient roots (like back thousands of years before they migrated to Greece, Italy & eastern Europe). I really didn’t think much more of it. Obviously, I should have. This should have been one, of many, red flags in my life.
On September 12, I visited Ancestry, and checked my DNA matches. I was very surprised to see I had a new match with a woman Ancestry labeled as “Immediate Family.” As the only-child of an only-child (my mom), and a father with only one sibling (who never had children) this was obviously very confusing. My immediate family is extremely small, and I had never heard of this woman. I didn’t understand how we could have such a close genetic match under these circumstances (we share a high level of centimorgans, which indicated we had to be full siblings.) I know DNA doesn’t lie, but I figured this had to be some kind of miscalculation, or there were other reasons why people can have a high match besides being siblings. I spoke with one of Ancestry’s DNA support experts, and they assured me that this result was accurate, and that it really can only indicate: grandparent/grandchild, parent/child, or full siblings. They said our levels were too high to even be half siblings.
At this point, I came up with a bunch of scenarios, mostly involving my dad and her mom—an affair, adoption (but I was sure it was on her side, not mine), hospital baby mix-up—among a host of other creative possibilities. None of it made any sense to me. The facts also didn’t support any of these theories. I had hit another brick wall.
I was able to find my DNA match on Facebook, and we began texting back and forth. We couldn’t figure out how this could be. What was definite, is we were both immediately struck by how much we look alike. I mean, A LOT! We look like we could be, well, sisters! Neither of us could explain any of this–there didn’t seem to be a logical answer. I “knew” I wasn’t adopted—primarily because I have always felt that I slightly resemble my maternal grandmother. As a teenager, there were certainly times I wished I had been adopted (LOL), but I never actually believed it was a possibility. My match also seemed equally sure that she wasn’t adopted. I was sure that whatever the missing piece of the puzzle was, it was definitely coming from her family. Boy was I wrong! Ha!!!
At the same time, I began posting details of my DNA match in a group on Facebook that helps people interpret their results. One of the members made a comment that caused me to really start questioning things from my side. They asked me if I have any DNA matches to KNOWN family members. Since I had always been searching for my maternal grandmother’s family, I never bothered to look for matches from other branches of my family tree. I went into my DNA match list again, and did a desperate search by surname—any surname (or close surname) on my mom’s or dad’s sides would have been enough proof for me (at that time) that I wasn’t adopted. As you might expect, I didn’t have one match. I also knew for a fact that my dad’s brother had tested through Ancestry, and that some of my dad’s cousins had as well. I also knew one of my mom’s cousins had tested. None of them were in my matches. I then noticed that I share DNA matches with my “Immediate Family” match–from both sides of her family—her mom’s side & dad’s side. At that moment, I realized I must be adopted, though it still seemed completely impossible.
I had preexisting plans to meet with my dad a few days later. I decided this was a conversation that was best handled in person, and it was going to happen that day—no matter what. A few days earlier, I had sent him a few questions about who in the family had done DNA testing, shared a photo of my DNA match, etc., but he never responded to my email. I already knew why he didn’t respond (because he was realizing that I had discovered my own sister). This was my first unofficial confirmation that I was on the right track about being adopted. That Sunday, we went to lunch, and I began showing him more photos of the woman I matched with on Ancestry. I got right to the point and said (half jokingly) “Am I adopted or something?” Shockingly, he responded: “I didn’t want you to find out like this, but yes, you are adopted.” I could not believe it! I still can’t believe it! My life has become a complete blur since that moment.
My dad told me that my mom (adoptive mom) never wanted me to know that I was adopted. She passed away in 2010, but this was 2017. I didn’t understand why he didn’t tell me somewhere in those seven years. And even in this situation, he only confirmed it when I asked—he didn’t come to me with the information on his own. I don’t understand that. I mean, for the sake of my three children, I will try not to hold a grudge about this, but I really don’t get it. I’m trying to be positive, and not let it bother me, but I guess it kind of does because I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t brought it up to him, he never would have told me.
My Ancestry match knew I would be meeting with my dad that afternoon, so I promised her I would text her a very brief “yes or no” type message as soon as I knew something. Within a few minutes of confirming the adoption with my dad, I texted her to let her know that we were definitely full sisters. He knew her mother’s name, her father’s name, and even had met her grandmother and aunt at the adoption. (I already knew all of this information from my match, but wanted to hear it come from him as confirmation.) There was absolutely no doubt that she is my full biological sister. And guess what? I have two more! My biological parents met as adolescents, fell in love and are still in love today. They had me very young—my mom was almost 16 at the time (which is why her parents decided I was going to be placed for adoption). They went on to complete school, get married and have three more daughters together. I can’t believe it! I literally went from being an only child, to having three full sisters. It’s so unbelievable.
For the next few days, I spent a lot of time texting back and forth with my match (can I officially start calling her my sister now?) about our families, sharing photos, and other information. She was nervous about how to tell her mom about us connecting on Ancestry. The other two sisters did not know about me, and never had any idea their parents had a child when they were teenagers. After a few days, she finally couldn’t take it any longer, and went to her mom. When she told her mom, she was in complete disbelief–so happy and emotional. Then my sister told her that I only found out that I was adopted a few days earlier. She broke down at that point because she always assumed I knew I was adopted (because the vast majority of adopted people know that they are adopted). Apparently, over the years, my biological mom searched for me via adoption services and websites. However, for that to be successful, both sides of the adoption need to be searching. Since I did not know I was adopted until a few days ago, obviously I was not looking for her. She interpreted this as me not wanting to find her or communicate with her. This broke my heart for her. I can’t imagine going 40 years thinking that the child you loved, and placed for adoption doesn’t want to find you. She was so emotional hearing this news. I’m sure it was a huge relief to her to know that if I had known, obviously I would have searched for her. Then my sister showed her my photo and she couldn’t believe it. My sister said she stared at the photo for five minutes straight, and kept repeating “she looks like me!” It was a very happy moment for her.
My sister asked her why she had never told them (the three sisters) about me. She felt that if the sisters knew about me, they would want to find me, but then they would be disappointed or hurt since, from her perspective, I didn’t want to find them. She was just trying to protect them from hurt. As a parent, I completely understand that logic. I probably would have done the same thing, especially if I were in her situation.
My biological parents are going to tell the two other sisters about me at a previously scheduled family event this weekend. I can’t even imagine what that will be like for them. I hope, among the multitude of emotions they will feel, that happiness will be the most abundant. I will post more about that as it happens…
Thank you for listening! Writing about this really helps me process it better.