Father’s Day

As I write this, after staring at this blank white space for far too long, I’m struck by the fact that there is no easy, neat, clear-cut way to begin sharing my story with you.  Paralyzed, I sit here processing the enormity of it all—how do I uncover the complexity of who exactly I am, let alone share it cohesively with all of you? The challenge feels daunting (to say the least).  I also have a healthy dose of ADD, which makes my life quite colorful, but doesn’t necessarily help with the task at hand.  All that to say, while I can’t promise that this story will be presented in neatly unfolding thoughts, I can fairly safely say that it will be interesting.

Triplets Dad Cat CostumesToday is Father’s Day, 2016, and I’m keenly aware of this fact as I begin this journey with you. I chose this day to share my story on purpose, but not for the purpose you might think. So let me be clear—there is no one, NO ONE IN THIS WORLD, who could ever replace my father. My Dad is my hero, my everything. Yes, I’m a daddy’s girl (if you couldn’t tell). Every step I’ve taken in life, from my very first as I learned to walk up through now, has been with him close behind and ready to support if I should fall. It’s how I’ve had the confidence to go out on limbs, to stretch my wings, and take a leap of faith toward pursuing my (sometimes far flung) dreams, without knowing exactly what they would bring. He is one of the most practical, self-disciplined, sacrificing, strong, and consistently dependable people I have ever known. It is from my father that I learned how to be largely self-reliant, hardworking, thoughtful in my decisions, and to protect myself—living with my “eyes and ears open”. He also taught me what unconditional love truly means, the value of family, loyalty, and “always sticking together”.

It is very, very important to me that you, my dear reader, and anyone who may hear my story in the future, fully understand what I’m about to say next. I start this journey of self discovery on Father’s Day with great reverence, love, and respect, not to search for my father, but to ground my coming story in the one part of my identify that will remain static and forever unchanged, and that is this—I KNOW who my father is. He is the man who overcame endless obstacles to propel me into existence, who was ecstatic to learn that my mother was pregnant with not one but three babies in tow, who started documenting my life by filming my birth, who began to invest in my education before I was old enough to even speak, who held me when I cried over each of my life’s greatest heartbreaks and who has been my greatest champion with every small victory. I have had and always will have one father, blood of my soul, and there is NOTHING in this world that could ever change that, least of all discovering who out there is also responsible for my conception.

Dad, you mean absolutely everything to me, and I want you to know that while I have to go on this journey, and though I do seek to learn about the part of me that you do not comprise, I mean in no way to dishonor you, and I hope to cause you no pain. The thought of that even being a possibility breaks my heart into a thousand pieces. So please, please, while I know I selfishly ask, give me one more gift through your unconditional love that I’ve always been able to rely on—give me your TRUST, in the fact that you could never, ever lose my love, for it is the cornerstone of my being. It will remain so and anchor me as I seek to venture out on a limb once again—this time to unravel my new and expanded understanding of “who I also am”.

All my love,

Your Zeezato

Loren Dad Baby Shoulders

Who I Was

Connection has always been something I’ve craved. Maybe it’s because the first 7.5 months of my life (I was a preemie) were spent sharing a womb with two others. Being separated and “air lifted” out (via c-section) was a harsh and somewhat unwelcome introduction to my life “on the outside”. My brothers and I were then each isolated in incubators for at least our first few months, quite literally separated from each other and anyone else. Our parents could only touch us with two fingers of a gloved hand while enclosed in that space, until we were deemed viable to survive on our own and finally able to be taken home.

That said, I guess it’s not such a unique phenomenon, this desire to feel connected to others. After all, every one of us starts out our existence as part of a whole—originating from two people, literally fusing as one—then growing our humanity while encapsulated within someone else’s being. At first, we cannot be without them. While most of us are (seemingly) isolated from the world while in the womb, we are in actuality tethered to another—at least until the cord is cut and we are officially ushered into the world. The price we pay for full-status citizenry of this world is that we can now no longer “be” with them—we must enter it alone. It’s no wonder then that so many of us spend our lives seeking to recreate that bond by seeking it with one another—in constant search for a reprisal of that first closeness.

my brothers and I in our groovy triple stroller
my brothers and I in our groovy triple stroller

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an interesting relationship with the concepts of connection as well as with independence as the result of being a multiple. A little context. For most of my childhood, I was known not as a unique individual of my own, but as part of a trio—my brothers and I were known and referred to collectively as “the triplets”. In some ways this bit of extra attention probably made us feel special, but it never really felt like it was as special as it was cracked up to be. It always felt a bit like a facade. It just felt…normal—it was the only lived sibling experience we had ever known.

Triplets dressed up as "three peas in a pod", a costume made by my grandmother
Triplets dressed up as “three peas in a pod”, a costume made by my grandmother

While it was nice from time to time to be known as part of a whole, and something “unique” and “different”, having others’ understanding of me start, and frequently end, with my relation to my siblings inevitably left ME as an individual feeling largely glazed over and unknown. Further, others always seemed to assume that my brothers and I must be exceptionally close—certainly much more so than “ordinary” siblings—but the truth that we were really just about as close as any other siblings honestly felt more isolating. I believe we mostly kept that fact to ourselves.

Food ShoppingAs much as I loved my brothers, I always had a nagging sense that I’d also wanted to have a sister. She didn’t need to be a twin or triplet even! My childhood-self would have been perfectly happy with an older sister to bond with and look up to. It didn’t always feel fair that my two brothers had each other to play around with and do all the “boy” things—I always felt like the third wheel just tagging along at their friends’ houses (although I did love most of the activities we would do, I just knew that my status in the group was viewed as somewhat less-then since these really weren’t things I was “supposed” to be doing). At the end of the day, as much as I wished it wasn’t so, the kids we hung out with were really viewed as “their” friends, while in my mind I always hoped that they would see me as an equal. I’m not sure that’s something little boys and girls are good at.

Chica Chica Boom BoomFortunately for me, we had a group of cousins who were close in age and lived not very far away. My Dad had always been very resolute about the value of knowing and remaining close with one’s extended family. He and his brothers were three peas in a pod, so we got to spend a lot of time with our one uncle’s kids in particular. They were three girls. One was slightly less than a year older than us, one was a few years younger, and the other a few years older. In my mind, these were my secondary sisters. Even so, all six of us would play together (except when the oldest cousin would sometimes venture out on her own), and when our weirdness joined forces, our fun times were unstoppable. Interestingly enough, the two youngest of the three sisters were exceptionally close. They were so similar in their freakish (and hilarious) abilities, almost being able to speak their own funny language! In seeing the two of them together, I would often marvel at the idea that that’s how WE were supposed to be. Weren’t we? I mean we’re the ones who shared a womb, after all!

The HouseEach summer, that side of the family would get together for a massive family reunion in upstate New York, on either the first or second weekend in August. The family house we would descend upon like locusts had originally been a bed and breakfast, owned by my great grandmother Dora. She had saved up and bought the twelve-bedroom house in 1944. She was a remarkable women. Eventually, the house was used less and less as a bed and breakfast and more and more as a convening place for the ever-growing family, which was spreading itself all across the country with the exception of that one weekend per year. By the time my brothers and I joined the mix, the house was almost exclusively for family use (with the occasional Russian Jew houseguest, one of whom urinated on one of the couch cushions, now forever known to “the cousins” as the “Basha couch”). I’m sure I could write a second blog just on stories like that. I distinctly remember that whenever we had a houseguest, my cousins and I had to be extra quiet as we went about our shenanigans.

Tree FortIt wasn’t long before that house and town became the center of my universe and my favorite place to be. We built tree forts, went on “secret spot” excursions in the woods (probably only about 500 feet away from the yard, in retrospect), all while singing along to our tape recorder’s soundtrack of the Lion King. It was a place of family, a place that came to symbolize belonging to me (something else I could write a book about given a number of powerfully tragic experiences in my childhood).

Dora & Grandkids
My Grandma Dora and grandchildren at the family house

My paternal grandmother, with whom I was very close, and her mother before her, would constantly remind us of the importance of valuing family, of knowing each other, and paying respect to our history. Ours had been a family of Jews, many of whom perished overseas in the holocaust. Times
when we could all be together were sacrosanct to me, and I felt so proud that I knew and had strong relationships with my 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th cousins—quite the extended family! As I got older, I also became very interested in our family’s genealogy, migration to America, and the stories of our ancestors. It helped me feel even more firmly rooted in something, and knowledgeable about who I, in turn, was—through knowing who they were. I was the offspring of survivors. As my grandmother would say as we embarked upon a big meal (one of our family’s favorite pass time activities), “The tried to kill us. They didn’t. Let’s eat!”

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, to learn that I eventually created an ancestry.com account to better track the lineage of both sides of my family and try to find out as much as I could about my family tree members’ individual stories (pulling up various historical documents related to various family members, such as immigration paperwork, draft cards, marriage certificates, census data, and the like). I had gotten pretty far along in this endeavor when, while taking a facebook break, I noticed a friend’s status about having recently taken an AncestryDNA genetic test that provided him with the regional breakdown of his ancestry. Turns out he was about 2% Asian (mind you, this was a very, very average looking white dude), on top of the regional breakdowns he expected. I had heard of other people having similar results—finding out that they were a slight smidgen of something they never expected. I thought to myself—“How cool is that?? What if I’m part something really cool, too?!”, and decided that I just had to find out for myself.

I knew I wasn’t likely in for any surprises, so I wasn’t getting my hopes up too high. Growing up, I had always been proud of what a mutt I was. Whenever the question of my ancestry came up, I would always quickly dive in and rattle off the same old list “English, Irish, Scottish, French, French Canadian, Russian, Polish, Austrian, German”—enumerated with gusto. (When I was younger and didn’t understand how genetics worked, I used to include Israeli in that list, since I knew we had cousins in Israel. My Dad shot that one down pretty quick. “Sorry buddy but…that’s not how that works”.) My Mom’s side of the family’s history was somewhat known, but not anywhere near as well fleshed out. Her side was comprised of the western European countries, whereas my Dad’s was the eastern European contingency.

Most of what is known on my Dad’s side was researched by his cousin, Richie, in addition to some lighter research conducted by one of my brothers and I. Merely the idea that I could further progress my knowledge of my Mom’s side of the family and possibly find out that I could add another cool country or two to my mutt-list were enough to get me on board. Plus, since most of these genetic testing sites have a feature where you can see which other users are genetic matches to you, I figured that I might even be able to make connections and establish new relationships on my Mom’s side as well—long-lost cousins who might even live close by!

So, I did a little homework and decided to order a test through Ancestry.com. I knew that if I went that route, I’d be able to transfer my genetic data to another database, FamilyTreeDNA, for another $20 or so, which would allow me to double check my regional ancestry results AND increase my chances of finding a new family match.

The test arrived in the mail a few days later, and I wasted no time in completing it. I mean, it was pretty darn simple—impressive even—the level of ease and efficiency involved in the process. Even someone with NO genetic test experience and little tech savvy could follow the procedure and ship the sample right back. You essentially just spit into a little tube until you reach an indicated line, pop the top back on, put it back into the box it came in, close it up, then drop it in a mail box—all of which I did the same day it arrived. Now, it was just a matter of the waiting game—the one major inconvenience of the process is that it takes about 6-8 weeks or so for results to come back. So, after shipping it off, I just as unceremoniously forgot about it and carried on with my life.

To be continued…

PS-I’ll catch you up on what happened next, but this weekend happens to be our annual family reunion (it got bumped up a couple months, and last-minute I was able to get a flight to attend).  I’ll fill you in either over the trip or when I get back. 🙂

Some of my cousins and I at our family reunion house
Some of my cousins and I at our family reunion house
Porch of our family house
Porch of our family house
A group of our cousins taking a traditional late night walk around the reunion neighborhood
A group of our cousins taking a traditional late night walk around the reunion neighborhood

The Shattering of Self

It was October 10th, 2015 when my results came in. A Saturday. I remember it distinctly because it was later that same day that my parents were flying into New Orleans  to visit me for a week.

The results came in at 8:42am, but I wasn’t awake just yet. However, like with most days, the first thing I did after waking up was to quickly scan my facebook newsfeed, then check my email.

THEY WERE IN!!! Getting that email notification knocked the wind out of me a bit, and hurdled my heart against my chest. I knew there was likely nothing to worry about—“I’m just being silly!” I thought to myself. Then, “okay, here goes”. I held my breath and clicked on the green button displaying “See my results”.

Ancestry Results Email

With anticipation, and my heart thudding a mile a minute, I scrolled down the page to the “Ethnicity Estimate” section, then stopped dead in my tracks as I took in my breakdown.

Regional Breakdown 1 Blurred

My heart, which had been beating violently in my chest, froze. NO. This doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t add up!

“English. Irish. Scottish. French. French Canadian. German. Russian. Austrian. Polish…” my inner child vehemently insisted to me. The silence of the screen in return was deafening.

I KNEW who I was. I knew who I was. Who is this??

My mind knew the math, but I desperately clicked on the green “SEE FULL ETHNICITY ESTIMATE” button, frantic for the possibility that their contents would somehow make it all make sense, make my world stop shaking.

Full Ethnicity Results Ancestry DNA

Denial then crept in with full force. “Well,” I thought to myself, “Europe West in the diagram somewhat includes the places IAncestryDNA Map
know I’m from. Look at this! France! Germany! Austria! Part of Poland! Maybe no Russia (and wtf, <1% West Asia??) but it’s not just ‘English…Irish…Scottish’. They’re pretty much all there!” But then my cool—cold even, it seemed—predictably logical adult mind’s retort kicked it…”Yea, but it says less than 1%.”

Science, the subject I had pledged my heart and mind to, thrust a knife into my chest. I get 50% of my genes from my father, and 50% from my mother, yet 97% of my regional breakdown consisted of countries only on my mother’s half of the list.

Denial part two made its entry at this point, as I glanced down at the bottom of the screen, and hesitantly, yet bravely, clicked on the “Show all regions” button.

Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

I quickly skimmed the list of regions and countries/sub-regions within them.

Africa Results

Okay, that makes sense.

Native American

Fair, okay.  My brother, who loves studying Native American culture will be upset, but okay.

Asia Results

Not surprising, alright fine. I can live with that.

Then, seeking someway, somehow—Europe.

My prayers had been answered instead without mercy, and instead a fresh wave of cold sweats and nausea as I reviewed my full results. Finally came the crashing down of my identity, my sense of self.

Fuller Ethnicity Breakdown AncestryDNA

EUROPEAN JEWISH—0%. Zero percent. Zero percent.

“Dadddddyyyyyyyyyyyyy”, my heart cried. “Noooooonononononono. Daddydaddydaddydaddy! No no no no. Please. PLEASE don’t tell me this”

My heart broke into a thousand pieces as I held myself in my arms and rocked through the pain. I made the wailing noises of a woman losing its child, because in that moment I, too, had lost my child. I lost ME.  I was suddenly brought back into the bathroom of my parent’s house, wondering what it would feel like if, like my cousin, I, too, was not bound by blood to my father.  Cut off and alone, that child inside me wept deeply.

HOW, how, how could this be? I always knew it was somewhat possible, I mean my brothers and I never looked all that much like my Dad, but that happens with other families! I always told myself that I got more of my Mom’s genes on my outside and maybe a little bit more of my Dad’s on the inside, in the way I think about the world, in my mannerisms, in a thousand things.

Maybe the sample got mixed up, or this company is off and the results are just bullshit. I knew in my mind that this was all beyond unlikely, but I decided to at least hold on to a thread of hope that I was still who I thought I was. “I’ll export my raw data then upload it to one of the other company’s platforms to see if I get the same results. I was originally planning on doing that anyway so that I could maximize my possible connections on each.”

Wait. My possible connections…I was then reminded of what all this might also mean. I may have a different “biological” father. No, not father, never that, of course. I quickly walked to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror.

“Who else is staring back at me?” I thought. Then fear. Panic. WHO IS THIS FACE LOOKING BACK AT ME??? To look at myself and not know the answer to that question felt suddenly overwhelming and terrifying all at once. I was now looking at a stranger. How dare a stranger look back at me from myself? Who the fuck are you??

I had to know. I had a million thoughts flying through my head. Yes, I knew that my parents had trouble conceiving. In fact, they had struggled for so many years that they finally gave up, and decided to adopt a daughter. Out of respect for my Mother, I’ll call her Tiffany. She was adopted a little over a year before my brothers and I were born. Tragically, after the first few months of bonding, fully loving, and raising this child as their own, the birth parents decided to take her back. It left my parents devastated. They decided to try again, one more time, to conceive. I knew my mother had been placed on fertility drugs in order to increase the likelihood of conception, and, miraculously, this time it worked—my triplet brothers and I were able to enter this world.

Now I was suddenly faced with the very likely possibility that it was not only my mother who struggled with fertility issues in order to conceive.

Deep down, I knew that I had questioned this possibility at several points in the past, but always shrugged it off because it had never been mentioned. I knew my father had been diagnosed with Hodgekins Lymphoma, stage IV cancer, and had battled the disease before we were born. With that, I knew that he had undergone radiation and chemotherapy treatments, which, by the grace of God, made him well again. I was also somewhat aware that, sometimes, certain cancer treatments can impact a survivor’s fertility, but I had never seriously thought that this was the case with my father. No one in my family had ever breathed a word.

When I was about nine or 10 years old, I also recall secretly finding out that one of my cousins (whom I had been rather close with) was actually not related to my uncle—she was the product of a previous union. Upon finding this out, I adamantly believed that she was still every bit as much my cousin, even if not by blood. I also remember stepping into our bathroom and crying, wondering “if this is true for her, what if it’s also true for me??” After talking about my cousin with my parents, they quickly assured me that this was not anything for me to be worried about—that they were my biological parents, but also that our Uncle was 100% her father regardless; he is the man who raised her and always will be. In agreement, but also placated, I never fully questioned the veracity of their assurances since.

Until these results were in.

I paced my living room for the next 15 minutes with a million thoughts running loops across my mind.

What do I do when my parents get here? Do I tell them? If so, how? Maybe it’s fate that I got the results the day they come to visit me for the week. But…they’ve denied it in the past…not just with the situation with my cousin, but my brother apparently asked a couple years ago, and my parents were livid at the suggestion. He had been struggling with a few other very significant health issues when this happened, I know, and they were frustrated with his insinuations (while they had very different perspectives on how it was brought up). I remember him being convinced that my Dad was not our biological father, mostly because we didn’t look like him and because all three of us have blue eyes, as does my mother, but his are brown, and he knew brown was a dominant trait. I assured him that this was silly, as eye color is a much more complicated trait to inherit than how it is taught in school. He was letting his imagination run while, and hurting my parents’ feelings in the process. When my parents told me about the situation, they were incredibly upset, but also indignantly denied the accusations, calling them ridiculous—“we’re the ones who raised him and stood by him and sacrificed through everything!” they exclaimed. Surely they would have told me the truth even if they felt he wasn’t ready for that information at the time?

Also, my parents live up north, and this would be the first time for my father to come to New Orleans at all, let alone for a week to see me—it was also the furthest I had ever moved away from them. They were already making the time to see me—I didn’t want to ruin the trip, one of the few times they get to spend with my physically now that I’m so far away, by bringing this up if it would only upset them.

Can I reach out to my brothers? True, this one brother was in a much better place, but would the news change things? Neither of my brothers are quite as close to my father as I am, and in fact sometimes have had a somewhat strained relationship. What if telling them would destroy their relationship? How could I do that to my father, the man who I love most in this world?

My other brother has never (to my knowledge) questioned our paternity. What if he wouldn’t WANT to know? As much as value personal agency and an individual’s RIGHT to know about their own identity and health, I also have deep respect for a person’s right to NOT know things about themselves that they’re not intentionally seeking out. For example, I believe that a person with a predisposition to Huntington’s disease, which carriers a 50/50 chance of inheritance if one parent carriers the gene, has the right to get tested and prepare as best they can for the inevitable, or to live the healthy time that they have free from the knowledge of their likelihood of prognosis if that is what they choose. But as a TRIPLET, I’m placed in a bizarre predicament—by MY knowing my genetic results, I automatically know this truth also for my brothers. Is it fair for me to know something this potentially significant to their identity and not share it?

Alone, alone, alone.

No, I would not call my brothers, but I was desperate to speak to SOMEONE close to me, particularly someone who might have answers.

I dialed my aunt, my mother’s sister, with whom I have a good and pretty candid relationship.

When she picked up, we briefly exchanged pleasantries, then I went in for the kill.

Me: “Aunt _____, I want to talk to you about something pretty big, but it has to be kept between you and me. Are you okay with that?”

Aunt: “Sure, what’s going on?”

Me: “I don’t really know how to ask this, but I really hope that we have the kind of relationship where you can be honest with me.”

Aunt: “Okay….of course…but now you have me worried”

Me: Not knowing how to put it, but deciding to be blunt…”Did my parents use a sperm donor to conceive my brothers and I?”

Aunt: “No, at least not that I know of…not that your Mom ever told me. But your Mom has always been a very private person…you know me, I’m very straightforward about things. Why do you ask?” I could tell that she was telling me the truth, and knew that she would have answered me honestly if she had known anything else.

I then explained the situation. After talking a bit longer on the phone, I felt assured that I knew what she knew, and closed the conversation letting her know that I would keep her posted. She told me she loved me and was there for me to talk if I ever needed.

Afterward, I called another cousin of mine who I was particularly close with, the one who discovered the truth about her sister’s parentage. We talked for a bit, and again, she had no knowledge of any of this…she reminded me that, no matter what, at least it was clear that we were wanted. We spent a few more minutes on the phone before saying out goodbyes.

I then sat in my room, letting the new, ambiguous world settle upon me, and waited until it was time to pick my parents up from the airport.

One More Trip As Just Us

I could have told them on that trip. I wanted to. Well, part of me wanted to anyway—the part of me that was screaming to know what the hell was going on. The part of me that no longer had an anchor—that was reeling in a state of identity vertigo. Shipwrecked and gasping for air. I’ve always been afraid of the dark.

In that first stage, I was more broken and in pain than I was angry or anything else. With this news came the second cut of my metaphorical umbilical cord, only this time as a fully aware adult. I craved wholeness, connectedness, and closeness with my parents—instinctively wanting to make that pain go away at any price, even if it meant dealing with the dizziness of not knowing who I was. More than anything I wanted to make that raw, deep, blindingly bright pain stop. I wanted my Mom and my Dad, as I knew them, as I wanted them to be.

I also knew that my Dad had been excitedly awaiting the trip. Calls and texts abounded with questions about places he’d researched and wanted to check out together—had I been to Commander’s Palace? Should we find a walking tour of the city? Where’s the best places to go for live jazz music? I already knew that I’d have limited time to spend with my parents while they spent the week with me in New Orleans due to work (which was its own storm as of recently, unraveling), and felt tremendously guilty about that, but I was running a company after all. Compounding this was the fact that this was the furthest I had ever lived from them, no longer just a 3-4 hour drive, and it was clear that they missed me dearly. As much as I don’t always love to admit it, (I’m a fiercely independent young woman), the same has been true for me.

At the end of the day, what I couldn’t bear to do was to spend the first full week that my parents were able to see me since I moved over 1,000 miles away breaking their hearts. I had no idea how they would react (my only inkling was based upon their denying anything to my brother when he had asked a year or two earlier, aside from their attempt to pacify my fears as a child after learning of my cousin’s true biological parentage), and in the end I wasn’t brave enough to find out on that trip, despite the universe potentially giving me the sign to bring it to them when it gave me my results the morning of their trip.

And so, I buried my fears, my seizing punches to the gut, and my unending list of questions so that I could embrace and seek refuge in the only version of my parents I knew. We went on walking tours, I introduced them to my favorite place for bunch, and caught live music on Frenchman Street. We had a blast.

I cried into my pillow each night as they slept.

Cracking the Door, Closing, and Re-Opening

Once my parents left, my questions resurfaced with a vengeance.   Maybe, I thought, the test was simply wrong. I had been planning to export my raw data and import it into a different platform anyway in order to increase my potential hits.

Right. My hits.

So what I didn’t get into the last time we “spoke” was the fact that these genetics platforms not only tell you your regional breakdowns, but they also tell you which of their other users are genetically matched to you (their usernames, anyway).

I have 131. Pages.

What was equally interesting was the fact that I already had at least two people in my “1st– 2nd cousin” predicted range. I had no idea who these people were. None of the usernames included last names that were familiar.

So I imported my raw data into FamilyTreeDNA (otherwise known as FTDNA, for short), to see what it had to say for itself. It ended up being under $30 to transfer in my data and gain full access to their platform. I had opened the faucet. I wanted to know.

This time, I was less surprised, better numbed.

—————————–

I paused on finished writing this for about 2 weeks. It’s now August 2nd.

A lot has happened since I left this post. Almost too much. I mean, I’m grateful for the progress, but in this kind of situation, progress often comes with pain. It did.

I’ll get to that later.

It’s hard writing this, believe it or not. I mean, it’s good to do it, necessary, even. It forces me to bear witness to my own pain, and to work through it. To not just bottle it all up, as I’m usually prone to doing. It makes me pause, re-live, experience, and reflect on what all has happened and what it all means for me. That said, what it means for me changes all the time as I get new information, as I let the new and old information meld and settle. Marinade and blend. It changes me and my vantage point. It’s exciting at times, prickly at others, incredibly fear inducing much of the time, and certainly gut wrenching at others.

I’m usually not much of an open book. I’ve shown pieces of me to different people, but due to a lifetime of internalized stabbings to the back, I tend to leave my more vulnerable aspects to myself for safe keeping. Trust is sometimes freely given, but rarely is it a skeleton key to all of my doors. More often it’s a key to a rental to select rooms on my property, with supervised visits.

This isn’t easy.

What’s even less easy is the fact that re-hashing what has been means digging it up first, unpacking it. That of course requires finding it first, and making room for its existence again in my present life.   I have to move everything else aside, sometimes even clean that up first so I have a place to put all of this once I’ve located where I’ve safely stowed it away.

Add to that the fact that my memory likes to hide things from itself. Usually it’s the harder things to feel, although sometimes it’s just memories hidden in mass, possibly out of my mind’s laziness or even inability to discern the difference.

But there are certain things that are so core to our being that I’m not sure we can ever truly and fully hide from ourselves. Things that drive us. Things we know we’ll be coming back to, because we need to, even if we couldn’t at the time.

This search for my full roots is one of them. For this, my memory couldn’t dig a grave deep enough. And so I exhume, bear witness, and raise what was.

Then, with it again, move on.

There is so much to catch you up on, especially when every day I’d been learning more. I’ll do my best to put a hold on moving forward until I can catch you up to me, and catch me up to me, fully.

Science Can Be a Shrew

I looked at my results in FamilyTreeDNA.

The first thing I noticed was that my regional breakdown, calculated by FTDNA, was a little bit different, but on the whole very similar.

FTDNA 100% European Loren

Okay, 100% European. Right. Let’s expand that shit.

FTDNA European Breakdown Loren

“Alright, so this one seems to show a bigger representation in Western/Central Europe, and significantly more in Scandinavia. Some of Dad’s countries are in “Central” Europe. Maybe not just 18%, but there’s still some. But, 11% Scandinavian…wtf? Maybe all these websites are just bullshit, or maybe this isn’t even my DNA sample. Something else could be going on. It’s still possible.”

I headed back to my dashboard, then clicked on the “Matches” button.

FTDNA Dashboard Loren

I barely had a chance to skim the list—the very top match was a cousin with my great grandmother’s surname.

Claypoole Match to Loren

I clicked on his family tree icon, which was active, to be sure.  Part of Claypoole Tree FTDNA

There, on his tree, was my great grandmother.

It was my kit. My DNA. No question.

Another hit. I sucked it in. This was me, I was looking at my parts. I just wasn’t who I thought I was, and there was no denying it.

I paced the living room of my small, shotgun apartment, holding my insides in as they spilled out. Breathing in, holding me in, then against my best efforts, escaping back out. “Make it make sense. Please make it make sense”. Then, “WHO THE HELL AM I? WHO THE HELL IS IN ME? I DIDN’T INVITE YOU! Where have you been hiding?!”

I walked into my bathroom and again looked at the three people looking back at me in the mirror. “Who else is here? WHO ARE YOU??” I desperately both wanted to know, and didn’t. I wanted to push this new truth out, and away, but I also wanted to know what exactly had infected my life to start with. What was this other part of me, in what parts of me was it, where did it come from, and how did it get here? Where was it, in the world, right now?

Who could it be? How could this have happened? And why, why had no one told me?   Do they both know? I could understand why they hadn’t told my brother back when he originally asked, and I could understand, a little bit, anyway, why they hadn’t told me when I asked, as a young kid, if I, like my cousin, was not blood related to my Dad.

But I’m 31! And when everything was going on with my brother, my parents TOLD me the reality of the situation, all of it. When they told me about his questions regarding our paternity (in their mind, he had made accusations about my mother’s fidelity), they were clearly distressed and angry. But they also called my brother’s questioning of our paternity “ridiculous”, never giving any hint that he was maybe in any way correct.

I’ve always had the kind of relationship with my parents where they could be straight with me. They’d tell me what all was going on in the family, trust me and my judgment when something was going on. We could be logical with one another. My opinion mattered, on the hard things, too.

So how could they not tell me this if they knew?

I knew I needed to know more, and I also knew that I couldn’t trust my parents to be the ones to give that to me. Either they had lied, withheld information from me, or there was something they didn’t know themselves (is it possible my Dad was either adopted, or his Mom had had an affair? I knew her relationship with my grandfather, who died before I was born, was at times strained). It’s pulling at straws, but it’s possible, and if that’s accurate, who knows if he would even want to know?

If I was going to find out more, I would have to first go it alone. Maybe, I figured, once I have more information confirming one truth or another, I’ll have enough leverage to bring it up with my parents in a way that they won’t be able to deny. Either way, I knew based on how they had reacted to my brother previously that chances were good that they wouldn’t be pleased with my knowing any of this or about their having to give up any more information.

But I needed it. This information was, after all, about me, my DNA. It was now mine, and after all this time, I wasn’t about to risk the possibility of their being able to build another roadblock to my knowing my full history. As much as I love them, and as much as they will BOTH always equally be my parents, I couldn’t let them take my ability to explore and know my own truth away from me.

I needed to reach out to another match.

Making Contact With The Unknown

At this point, I figured the best match to reach out to would be my closest.

AncestryDNA Matches Logo Dash

Turns out that in this case, the closest one was predicted to be in the 1st-2nd cousin range (!), and was located on AncestryDNA’s platform.

Jo on LH Ancestry matchlist
So, I took a deep breath, crossed my fingers, and reached out to my new cousin. We’ll call her Jessie.

(Looking back, this was actually the day I got my results, before my parents had arrived for their (very strangely timed) visit.)

Subject: Cousins?

Loren 1st email to Jo

I had no idea if or when she would reply, or even how she would feel towards me. Here I was, some girl, albeit family, who she had never invited into her life any more than I had initially invited her into mine (wasn’t really possible for my parents to consult me on whether or not I wanted to be brought into this world this way). In my mind, I was hoping that the fact that she had also had the desire to take a genetic test meant that she, like me, was also a curious person who is interested in her roots and the vines that connect. Maybe, even though I wasn’t exactly planned by her family, I would still matter to her.

At the same time, I was scared. What if my genetic paternity was in any way threatening to her/her family, something they would want no part of? I knew that most sperm donors had donated anonymously, and many might be inclined to keep it that way. Would she close me off to my search if she knew I wanted to find out which of her family members was my biological father? Fearful that I might “want something” from this person that she would need to protect? Would reaching out to her backfire, and instead create just another barrier to my seeking my truth?

All of these things crossed my mind, and all of them were a threat to my search. But I also knew that I couldn’t let this opportunity pass unchecked, and I was hopeful that maybe, just maybe, she would see me as a HUMAN in need of answers, the same ones she was privileged to have herself, and not some sort of villain to be barricaded off. I had to believe that she might take even some small amount of mercy, understanding that the method of how I came into this world was never something I asked for, and that I still deserved the truth despite its possible complexities.

Somehow, after writing her, I was still able to put our correspondence away in my mind so that I could be fully present for my parents’ visit.

—–

She replied the next day.

I read her message while curled up in bed, once my parents had gone to sleep.

Jo response 1

Apparently, she had checked out what information I had input so far on my family tree, which I had made public.

Family in Camden! My mother’s side of the family all grew up in South Jersey, right across the river from Philadelphia, in Camden County.  Shit though.  Does this mean that Jessie is actually just a relative on my Mom’s side then?  That’s not very helpful if so.

Or could my brother have been right in his scandalous accusation? Was it possible that, while struggling to conceive, she had a tryst out of desperation?

It just didn’t sound like my Mom, but nothing about any of this was normal, so how can I truly rule anything out?

The only relevant thing that I did know was that my parents had long ago talked about their struggle to get pregnant, due to my Mom’s fertility issues. I knew that she had had ovarian cysts and horribly painful cycles, and that as a teenager she ended up having surgery to have one of her ovaries removed. She wasn’t told that this was the outcome of the surgery for many years. As a result of all of this, in order to conceive, she had to be put on fertility drugs, which increased the number of eggs she released at once during ovulation. Apparently this was an incredibly painful course of treatment chock full of unpleasant side effects.

But was it possible that she was not the only one of the pair that struggled to conceive? I knew my Dad had cancer sometime before we were born, and that it had been serious—he definitely had undergone chemotherapy and radiation at least, both of which are known to have side effects on fertility. They had never brought up that his fertility was ever a factor in their ability to conceive, but maybe that was just because there was more of a stigma involved for the male partner?

I didn’t know for sure, but did know if I was right about this, and if they had used a sperm donor, that often times sperm donors were just medical students at a hospital’s fertility clinic. I had been born in a hospital in Philadelphia, PA. Camden County is just across the river. Many who live or grew up in Camden County work in Philadelphia and/or go to school there.

Could that be the Camden County connection?

It was a long day and I was dead tired. I waited a few days to respond to Jessie.

Holding On To Splitting Seams

It was now Wednesday, the fifth day of my parents’ visit. We were still having a great time, although I could feel things really starting to unravel at work.

Things had already been a bit tense due to some conflicting ideas on where exactly the company should be headed and how it should be managed. On top of that, I was feeling a greater and greater sense of being micromanaged, and while I knew part of this was due to my boss’ management style when under stress (we were in the midst of significant expansion as well as some key turnover in staff), I also couldn’t help but internalize this as a blow to trust in our relationship and yet another hit to my own life’s sense of control. This was not a good time for someone to be playing with my reigns or my feeling of being contained. To make things worse, I had just realized that I’d been left in the dark on several significant changes to the organization that I felt I should have not only been told about, but consulted on. The timing could not have been worse.

I rarely took vacation time and was known for regularly working over 12 hour days throughout the week, with little time to myself on the weekends. My work ethic had never been anything to be questioned, so when I asked my boss for additional flexibility in my schedule while my parents were visiting, stating that I had just found out about some family stuff, and explaining that I might not be as quick to respond as usual, and when instead I felt that the communications and requests for my time were being ramped up, I felt incredibly frustrated, taken for granted, and betrayed.

My patience was frayed and my usually poised, professional demeanor was quickly dissipating. My annoyance with my boss wasn’t something I was able to contain at that point, either.

I just wanted to be a good host for my parents so they could have a good trip and so we could spend what time we had left as the “normal” family I had always known just being HAPPY. Soon I would be dismantling what about my family I had always known, and I didn’t know what that would feel like—I just knew it risked a lot of heartbreak down the road that I wasn’t ready for that day. Let me be with my parents a little bit longer in the way I wanted them to remain unchanged.

Jesus, haven’t I worked hard enough here to deserve that much??

—–

That night, after my parents went to bed, I logged back into my AncestryDNA account.

I re-read Jessie’s message to me, then looked around AncestryDNA’s platform to try and view her family tree. At this point in time, I was still wholly unfamiliar with the site, and had no idea how to access someone else’s tree, yet I was desperately curious to explore hers for more information. So I emailed her back.

Loren 2nd email to Jo

Afterward, I put it all away in my mind again, as best I could, and went to bed.

That Friday, the last full day I had with my parents, my boss and I got into an argument. I was livid at everything, but agreed to meet up with her to talk more that Monday. She said she wanted to talk about the direction the company would be taking and my role in it.

Great. That just sounds great. Everything felt ominous, tenuous, and like it was just about ready to fall apart. I was dead set on not being taken advantage of. I had already been shut out of enough choices in and truths about my life, and I wasn’t about to take on any more.

I went to bed, then said goodbye to my parents and to my former life in the morning.

Puzzle Pieces, Oh, Canada!

A few hours after my parents had left, I logged back into my AncestryDNA account.

Fortunately, perhaps sensing or even sharing my eagerness to figure out the connection, she had replied right away.

Okay! I thought. Someone actually willing to help me. Thank God.  I checked through my email, and finally figured out how to pull up her tree.

As was true for Jessie, I also saw no connection that was obvious. The names were entirely unfamiliar to me. While my mother had grown up in south Jersey, as had the rest of her known family (most of whom still live in the area today), the names just didn’t seem to add up. I replied.

Loren 3rd email to Jo

It took a few days for her to respond. In the meantime, at nights, after getting done with work, I obsessively worked on building out my Mom’s side of the family tree. This would be the only way for me to tell which matches I was receiving were on my maternal versus paternal side. One of my brothers is also very interested in work on our family tree, and used to have his own Ancestry.com account with a fairly fleshed out version of ours. However, due to financial constraints several years ago and the admittedly steep price of Ancestry.com’s annual registration fee, he had to shut off his account. While we didn’t still have that resource, and I hadn’t made a decision just yet as to what I should/shouldn’t share with my brothers, I did reach out to him in order to re-build at least the maternal side of our family tree. He was living in the Philadelphia area, where my parents were, and had access to some family tree resources back at their house.

No one knew why I was asking. I felt I had to keep it that way for the time being, and not hurt anyone until I knew more. Plus, what if my brothers wouldn’t have wanted to know?

I also explored the incredibly detailed public family tree created by my match who is a cousin on my Mom’s side, the one by which I was able to confirm that the DNA sample had, in fact, legitimately been mine. From the information contained in his tree, I was quickly able to build out my paternal grandfather’s portion of my family tree. It went all the way back to some minor royalty in England, it seemed! Sir this and Lady that. Fascinating and incredibly exciting. Each hit for another family member on my tree felt like I was regaining some of my roots.

——–

Jessie replied to me a few days later, on October 22nd.

Jo Response 10.22.15

Maybe she’s also related on my Mom’s side after all? I was a bit disappointed at the possibility, since I was hoping that I was getting CLOSER to finding more information, especially now that I had found someone willing to talk.

I continued to work on building out my Mother’s side of my family tree in hopes of comparing it to Jessie’s, to see once and for all if that connection could be ruled out. Unfortunately, very little information was to be had on my maternal great grandfather’s line. I was soon feeling pretty stumped, and then got sucked back into the worst drama I had ever experienced at work.

I called lights out on my search while I tried to shut the floodgates on my increasingly stressful and overwhelming work life.

Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

Since then, as was the case in my putting off continuing my posts, (sorry), I sort of put my search on hold for a bit.  Things got ever more crazy at work, and we parted ways.

I was in a period of transition, and figuring out who else I was when I also had to figure out paying my rent just did not feel like the right investment of time at the moment.

As I’m looking back through my email and various accounts, I see that I DID decide to get another DNA test done shortly after my parents’ visit, this time through 23andme.  Everything I had (very briefly) read up on at the time suggested that I try to get tested with the “Big 3” (AncestryDNA, FTDNA, and 23andMe) in order to increase the chances of my finding the match that would be my key to me.  Since I had already covered FTDNA through their agreement to share data with AncestryDNA, the only one left to do was 23andMe.  Given how long it took to get my AncestryDNA results back, and my strong desire to know what the hell was going on, I ordered the kit in a rush, received it at the end of October, then rushed it straight back to the company.

In the meantime, I secured a temporary position through the end of the school year working at a friend’s school and packed for my next trip home–Thanksgiving, which was just around the corner.  So many thoughts and questions were swirling through my head, foremost amongst them what and how I would tell and ask my family.  Ultimately, I was hoping that I would magically just “find a good time” over the course of the week that I would be home to pull one or both of my parents aside, and hope to God that I could bring it up in a way that didn’t cause defensiveness or backfire on my ability to learn more.

On November 20th, I boarded a plane for Philadelphia. My parents informed me that they would be away the weekend I flew in, but they’d be back in a few days, so my brother (who would be in the area) would need to pick me up.

James (name changed for the time being, for privacy) picked me up once my flight landed, and we drove back to my parents’ house.  At that point in time, I hadn’t shared what I had found out just yet, and was still struggling to decide if that was even the right thing to do, but was leaning toward the idea that it indeed was…especially since it was something he had inquired about earlier, so it seemed pretty clear that it was in fact something he wanted to know…and might even feel somewhat validated by finding out…but still, I had to figure out the right time and way to convey what I had learned.

Leave No Stone Unturned

Back at my parent’s house, after being picked up by my brother, and knowing my parents would be out-of-town for a few days, I decided to scour the house for clues.  My parents have a room they keep as a library/study room, in which I knew there were a few filing cabinets were important information is generally kept.  I figured I’d start there.

What was I looking for?  Any health records related to our birth, the fertility doctor my parents had seen, really just anything that could lend a clue as to what in the heck was going on.  While I didn’t know for certain what scenario had led to my DNA results, MOST signs pointed to being conceived via sperm donation.  That being the case, I had started to conduct some (light) research into donor conception, and found that most donations are associated with a particular donor number that is indicated on the sample’s vial, which is also referred to as a “vial number”.  This is also the same number that is frequently used in searches between donors and their progeny, as well as between donor conceived half-siblings, etc.

Did I feel weird or guilty about going through that room (and, let’s be serious, the house) with a fine toothed comb?  Yes, a bit, but ultimately not enough to make me feel that it wasn’t my right, or at the very least worth the risk.  At that point in time, my parents had, on several occasions, essentially denied that there was anything out of the ordinary about our paternity, and had been pretty clear about not really wanting to discuss it further.  Also, the most likely case scenario (sperm donor) meant that this central information to who we (triplets) are had been intentionally withheld from us for over thirty years.  When the two factors combined, I honestly wasn’t feeling a lot of trust, and yet I desperately wanted to know the truth.  I wasn’t willing to risk asking the question of my parents and having them possibly lie again before I had the chance to first find out what information I could–what if they decided to lie, then, knowing I might be looking, destroyed vital paperwork?  I know it may sound crazy, but to me, hiding something that ultimately was MINE, my truth, my history, ancestry, biology–(my own DNA!) felt just as crazy, and the possibility of having the truth sealed forever was just too much of a risk for me to bear.

So, needless to say, I left no. stone. unturned.

I found a lot of interesting things, but no fertility paperwork, and no vial number.  This was pretty damn disappointing.  Over the course of my search, I had uncovered paperwork from when my Dad had cancer (including a brochure about cancer treatments and sterility), files on my brothers and I from infancy to our first three years documenting our health and progress on various childhood milestones (the hospita where we were born had taken a special interest in us given that we were triplets, fairly rare in the early 80s, and had been born 6 weeks premature), and mounds of just random other shiz.  Importantly, though, I did discover DNA test packaging that my mother had ordered years ago that I have TOTALLY forgotten about!  It was National Geographic’s “GenoGraphic Project”–not something I had come across so far in my limited research, but maybe it would at least give me her ethnicity breakdown (which also wasn’t ENTIRELY showing up in my genetic profile…the German aspect in particular seemed to be randomly absent, so maybe this would help explain that side of the mystery).

After carefully putting everything else away, I took the kit packaging and paperwork up to my childhood bedroom and googled the test to see if it was still possible to see the results.

It was, although the test turned out to yield a very different type of result from AncestryDNA and FTDNA…these results went back thousands and thousands of years to more or less the dawn of our species and provided a much more general, macro-level view of mass migrations.  Essentially, it wasn’t what I was looking for, which was also a bit disappointing.

That said, at least now I had a starting point for whenever I’d have my conversation with my Mom–she, too, clearly has an inherent interest in knowing her ancestry and understanding her roots.  This was our common ground.  Surely she could understand the desire to know your own biological history, and wouldn’t deny me the right and empathy to also know my own?

Siblings & Secrets

While I had been searching, my brother was out of the house, either at work or visiting a friend in Philly.  Later that night, when he returned, we ordered a pizza for dinner from our childhood Mom-and-Pop-Shop, picked it up, and brought it back to the house.  After chatting for a bit about other things, I turned the conversation toward the Ancestry.com family tree research I had been doing, which I’d been asking him to help me with over the past couple of weeks.  He’s also a big-time family history/research nerd, and even had his own Ancestry.com account and family tree going several years before.  He just never had the DNA piece.

As we talked, I grew a pit in my stomach, again feeling so completely conflicted about whether or not I should tell him what I knew.  Would he be upset to know?  Would this shake his foundation, his understanding of who he was, like it did me?  Not everyone wants to trade that feeling for the truth.  Or, at least, when there’s a possibility for it to be a choice, most people don’t want that kind of decision made for them.  In my case, by taking this test in the first place, I knew that there was a *possibility* that I would find something out I wouldn’t want to know.  Yet, in the end, I knew the risk (albeit wrongly calculated to be a small one), and ordered the test.  Also, I’m the kind of person who would rather know the truth, even when that truth is hard.  While, at the end of the day, I wish that I had received different results, ones that confirmed my nuclear family (and maybe, as a bonus, tossed in a few other countries into the mix!), I’m in no way sorry that I now know more of my truth.  It’s part of who I am.  To me, it’s my right, and it’s also not anything to be ashamed of.  If this is to be my truth, I at least want my hands on as much of the ropes of the situation as is possible.  The option to find out the full story–my full story.

And who was I to hide this from my own brother, to deny him this option, this right, too?  Some may say that if he really wanted to know, he could have taken a test himself.  To them, I say, “that’s true…partially“.   He and my other triplet brother have had no REAL reason to question our parentage. We’d been told that my Dad is my Dad and my Mom is my Mom.  We had no reason to question this or seek out an alternative, more complicated truth.  However, I newly possessed a reason for HIM to finally question what we’d always thought to be true.  As triplets, being conceived at the same time meant that my seeking out and then knowing my DNA’s truth inherently resulted in my knowing THEIR truth for them as well. By revealing the reason for them to question (explaining my own results), I’d also inherently be revealing the answer of their own paternity.

Sure, I could wait and see if they ever came up with and felt the question strongly enough to raise it on their own, and for them to come across the kinds of DNA testing platforms that I already had the privilege of knowing about (I was a BioBehavioral Health major, after all!), but I also knew that, at our age, our donor wasn’t getting any younger.  If they ever did want to pursue looking for and even connecting with this man, every day that I waited to tell the truth was another day that I’d have stolen from them.  That was time that could never be given back, a wrong that could never be righted.  Time to potentially find and build relationships with additional siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.  If that WAS something they would have wanted, there was a time limit on that equation that just didn’t apply to the alternative.  Knowing, especially, that James had already asked my parents years ago about whether or not we had a different biological father–that he HAD asked that question, I knew that I couldn’t rightfully withhold this information from him–it wasn’t only mine to keep.  It belonged to each of them as much as it belonged to me.

This, of course, didn’t make it much easier to bring up to him–it certainly didn’t ease the guilt I felt toward my Dad.  My biggest fear, aside from potentially hurting my brother, was the possibility that he would reject our father as a result.  I wanted to protect my Dad from that possible outcome.  As much as I knew that, for myself, (and for them, in my mind), that knowing this new truth would never and COULD never replace my father–the man who raised us and, just more than that…in every way would always be our father–etched into the universe–I couldn’t predict how my brothers would feel, especially given their sometimes more tumultuous relationship with him.  God, just thinking about it again kills me.

But I also knew in my heart (my intuition is pretty strong) that while my brother would likely be just as curious as I naturally am about our “bonus” biological family, he would never forsake my father; the space in our heart for “Dad” had always been and will always be slated “occupied”.  Equally strongly I knew that my brother deserved to know the truth.

At this point, I don’t even remember *exactly* how I brought it up, but I knew that he already had the login information to my Ancestry account, which was linked to my AncestryDNA account.  This being the case, eventually he would see the truth on his own…and that wasn’t the right way for him to find out.  So, I asked him to tell me again about the time when he was sick and had asked Mom and Dad about whether or not Dad was our biological father.  He told me the story, from his perspective.  (Interestingly enough, it was a very different version than what my parents had told me at the time…but I guess every truth is filtered.)  I asked him if he ever still wonders about that, and he said that he did.  “Well…”, I said, and he replied “Why, did you find something out?”

I made him promise to keep what I was about to tell him between him and I for now, until we figured out what to do.  Then I told him what I knew.

Thankfully, from everything that I could tell, he took it really well–it was actually a surprisingly chill conversation , all things considered.  I think it was also a bit vindicating for him, too, to learn that his instinct in asking the question hadn’t been wrong.  I then told him about my fears in telling him, and how I feared how he would feel towards our Dad, and he confirmed that this doesn’t change who our DAD ultimately is.  DNA is no match for love.  In that moment, I was unbelievably relieved to finally have someone in the boat with me again, and to not have to keep a secret from him that was just as much his as it was mine.  We didn’t know how or when to tell our brother, (we’ll call him “Adam”), but I did tell James that I was planning on talking to Mom and Dad first, probably sometime that week while I was home.  I couldn’t continue to keep that closet locked any longer.

He agreed.

Mother May I…(Ask You a Question)

Several days had passed since I revealed the truth to my brother, but I still hadn’t spoken to my parents about it.  I mean, is there really a natural way to bring something like this up?  Like, “Hey, Mom and Dad, so…what’s up with the whole “Dad not being our biological father” thing?”  Hard to imagine that going smoothly. Granted, I was also just being a little bit chickenshit, and still just as scared as I was before that they might not tell me the truth.  That they would be offended.  That I would hurt them.  That they would hurt me.

After talking about it with a few friends, I decided that I would try to bring it up with my Mom first.  It seemed (to me) that she might not be as fearful of the question, since the question wasn’t directly about her–she was still clearly my biological parent.  I knew she would never have cheated on my father (as much as a reasonable person could ever know–there were things about her past that would have made infidelity on her part incredibly unlikely), so it’s not like I would be bringing up my inquiry in a way that would hint at that and make her feel defensive.  It seemed like she would have less to risk by finally telling me the truth.  Indeed, I was a woman without a plan, but figured I’d play it by ear, letting fate dictate the best time to intervene–that or let my curiosity and increasingly heavy desire to know the truth break my fears.

On Monday, my Mom let me know that she was making a trip to the nursing home to visit my Pop Pop (her father).  I asked if I could join, and she was glad to have the company.

Before making the trek into South Jersey, we stopped at the local drug store to pick up miscellaneous items for him.  It was getting close to Christmas by this point, and he had always LOVED decorating his house for the holiday, so we picked up a few things to add holiday cheer to his new abode.  This is what family does.

We got back into the car, and started driving across the bridge into New Jersey.

As we drove along, we caught up on her side of the family–my aunt and uncle, their kids, and what all was new in their lives.  At some point over the course of those lefts and rights, my cousin’s pregnancy was brought up–she was having Irish twins! (Pregnant again almost immediately after giving birth.)  My Mom mentioned how surprising the second pregnancy was to the family, especially given that we had all originally thought that my cousin would struggle to conceive, as my Mom did, due to the condition they both dealt with (polycystic ovarian syndrome).

GOLD. MINE.  Here was the entryway I had been looking for.  It was now or chickenshit.

Me: “So, I know that you had to be on fertility drugs in order for you to get pregnant.  Is there anything else you two had to do in order to conceive?”

Mom: *gripping steering wheel* “Nope!”

We had just finished crossing the bridge, and were now following signs to get to the highway.

Me: “So, I know that Dad had cancer before we were born, and sometimes that impacts fertility.  Did you two have to use artificial insemination or anything in order to get pregnant?”

Mom: *gripping the wheel tighter and cringing slightly* “Nope!”

At this point, we were just starting to merge onto the highway (not my Mother’s favorite thing to do, mind you).

Me: “So, you didn’t have to, like, mix in a sperm donor’s sample to increase the chances or anything?”

Mom: *Maintaining the cringe, and tightening the death-grip on the wheel* “Nope!”

Me: “Oh, okay.  So, you know how a few years ago you took that DNA test to see your ancestry regional breakdown?  Like how German, British, Scottish, and Irish you were?”

Mom: “Yeaaaaa?”

Me: “Well, you know that I’ve been asking you and James about different family members so I could build out our family tree on that side.  I’ve just always been interested in knowing about that kind of stuff.  A few friends of mine had posted on Facebook about taking a DNA test like yours and how they had really cool regional breakdowns that they weren’t expecting, like 1% Asian or 5% African or something when they were otherwise like really white.  I just thought that was so cool, so I decided to tested, too, to see what my regional breakdown would be.”

“But when I got my results back, they said that I was like…I forget, I think maybe 50% British, 40% Irish, and 10% Scandinavian or something.  And that was really surprising, because I know that Dad’s side of the family is really well researched, and that they’re from like Austria, Russia, Poland…all places in Western Europe, and I didn’t see any of that in my results.”

Mom: *Eyes bulging. The cringe is real. The cringe is real. Impossible to grip the wheel harder if she were an Olympic athlete.* “Welllll….” she said.

Me: “Look, Mom.  I know that this isn’t something you’d prefer to talk about, but I’m hoping that you can be honest with me.  I just want to know the truth.”

Mom: *Clearly pained, and trying desperately to figure out how to do the right thing* “Lor…” *heavy sigh* “I feel bad because your Dad’s not here and it’s not really my thing to tell…”

Me: “Mom, I know, I do, but the thing is, I already pretty much know.  You’re not really even telling me at this point.  I mean, SCIENCE and math, you know?  It just doesn’t add up.”

“I just need to hear it from you, from my MOM, what’s going on.  Please.”

She finally broke.  Early on in their marriage, she explained, my Dad had been diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  They didn’t even know if he would live.  The last thing they were thinking of was preserving samples of his sperm–the doctors were just focused on helping him survive.  Thankfully, he did .  However, when they finally had survived this terrifying beginning to their marriage and tried to start a family, over and over again they found themselves unable to conceive.

Eventually, as I knew, they gave up on trying and instead decided to adopt a little girl.  They were so happy to finally move on and have the family they’d been waiting for.  Only their happiness was short-lived–after having the little girl for several months and falling in love with that precious little baby, the birth mother suddenly changed her mind and decided to take her back.  My parents tried everything to try to keep her, but recent legal rulings relevant to their case had found in favor of the birth mother.  They had to accept this fate and move on.  It was very, very hard, especially on my Mother.  She still talks about that little girl that she loved with all of her heart to this day.

Afterward, they decided to conceive one more time, but taking on a new, more extreme strategy.  Artificial insemination via a sperm donor.  The fertility doctor who my Mom had been seeing, (and whom she still sees for her general health, to this day) told my parents that the donor had light brown hair, blue eyes, and was a medical student at the hospital where they received their treatments.  My Mom told me that that’s all she was told, and that all records related to the procedure had been destroyed.

My heart sunk to know the truth, but I was also relieved.  Finally, I had the truth, or the beginnings of it, anyhow.

I knew it was big for my Mom to reveal what she did–she is a very private person. She told me that no one knew about any of this, that the only people she and my Dad had told were his Mother and two brothers.  Literally no one, not her parents, not her siblings, not any of her closest friends, had ever known.  I asked her why this was, and she just explained again that it wasn’t any of anyone’s business, that it wasn’t something at the time to be talked about, and that she didn’t always trust others to keep private matters truly private.

As I blog about this. *Sigh*.

She asked me if I planned on talking to my Dad about it.  I told her that I did want to, but just him and me, sometime while I was home, although I didn’t know exactly when.  She asked if anyone else knew, and I told her about how I had called my aunt as soon as I got my results in.  My Mom wasn’t especially pleased, and was hoping I wouldn’t follow-up with her on what I had learned.  My aunt is very social, and much more open about things that happen in her life.  That’s not a trait that my Mom wanted when it came to her own secrets.  Only this secret, as much as she had always conceived as hers, wasn’t just her own–not anymore than my AncestryDNA results were exclusively mine, as opposed to equally owned by my triplet brothers.

I also told her that my brother, James, knew what I knew, and explained why I decided to tell him.  She explained her perspective on not telling him; her fertility doctor had advised my Mom and Dad to never tell, that they would be doing more harm than good.  Given that my brother wasn’t feeling well at the time that he confronted my parents, she felt it best to deny the truth, to keep it in.

Interestingly enough, her fertility doctor did, however, later tell my Mom that daughters always figure things out first.  My Mom laughed at how right she was.  I silently distrusted anything this doctor had said about the donor records being destroyed, or, if I’m being honest, that my Mom was being entirely truthful that she had said it.  After all, it took 31 years, several times asked, and a preponderance of evidence for my Mom to come clean–not to her sister, not to her father, but to ME–about a truth that was fundamentally my own.

Finally on the same page, we both marveled at how British and Irish I was–and Scandinavian, ha!  How cool!  But why hadn’t German shown up?  After all, that’s what she thought she was most.  I assured her that this was, definitively my DNA and hers (several common surnames had cropped up), and that while we may have ancestors who lived in Germany, it’s very possible that the family line had migrated there originally from the British isles.

Everything felt light and airy–free–as we pulled up to the nursing home.  Everything about the visit felt richer, deeper.

The last frontier felt miles away–revealing what I now knew to my father.

My Father’s Eyes

After getting home from visiting my Pop Pop with my Mom, I felt like I had such a heavy weight lifted off of my shoulders.  She had shared with me her truth (after, yes, some nudging) and ultimately still accepted me and my question.  She was even interested in learning more about my background with me, which made what I was feeling and experiencing feel a little bit more like a shared journey.  I had been so scared that she would back away from the question and/or make me feel guilty for asking.  I didn’t want my quest for the truth to ruin our relationship.  We had been making a lot of progress on building that back up over the years.  My teenage years in particular had been rough on our relationship.

As relieved as I felt on one shoulder, I still had an even bigger weight on the other.  The prospect of my father’s reaction.  I truly wouldn’t be able to handle it if my question were to destroy him.

A laundry list of anxiety-ridden questions filled my mind:

  • Would I hurt him by telling him what I know?  What about if he knew I wanted to learn more?
  • Would he disown me for my “disloyalty”?
  • Would he wonder if I would feel any differently towards him after knowing this, fearful that he had just lost his daughter?

It pained me greatly to think of any of these options coming to fruition.  My Dad and I have always been very close–I’ve been a Daddy’s girl from the beginning.  I wanted him to know that I still am.

More than anything else, I couldn’t stand the idea that my Father could one day go to his grave wondering if we would ever have disavowed him of his fatherhood if we knew the truth.  If he would someday be stripped of that title.  I could not let that happen.  I could not let him wonder, not once, not ever.  I needed him to know that I loved and will always love him deeply, and that my DNA’s truths will never change the fact that he is my Father and the luckiest thing I have ever had in my life.

That same day, I told him I wanted to talk to him later, just him and me.  He asked me what was wrong–I said nothing, but that we could talk later.  He was getting more and more anxious, worried that there was something big going on.  The can was opened, and he wasn’t buying “later” as a conversation starter.

We sat down on the couch in the living room.

I started off by telling him that, before I said anything else, “You have to know that you are probably the closest person to me in the world, and one of the people I love most in this life, and there is nothing that could ever, ever change that…” I trailed off and started to cry. “This is really hard for me to say, because I’m so scared that you’re going to be upset with me.  I need you to know that this doesn’t change anything”.

My Dad huged me, and reassured me that he knows, and that everything is okay.  At this point he was pretty confused, but mostly concerned about whatever’s going on.

I explained to him how we both know how interested I’ve always been in our family’s history, becoming my generation’s historian (with my brother) at a young age.  “Yes”, he nodded and agreed.  I then went on to remind him of how I’d been working on our family tree through Ancestry.com’s website, and uncovering all sorts of cool documents and pieces of information about relatives in the past, and how fascinating it was.

Then I explained upgrading to the DNA test…and the breakdown of my results.  I didn’t have to get much farther than that and my confusion.  He stopped me there.

Dad: “Zeezado, I think I know where this is going.  Is there something you’d like to ask?”

I told him that I pretty much already knew, and that I (briefly) talked to Mom about it, and that it’s okay.  It changes some things about parts of my roots, but that it doesn’t change who he is and always will be to me, and it won’t.

With anguish on his face, told me that he was always so worried that we would be mad at him if we ever found out, for keeping this secret from us.  I told him I wasn’t mad, and he was so relieved.

He then told me that he had actually never known for sure if we were genetically his.  Apparently, after the procedure, the doctor had told him “go home, make love to your wife”, and essentially carry right along thinking the child is yours.  It COULD be, after all.  You’d never know.

Except now, I had ruined this ideology for my father.  Until that moment in time, he had still held on hope to the possibility that we were biologically his after all.  I felt awful, and immediately broke down further expressing as much.

My Dad assured me that while he did hold in the back of his mind that it was a possibility, he still knew the truth.  Like us, he had easily observed that, physically at least, we didn’t take after him…with our lighter hair and blue eyes (he has almost black hair and dark, hazel eyes).  He had known.  Even then, at a time that was probably even more emotional for him, he was consoling me.

THAT is the mark of a true father.

He went on to explain as my Mom came into the room with us that he and my Mom were advised by their doctor not to ever tell us, that it would do more harm than good.  He felt badly about this, but thought that the doctors knew what they were talking about, and that this was the right thing to do.  My brother,  James, then joined the room as well.  All four of us finally began to have an open conversation about it all.

It felt like freedom, and like love, sprinkled with remaining questions.

My Dad then wondered aloud what we should do about Adam, my other brother, who lived nearby but wasn’t there at the time.  Should we tell him?  Who, and when?

We figured that, at this point, it wouldn’t make sense or be fair to my brother if two out of three of us knew, but he did not.  We already felt badly that he would be the last to know.  My parents ultimately decided that they wanted to be the ones to tell him, and that they’d figure out a time to do it soon.

One sibling left to go.  Hopefully we could all be at peace with this news and move on.

Third Pea of the Pod

After breaking the news to both my Mom and Dad, and finally having an open conversation between them and James, my parents decided that they wanted to be the ones to break the news to my other brother (the third of the triplets, Adam) themselves.

Part of me was fine with this, but part of me also wished that I could be there when it happened, too–partially so that I could help and serve as a buffer in navigating the conversation.  This felt like such a high-stakes conversation, such “big deal” news to learn about yourself, that I was feeling the need to protect my brother’s (potentially) “soon-to-be-shattered” worldview and conception of self, his core identity, and family ties.  I didn’t want him to hurt.  However foolishly, I thought that, somehow, if that message were delivered under my control, knowing the perspective (or at least one) of being in his waiting shoes, and having some empathy and understanding for my parents’ perspective as well, I might be better positioned to soften the blow and to help in healthily shaping his reaction.

Even more so than with James, I was concerned that Adam’s relationship with our father wouldn’t be able to survive the truth.  It already seemed to me to be tenuous, in many respects, and I was deeply fearful of the possibility that my brother could reject my father–our father.  The last thing that I wanted in going through this process of revealing the truth (and opening the door to finding out about previously unknown family) was breaking our own family in the process.  My parents didn’t deserve that.  They may not have been entirely truthful and forthcoming with us all these years about something seriously big, but they didn’t deserve rejection, and my father certainly didn’t deserve to lose a son.  A feeling, I’m sure, akin to a death.  Nothing was worth that, and so yes, my inner control freak was screaming and begging to be the one to (softly) deal the blow.  Maybe I could say it in a way that wouldn’t have to hurt so much, for any of us.

I also felt pretty badly that he was the last to know, and how he might feel about that.  I wanted to be able to explain how and why I approached each piece of our family puzzle in the way that I did, and that it had nothing to do with how much I care about him.  No one wants to feel excluded, especially not when the feeling is paired with a fundamental identity crisis.  Selfishly, I needed him to know that I never wanted to isolate him.

Why didn’t I tell him when I told James?  Well, for one thing, James was at home for the full length of my week-and-a-half long Thanksgiving visit, so purely from an opportunity perspective, there was that.  Also, James already had the log-in information for my Ancestry account, which was now inherently linked with my AncestryDNA account, so he was going to figure it out anyway–and that just didn’t feel like the right way for it to happen.  On top of that, based on James’ pre-existing interest in our family trees, genealogy, and research, I knew that this type of information–knowing and exploring one’s biological roots–was already important to him.  This was something he would want to know.  Finally, I knew that he had already asked these questions about our paternity in the past–so this was something he has at some point expressed an interest in knowing.

With Adam, I was going in blind.  I had NO IDEA if this would be something he would want to know, if given the choice.  I’m not even sure that anyone would really, truly be able to make an “informed” decision about whether or not they would want to know something like this about themselves even if they were given the opportunity to choose.  You might think you would want to know, but the reality and gravity of finding out, as an adult, that your father is not your biological father is something that I don’t think you can truly appreciate until you actually find yourself in that boat.

What if he wouldn’t have wanted to know?  How could I even gauge if he would (especially without letting the cat out of the bag in the process?)

Once I revealed what I knew to my Mom, everything after that happened so fast, and suddenly, for 4 out of 5 of us, the truth was already out on the table.  At that point, I didn’t feel like there WAS a “right move” in terms of if or even how to tell my brother.  And, before I even had a chance to verbalize my inner conflict about how to proceed, sitting in the living room with my Dad, Mom, and James after just having broken the news to my Dad, my Dad announced that he wanted my Mom and him to tell Adam together.

Honestly, at this point, I was so thankful that the Earth hadn’t exploded after this most recent reveal that I figured I’d throw my parents a bone and let them feel at least one small ounce of control over the limited remains of their secret.

I’ve felt tremendously guilty ever since.

Despite logically knowing that my own “locus of control” is, ultimately, limited, I can’t help but feel that I might have been able to help if I had been there.

It took my parents several weeks to tell him (apparently the times they were together before then were times when he was accompanied by his girlfriend, which they didn’t feel would be the best circumstance for a big reveal like this).  From what they told me about when they did, Adam didn’t seem to have a huge reaction (then again, neither of my brothers tend to be all that loquacious about their feelings).  He seemed to be “fine”.

After being told by my parents that Adam now “knew”, I texted my brothers, asking how they were doing with processing this whole thing.  Adam essentially said that he was doing fine, and just that it was a little “weird, haha”. I told him to call me soon so we could talk about it, but neither of us really followed up.  Ultimately, I was scared and didn’t want to rock the boat, and up until that point we hadn’t really been the type of siblings that typically confided our deepest feelings in one another, so I’m not sure that either of us even knew where to start.  So we let our busy lives fill the silence.

They did.  Going through this is a lonely process, especially since there are so few donor conceived folks out there (that are aware of their origins…estimates are that only about 10% of donor conceived (DC) folks are “in-the-know”).  The difference is that, in our case, I’m NOT 100% in this alone.  I DO have 3 former “womb-mates” who share this crazy situation with me.  But each of us process things differently, and as a result seem to still be going through our shared origin story individually.   We live across the country from one another, and so rarely talk.  What we seem to want from all of this moving forward seems, so far, to be different, too.  I just wish it didn’t feel like I’m still going through this alone.

Thanksgiving and Forgetting

After Thanksgiving, I received another message from my “new” mystery cousin, Jessie.

She wrote…

——-

Hi [Donor Triplet],

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I sent a note to one of my cousins in NJ and asked if he knew of anyone in the family who would have been a medical student in the early 80’s. Unfortunately, he only came up with our cousin [Mary] – and I can pretty much guarantee that she didn’t donate sperm.

Which leaves us with 2nd cousins. Or someone might have been pre-med and changed their mind…? Since I grew up in California and didn’t know my cousins growing up I really can’t be sure. It did occur to me that it didn’t have to be someone who lived in the area, only attended school there. A Canadian connection. All my aunts and uncles on my mother’s side (Irish/English) were in that area. And my father’s side was Danish which doesn’t fit your DNA ancestry…. I do know that there are Clarke relatives who lived in Philly, but they would be more like 4th cousins.

Have you looked at our ‘shared matches’? There is one that pops up that’s interesting. A [new “mystery” cousin’s screen name removed for privacy purposes] who also shows as being a 1st or 2nd cousin. Unfortunately it’s a private tree… might be worth sending them a note though.

[Jessie]

In reading her message, I just felt overwhelmed.  I had been hoping against hope that Jessie would be the key to quickly unlocking this puzzle and finding the rest of my birth family, but when her response opened up more questions than answers (and the possibility that maybe this was a maternal match AFTER ALL), I was pretty bummed.

Looking back now (several months later), I realize that there are a lot more hidden gems of information in here than I originally realized.

At the time, I was still so new to DNA research and ignorant to how to conduct a search and put the puzzle pieces together.  I’m still currently putting the remainder of my search on hold until I can catch up on writing/processing what has happened so far.

Also at the time, I was about to start a new job, a temporary but demanding (and soon-to-be-crazy-busy) position at a school through the end of the school year.  I’ve never been very good at prioritizing my personal life over work life, let alone juggling the two, so, predictably, I feel into my old pattern of bottling up all the emotional shit I was dealing with and burying it to deal with at a later date.

Every now and again, I’d come up for air and conduct small late-night bursts of a search, usually when triggered by receiving some sort of notification from one of the genealogy platforms I was on.  One such occasion was when I finally received my “23andMe” results, on December 17th.

The results were nothing shocking–according to this breakdown, I’m still 99.9% European, 86% “British & Irish”, 12% “Broadly Northwestern European”, and miniscule percents of random other things.

My new list of matches was definitely the most exciting part, although, still, I had no way of knowing which new matches were paternal verses maternal.

It’s The New Year, So Y Not?

Shortly before Christmas, I traveled back home to visit with my parents and family for a week and a half in Philadelphia.

At the time, the news was still pretty fresh, with minimal opportunities to process.  Starting a new job had been VERY busy, especially since it began mid-school-year (the person who previously held the position left fairly suddenly mid-year, so I had a lot to catch up on in short order).  That left very little time for thinking about myself or my identity.

My brother, James, was staying at my parents’ house while I was there, so we got to do a good bit of catching up.  Naturally, figuring out our “womb-story” became a hot topic of discussion.

James mentioned that he was interested in getting tested, too.  After all, two sets of tested genes are better than one!  After doing a bit of homework on the topic, we decided that it would make the most sense to order a Y-DNA test, since it seemed that this would yield the best chance of narrowing down our paternal line.  It turns out that, of the “Big Three” genetic testing companies (AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA, and 23andMe), only FamilyTreeDNA currently offers a Y-DNA test.  And it ain’t cheap.  The least expensive version, the “37-marker” test, is $169, the next level up (67-markers) is $268, and the 111-marker test is $359.

We ultimately opted for the 67-marker test, which is heralded as the lowest level test to accurately yield surname paternity clues.  The order was placed on New Years Eve, 2015.  It arrived at our parents’ house shortly thereafter (and they were none too pleased to learn of the additional test this way).  After following the simple directions and shipping back, FamilyTreeDNA received my brother’s sample in their lab on February 7th, 2016.

Waiting and Wondering

By this point in time, with two DNA tests under my belt, I was keenly aware that a sizable waiting game had just begun.  Soon, I would be able to largely toss the test to the back of my mind as I waited, filling my thoughts with other aspects of my life–mostly work, making time for friends (if I was lucky), going on a date or two, and my penchant for absorbing copious amounts of online television.

Before getting to this stage, while it was fresh on our minds and we were both still home for the holidays, my brother and I traded wild ideas on our how our biological paternity came to be.

Part of me still couldn’t fully accept that my Dad was not my biological father, and entertained the idea that, perhaps, he was adopted.  To this day, it is still a (slight) possibility, given that he has not yet been tested.  After all, even if my parents DID use a donor, given that my parents were still being intimate, there WAS still a possibility–however small.

One night, in the kitchen, I shared this thought with my brother. His eyes lit up, and he told me he had something to show me.  He ran upstairs to retrieve something, then came back down bearing an old photo album.  It was my paternal Grandmother’s.  After flipping through the pages, he landed on a picture of a man I’d never seen before–but it felt like I had.  James asked “who does that look like?”

I swear to God, the man looked just like my Father.

We both marveled for a minute, then continued to fervidly discuss.  He then flipped to another set of pages, showing me a particular set of pictures featuring my Father with his two brothers as young men (at one of their weddings).  I was immediately struck by how similar my uncles looked to one another, yet how different my father looked from them.  As a reminder, my Dad’s side of the family is Jewish.  In these pictures, the traditional Jewish features (almost middle eastern, even) appeared to be quite pronounced in his brothers, but remarkably muted in my Father.  His complexion was significantly lighter, and, despite his dark hair and eyes, he had a much more “European aristocrat” look to him.  His nose, while admittedly on the longer side, was perfectly straight, and the remainder of his features soft.  Notably, he looked eerily similar to the photo of the man my brother had shown me just minutes before.

We continued to flip through the photo album, searching for a clue as to who this man may have been, and for other clues.  We didn’t find anything else about the man, but I did notice something else interesting–while there had been photos of my Grandmother while she was pregnant with her first two sons, there was not a single photo of her pregnant with my Father.  I asked my brother, who over time had essentially become our family’s master “keeper of photos” (and had painstakingly been digitizing them over the years), whether or not he had come across any photos of my Grandmother pregnant with our Father.  Given his incredible long-term memory for details–sometimes encyclopedic in nature–I trusted that he would remember if so.  He hadn’t.

Could it be possible?  I already knew that my Grandmother was a remarkable woman, born far ahead of her time, and with the largest, fullest heart I had ever encountered.  4/7 of her grandchildren are not biologically related to her, and yet she NEVER for a second treated any of us any differently–I even distinctly remember her telling each one of us (unbeknownst to the rest) that we were her “favorite” grandchild (and not to tell the others!).  She made us each feel incredibly special and loved, and we adored her for it.  She was also incredibly strong-willed and independent–for 20 years after her husband died, she lived on her own on the 15th floor of an apartment complex in New York City (traveling to Florida in the winters)…shopping, cooking, and cleaning for herself–fully unassisted.  I distinctly remember a conversation I had with her in New York when she was telling me a bit about her life as a young woman…she mentioned that from a young age, she always knew that she had wanted to have children, but she also knew that she WOULD have them–at any cost–even if she couldn’t find a husband.  For a woman born in 1919, she was tremendously progressive!

I also knew that she had a miscarriage after her second child, but before my Father was born.  Could she have wanted another child, but couldn’t handle the possibility of another miscarriage, and decided to adopt?  Or was she having trouble conceiving with my Grandfather, and possibly had an affair in order to have their last son?  She was a feisty one, after all!  (I say this, of course, with tremendous love and respect)  From my understanding, my Grandparents loved each other, but things were not always rosy between them…

This was one set of theories we held.  Even if it were true, it certainly wouldn’t guarantee that my Dad is my biological Dad…but the more and more I explore the world of genealogy and DNA, the more common the world of “non-parental events” becomes.

There was another theory that my brother held, too.  This one I was far less convinced of, but it’s not ENTIRELY without merit.  I won’t give too many details, out of respect for our family’s anonymity and some particularly sensitive natures of the situation, so forgive me for being a bit vague.

A while later, James told me he wanted to show me another picture.  He pulled up a picture of our other brother, Adam, playing the guitar–“who is this?”  “Adam”, I replied.  But it wasn’t my brother.  James corrected me–it was another member of the family, related by marriage, who had passed about 10 years before (we’ll call him “David”), when he was around our age.  My eyes grew wide as I looked again, then hurriedly compared the photo to pictures on facebook of Adam–I hated to admit it, because it made no sense to me for a thousand reasons, but he was right–the resemblance was uncanny.

I was quick to resort to denial and disbelief…this was someone who was very close family (although, again, via marriage), close enough that it would in no way make sense for my parents to have chosen him without his spouse (our blood family)’s consent–and she sure as HELL didn’t know about this (we even discussed it later, and I trust her willingness to tell me the truth with my life).  Plus, he would have been only about 18-19 years old at the time, and NOT married into the family yet–two more reasons for this to be an incredibly implausible choice, even though he did have a good relationship with my parents (at that point in time he had only known them for a few years).  I also explained to my brother that the volume of relative matches I had online seemed exceptionally high, much more so than would be expected from a one-time donor, AND this man had known Native American ancestry–which appeared nowhere in my results.

That said, I did concede that it was possible that the three of us, or some combination thereof, had different donors (which is possible, even with triplets).  Since my Mother had been on fertility drugs that caused her to release multiple eggs within the same cycle, rather than just one, it was POSSIBLE that if she were inseminated more than once during that same cycle with different sperm samples (say, to increase the chances that at least ONE of the samples would work), the different eggs could have been fertilized with different sperm.  Hell, in that case scenario, it was even possible that my Dad “got lucky” with one of our eggs, and the donor (or donors) got lucky with the others.

And so the conspiracy theories continue…

Several months later, at a July 4th celebration with my Mother’s side of the family at my Aunt’s house, a family friend (who had been the best friend of this man before he passed) approached James and I, exclaiming how when he first saw Adam crossing the lawn, he couldn’t believe his eyes because had been convinced that he was seeing his friend David.  James and I quietly laughed it off, and while I still didn’t (and don’t) believe the connection could possibly be–it’s far too extreme of a scenario–it was, admittedly, an unsettling resurgance of the “what if?” feeling.

Y Aren’t These Results More Clear

It was March 16th, 2016 when the results came in.

I held my breath, expecting magic with its release.  Instead, I was greeted with more confusion.

First things first–the Y-DNA matchlist.

Upon navigating to the Y-DNA match screen, I was immediately greeted by a list of 10 new (to me, anyway) male family members.  Their names were entirely unfamiliar to me, as were all the other symbols associated with them, presented on the page.

y-dna-results-at-37-markers

What does a “genetic distance” of 3 mean?!  What does the “FF” symbol next to just some of their names indicate? Why doesn’t it just say how close the predicted relationship is like the other tests???

At the bottom of the page was also a note that said…

Additional possibilities for searching matches:

Your results have already been uploaded to YSearch.org. Your User ID is 6NGMW. Click below to go to YSearch.org

Ummm, what?! (By the way, I still don’t know what this means)

My eyes did light up right away after seeing the last name “Riordain” and “Riordan”, which I knew were alternate spellings of the last name “Reardon”, which had already been displaying prominently on my closest match on AncestryDNA’s tree (Jessie’s).

As excited as I was, I had no idea what to do with the information in front of me, aside from clicking around in vain, trying to figure out what this new test result could tell me.

The blue button appearing next to some of my matches’ names seemed to indicate that these were folks with family tree’s attached to their accounts, so I perused through those, looking for a link to a common Reardon ancestor.  Nothing was readily apparent.

After a bit of research, I was able to determine that a “genetic distance” of 3 or 4 actually meant that the “Most Recent Common Ancestor” (MRCA, for short), between my brother and these matches would have been quite a few generations back in time, so it generally made sense that I wasn’t readily seeing the connection between the little information I had on the Reardon portion of Jessie’s tree and these matches.  Also, of the 10 matches, only 4 had a family tree attached to their account, and of those, none of the trees were all that extensive.  Once again, I was feeling a bit stuck, but also somewhat hopeful since there was  messaging feature attached to each match’s account.

Before reaching out, I decided to check out the rest of my brother’s results, starting with the traditional “Family Finder” list of autosomal matches (the same type of list I had on my Family Tree account, that I obtained from importing my raw data from AncestryDNA to create a Family Tree DNA account).  These were matches that could be maternal OR paternal, but there wasn’t a clear way to immediately decipher which was which.  I was so curious to see if we would show up as full siblings or half-siblings, given the scenarios we had discussed months before.

Sure enough, there I was, with our “relationship range” listed as ” full siblings”.  Phew!  So that makes 2 out of 3 at least!

I then quickly scanned the list of remaining matches–or at least the first few pages (there were over 30 pages total, and over 1000 matches).  No quick-wins of “parent-child” matches or any half-siblings, but our Claypoole match (on my Mom’s side–this is the one that originally made clear to me that my own list of matches was indeed for my DNA and not any sort of mix-up, since this was a family member of my Mom’s who we were already aware of) was listed for James a well (as a 1st-3rd cousin “relationship range”).

After that, the relationship ranges were all “2nd-4th cousin” and further, with many repeats between my list of matches and his–although I noticed that there were quite a few matches that only one of us had, and not the other.

On to the regional breakdown list!  Would HE have any of our Dad’s countries listed somehow?

This is where things really got interesting.

As you might remember, my list (at least from FamilyTree DNA) gave me the following breakdown (which might actually be slightly different from what I gave you before, which was probably my AncestryDNA breakdown…none of it is a PERFECT science):

  • British Isles: 72%
  • Western & Central Europe: 18%
  • Scandinavia: 11%

James’ results were as follows:

  • British Isles: 92%
  • Southern Europe: 6%
  • Scandinavia: 2%

Wait, wait…SOUTHERN EUROPE?!  Where the heck did that come from?? And why hadn’t it shown up on my list?  And where was his “Western and Central Europe”???? (which is supposedly where much of my Mom’s family is from…in Germany, and the bits of French that ended up in the French-speaking portions of Canada)

At this point, I was questioning how reliable FTDNA’s relationship range of “full siblings” truly was.  Another “new” relative of mine, Natalie, had suggested that I join a private online Facebook group called “DNA Detectives”, which helps folks with questions like mine.  It’s filled with people working on their family trees, searching for birth family, and those who have become experts along the way (and some who already were).  I asked how my brother and I could have such disparate information, and even some instances of matches that didn’t overlap between our two lists.

Turns out, one of the most crucial ways of determining how close a genetic relationship is involves comparing what’s called your “shared centimorgans”.  They sent me charts and graphs that explained how to compare your numbers (provided by each of the “Big Three” DNA sites) with those of your matches, and infer the possible degrees of relatedness. Example below!

dna-detectives-chart-2

James and I, according to FTDNA’s results, share 2,632 centimorgans (CMs), so we fall a bit on the lower end of the “full sibling” range (which is between 2,300-3,900 CMs).  The thing I had to remind myself was that while each of us inherits 50% of each of our birth parents’ genes, we don’t inherit the exact SAME 50% from each–otherwise we’d be identical twins, not fraternal (or any other full siblings). As a result, some of the genes that he inherited but I didn’t were only inherited by certain other family members of ours (including matches), so while I am related to them as family, those folks aren’t going to show up on my DNA match list, just his, and vice versa.  Similarly, he inherited more of our birth parents’ “Southern European” genes, whereas the 50% that I got contained more “Western and Central European” and “Scandinavian” markers.  Our ancestors were the same, but we each picked up different combinations of their genes.

So, alas, we are still full siblings…and this raises the point that getting him tested, too, gives us even more clues to work with (and about our ancestral heritage).

Something else a bit interesting about his results was his list of “most common surnames” on his “Family Finder” autosomal match list.  His top hits (which may be paternal or maternal–we don’t yet know), listing the 3 most common surnames of his matches, contained the last name of the family-member-by-marriage that James suspected to be our or Adam’s birth father.  That said, this particular surname happens to be VERY common (just as common as the other two listed for us–“Johnson” and “Brown”, so it could just be a fluke.  Also, since then, I’ve done more work on my maternal family tree, and it looks like we do have some of that surname hidden in our tree anyway, so who knows.

Moore Hellos

Backtracking a bit but…

On February 7th, 2016, I received an email titled “Family Tree DNA Matches” from someone with the last name “Moore”.

Intrigued, I clicked it open.

moore-email-2

I forwarded the email to James, then got busy with life.  I now realize that this last name matches a branch on Jessie’s family tree…to be continued!

23andMe (and Nicole!)

For two months after receiving the Y-DNA results, I was basically on hiatus from searching for my birth paternal family.  Things were VERY hectic at work, and I was also traveling a bunch for weddings, conferences, etc.

Even in the midst of a circus, life goes on.

Receiving a message from another “new” cousin, this time on 23andMe, brought everything about this part of my life right back up to the surface.

It was May 5th, 2016.  Via 23andMe’s messaging platform, she simply wrote:

nicoles-first-message

I was SO incredibly excited to have someone reaching out to ME for connection.  ALSO, I immediately recognized the birth mother’s last name–it was the same as Jessie’s!  Could this be a relative of hers?  Even if I couldn’t figure out my own puzzle yet, maybe I could help someone else out with theirs.

A few days later, I messaged back:

lh-1st-message-to-nicole

I figured that it would be easier to explain my situation via phone, and at this point was so desperate to REALLY connect with someone who was in the same boat, especially one who was ALSO family–finally.

Nicole must have felt the same way, because not even a full minute later, my phone was ringing.

As it turned out, my hunch about her being related to Jessie was right!  Only she had figured it out even before receiving my reply.  Apparently, she had also reached out to Jessie when she saw the match level and last name, and Jessie confirmed that she was Nicole’s aunt.  Apparently, her birth mother had been looking for her all her life.

Nicole is about 10 years my senior, and had NO IDEA she was adopted until receiving her results back.  Like me, she hadn’t taken the DNA test because she suspected that she may have a different birth parent.  In fact, she had taken the test in order to get health information, since 23andMe is able to check your DNA for genetic predispositions to all sorts of different diseases and health indicators.  She suspected that her son may have inherited a particular disorder, but knew that getting a DNA test through their doctor’s office would cost thousands of dollars, whereas using 23andMe, or importing her raw data results into another platform called “Promethease” for $5, would get her the information she needed for far less.  Only she got a little more than she bargained for–she instead found out that she was adopted!

As was the case with me, Nicole had a lot to process, having just received this news–and while I felt for her, it was also nice to have someone else to talk to and process with together.  My parents weren’t really comfortable with me discussing this aspect of my life, and I felt uncomfortable burdening them.  My brothers didn’t really seem to express much interest either, and I didn’t want to force feelings on them that they might not have.  At this point, I knew literally no one else who had been donor conceived (not that Nicole had, either), or even anyone else who had found out about a “non-parental event” as they’re called, as a surprise via a DNA test.  There seemed to be almost no references to a situation like this in popular culture…TV shows, movies, popular books…no one I could relate to while going through this.  I had felt so isolated and alone, particularly as a donor conceived person.  Sharing the experience of learning that your biological and ancestral roots are not at all what you thought they were (especially as an adult!) with someone else was such a powerful experience.

I was so lucky, and am so lucky, that I found Nicole.

We probably talked for at least an hour, going over our experiences, comparing notes on what we’ve learned so far, and swapping tips.  We connected immediately–which I guess isn’t terribly surprising…despite all the mess and chaos of the situation, we are family after all.

Before hanging up, she promised me that she would email me some of the information she had shared over the phone.  True to her word, she did:

nicoles-first-email-to-me

I finally had more family, and a full ally–one who understands!–in my search.

Promethease: Health Info, Please!

As Nicole recommended in her email, I quickly got to work by creating an account with Promethease in order to obtain my own health data report.  One thing a lot of people don’t realize is difficult for adopted/donor conceived folks (at least when the birth parents are anonymous) is that we’re kind of going in blind when it comes to our own health.  We have no idea what kinds of conditions run in “our family”, and thus don’t really have as many ways to prepare for them.  It also makes visits to the doctor interesting (my family history, doctor? well, wouldn’t we both like to know!), and diagnosing certain illnesses and conditions even more challenging.

Once again, I knew that by submitting my information and viewing my results, I could be in for more bad news.

Fortunately, on the whole, my results were generally pretty benign–although not without their own interesting twists.

After receiving my results, I gave Nicole a call–the whole process is a bit overwhelming, as was the formatting of the data.  Nicole walked through it with me as best she could, and together we walked through each of our results, comparing what was the same and different from what we had inherited.  We also discovered (although not through our results, but just over the course of the conversation), that hypermobility (a sub-type of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome) affects both of our families.  In fact, as far as I knew up until then, I was the ONLY member of my family who had been impacted–but now I knew why, and that I wasn’t alone.

It was so interesting to swap inherited family trait notes with someone who was both a stranger and family, all at once.  Only the “stranger” component was quickly fading away as we learned more about each other (and ourselves) as people.

GedMatch, Jessie, and Brandon–Oh My!

Later that same day that spoke with Nicole and signed up for Promethease, as she recommended, I also signed up for GedMatch.com.  Essentially, GedMatch acts as a landing page that transcends all of the “Big Three” genetics companies (AncestryDNA, FTDNA, and 23andMe).  A person who tested at any of these companies, as well as several others, can upload their data to this singular platform and find matches from all three sites in a one-stop-shop format.  Speaking of formatting, theirs certainly isn’t the prettiest, and has a steeper learning curve, but it comes highly recommended by the donor conceived, adoption, and general genealogical research communities for its usefulness.  Honestly, I’m still learning new things on how to use it, but overall I’ve found it to be a pretty helpful tool.  I uploaded both my DNA kit and James’.

I’m not sure at this point how many matches I had when I originally created my account with GedMatch, but I do know that, as of today (November 30th, 2016), I have over 2000, and so does James.

To give you a sense of what the match screen looks like, I’ve pasted an image of it below (from James’ kit).  To the “lay” genealogist (or at least someone who is very new to all of this), it at first looks like a bunch of mumbo jumbo, but at least it still gives you some of the same basics as AncestryDNA, FTDNA, and 23andMe’s match lists…things like the match’s name or username, email (if provided), and shared CMs.  Some people have indicated their maternal and/or paternal haplogroups, while others have not.

gedmatch-list-james

Once again–I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with the volume of information, and also a little sad that I didn’t see any closer matches.  I am the first match on the list, followed by Jessie, then Nicole, then the Claypoole maternal cousin that I mentioned earlier.  In looking at even just these results, I noticed several things.

For one thing, Jessie shares 495.2-585.6 CMs between me and James (respectively), and Nicole shares 218.9-280.7.

dna-detectives-chart-2

Given those ranges, compared with the chart above, that puts Jessie in range for the “First Cousin Once Removed (1C1R), Half First Cousin (1/2 1C), Half Great-Aunt/Uncle/Niece/Nephew” category.  Even though she’s high enough for the next category up when it comes to Jeff, I bump her down squarely into the category just described.

Looking at the same chart, and given her ranges compared to James and I, Nicole technically can fall in that same category, just at the VERY low end of it, but fits much more squarely in the “Second Cousin (2C), First Cousin Twice Removed (1C2R), Half First Cousin Once Removed (1/2 1C1R)” category.

Is your head spinning yet?  As I try to compare all of this to Jessie’s family tree, the pathways of possibilities for how we are related (and the different search methods that come with them) feel endless.  It’s like learning a new language and finding your way on its map at the same time.

I decided to email Jessie.

lh-message-to-jessie-5-8-16

Fortunately, she replied the next day.

jessies-message-5-9-16

After thanking her, a few days later, she messaged me again.

jessies-message-5-12-16

Little did she know at the time, but this little reminder sent me down QUITE the rabbit hole in the coming days.

I pulled up this match’s profile.  Jessie had mentioned earlier that she thought this was one of the Reardon siblings’ (which includes her mother and mother’s siblings) grandchildren.  She felt pretty confident that it was one of the grandchildren of “Ana” (name changed) Reardon Long, the son of one of Ana’s sons.

youngsiete-profile-info-on-ancestry

With 196 shared CMs (and I can’t tell how many he shares with James, since this cousin, who I’ll henceforth refer to as “Brandon002”, only tested with AncestryDNA and is not on Gedmatch…whereas James only tested on FTDNA and you can’t transfer those results to AncesryDNA like you can in the opposite direction), the best I can figure when reviewing the DNA Detectives relationship chart again is that we are related by the following category (which is the same category as Nicole is to James and me):

dna-detectives-chart-category-for-youngsiete

Since he’s in the same relationship range to James and me as Nicole is to us, this means that Ana Reardon Long’s family line, like Jessie/Nicole’s, is probably a dead-end.  If our donor were one of Ana’s children, or even grandchildren, then Brandon002 would have been a closer match to me than his DNA shows (unless he, one of his parents, or Ana also have their own “non-parental event” in their closet).

I did my best with illustrating this, below (*some names have been changed for privacy purposes):

jessies-tree-reardon-siblings

Due to Jessie’s genetic distance to me and the age of her children, it’s most likely that she is my 1st cousin once removed (1C1R), in which case my donor would be one of her 1st cousins (the child of one of the Reardon siblings, who I circled in green in the image above). Given both Nicole and Brandon002’s genetic distances to me, both of their lines are pretty much immediately knocked out for containing my birth father/donor.

jessies-tree-reardon-siblings-w-cross-outs-1

Given that, of the Reardon siblings “Peter” Reardon only lived to be about 13 before he passed, and “Tim” Reardon appears to have passed at only a few months old, those lines are also clearly “out”, hence my crossing them out in the tree image above.

From the looks of the tree, (which wasn’t completely filled out–you can’t assume that anyone’s tree is 100% complete), and as a result of my research, Virginia Mary Reardon never married and didn’t have any children, so I tentatively knocked her potential line out as well.

That left the following as possible parents of my donor (and thus an extra set of Grandparents for me):

  • “Jacob” Reardon and Mary Neary
  • “Ryan” Reardon and “Emily” Minocke
  • “Joshua” Brickley and “Rachel” Reardon Brickley

So this was the path I followed down the rabbit hole all weekend.

Down the Wrong Rabbit Hole

Over that weekend, I plunged deep into my research of the 3 viable Reardon lines.  Between Jessie’s family tree information, google searches for obituaries (leading to names of surviving family members) and white pages (for current and past addresses, the names of others who have lived at those addresses since they are usually also family members, etc.), and countless other avenues provided by the good ole internet, I was up to my eyeballs in possible leads.  Unfortunately, I was also up ALL night, all weekend, barely eating and probably slightly crazed due to my lack of sleep.

A lot of the information and leads I turned up were helpful, in terms of identifying names/ages/relatedness of different family members and such.  However, I also followed a lead that, in hindsight, just didn’t make very much sense.

I had noticed that on one of “Jacob” Reardon’s records (without looking at it now, I’d guess it may have been a death record), his last name was spelled differently–harkening to my previous find on the Y-DNA match list of “Reardon” being spelled several other ways.

From what my Mom had told me, according to her doctor, our donor had been a med student in Philadelphia.  So, I decided to search “Jacob” Reardon’s full name, but with “Dr.” in front, along with “Philadelphia”.  A result came up for a Dr. “Jacob” Reardon at a practice nearby, for a doctor who had gone to medical school or did his residency starting around the same time that my mother had gotten pregnant.  This doctor had moved here just that year from Ireland, which excited me because I noticed that quite a few of my matches, including Y-DNA matches, were either Irish-American or were still living in Ireland.  I think I just totally lost my logical mind and thought that, somehow, this Dr. was still a Reardon sibling or relative that was also my birth father.  In looking at pictures of him, I was SURE that I saw a resemblance, particularly to me and James.  I also knew that the parents of the Reardon siblings had immigrated to America from England and Ireland, and that Robert Reardon and Ethel Mary Killkelly were 39 and 28 upon their marriage…I guess I figured anything was possible, including the possibility that one of them (or even them as a couple) had a child before marriage…who may have been given to another family member or up for adoption.

It was too big of a leap, and honestly, just didn’t make any sense.

I wrote an email to Jessie on May 13th explaining what I had found so far:

______

Hey [Jessie],

Since I’m related to both you and Nicole, I would pretty much have to be related to you through the Reardon side. The sperm donor would have to be a first cousin to you, so a male son of one of [Sally’s] siblings.

I researched each one of her siblings through a variety of searches (white pages online, googling, ancestry’s regular searches which sometimes link to the burial and obituary info, which lists their spouses and children, which allows me to do further of the searches I mentioned before plus LinkedIn/Facebook, etc.) Straight away, [“Tim”] Reardon was out due to being stillborn (or dying the same year he was born), [“Peter”] Reardon was out due to passing away as a child, and Virginia was out due to not having any children (or at least none publicly reported or mentioned in her obituary…she was buried sharing a tombstone with her mother, Ethel).

So that left [“Jacob”] Robert Reardon (referred to elsewhere as O’Reardon or O’Riordan), [“Ana”] Reardon (married to [____] G. Long), [“Ryan”] David Reardon (who through the same mechanisms I found was married to [“Emily”] Michele Reardon), or [“Rachel”] E. Reardon (who I found was married to [“Joshua”] E. Brickley).

I first extensively researched [“Ana”] and [“Tom”]’s male children, especially since [“Ana”] died in NJ, and some of their children even went to college in PA (I was looking at [name removed] Reardon in particular, who has a striking resemblance and went to Drexel). I was also pretty interested in [“Rachel”] & [“Joshua”] Brickley’s children, who also bore striking resemblances and grew up in south jersey right outside of Philadelphia, some of whom still live there. That said, none of them were ever med students, at least based upon their schooling history, etc. I looked into [“Ryan”] David Reardon’s children, although the males overall seemed to be unlikely matches. Of all of these, I also pretty much ruled out males who were likely too young to have been the donor and/or who were not in the Philadelphia area at the time the donation would have occurred. There were several possibilities left, although, like I said, seemingly no med students.

I had originally mostly ruled out [“Jacob”] Robert Reardon since there wasn’t a TON of information about him and it wasn’t immediately clear that he was married based upon your tree–also because he was listed as being born in Canada, so I decided to search those closer to home first. However, after looking through all the rest, I decided I might as well leave no stone unturned. There was little information on him in his profile, although I noticed that his last name was listed slightly differently in different places (O’Riordan on his death certificate, for example…plus he died in south jersey). I also noticed that when you click on his burial information, and are taken to the page about “find a grave…”, on the right hand side (it’s still an ancestry page) is a button that says “make a connection”, then a link with “Find others who are researching [“Jacob”] R. Oriordan in Public Member Trees” I noticed that several other families that claimed a link to him had slightly different information for him. I also knew that many of my genetic hits had parents who were first generation Irish, so I was wondering how that came into play–after researching Ethel and Robert Reardon more, I noticed that Ethel was from Ireland, and that Robert spent time there as well–he was born in Canada, but married Ethel in Ireland, and at various times after coming to America stopped back in Canada and Ireland as well.

Still, not much definitive, and I didn’t have a ton of information on [“Jacob”] from ancestry.com.

So, I googled his name, each of several ways. One of the first returns I got under “[“Jacob”] Robert O’Reardon” was for “[“Jacob”] O’Reardon, MD”, a psychiatrist in New Jersey. I clicked the link, and saw he had trained at the University of Pennsylvania during the time of the sperm donation. I also saw that he had gone to school in Ireland prior to that (the Irish connection!), had the very striking resemblance, and quite a few other things. I forget exactly where all else that I looked, but it does appear that this is very likely the match. I haven’t done any outreach at this point, and I’m not 100% on what I’ll do next, but I’d like to try to get a definitive confirmation somehow if possible.

Let me know when you’re free to chat more!

_____

Later that day, after a looooong nap, I returned to my research and realized that I was probably wrong.  Having my brain restored by sleep really does wonders.  I emailed Jessie back and told her that I wasn’t sure anymore about my previous line of logic, and that I was doing more research.

On the 16th, Jessie wrote back:

jessies-message-5-16-16

I spoke with Jessie on the phone a few days later–she had called while I was at work, so we didn’t get to talk for very long.  It was so nice to hear her voice and to have her support as we (briefly) compared notes.

We followed up via email once or twice about a month later (June, 2016), but she stopped answering my emails and texts.  I was a bit hurt, but also wasn’t sure if maybe life had just gotten busy for her, and she hadn’t had the time to log in again.

At this point, I pretty much knew I was wrong about this “Jacob” Reardon that I had found, so I doubled down some more on the remaining lines.

From Thousands to Two

Once the school year was finally complete, and my interim work obligation along with it, I threw myself into the search (and started this blog!)

I kept in pretty regular contact with Nicole, which was great to still have SOME “bonus” family on my side (as Nicole likes to call it–a fitting name!)

One night, I went down yet another rabbit role.  After having reached out to several other matches, some of whom responded and shared their family trees with me, I decided to try searching some of those matches’ surnames in Jessie’s tree to see where the connection might lie.  I ended up getting a hit for one of these (rather uncommon, at least to my ear) surnames!  From what I understood at the time, the “pathway” of names at the bottom of the search screen ended with the name of the relative on the tree whose line was directly connected to that surname search–and the last name on that list was Minocke.

I was dumbfounded and immediately nauseous.  This was the wife of “Ryan” Reardon.  That must be the point of intersection of the two trees, and they only had two sons.

I feverishly began messaging Nicole, trying to explain the situation, then suggested we hop on a Google Hangout since it would be easier to go over my line of evidence via Screenshare.

She was so excited for me!  I asked her advice on what next steps to take and her thoughts on the best way to make contact.

Sometime over the course of the conversation, she asked if I had talked to Jessie at all about this.  I explained to her the last message threads I had with Jessie, and how she hadn’t replied in over a month, which wasn’t like her.  A while back, Nicole and I had found several of the Reardon clan on facebook, and I sent a bunch of them friend requests, along with a generic sort of “hey, just found out via AncestryDNA that we’re cousins on the Reardon side! just saying hello and I’d love to chat at some point”.  Only one ever responded, but just by granting my friend request.  I explained this to Nicole.

She sighed, and mentioned how in a previous conversation she had with Jessie, she had seemed reluctant to help me…out of concern that she might be overstepping and that it might not be what the rest of her family wanted.

What the rest of her family wanted.

Only this was also MY family–one I’ve been deprived of knowing my whole life!  How does ONE family member, my donor/birth father, get to decide my relationship to the rest of my biological family for the rest of my life?!  He may have signed away that right, but I never had!  Besides, what if his parents, my biological Grandparents, never even knew what he had done, that they had 3 more (at least) grandchildren out there?  I can’t imagine knowing that your son bore children, and not wanting to know who they are.

The realization hit me that I was being stonewalled by the very family I was desperately hoping to gain a connection to.  But I was an innocent party.  I never asked for any of this, never agreed to anonymity and signing the right to know my family away.  Jesus, I have other aunts, uncles, grandparents, possibly even half-siblings out there that share my blood and who I may never get the chance to know.  I felt not only deeply isolated, but shut out by my own relatives, and it HURT.

I tried my best to keep the waves of emotion inside–it was the first time Nicole and I were seeing each other, although virtually via a screen, but the flood was just too much to bear.  I stopped talking and cried–so deeply shaken that I could barely speak without breaking into a fresh sob.  It wasn’t the introduction I wanted.

How could they shut me out like this??  I’m a good person!  They don’t even know me!  It felt like their silence was a statement of my worth.  It just felt so unfair–I understood that many donors only donated due to the anonymity that they were promised, and that, if their family HAD heard about me through Jessie, that their silence was probably out of respect for that family member’s privacy.  But that didn’t make it hurt any less–it made me feel like an illegitimate child, dirty…just a stranger–not a “real” member of their family.

Yet there I was, their flesh and blood, denied my right to know who I am and connect with my own God damn blood family just because my birth father decided to jack off into a cup and make a little extra money when he was young.

Feeling rejected before you were even born is a funny thing.  In just about all other cases of fathers who opt out of being a part of their child’s life, they’re still at least recognized by society as the birth father, and are even obliged to support their child. Granted, financial support is in NO way what I want or in any way would ever expect in a situation like this, but the point is that, in all other situations, when a man fathers a child, he is still seen as being in some way, shape or form, bound to that child.  He may still walk out, and he may end up being a shitty Dad from afar, but at the end of the day, that’s still his child.  Another man may step in and raise the child, also becoming it’s Dad, but no one would deny that the biological father’s family is also that child’s family as well.

In the case of adoption, even closed adoptions, people tend to understand the grown adoptee’s desire to know and connect with his/her own birth family, their roots.  The birth parents, if found, might still opt out of having a relationship with their biological child, but often others in their family welcome their long-lost family member with open arms.

I felt powerless to know and connect with my own roots.  I thought of what I had learned so far about the Reardon clan, stretching back to Ireland and England, imagining my ancestors’ lives.  Those ancestors were mine every bit as much as they were anyone else’s in that family–they existed long before my birth father ever signed me away.  What right did he have to take my family away from me?  And how could the present-day family rightfully shut me out?  I did NOTHING wrong!  I just AM who I am.  How is that not enough?

We talked a bit more, and agreed that it shouldn’t be taken personally.  Besides, since messages received over Facebook from someone who isn’t already your “Facebook friend” go to an entirely separate (and hard to locate) mailbox, maybe most if not all of them never even realized they got it.  Maybe I was just projecting my fears and misinterpreting everything.

I had gone from being totally elated (albeit nauseous from being so overwhelmed and excited) to being incredibly deflated and despondent.

Nicole spoke words of encouragement and wished me luck as we signed off our call, and I quickly said hello to her kids and apologized for my teary, snotty appearance.  Yayyy for first impressionssss!

I decided to hold off on trying to contact anyone else in the Reardon family for the time being.  Also, I decided that I would more or less enter a state of “search moratorium” until I could write, catch up on, and process via my blog everything that had happened so far.  I would continue my search once I was up-to-date, and could finally start searching and writing in real-time.

This time, I needed a break from moving forward.

Thinking Outside of the Tube

As it turned out, it was a good thing that I opted to pause before moving forward with contact, because in a few days time, I realized that I had made a mistake. Ugh.

Earlier, I had assumed that the pathway of names I was seeing at the bottom of my AncestryDNA tree search screen was showing me which ancestor branch contained the connection to the surname I had just searched.  However, after closer inspection, I found that this was not true–the pathway of names was actually just a listing of the last people in the tree that I had clicked on to investigate further, in order.

Needless to say, things weren’t going too well with my “I’m going to hold off on my search until I’ve caught up on all of my posts for my journey so far” internal plan.

I wasn’t exactly in full-throttle search mode though, either…I more so dabbled off and on.

Given my realization about how the search feature worked, I was feeling a bit discouraged, but I also wasn’t quite back to square one either. I still knew that the Reardon family was the key to my paternity (unless they somehow happened to be maternal matches that I just hadn’t been able to place yet on my Mom’s portion of my family tree…yet still unlikely given the proximity of the matches to Jessie, Nicole, and Brandon), and I had already knocked out several lines.

However, I just wasn’t seeing anything clear-cut.  Given the number of dead ends I had been experiencing, I decided to look at the search a little more outside of the box.  I had joined the private online Facebook group, “DNA Detectives”, and while I wasn’t ready yet to submit my case to the masses (and to a potential “search angel”), I was learning a lot.  One thing I was noticing as a theme was that “non-parental events” were far more common than I ever realized…especially for generations above me.  Whether it was wartime babies born out-of-wedlock and adopted off (frequently without any family members ever knowing, since young unwed mothers were often sent away to special “homes” until the baby was born and given away) or just affairs (or, worse, instances of rape) that were successfully hid by a lack in prevalence of DNA testing, I saw story after story of folks finding out that they had a different biological family than they always thought.  Many of these folks, like me, took a DNA test for other reasons, and were shocked to find their identities didn’t match up to who they thought they were.

As a result, I had to look at the tree I was working with, and my long list of matches, with new eyes.  Virginia Reardon’s “line” was back on the table.  As a Catholic woman who never married but was also, as far as I could tell, not a nun…her story left me wondering if maybe there was more to it than what met the eye.  I also noticed that she had a record for having traveled (alone, as far as I could tell) via plane from Luxembourg to NYC in 1951…the flight records had no other Reardons listed.  What was she doing in Luxembourg, as a single woman traveling alone?  Could she have been sent away by her family to Europe as an unwed mother to have a baby, and given it up for adoption?  At the time, she was 32 years old.  Maybe she was just a really badass lady–which certainly seemed to be the case given what I was able to ascertain about her work history, but regardless a solo trip like that would have been quite unusual for a single female in 1951.

I also had pretty much accepted the fact that the fertility doctor might not have been completely honest regarding the donor’s occupation–or, at least, may not have conducted thorough background checks to ensure that he was, in fact, a doctor as claimed.  The more I read up about the regulation practices (or lack thereof) of the donor conception industry, the more I learned how very UNregulated it truly was–and even is today.  Of course, it was even less regulated back in the early 80sthan it is right now .  Doctors rarely conducted any meaningful background checks, and weren’t in any way legally obligated to do so. Whatever the willing donors put on paper was treated as truth, and people just trusted their doctors.  At the time, there wasn’t even any central regulation around how frequently the same man could donate, how many couples his samples could be used to fertilize, or how (if at all) the records would be kept and maintained.  According to my mother (and the doctor’s office when I called), all “records” pertaining to a given fertilization were destroyed–not even a donor number would remain (which is what is traditionally provided to both the parents and donor, and is often used by donor conceived people to locate half-siblings).

All this to say, folks in the Reardon clan who I had previously “ruled out” for not having gone to med school, and being too old to have been a “med student” at the time of my conception, were back “in” as possibilities.  I also had to entertain the possibility that rather than Jessie and Nicole being 1st cousin once removed (1C1R) and second cousins (2C), respectively, they may actually be one of the other possibilities in their respective categories.  It very well may be the case that my donor had his own non-parental event (NPE) somewhere up the line, and was adopted himself, in which case he wouldn’t even show up on Jessie’s tree.

Oy vey.

Shortly after my call with Nicole, I called my Mom to ask her again for the name of her fertility doctor, and any additional information she could give me.  At the time, we had a lot of other significant and challenging family matters going on, and she was STRESSED.  My question sent her over the edge of her breaking point.  She gave me her doctor’s name, but insisted that there was nothing Dr. King would be able to tell me anyway, and that she wanted absolutely no part in my search beyond this…

I was devastated, and feeling hurt that she was making no effort to understand where I was coming from, and how badly I needed to know who I was.  It struck me that the very desire for a genetic connection to her offspring that led her to donor conception rather than adoption was the very same connection she was denying me to my own biological parent.  How could she not see this?  And how did a parent’s choice about whether or not to have biological children in their life rightfully outweigh that of their adult children–for life?  Why don’t I get to have a say?  I’m no longer a child, after all.

Despite feeling shamed and guilty (although I don’t entirely blame my Mother for this–I think it’s hard for her to understand my perspective, and she did have a lot going on), I decided to suck it all up and give her doctor (who was still practicing) a call anyway.  Maybe, just maybe, she would have more answers and take pity on me.

Upon dialing, I reached her receptionist.  The woman sounded genuinely shocked to hear from me, and it was certainly an awkward conversation!  She refused to put me through to the doctor, since I was “not a patient”, just my Mother was, however she said she’d leave a message for Dr. King to get back to me.  The next day, after hearing nothing, I called again.  Same story.  Finally, the third day, I got a call back–but it was from the receptionist.  She simply said that all she could tell me was that the doctor said they didn’t use a sperm bank, the doctor was probably a med student or resident, and that they didn’t keep any records.  I asked if the medical student/resident status of donors had been verified through a background check at the time, and the receptionist said she would speak with Dr. King and get back to me.

She never did.  Through the entire process, I felt both powerless and furious.  All I could do was beg, for my OWN information.  I may not have been a patient, but that sperm wasn’t just my Mom’s as the patient, I AM the sperm!  It couldn’t be more mine–it IS me!

Yet, as a donor conceived person, at least at present, we have no rights.  We just have to be “grateful” that we even exist.

All we have to rely on now are the leaps and bounds of science, the ever-increasing power of DNA testing and internet searches to give us our identities and family connections back.

Moving Forward, Anchored by My Rock

A lot has happened in my life since I more or less halted my search in order to write about and process my journey so far.

For one thing, I decided to take an official sabbatical from full-time work, knowing myself and my tendency to let business with work mask the truly harder work of dealing with issues in other core areas of my life.  So frequently I sweep things under the rug and keep going, and jump too quickly into another way to live my life that I don’t really want.  Now, I definitely recognize that taking a break like this is a tremendous privilege, but it’s also not one that I intend to waste.

So, I’m essentially operating off of a loose “Three Phase Plan”:

  • Phase 1: Figure out and process the shit out of “Who I Am”
    • This will primarily focus on discovering (or uncovering) my “new” roots, and figuring out what that means to me.  At the end of the day, I just “Am Who I Am”, and while this search doesn’t CHANGE that, it, along with my taking the time that I need to truly reflect on it, will hopefully allow me to understand, accept, and support it.
    • A secondary component of all of this will be digging in and reflecting on my natural strengths and areas for growth, what kinds of things I really like or would rather avoid, and where my foremost passions lie.  I’ve spent so much time in my life just hopping on the closest ship that was passing by–and working my ass off while I was on it–but not always being as intentional as I could be about picking the best-fit ship that I wanted, would make me happy, and could still support my life.  In order to choose the right ship for you, you need to really know and honor yourself, first.
  • Phase 2: Figure out and process the shit out of “What Do I Want?”
    • This part is a little more self-explanatory, but I figure that if I simply ask myself what I want before really doing the work and knowing/honoring/respecting who I am (and getting to a healthy place about it) first, I may think that I want things that I really don’t.  I might be hiding certain aspects of myself and their own desires, or assume that I just want what everyone else wants (not realizing that it won’t actually make me happy), or even think that I want certain things without realizing that I might not actually be really good at what it takes to have them (i.e. if it’s certain job titles) or enjoy what those things bring (i.e. if I think I want to move to a certain city that, as it turns out, I would be miserable in because I didn’t take the time to ascertain what kinds of things I need in a living environment in order to be happy and feel successful). All of this is the kind of digging that I love helping other people with, but have really never sat down and done for myself.
  • Phase 3: Go Get it

In order to give myself the time, space, and environment to do this, I decided to pack up and leave New Orleans, and come back home to the Philadelphia area.  While it’s highly doubtful to me that I’m going to choose this location long-term, processing these new aspects of my family and identity has brought out a strong desire in me to be with and near my own family unit while I do it.  I need the family I’ve had my whole life as a home base, as my safety and cornerstone, as I branch out in such vulnerable ways.  I also need my immediate family to understand that my search to uncover the rest of my roots changes nothing about the permanence of their status in my heart.  I’m not looking to replace them, and I’m not trying to run away either–I’m right here.  They are and always will be my rock and foundation…almost like a bonsai tree.  Ultimately, I wish that I could go on this journey WITH them,  complete with their blessing and knowledge that they’ll never be replaced…and maybe in time they’ll be willing to join me…but in the interim, I can at least journey in their presence.

Earlier this summer, I was able to attend our annual family reunion with my Dad’s side of the family–easily one of my favorite times of the year and something I’ve excitedly looked forward to throughout my childhood.  I thought it especially important that I be there this year.  None of them, with the exception of my Dad, brothers, and Mom, knew that I knew I didn’t share their same bloodline–in fact, only a handful of them ever knew at all.  But it was important to me that my Dad knew that I still claim them as my family ever bit as much as I did before–they are the family our hearts chose (and in my case even before I was ever born! even conceived!)  The trip was magical, yet also very sentimental for me.  All of my Grandmother’s generation had by then passed, but I could still feel them in the old family house and on the grounds.  The love that haunted those rooms and filled the air was unspeakably strong–unchanged–but also understood and at peace.

Several weeks later, I received a message from Nicole that the last of the Reardon siblings had just passed away, and probably my last chance at still having a living paternal grandparent along with her.  What secrets and answers to questions I’ll never be able to ask were silenced with her last breath?  I may never know.  If one of the Reardon siblings (at least on that tree) was indeed my paternal grandparent, any chance we had of ever getting to know each other was now extinguished.  It’s a different type of mourning–like mourning a ghost–but a real one all the same.  I couldn’t help but feel robbed of that relationship, and that they had been robbed, too.

Nothing is a “but” in this situation–only an “and”.  Nothing replaces each other.  Each grandparent exists and has their own meaning and place in my identity–humans are capable of so much more love than we’re given credit for.  Learning of my biological roots just opened up a secret chamber within an ever-expanding mansion.

My Dad drove with me (and my little kitty cat, Pumpkin) as I made the move/road trip from New Orleans back home to Philadelphia.

Several days before he arrived in NOLA at my cousin’s house (where I had been crashing for a couple of weeks after my lease came up), my cousin, (we’ll call her Alicia) and I were sitting at her kitchen table, talking about what an incredible man my Dad is.  She confessed to me that she had always seen my Dad as a second father–he had always been so good to her and her siblings, looking out for them through thick and thin.  I teared up as she described different examples of ways in which he was really there for them, even though they were actually his family by marriage (on my Mom’s side).  She made sure I knew just how lucky I was to have such an amazing man as my father, and I felt so full of love and proud.  I never doubted it for a second, but I had never known her story.  My Dad had also stepped up big time over the last decade for my Mom’s sister’s family when their father unexpectedly passed.  It’s just the type of man he is–reliable, supportive, and full of love–no matter the obstacle.  It struck me that my Dad is more of a father than any typical man–he’s filled those shoes countless times, without any obligation by blood, and without ever any expectation of glory.  He is a father by choice, for love–true love, in a way that could never be denied.

The trip was wonderful–we stopped in Savannah, Charleston, and Richmond along the way, went on mini-adventures, took turns driving, and talked a bit about life along the way.  We didn’t talk much about my family research, believe it or not–but mentioned it a bit in passing.  As I mentioned how common I’m finding NPEs to be, he briefly wondered aloud if even he might be adopted.  Stranger things have happened.  I’m hopeful that we can get to a place where he feels that an invitation to join the gang and get tested, too–since I gave my Mom a kit for her birthday (we’re now waiting on the results) would be welcoming him to his own adventure, rather than feeling shut out from the world of DNA just because of my own discovery.  Whether with the family he grew up with or not, he has a history, too, that he can enjoy.

Regardless of the outcome of my soon-to-be-resumed search, and the storms I may whether along the way, I can rest assured that I remain the luckiest girl in the world, one who has been so incredibly blessed in life with the gift of my forever Father, my rock.

wild-bonsai-at-sunrise

Alice in Mirror-Tree-Land

About a week or so ago now, I saw a post in one of the private facebook groups that I’m a part of (for donor conceived folks) where another donor conceived girl was offering her assistance in helping others find their biological families/roots.  She mentioned in her post that she had successfully helped several others recently, and now had time to take on some more cases.

I’d been waiting to pitch my “ask” to these groups for a “search angel”, as they’re called, until I was finally caught up on all of my writing…once I was able to start writing and searching again in “real-time”.  I wanted to be able to write about what was happening AS it was happening, rather than getting caught up in the search, and not taking the time to write/process it, and risking the possibility that I’d eventually become SO far removed that I wouldn’t remember exactly how I was feeling and details about what had happened by the time I decided to write about it.

Getting “caught up” took me a pretty long time to do.  I think a lot of that was because I’ve had other things going on in my life (taking side gigs, acting, etc. to pay the bills, plus moving cross-country), but I also think that some of it was because I might not have been FULLY ready to hit “resume” on the search.  I’m just not always a big fan of the unknown…it’s scary to me.  There’s so much potential for getting hurt, for not being in control, and for failure.  It’s just been so important to me that I AM able to, in the end, figure out this puzzle and feel reconnected, however that might look, that the prospect of that hope being snuffed out (by possibly running through all of my search resources and coming up empty), or, maybe worse, finding the rest of my biological roots but being rejected by this additional family…has been enough for me to not push quite as hard as I could to figure all of this out.

But I also know, deep down, to my core, that I NEED to do this.  Even if some in my biological family reject me, that might not be true of ALL of them, and regardless, I’ll have peace of mind that I know the truth.  I’ll know my ancestors, and they cannot reject me.  I don’t see why they ever would even if they could.  At the end of the day, I am their kin every bit as much as any more “traditionally planned” progeny are.  I am different, as is my story, but my biological connection to them is the same.  They are in me and they are me.

I tore off the bandaid and responded to Gel, asking for her help.  She messaged me right away (even though she lives in Australia!) and was eager to jump right in.  By this point in the day, it was pretty late at night in Australia, so she told me that she would be going to bed soon, but that I should start by trying to make a “mirror tree”, then share it with her.  I had heard mirror trees before, in some of the conversations in these various support groups (primarily in “DNA Detectives”), but had been holding off on creating one of my own.  They sounded complicated and daunting.  Essentially, in order to make one (at least in AncestryDNA), you would more or less make your own copy of your closest (paternal, in this case) match’s family tree.  As you’re doing this, you want to a.) double-check the accuracy of that person’s work on their tree (because if it’s wrong, that might hold you back later on in the process) and b.) go as FAR back as possible in adding parents, grandparents, great-greatparents, etc. for each direct line.  The reason for this is that, ultimately, you will attach your DNA results electronically to different people (and, thus, ancestral lines) in the tree to see what other DNA/tree matches then pop up in your “hint” notifications that Ancestry sends, which will tell you who your most recent common ancestor was.  Doing the mirror tree also allows you to not have to rely upon other matches’ trees (and their relative fullness/thoroughness) to have access to the same information.  For a way better description of how mirror trees work, check this out.  Appropriately, the author is from New Orleans.  Ah, synchronicity.

Gel had been working on creating a resource guide for donor conceived people who are trying to find their biological families via DNA, so she sent me a copy of what she had so far to use as a guide.

I got to work for a few hours, and made the beginnings of my own mirror tree.  It felt kind of strange, but mostly empowering.  The process a long time to not even go all the far back in history, but that was because I was using painstaking care to be sure that anything I added was as accurate as possible.  I wasn’t willing to add another level of parents to any given branch of the tree if I didn’t have enough evidence to support the veracity of the connection…I figured that I’d consult other experts in the field (Gel included) if there were branches where I was getting stuck…where the branch seemed a bit too fragile.

Around 2 in the morning, I messaged Gel with my status so far, and gave her editing privileges on my tree for her review.  As she recommended, I set the tree to be private and unsearchable for now.

The next day, I awoke to about 50 over-night messages from Gel.  While I’d been sleeping, day broke in Australia and she had been busy!  She asked me a bunch of questions to aid in her research and sent me a ton of links to various family members she had found and added to different parts of the tree.

A search angel indeed!

Her last request was that I try connecting my DNA results to different “test” identities on her tree, so we could start cross referencing new DNA hints that AncestryDNA’s website would provide once it processed the combination of my results and wherever I pinned them on my tree.  Usually this takes about 12-48 hours to fully finish processing.

The next day, despite the fact that my tree hadn’t been built out all that much yet, I already had a few hints to review!

In addition to it recognizing the links with Nicole and Jessie in my tree, it came up with two other DNA matches of mine who also listed a certain shared common ancestor in their own AncestryDNA trees.

That common match was this man, Jedediah Hubbell:

My ancestor!  It was like figuring out a puzzle, solving a mystery, and revealing a prize all at once.  Revealing a root!

I looked within my mirror tree to see how exactly this man was related to the Reardon siblings (one of whom I suspect is my grandparent).

Jedediah (circled in yellow) traces back through Robert Edwin Reardon’s line (in blue); Robert Edwin Reardon has been my suspected great-grandfather.  Circled in green is one of the Reardon siblings.  While this doesn’t confirm exactly WHICH of the Reardon siblings is my grandparent, it DOES confirm that I AM a Reardon, and also a Chase, and every point inbetween Jedediah Hubbell and Robert Edwin Reardon.

Warmer.  Real.  Here.

Oh, and literally the same day that I asked Gel for help, I received a facebook friend confirmation notification from one of the Reardon offspring I had tried to friend months before.

It was like the universe whispered softly to me “keep going”.

Where Wild Bill and Edwin Hubbell Meet

I know it’s been a little while since my last post…I guess that’s because there isn’t a whoooole ton to update you on, and I didn’t want to bore you with something that wasn’t all that significant.  However, right now (and moving forward) I’m giving myself permission to write as much or as little as I want to on any given post, and at any level of perceived “significance”.  This blog is primarily for me and my processing, so not everything I write has to be significant for other people in order to be significant to me in my healing (or even just interesting to me to report on in my journey).

As such, I’d like to report that as I’ve been doing more work on building out my mirror tree, I got so excited to discover new and far back surnames that I just had to share it with someone–and since he was around, I shared my mirror tree with my brother, my James.  His eyes lit up just as mine had–I felt giddy as a school girl.  The past!  History!  Science!  Us!

I showed him how I had built back the Robert Edwin Reardon line in particular, given that I had recently discovered some remote DNA matches who shared Jedediah Hubbell in common.  Hoping that I would get even more such hits by continuing to build those lines back, I plugged and chugged for several hours.  James was immediately interested in two surnames in particular, “Hubbell” and “Hickok” (the latter sometimes spelled differently), and wondered aloud if we were related to the fellow who invented the Hubbell telescope or “Wild Bill Hickok”.

I felt he was getting a little too giddy and ahead of himself–after all, just because you share a surname with someone, that doesn’t mean that you’re actually related.  The same surname could have cropped up in space and time independently, as is frequently known to be the case, especially when people emigrated to the US and their names were written down wrong or even changed.  About an hour later, James messaged me from across the house with articles on Edwin Powell Hubbell and Wild Bill Hickok.  I felt obliged to at least try to find out if, on some off-chance, we were somehow related.

Fast forward about an hour or so, because it actually didn’t take very long to find that were are, in fact, related to both!  Aha! In neither case are we direct descendants, but we do indeed share mutual common ancestors along the same family lines.  Thank God for people who work on and share public family trees for famous people (that you can then compare to your own trees).

It feels like a eureka moment to make a discovery like this.  We share genes with an awesome scientist/inventor as well as a badass of days past.  Immediately, I begin to wonder if the same penchant for curiosity, discovery, and science that caused Robert Edwin Reardon to be an avid inventor/patentee was born from his Hubbell family line.  In turn, I wondered if this same strength and interest of mine (as I’m constantly coming up with new concepts and tinkering with inventions in my head) was inherited from the same line.  Maybe it’s just in my blood.

As for Wild Bill Hickok, I don’t know if general badassery is in my blood, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if my love of exploration and adventure is.  From a young age (and certainly cultivated by my father’s bringing the family on vacations around the country and world), I’ve loved to see and experience new places, and have always wanted to try living in different parts of the world.  I was hell-bent on living in California for some time once I grew older (although some of that was in order to pursue acting).  Turns out, Wild Bill Hickok had a thing for acting, too.  Who knows if any of those penchants were actually passed down by the blood of common ancestors, but it certainly helps me feel closer to my roots to believe it might be so.

Can’t say I’m anywhere near as good as a card player, though.

James told me that I should watch Deadwood, since Wild Bill is a character on the show.  Since then, I started watching the series, and am now hooked.  His character, needless to say, is awesome.  Now, I fully realize that he is merely fictionalized on the show, but it’s even just cool to know that a relative of yours made it to the “big time” and is known/talked about to this day.  (And no, I don’t condone any of the bad things that he might have done–just relishing the positives of the situation is all).

I shared both of these pieces of information with my Dad, and he thought it was pretty neat.

Anyway, I went back as far as I could on those lines and made pretty decent progress (even going as far back as the 1500s for one) but eventually started to hit brick walls.  I’m planning on building out some of the other lines soon, but am giving myself a bit of a break since I’m also trying to focus on a couple other ventures this week (re: phase one).  It’s been a little while since I heard from my search angel…I hope she’s okay.  She probably is just really busy with other things, and the time difference between Philadelphia and wherever she’s at in Australia is not exactly making things easier.

As a side note, while researching Wild Bill Hickok a bit more, I came upon some images.  It struck me that there seemed to be a bit of a resemblance between him and my other brother, Adam.  Not super strong, but in my mind, there.  I see a lot of that same resemblance in Robert Edwin Reardon.  It made me wonder again what my biological father might look like, and where his features show up in my own.

Last night, both of my brothers and I were spending time together, I found myself reviewing their facial features when it struck me that I didn’t have just my own face to look to for cues, but my brothers’ as well.  My brothers look very different from one another, but I look a bit like each of them.  Regardless, somewhere, in looking into each of their faces, I see my biological father.  I can’t decipher where exactly yet, but he is there.  It’s a strange thought, but a good reminder that with my brothers, I’m not in this alone.  The unfamiliar becomes more familar in them.

I still struggle with venturing to use the term “biological father” rather than just “donor”.  Donor feels too impersonal for the relationship to me, to half of me, but any term that contains the word “father” within it seems to go much too far.  To me, he feels more like the distance of an uncle, but an uncle from whom I am directly descended.  He doesn’t hold the emotional seat of father, and neither would I ever want him to, but he isn’t insignificant to me–he is family, and he is my path to the rest of myself.  I’ll have to think more about how I want to refer to him.

And with that established–onward!

A Tap On The Shoulder From Fate

A couple of weekends ago, I was feeling the need to get away…reflect and recharge.  I ended up going to the shore (yes, in the middle of winter) for a long weekend.  It was glorious.

At the time, I was dealing with yet another crazy situation in my life.  In the midst of it, I got a message from my search angel, Gel.  It had been a while since I’d last heard from her, and I was beginning to worry that she had lost interest in my case.  As it turned out, she had just been pretty sick over the past few weeks.  Also, she has other work during the week, so usually can only help out with searches on weekends.  I was just so grateful that she was still in it with me!

We chatted a bit, getting each other caught up.  She had made HUGE strides on fleshing out my mirror tree, following back and documenting family lines at least as far back as the 1700s.  This is no easy feat.  On top of that, she had built out the present-generation family lines of my Great-Great Grandparents’ descendents.  Traditionally, this is even HARDER to do because AncestryDNA’s privacy rules make it such that information on living people contained in member’s family trees are not publicly available.  Those family members appear as locked, unnamed entries on public trees (the only way you can see them is if it’s either a tree that YOU created or if the tree was individually shared with you).

As such, she had to do a TON of savvy, well planned internet searches (between googling folks names tied to obituaries, and skimming them to obtain names of surviving relatives, searching school yearbook websites, white pages, and other sources) in order to arrive at that information.

Of course, I had actually done a lot of that same research and came upon most of that same information at various points over the past several months, and didn’t realize she was planning on going so far.  I felt really badly that I may have wasted her time in that respect, but feel even more enormously grateful to her as a result.  She has clearly dedicated countless hours to the research she’s conducted so far–for me, a perfect stranger–for free.  This is how you know that you’re working with an incredible human being, one who has the heart of a gigantic sized mythical creature.  We still have a lot of work to do, and I’m already forever in her debt.

When I brought this up to her, she shrugged it off as nothing.  She, like me, sees other donor conceived folks as each others’ family in our own right, whether we’re related or not.  We’re in the same unique (and profoundly unjust) situation, and we get it–we can relate to each other in a way that most others couldn’t.  It’s an exceptional bond, and one that helps me feel less alone.  We’re in this fight together, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have finally found respite in this camaraderie.  It also happens to be a badass group of some seriously smart as hell folks–most of our donors were medical students or scientists, plus it takes a certain unconventional type of person to anonymously donate their sperm–and we didn’t get half of our genes from nowhere.

Aside from discussing my case, while we had our time-zone wakeful hours finally aligned, we were able to swap stories and commiserate with our common plight.  She told me about her situation, where she’s at with her search, and her own feelings/perspective in processing all of this, and I was able to share mine.  We were able to be compassionate and supportive toward one another–something I’ve desperately been needing.

We also talked about some concrete next steps that I could take.  One of these was to create additional mirror trees (based off of other close matches’ trees).  These trees would still be contained within the same master mirror tree.  The purpose of this is to attempt to see if and how the family lines of the different sub-trees connect.  If you’re able to identify where they do, you can essentially narrow down your search to a more distinct family line (in this case, it could at least help in identifying which of Robert Edwin Reardon and Mary Ethel Kilkelly’s children is my grandparent).  She also advised reaching out to other close matches to see if they might be able to fill in more gaps for me (whether they currently have a tree attached to their profile or not).

Gel was also impressed with the progress I had made so far in my tree/search, which was a nice affirmation…this is not easy or quick work to do.  Also, for the reasons I mentioned earlier, she confirmed that each subsequent rung of narrowing down my search will likely be harder and harder to do.  There’s just less and less publicly available and easily found information to peruse due to privacy constraints.  You can’t even access Census data online if it’s from a Census that was conducted in the last 50 years, all for the same reason.

While I still had Gel “on the line”, I gave her the login information for the FTDNA portal associated with my brother’s Y-DNA kit.  I figured she might be able to deduce more from it than I could, given that she’s been doing these kinds of searches for longer than I have.  She said that she isn’t as familiar with Y-DNA testing but that she’d give it a shot.

Immediately, she commented on the fact that many of my matches have surnames like “Riordain” and “O’Riordan”.  Like me, she surmised that these are probably just variations on the surname “Reardon”.  A while back, I had looked into this same possibility and found that, indeed, Reardon is an Americanized version of the original Irish “O’Riordan” surname–it even has its own crest!

This just served to further confirm that we’re on the right track with honing in on the Philadelphia/South Jersey based Reardon family.

One such historical website put it this way:

A while back, Gel had also recommended going to my AncestryDNA list of matches and using the search feature to see if any matches had particular surnames of interest in their family trees (while still keeping in mind that not all members have trees associated with their account).  I had done this at different points in time without all the much success.  However, on a hunch, I decided to try again but this time instead of using surnames associated with Robert Edwin Reardon or Ethel Mary Kilkelly, using the paternal surnames of my closest DNA match (Jessie).  I knew it would be unlikely to result in any hits since the amount of DNA she shares with me suggests that I wouldn’t match her father’s line (and thus that her parents are not my grandparents).  However, I noticed that when I input various surnames from that side of her tree, I was getting match hits anyway.  Gel also thought this was unusual.  We’re still not exactly sure why that would be.  At this point in time, my best guess is that it’s because of the way that Scandinavian folks (of the Danish and Norwegian variety, in particular) seem to work their surname conventions.  The last portion, or suffix, really, of those surnames are all code for the generic term “son of”, and the first part of the surname is the FIRST name of that person’s father.  As such, surnames change with each subsequent generation (although they also may frequently remain the same since it was common for families to name at least one of their sons after their father).  Further, it appears that the first names frequently given to sons are very popular names, and thus many folks with ancestry from this part of the world end up having a fairly narrow variety in last names (and, of course, first names, for that matter).  This Wikipedia article confirmed my hunch.  In fact, Jensen is literally the most common Danish surname, followed closely by the rest that I saw frequently populating Jessie’s paternal family tree.

Anyway, all that to say that since I DO have some Scandinavian heritage, and based on how they pass on their surnames, it’s probably just a coincidence that I have matches with the same surnames in their trees.

But, then again, who knows.  I’m not currently in a position to totally disregard any possible leads.

At the end of our conversation, she noted that she had made some updates to the donor conceived DNA search guide she had been creating.  She mentioned that there was still a lot of work to be done and that it would certainly need ongoing editing.  I immediately felt the need to help, and offered to take a stab at reviewing/editing it if that would be helpful.  She was thrilled to have help, and I was thrilled to finally have a way to start giving back my own time, skills, and resources to the donor conceived community.  It feels tremendously important to me to lend my support in any way I can.  Besides, I finally have the flexibility in my schedule, so I might as well put it to good use!

Building community. Serving a larger purpose.  These are the kinds of things that fuel me, and the sorts of things that I’ve intentionally taken time off to reflect on and search for.  Maybe, in some way, my identity, and with it my new purpose, has found ME.

The Prodigal Seed Returns–Conversation With My Aunt?

So, I have several posts-worth of updates that I meant to write before this one, but this JUST happened and feels too significant not to write about in the moment.

I just spoke with my possible paternal aunt!!!

I think I mentioned earlier that, a while back, I had sent out facebook friend requests to several Reardon family members who I had (okay, creeplily) found over the interwebs.  Anyway, as of a couple months or so ago, only one of them, Meredith (name changed), had accepted my friend request, and it just so happened to be the “family historian”.

Gulp!  This could either be good or bad?

From what I could tell over Facebook, she and I seemed to have a lot in common (similar beliefs, both love animals, etc. etc.), so I figured she would probably accept me, but I didn’t know for sure.

Fast forward a bit, and I had a realization about my brother’s Y-DNA results.  I already knew that Reardon (and variations of the name) showed up in his Y-DNA match list.  What I didn’t (for some reason) put together was that this actually quickly narrows down my list of who my paternal grandparents could be.  After reading up about how Y-DNA works, I learned that Y-DNA is ONLY passed from fathers to sons.  It traces one’s father’s father’s father’s (etc.) heritage line.  That means that the Reardon surname was passed on to my brother(s) from our father, and from HIS father, and his father’s father.  This gives me one big gigantic clue–our donor’s biological FATHER (not mother) was a Reardon.  Our paternal grandparent’s father was a Reardon.  Robert Edwin Reardon only had two sons.  Jacob Robert Reardon and Ryan David Reardon.

As it turns out, Meredith is Ryan David Reardon’s daughter.

I’ve been treading lightly, not wanting to message her about all of this and possibly scare her (and maybe my biological father, who may be one of her brothers) away.

Anyway, fast forward again.  This time, Nicole posts something on facebook about how she was just tested for skin cancer (fortunately her results were clear), and how she recently found out that skin cancer runs in part of the Reardon family.  Also that she has a vitamin D deficiency.  Incidentally, I had just had my own bloodwork done and am also vitamin D deficient, so I posted something about this on her timeline (and thanking her for sharing the hereditary information re: skin cancer/melanoma in the family).

Jessie, who I hadn’t heard from in months, responded to my post!  She shared a little more information about how melanoma runs in the Reardon family, and suggested that I get in touch with Meredith (!) to try and find out more about genetic health of the rest of the Reardon family (since she had limited information but figured Meredith would know more).

Well, no time like the present, eh?

It took some healthy encouragement from Nicole and a big dose of bravery on my part, but I decided that I couldn’t keep putting off talking to Meredith for forever.

I put aside the risk that she, my own family, and probably my largest lifeline to learning more about this side of myself, might reject me.  I put aside the risk that she might also warn her male family members that I was looking for them, in order to “protect” them.  But, ultimately, I had to have a little faith, and hope that she would find it in her heart to feel compassion toward me. And that she might even be interested, too.  That maybe she WOULD see me as a person who mattered, as, in some way, family.  As worthy of love and connection.  So, I pushed aside my fears and took the plunge.

(In order to be respectful to Meredith, since I’m not sure how she would feel about my blogging about this, I’m not going to paste our whole conversation verbatim.  I’ll start off with my initial messages, then switch to a summary of hers.)

I held my breath, then eventually let it go and moved on with my day when I realized I wasn’t going to receive a response immediately.  I told myself that she was probably just busy and not on facebook at the time.

Later that night, while I was out to dinner with my family, I saw that she had responded!  At first I was too scared to read what she said, but then decided that I didn’t want her to think that I was rude for not responding right away.  Without fully reading her message, I skimmed it and noted that she had sent some top-line hereditary health information, then expressed a curiosity around how exactly we are related. Oh boy.

I quickly wrote back thanking her for her quick response, then said that I was out at dinner with my family and couldn’t write back much at the moment.  And that the “how we’re related” thing is a bit complicated, but that I’d be able to explain it better once I got home.

I couldn’t eat much for the rest of the meal–WAY too nervous to keep anything else down!

When I got home, I messaged Meredith back.

I had dropped the bombshell.  From there, all I could do was wait and pray.

Fortunately, someone up there was listening, because my prayer was answered.

In a grand act of cosmic mercy, Meredith was not only compassionate toward me, but INTERESTED and EXCITED about the fact that we are family!  She immediately started asking me questions about where my brothers and I were born and whatever details I had about our parents’ donor/our biological father.  I don’t want to quote her full response, but I think it’s safe to share one thing verbatim, which was “This is just so cool”.

Phew!!!  I expressed my relief that she was okay with all of this and wasn’t immediately seeking to disown me from her life.

Quite the opposite–she was incredibly supportive and promised to try and help me figure it out.  Even after I explained James’ Y-DNA results, and how that narrowed down the list of possible grandparents to the males of that generation, she was still with me.  Without my having to explain further, she deduced that Jacob Robert Reardon and her father were my only grandparent options, and that, as a result, she may very well be my Aunt.  And she found this exciting!!!

I also explained how I had been doing a lot of research, and had been finding that fertility doctors weren’t always 100% ethical in how they came about their “donors”.

She mentioned that one of her brothers had been in a Philadelphia hospital for a severe accident in the 80s, and surmised that it was possible that the doctors had taken a sample from him to check his vitals and fertility as they treated him.  While we can’t know if this is true yet, just the fact that she was open to exploring these possibilities with me was so reassuring. She also suggested that, if not one of her brothers, it could have been one of her cousins, Keith (name changed), who is Jacob Robert Reardon’s only son, (and who currently lives in South Jersey, close to Philadelphia), although she specified that he is Jacob’s only son as far as she knows.  Anything is possible!  The fact that she was even willing to entertain that idea (and not regard it as blasphemy) was also reassuring to me.  We didn’t explore that option too much for the moment, though.

Instead, I sent her a bunch of family photos of my brothers and I as we were growing up.  Possibly too many, haha.

I told her that I would stop sending pictures for now, since I wasn’t sure if I was overwhelming her.  She said she was excited to see more!  So send more I did!  I won’t include them all here, but there were pictures of us in our Halloween costumes growing up, family reunion photos with my Dad’s family, a family vacation to the Grand Canyon, prom pictures, college pictures, and more.  I tried to give her a sprinkling that would catch her up a bit on our life, on who we are, and that we are okay.  We’ve had a great life with our Dad, even though it was apart from our biological family.  I wanted to humanize us a little bit, too.

She said that seeing the pictures made her so happy.  And that she thinks I’m her niece, because we look very much alike!!

🙂

We chatted for about half an hour longer, and she assured me that she would talk to her brothers (and pass along family pictures of their own!)

I thanked her over and over again for being so open and welcoming, then we said goodnight.

I’m still sort of pinching myself about it, and also trying not to get my hopes up too high…there’s still the possibility that she’ll feel differently after sleeping on it, or that after talking to her brothers, they might ask her to discontinue our conversations.

But I have to hope.  I have to hope that blood is thicker than fear, and the ties of family are bound by the type of love that knows no other bounds.

Here I am.  The prodigal seed that has since flowered across the meadow.  No longer fully yours, but not entirely theirs, either.  Whatever I am, I have returned.

Possible Aunt #2: Following the DNA Brick Road

Once again, I find myself backlogged on what I need to report out.  Things are moving pretty quickly, and it’s been a lot to process, to say the least.

I’ve spoken with Meredith several times now, catching each other up on our lives.  She spoke with both of her brothers.  Her older brother is apparently not a candidate, but her younger brother, “Darren” (name changed), is!  He also believes that it’s possible that, while in the hospital after his accident, his doctors may have taken sperm samples to check his fertility.  If so, knowing what we know now about how early fertility doctors frequently went rogue, it’s possible that one of his samples was then used to impregnate my mother.

If that happened, in my mind, that is a HUGE violation, and I would totally understand if he were upset by it.  I’M upset by it for him, and I’m the one who got to live life as a result!

However, miraculously, he’s more excited than he is upset.  He actually welcomes the idea that he may have more biological children out there.  At this point in time, he only has one, who was conceived several months before his accident.  He actually thought that the results of his tests indicated that he was infertile after the accident.  That still may be the case, but I’m sort of holding out hope that it may have been him since he’s actually open to us being his biological children.

Since hearing that from Meredith, I’ve received a deluge of facebook friend requests from her siblings and nieces.  We’ve been sending each other messages and pictures as we frantically try to catch up and make up for lost time.  Everyone who has reached out has been tremendously kind and welcoming so far, which has been absolutely beautiful and amazing.

The thing is, I might not be Darren’s.  It’s still also equally if not more possible that I’m Keith’s, and there’s no guarantee that he and his section of the Reardon family will be anywhere near as receptive to us.

Meredith told me that she would speak with Keith’s sister, Christy, about me and keep me posted.  She was good for her word.  After speaking with Christy, Meredith told me that Christy would be calling me soon to chat more.

Gulp-part-2.  Will things go as well with Christy as they had with Meredith, my new lifeline to the Reardon family?

It took a couple days for Christy to reach out.  In the meantime, I worked to further flesh out my mirror tree, particularly on John Robert Reardon’s side, focusing on building backwards in time the family line for his wife, Mary Neary.  If I could get a few more surnames to work with, I could then compare those with my match lists for any hits.

When I discovered Mary Neary’s parents names, Martin Neary and Bridget Gillard, I then entered “Neary” into the search feature of my AncestryDNA match list.  This would bring up anyone on my match list who also has that surname in their family tree (assuming they had a family tree built out and attached to their profile, which not everyone does).

Bingo.  Not only did I have 12 folks on my match list with “Neary” somewhere in their family tree, but one of my closest paternal matches, “J.O.” (family name Orr) did, too!

^obviously the image doesn’t show the full list, but these are the first 8 of 12.

I then went to check out where on the Orr family tree the Neary name appeared.

This is where I struck gold.

Not only was there a Bridget Neary (not the same one as Mary Neary’s mother, but still), but she was related to GILLARDS!!!

It felt like the pieces were really starting to fall together now.  I knew previously that Orr was a fairly close paternal match, but that he was not genetically related to the other Reardons who had tested.  That could only mean that somewhere one of his family lines connected with the Reardon family lines by marriage.  I still didn’t have the exact connection, but it was looking very likely that it ultimately occurred when Mary Neary married Jacob Robert Reardon and had their children, Keith and Christy.

Something else that had been throwing me off all this time while I had been searching for information on Jacob Robert Reardon’s line (which was yielding little to nothing) was revealed to me through Meredith.  As it turns out, Jacob Robert Reardon at some point in his life changed the spelling of his last name, reverting it back to the traditional spelling of Reardon, which was O’Riordan.

The is the spelling that I also saw appear on James’ Y-DNA match list.

It was all starting to make sense.

As excited as I was to have such hot leads, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed in a way for Darren and Meredith.  They had been so excited about us, and Darren was even hopeful that we might be biologically his, even despite the method of conception.  I don’t want to  have gotten his hopes up only to find that we’re not his biological children after all.  I was also selfishly becoming concerned that Meredith and her family might lose interest in me if we were just cousins, no closer related to me than Jessie.  Worse, what if that happened AND it turns out Keith’s side of the family wants nothing to do with us? To feel like I had made so much progress and finally been accepted, only to have all of that taken away has been so frightening.

There’s nothing I can do.  All I can do is hope.

Christy called me two nights ago around 7:30pm.  I had been wired all day and had just taken something to help me fall asleep since I knew I had to be up at 4am the next morning drive my parents to the airport.  Oh, timing!

My energy level wasn’t exactly where I wanted it to be, but I tried to power through.  She started off (after saying hello, of course) by asking me to walk her through how I knew what I thought I knew so far.

Understandable.  Of course she would have every right to be wary and to want to double-check my work.  After all, I am a complete stranger to her.  How could she know the quality of my research, or even what my intentions were?

So I walked her through everything that I knew so far–why I had taken my AncestryDNA test in the first place, how my results made clear that my Dad wasn’t my biological father, what my parents finally told me about our conception and their fertility treatments, etc.  Before I could even get into explaining the ins and outs of how centimorgans (cMs) of DNA work, cross referencing the cM levels of folks on your match list with relationship prediction charts, scouring family trees, how Y-DNA works, etc, she stopped me at my mention of my parents fertility treatments at the hospital where they received them.

Keith’s wife, “Priscilla” (name changed), had worked at at that same hospital as a nurse in the 80s.

She was now convinced that the “donor” was her brother.

I explained how I was learning that fertility doctors, having no real regulations at the time (let alone today) sometimes used unscrupulous measures to get their patients pregnant, such as using sperm samples from other men who were having their own fertility measured.  If the sample was viable, it was sometimes re-purposed, without the provider’s consent, to fertilize another patient.

She told me that Keith and Priscilla had been having their own fertility issues in the 80s (the shape of her uterus had been causing some issues, as I later discovered after some googling lead me to an article featuring Priscilla’s story). They, like my parents, had been receiving treatments at the same hospital, where Priscilla worked, as well.  We both agreed that this may have been the connection to how my brothers and I entered the picture.

Things loosened up a bit from there, although, probably due to her own shock, I didn’t get the sense that she was anywhere near as excited about all of this as Meredith had been.  Maybe she was reserving her full connection with me until she could speak with Keith and confirm the truth.

That has still been hard, but I understand.

I understand that she might not now, or possibly ever, feel towards me the way an Aunt who had known me my whole life would.  This could be to her just a random other set of children of her brother’s who he never intended to have, who were born through an incredible violation of his rights (assuming he didn’t voluntarily donate, which is currently unknown).  Regardless, I never expected for him to feel towards us the way a traditional father would…it’s not even FULLY what I would want–I have a Dad who I love to the moon and back.  Why should I expect her to feel that way?

While I’m not sure that she was immediately “all in” on our familial connection (I’ve just been swimming in a land of assumptions, and mostly fear), she DID generously offer up additional information about her family and childhood memories of growing up in the Reardon family.  She told me that her grandmother (and my great-grandmother), Mary Ethel Kilkelly Reardon, had the various wings of the Reardon family over, in rotation, for home-cooked Sunday dinners at their home in South Jersey.  Christy reminisced about the recipes her grandmother would make and how wonderful it was to spend that regular time with her family.  She also spoke a bit about her mother’s side of the family, naming some of the same names I had come across in my research.

My research was coming alive across the phone line.

We talked a bit more about each of our families; branches that were different yet also the same.  I then told her a little about where I grew up and went to school.  As it turns out, we both went to Penn State!!  Years apart, of course, but what a coincidence!

She mentioned a bit about her children, their ages and where they live now, stretched across the country.  Then, she mentioned the kicker–her brother, Keith, has three children of his own, two boys and a girl, just slightly younger than my brothers and me.

Whether we are of Darren or Keith, we have half siblings out there for sure.  It was and is a surreal feeling to think about.

As we wrapped up our call, Christy offered to meet up for coffee if she is ever in the Philadelphia area anytime soon, and let me know that she would try to speak with Keith about everything I had shared with her.  She felt sure that he would want to speak with me.  I wasn’t so sure.

I mentioned to her that Darren agreed to take an AncestryDNA test, which would reveal for certain his relationship distance to us.  It was already en route, although the results would likely take another 1-2 months to be received.  I made clear that I didn’t expect her or Keith to test, just that the option was there.  She felt pretty confident that he wouldn’t mind, and even thought it was possible that, after finding that he was fertile, that he and Priscilla may have donated any unused samples of his for the hospital to use with other families desperate to conceive.

It’s a long shot, but it’s possible.  The butterflies in my stomach aren’t painting such a rosey picture, but what do they know either?  Breathe.

After our call, I immediately looked up my possible half-siblings on facebook, looking to see if I could find a resemblance.

While in my mind, it’s there, I don’t know that I trust anything that isn’t objective, verifiable fact at this point.  It’s weird, but I’ve been able to mentally distance myself from feeling too connected to them yet, I’m sure out of an innate sense of self-protection.  Who knows if they will accept us?  Biology doesn’t always mean the same thing to everyone.  Blood doesn’t always mean connection in everyone’s book.

Even if they did accept us, would we have anything in common?  I did notice that one of their facebook profiles prominently featured ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, a symbol that I have cherished and been fascinated with ever since I was a child.

Well, here’s to clicking my heels and finding my DNA’s way home.

Hello From Florida

Again, it’s been a while since I last wrote–my apologies.  I’ve been jet setting around a bit, first to Florida to spend time with my cousins (on my Dad’s side), then to New Orleans to help a friend with her business launch over Mardi Gras.  And yes, that was crazy, haha.

Anyway, while in Florida, taking a break from the frigid temps of a typical February in Philadelphia, I tried to spend as MUCH time at the beach as possible.  It was glorious.

On one such afternoon, while laying down on my beach blanket with my cousins, I snapped a picture of my view and loaded it to Facebook.  I’m not really the selfie type, so of course it was just of the ocean, but I guess it’s still a slightly obnoxious thing to do when most of your friends are freezing their behinds off and/or are in the office.  But hey, they’ll get their turn to take a vacation or post about something else cool, right?  Right, I told myself.  Ahhhh, this was the life.

A few hours later, I got a Facebook message from Meredith.  Darrin needed some help with registering his AncestryDNA kit.  I did a little bit of googling since it had been a while since I had last registered a test, then passed along some steps for him.  We ultimately needed to decide if he would register the test himself, forming his own account and attaching it to his email address, or if I would register the test for him through my account.  If I did it for him, it would be a lot easier since my generation tends to be a bit techy and I had already gone through this process before (with my own kit and my Mom’s), but that would mean that the test would be officially “administered” by my account, and linked to my email address.  I wasn’t sure how he would feel about this, so wanted to at least initially push the option of him registering it.  However, if he does it, he would not only need to largely figure out how to do it on his own (which felt kind of unfair to put on him), but he would have very limited access to the results without setting up a PAID registered account.  Depending upon the subscription type, that can cost some moolah, which also didn’t really seem fair to him (and it seemed weird for me to offer to pay for that, too, since it’s an annual subscription, which isn’t especially cheap, and I wouldn’t know if he’d want it renewed every year, etc. etc.)

After explaining all of the options and steps that can with them, Meredith relayed all of this to Darrin, and ultimately they just said it would be easiest if I register the kit.  The one good thing that Ancestry does allow for is that I can add his email address as a guest to the results.  That way, he still should receive an email when the results come in and can view them (albeit still in that more limited way), so he wouldn’t be totally separated from the process.  I let her know that I would need the kit’s number in order to register it, which she passed along.  Turns out it was a different number that I needed, and after some back and forth of trying to figure it out (which I was very nervous about, I didn’t want any of this to be difficult for them to do since they were already going out of their way!), we finally got everything set up.  Phew!  They were incredibly gracious about it, which I was, again, enormously thankful for.

She then messaged that she noticed I was in Florida.  I told her about how I was visiting some of my Dad’s family that lives there.

Then she asked me if I wanted to meet Darrin while I was there.  He lives about an hour’s drive away from where I was staying.

Ho. ly.  Shit.

That was a scary question!

I immediately went into panic mode.  A million thoughts went through my mind at once–I was completely overwhelmed.  First, the generosity.  The love and compassion being displayed.  It was unreal.  The fact that she/they were even offering the possibility of us getting to meet just blew my mind.  We dropped on their internet doorsteps out of absolutely nowhere, and they have been nothing but open arms at ever corner.  That alone was powerful beyond belief.

Yet, at the same time, it felt too soon.  For some reason, in my mind, I’ve assumed that I wouldn’t directly interact with Darrin or either of my potential biological fathers until our relationship had already been definitively established.  When I imagine my first meeting, or even conversation with my biological father, I already know who he is to me.  I greet and get to know him as his biological child.  That would just be such a monumental and formative moment that I wouldn’t want it dampened and muddled by any hesitation and lingering questions around who we are to each other.  I want him to meet me as unquestionably his biological daughter.  I don’t want to be holding back in that meeting to protect myself from the possibility that it was all false hope and I wasn’t his, and having that affect such an important first impression.  I want to be able to be all in, and the same for him.  Who were are to one another, at least biologically speaking, needs to be pre-defined.

Just as significantly, I could tell that he was excited about the possibility and I wanted to protect him.  To protect him from any walls that I might have put up that he didn’t deserve, and to protect him from the possibility of us meeting, getting so excited/connecting, then only to find that the DNA results say he’s not our biological father after all.  He and his wing of the family have been so good to us so far that it just didn’t seem right to let this possibility play out.  If by some miracle it plays out that he is our biological father, then you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be booking a flight back to Florida ASAP to meet him.  And if the results show that he is a cousin after all, leaving Keith at bat, then I sure as heck want to meet that wing of the family anyway.  They have been instrumental in our search, and are, at the end of the day, family.  And they are family that has welcomed us.  There is no way that I can repay that gratitude, much less fully demonstrate my love for this critical piece of my family.

Also, I didn’t have a rental car or anything and was pretty much bound to my family’s schedule while I was down there.  I also wasn’t entirely sure how they would feel about my taking time out of my vacation with them to spend time with my “other” father’s side.  My Mom and Dad were going to be in town, too, the next day, so it just felt a bit too complicated for it to be the right move. At that time, anyway.

With a great deal of hesitation, and a billion times more panic, I explained my schedule and who all I was with to Meredith, suggesting that my coming down again sometime soon might be better.

I also explained a bit about how I thought it might be best to do my introduction to him once the results were in. Honestly, saying so felt and still feels awful to say…it’s not like they don’t matter to me unless he is my biological father!  I wanted them to know that, and would hate for him/them to feel in ANY way rejected.  Hell, I would fly out to Savannah and meet her in a second whether results were in yet or not!  But meeting HIM, without knowing if he is my biological father or not first…that I feel needs to be under much more planned circumstances.  It’s just too high stakes of an emotional rollercoaster not to.  Even if he does turn out to only be a cousin, he’s clearly one hell of a guy.

I held my breath.  Or at least I did mentally, because I’m pretty sure that I was physically hyperventilating at the moment.

Once again, she proved that love has no bounds.

She was incredibly gracious, and agreed that it might be best to wait for the results and plan our own trip (and said she was hesitant to bring it up, but wanted to at least offer!)  Incredible.  She also talked about how, regardless of how the results pan out, we’re close family, and they would love to meet us.  Double whammy.  These folks are amazing.  How did I get to be so lucky?

I told her that I’d love for us to plan some sort of reunion later on, maybe even taking a trip with some family members to Ireland!  Several of the Reardons have made essentially pilgrimage trips over there to the towns our ancestors are from, and I’ve been dying to get over there ever since learning about my new roots.

I don’t know when, or under what relational circumstances, but we will meet soon.

In This DNA Thing Together

Darrin’s AncestryDNA test was activated (by me) on February 14th and was finally received by Ancestry’s lab on February 27th.  For those intermediary weeks, I was VERY anxious that perhaps the test had gotten lost in the mail.  After all the hassle I put him and Meredith through, the last thing I wanted to do was to have to ask them to do it all over again.  “Please”, I prayed, “make it to the lab safely”.  It was such a relief when I finally received the emailed stating that it did.

And then the waiting game began.

It’s been almost a full month so far, and the kit is still in “processing”.  This was to be expected, as I’m pretty sure that my own kit took at LEAST two months from the date I mailed it in, and I think James’ kit took even longer.  That said, I’m pretty sure that my Mom’s kit results came back in under two months.  I guess it really all depends upon how slammed the lab is, and since many people gave AncestryDNA kits as gifts over the holidays, processing times seem to have gone up a little bit.

I’ve been trying to focus on other things in the meantime, like figuring out what to do with this next stage in my life.  Some progress has been made, to be sure, but I’m still not feeling super definitive.  Maybe that’s to be expected, too.

Every once in a while, though, I get an itch to return to Ancestry.com, FamilyTreeDNA, and 23andMe to poke around a bit.  On one such occasion a couple of weeks ago, I was checking James’ FamilyTreeDNA match list for updates when I noticed that Jessie’s name had popped up.  This was surprising because while I knew that she was on AncestryDNA and GedMatch, she hadn’t been on FamilyTreeDNA until now.  She just have tested with that platform as well, and recently.  I wondered why.

It also reminded me of our last thread of messages, that dwindled and slowly died with several unanswered messages from me to her.  This brought up a fresh bout of pain each time.  Why had she stopped answering me?  What changed?  As heartwarming as it is to hear on Facebook about each new way in which Jessie and her immediate family have finally been welcoming Nicole with open arms, and as much hope as it gave me, at the same time it’s also been hard to reconcile with the knowledge that she had shut the gate on me.  Why do I no longer matter?  Don’t I deserve biological reunion with my family, too?  It would have been one thing if she had at least responded to even just one of my last messages, saying that she felt uncomfortable about continuing to help, but wishing me well.  But to receive nothing at all…somehow that seemed to hurt more.  To have been a person to her, but to be no more.  Like I didn’t deserve an explanation.  Like suddenly choosing to ignore me could make the reality of my humanity go away.

I wanted her to know that I’m still here, and that I’m still a person who feels things–even if they are things that are inconvenient–and that convenience be damned, I’m still family.  You don’t need to help me, but my humanity will not be silenced or erased.

Granted, I also knew that there was a distinct possibility that she had just gotten busy and forgotten to respond (but that’s harder to believe when you’ve sent several messages over a platform that shows the last time a user has logged in (she’s very active on it, so it ends up being more or less daily), and when you’ve also sent a text message without response).

I guess I figured that the ball is already rolling in the direction of figuring all of this out in the immediate future given that Darrin has been tested and his results are only months away, so maybe she would feel differently about new outreach now that at least part of the family is “on board”.  I wanted her to know that it was “okay” now.  Although it’s a little funny to feel like only now, due to the fortune of finding a wing of the family that has chosen to see me with empathy, grace, and love, do I once again have permission to exist and be acknowledged.  And maybe also be accepted.

So, for the first time in about 7 months, I breathed my humanity back to life and messaged her via Ancestry while praying for my ancestors’ blessing.

I wrote:

Hello, [Jessie]!

I know it’s been a long time since we last spoke, but I figured I’d drop you a line since a lot has changed between now and then.

As you may know, I’ve been in touch with Meredith and some members of her wing of the family. She and they have been amazingly welcoming, which has been such an incredible blessing to me. Learning this news and processing what it means for my identity has definitely been a journey, and one that continues to unfold. I’m just very grateful to have, so far, been re-welcomed to this half of my biological family with remarkably open arms (at least from those who are aware that my brothers and I exist).

Darrin is graciously taking an AncestryDNA test, so that will narrow the pool down from 2 to 1. Not sure if anyone filled you in on this part yet, but because my brother, James, took Family Tree DNA’s Y-DNA test, and several Reardon/O’Riordain’s popped up on his match list, and because Y-DNA can only be passed between fathers and sons (and so on back through time), that narrowed down our paternity lines to either Ryan Reardon or Jacob Reardon/O’Riordain’s lines, and further to one of their sons. It sounds like Ryan Jr is out, but Darrin Reardon and Keith O’Riordain are the only remaining possibilities (barring additional surprise “non-parental events”, as they’re called!), and we’ll know soon enough based upon Darrin’s results which is which.

I spoke with [ several weeks ago. My understanding afterward from Michele is that it’s probably best to wait for Darrin’s results before reaching out to Keith, which I think is probably wise. Depending upon Darrin’s results, I may wish to initiate that first contact. I know he has a family of his own, and I mean no disruption by any means. I also have a strong relationship with my own Dad. At the same time, genetics do mean SOMETHING… and I would love (in a perfect world) to be able to say some kind of hello to my genetic father, to in some way be known and accepted by him…and to matter, even in some small way.

I’ve connected with many fellow donor conceived people over the past several months, and one thing we are increasingly finding is that our parents’ fertility doctors were not always 100% straightforward about sources. Instead of always using “medical students”, I’ve learned of many instances where samples that were never intended for another couple’s procreation were used by fertility doctors who were desperate to get their patients pregnant. In some cases, couples who had come in for fertility testing wound up having portions of the husband’s virile samples “repurposed”, if you will, for other couples, without either party’s knowledge. I guess those doctors felt like they were ultimately doing a good thing, creating life, and that no one would ever be the wiser for it…not knowing that technology would one day shine a light on the unscrupulous choices they made.

I am not proud that this was probably the manner of my conception, and I make no excuses for my parents’ fertility doctor if this is what she did in order to bring me into existence. But at the same time, here I am. I never had a say in how I entered this life or whether or not I would be separated from my natural family and roots before birth, perpetually. In my case, I am lucky beyond all understanding that I came to be the daughter of such an amazing man as my Dad, whether by blood or the hand of God, and I couldn’t imagine my life without him (and he has been 100% supportive of my search).

But I am *also* of another. Not instead of, just also.

I’m not really sure exactly why I’m writing all of this to you except that since it’s been so long since our last message, I kind of assumed some rejection had occurred, which admittedly made me very sad. More likely, you just got busy, which is totally understandable! While I can understand why not everyone would want a biological family member who came to be as I did to enter (re-enter?) their lives…at the end of the day I’m just a HUMAN before anything else. I have a biological drive to know the people I come from, whose faces are reflected in the mirror, whose blood also flows through my veins. I can’t really explain it, but it MEANS something, even if not fatherhood. To be known and be accepted by my kin. He doesn’t need to be perfect. Just real. And hopefully willing to forgive how we came to exist, showing mercy instead on his progeny for a choice that was not our own.

If we are Darrin’s, then luckily, we have this. However, given surname matches to Nearys, Keith may be more likely. Time will tell. I can only have hope and faith that this innate desire for biological acceptance is not asking too much.

Thank you for your mercy at my journey’s beginning and for allowing me to reclaim the roots that I have so far. It may sound odd, but it’s like I can feel my ancestors reeling me back into their lives. Maybe not HOME, but together.”

I whispered a prayer that she would understand.  That she would have mercy on my soul’s desire to connect with my blood, and the common humanity we share through it.  Then I went to sleep.

Something I said must have reached her, because by the time I woke up, I had a message waiting for me in my inbox.

Out of respect for her privacy, I won’t be displaying it here, but her response was in many ways a merciful one.  She started off by making very clear that it was never her intention to make me feel cut off, but that she didn’t know in what other way she could really help me.  She had hoped that what information she had provided so far, along with sharing her tree, would give enough of the information I needed.  And in a lot of ways, it did, to be honest.  I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I did so quickly without her opening the door to that help, and for that I am tremendously grateful.

Jessie also opened up a bit more about how she was also, in her own way, a bit removed from the rest of the Reardon family.  Her mother passed away when she was a young child, and what remained of her immediate family uprooted to California.  She had very little contact with the rest of the Reardon’s since then, having been more or less cut off by the distance of the move.  That has to have been hard for her, and I could only imagine feeling a bit disconnected from half of my family in a circumstance like that.  I may perceive myself to have (in some ways) been robbed of knowing my biological family all of these years, but I was never robbed of having a Dad.  She was robbed by fate of her Mom at a young age, and from connection with most of the rest of her Mother’s family thereafter.  It’s not surprising that she’s also been so interested in rediscovering her roots through platforms like Ancestry.

She did have SOME contact with her Mother’s side of the family over the years, however limited.  For example, she and Keith had actually been “pen pals” in high school.  She also mentioned trips as an adult to spend time with Christy, as well as (separately) with Meredith’s wing of the family.  Also unsurprisingly, she lauded how welcoming Meredith and co. had been, and even remarked that if it turns out that we are biologically Darrin’s, we have (or had, I should say) wonderful grandparents.  It was warming to hear that she also had a similar experience with their lovingness–they are good people.

Jessie closed out her message to me by crossing her fingers and wishing me luck, but it was the post script that got me.  She invited me to keep in touch with her via email, and left the address along with a smiley face.  It felt sincere.  I was now welcome.

I responded that way.

We’ve been in touch several times since, exchanging new information we’ve found (primarily while uncovering new information on the Neary line).  It’s been a huge help, and feels so much better to continue my search with the door open.  We’re all in this together, after all.

Blood of My Blood

Tomorrow, I will meet my first paternal relative.  I’ve been spending the week in New York City, catching up on work and meeting up with old friends and colleagues.  Several months ago, I “met” a few of my cousins through Facebook friend requests and initial conversations via messenger.  One of these “new” paternal cousins mentioned that she lives in Brooklyn.  We talked about how I had also lived there for three years, and then reminisced about the city.

Then she invited me to visit her sometime when I was in the area once again.  And I am.  So we shall.

While not the first paternal relative that I’ve been in contact with, she will be the first that I witness in the flesh.  The first mirror of this side of myself that will not be my own reflection.  One that will not be made of an inanimate object.  She will be real, just like me.  She will have her own story, even while that story at some point–stretching back in time–crossed paths with mine.  Tomorrow, our lines will cross paths again and stand still.

What will that mean?  How will that be?  I don’t know.

And yet, hello.  It has been too long.

A Different Kind of Cousin

It had been a while since I had last lived in NYC, so I asked Danielle (name changed), my “new” cousin who I was arranging to meet, to pick the place. I always hate being the one to choose, since I usually feel (a self-inflicted, likely slightly neurotic) pressure to find the “best” bar/restaurant to fit a circumstance, and am frequently afraid that I’ll choose a place the other person won’t like.  And I CERTAINLY didn’t want to do choose a place she wouldn’t like when I’m trying to make a decent first impression!  Besides, I usually feel like I have my head under a rock when it comes to knowing the best places to go, and am usually pretty happy with whatever place someone else recommends.  It’s like a little adventure to me to try someplace new, anyway.

Not like this wouldn’t be enough of an adventure already!  But still.

Thankfully, Danielle was willing to come up with a place, and ended up choosing a French restaurant called Dirty Truck based on the recommendations of some friends.  French–I could do that!  So I immediately looked up the menu online (as I tend to do).  Nerd alert: I think I’m a little bit in love with food, and my mild obsession with screening menus is just one of my love’s several symptoms.  There was even a point in time when I would take out menus and read them before bed, a form of “bedtime stories”, if you will. I find it oddly calming.  No, I didn’t read them out loud (but thanks for your concern :P), but yes, I understand that makes me a special kind of weird.  This is also a pretty funny habit of mine considering that I’m a fairly skinny, petite person.  I’m pretty sure I can thank my Mom’s DNA for that, because it’s certainly not my diet.

Anyway, as I perused their lunch menu, I found myself getting a bit lost because there weren’t many descriptors of the options, and those that did exist were largely in French.  Also, I knew that she was a vegetarian, so I was hoping to find something vegetarian for myself, too, as a showing of familial solidarity.  Plus, as far as first impressions go, I don’t exactly want to order a steak when meeting my vegetarian cousin for the first time.  Besides, that would just be expensive (although the menu on the whole was erring on that side…whoops!  I had forgotten how inflated NYC prices were while I was away!)  By that point in the night though, I was getting tired, so I figured I’d just take my chances, rely on my dear friend Google to translate options in the moment if I had to, and not worry about it too much.

The next morning, I got up, got ready, and got myself out the door with extra time in case I got lost while walking.  It was supposed to be a little over a mile away and didn’t really make sense to hop on the subway, so I relied on google maps to route me.  About half a mile in, I see that Danielle messaged me to see if it would be cool for us to push back the time a bit, which was totally fine.  Anything that makes it less likely that I’ll accidentally wind up being late was a good thing in my mind!  I figured that I would walk directly to the restaurant first so I’d know definitively where it was, then just find a coffee shop nearby to hang out in until it got closer.

After locating the restaurant, I explored the surrounding area a bit until I came upon a coffee shop, then went inside to order.  Once inside, I realized that I was already feeling pretty nervous, so high levels of caffeine probably wouldn’t be the best thing to sooth my nerves, and decided to order some tea instead before finding a place to sit down.  When it was finally about time to meet up, I headed toward the restaurant with a million thoughts in my head.

Usually, when I’m meeting a friend at a restaurant and I know I’m likely to be arriving first, I give the host/hostess a heads up that I’m meeting up with someone, and a little about what they look like so they know who to send my way (rather than accidentally seating them separately).  As I approached the restaurant’s front door, I quickly rehearsed this scenario in my head, letting the staff member know that I’d be meeting up with my cousin…

Before I could get to the descriptor portion of that sentence, the gravity of what was about to transpire set in once again.  I would be meeting my cousin.  Yes, that felt weird as a descriptor in a way, especially since I had met up with another cousin of mine (on my Dad’s side) last night–but that was a different kind of cousin entirely, one I had known all my life.  It seemed strange, on one hand, to apply the same descriptor to Danielle, who I’ve not only never met in my life, but was never supposed to know even existed.  A hidden cousin.  And yet, she WASN’T just some stranger that I was about to meet–not a colleague, not a client, not even a friend yet, really.  Yes, she is my cousin.  But saying in passing to the restaurant host that I was meeting my cousin just felt so casual and normal in a way that it absolutely wasn’t.  Besides, my usual habit of describing my fellow diner’s physical attributes wasn’t really going to cut it–sure, I had seen a few pictures in her Facebook profile, but I have no idea have tall she is or anything like that.  Do I tell the host that I’ve never met my cousin before?  (It felt almost akin to a blind date, for a second.)  But that would be weird, I thought.  Who meets up with a cousin they’ve never met?  And to explain it would have been TMI, especially in NYC where people are just trying to get on with their day.  Yet part of me felt like this moment of finally meeting some of the family that I’ve always had but may have never known about, let alone found, wanted everyone to know and celebrate this weird, momentous occasion.  Hey, maybe they’d show a little comradery in the form of a free shot?  God knows I could’ve used it at that point!

Ultimately, I decided to spare the staff my personally momentous and exciting (yet ultimately trivial) news, and just told the host that another young woman would be joining me shortly.  Keep it simple, stupid.  You got this.

After being seated, I realized that I really did need a drink, even JUST one, and seriously contemplated the pros and cons of taking a shot (which could be done discretely then taken away) versus just ordering a damn wine in the open, despite it being about 12:30pm.  On a weekday.  Ultimately, I decided that ordering a shot would be too weird to do without an explanation (although I’m sure my server would’ve cared less), so I just prayed that my cousin wouldn’t judge me too harshly for ordering a drink at lunch, given the circumstance.  As it turned out, the wine was a bit pricey, so I opted for a beer.  (The server didn’t seem to mind.)

About 4-5 sips in, and I notice her at the front desk speaking with the host.  I waved her down over to our table.

Immediately, I could tell that she was a very warm, welcoming person, which helped a lot in quickly putting each of us at ease.  Plus, as soon as our server came by, she ordered a glass of wine, so I knew I was in good company. 🙂

We talked about all kinds of things–work, places we’d each lived, what we’re doing with our lives right now, and a million other things.  It was clear to me early on in our conversation that in addition to being a kind person, she was also very smart, talented, and accomplished.  While I would’ve been perfectly happy to have seen kindness alone, it was even more awesome to see these other qualities represented in the first of my new half of relatives.  We also had lots of things in common, which was exciting (and certainly aided in the conversational flow!)  Of course, we also discussed where I was at with my search.  I refreshed her memory on what I had ascertained so far, and caught her up on the newest elements, like Darren’s DNA test and my conversations with both Meredith and Christy.

I also realized while telling her this that I still had no idea whether or not a.) Keith knew about us yet (Christy never sent any follow-up response) and/or b.) Keith’s kids, our potential half-siblings, knew a darn thing about any of us either.  At this point, it was growing harder to believe that the grape-vine wouldn’t have gotten to them by now, especially with several of their cousins on Darren/Meredith’s wing of the family knowing what they know.  Danielle didn’t know either, and I felt pretty badly that there would be a possibility that they might find out something like this second-hand.  At this point, though, it wasn’t exactly something I could control, and the last time I spoke with Meredith it seemed like the general consensus was to wait until receiving Darren’s results before seeking additional contact with Christy and Keith’s wing.

I explained to Danielle that, while I was holding out hope that my brothers and I are (biologically) Darren’s, some of the supplemental DNA evidence I’d been able to uncover recently on Ancestry.com seemed to suggest that we were more likely to be Keith’s.  She shared what little she knew about that wing of the family, and we agreed that it just might fit.  If we are Darren’s biological kids, that would make Danielle and us first cousins, and if we are Keith’s, we’d be second cousins.  She assured me that, regardless of the results, we’re cousins nonetheless and she’s glad that we found each other.

🙂  I agreed.

Eventually, we gave the restaurant back their table (btw, if you ever stop at Dirty French, check out their avocado toast sandwich–sounds super basic but it was actually FANTASTIC), then exchanged our goodbye-for-nows, and took a picture together.

Hopefully she won’t mind that I’m posting it here (we’re both wearing sunglasses anyway).  Apparently she had shared it with her sister later that day, who then shared it with me. 🙂

I didn’t get to see her a second time before heading back to the Philadelphia area, but I’m excited to catch up with my “new” cousin the next time I’m in NYC!

Multifactorial Families and Undivided Love

Around the same time that I met the first of my paternal cousins in New York, James let me know that a friend of a friend whose mother is adopted (still with me?) was interested in finding her birth family and was seeking out help.  I guess one of his friends knew that James had done some genealogical research in the past, so they contacted him.  He then forwarded the request to me (probably because the woman mentioned that her mother had already taken an AncestryDNA test).

I immediately told him to put her in contact with me–surely at this point I’ve gained enough knowledge in the arena that I should be able to be of SOME help to this woman.  Various strangers, like Gel, have been so helpful to me in my own search that I’ve felt compelled to pass the buck forward.  Besides, it’s always fun to find someone else as interested and invested in this stuff as me so that we can geek out together (instead of talking at someone about the intricacies of the search and watching as their eyes glaze over…and I become fearful that I may soon have a zombie on my hands).

Anyway, Michelle, the woman’s daughter, reached out to me shortly thereafter and we spoke on the phone for at least an hour.  She told me all about what she and her mother had accomplished on her search so far, and I asked a million questions while taking notes, trying to piece every angle together.  Then I dumped a mother load (no pun intended) of additional information, resources, and strategies on her.

At first, I worried that perhaps I was overwhelming her.  But, a few days later, I heard from Dawn (her mother) directly, and she had already taken most of the steps I had mentioned!  She’s QUITE the savvy lady.  In fact, as luck would have it, within just a few days of our initial correspondence, she was able to get in touch with a “new” cousin of her own who would provide just the breakthrough she needed.  A few days later, she had spoken to her biological half-sister for the first time, and was being welcomed into the family.  Unfortunately for her, her biological mother had already passed, and she still doesn’t know just yet who her birth father is, but at least she has a start to reclaiming her biological family’s roots.  Hearing her talk about how much this reunion has meant to her, and to her biological family, brought me such whole-hearted joy–it’s a miracle and amazing.

And, importantly, it honestly does nothing to diminish her ties to her social (adoptive) family.  In the chemistry of such equations, finding biological family only adds bonds, it doesn’t subtract or substitute.  After all, energy can neither be created nor destroyed.  It can, however, be rediscovered and catalyzed.  Those of us who have been disconnected from our biological families for so long can feel whole again, and society can catalyze this by recognizing and honoring the fact that families like ours are inherently made up of more parts than the traditional family model “allows”.

That’s one reason why, while I have very few issues with the use of donor conception (or adoption, of course, except under cases of coercion or lack of support of the birth parents to raise their biological children if that IS what they originally wanted to do), I do take issue with keeping a person’s origins a secret from them for life.  Increasingly, psychiatry is encouraging adoptive families to disclose their child’s biological origins early, normalizing this component of their family’s story.  Similarly, open-adoptions are steadily becoming the norm. This change has stemmed from, as a society, growing our understanding that deception should never be the basis of any relationship, least of all one as close and formative as that between a child and his/her parents.  After all, if you find that you cannot trust your parents, any hope of having other fully trusting relationships in one’s life is immediately (and understandably) shaken.

Further, we’re beginning to understand (as several other countries pave the way) that a child’s understanding of his/her biological origins is not only fundamental to their growing identity, but a basic human right.  Just as children born into traditional birth families have a right to know their biological identities, establish relationships with their immediate and extended biological family members, and know what can be known about their medical family histories, so, too, should all children have this right.  At the very least, upon reaching the age of 18, and becoming an adult in the eyes of society (thus no longer legally subject to the discretion and decision-making authority of their parents), a person should no longer have such a fundamental truth hidden from them.  It’s not something bad, or something to be ashamed of, and thus not something to be “protected” from–especially not as an adult.

Of course I understand, as I’ve noted earlier, that parents who make the choice to hide their child’s genetic origins are, more often than not, just trying to do what they believe is in their child’s best interest.  After all, for a long time, conventional wisdom WAS that hiding the truth was best.  Or, at the very least, that there would be no purpose to disclosing the truth, since it was believed that the children a.) didn’t have any reason to know–that it wouldn’t make a difference and b.) would never know any different anyway.

The fact that the commercial DNA testing industry is quickly exploding in popularity seems to indicate otherwise.  While not true of everyone, a lot of people DO care to know about their ancestral origins and biological relationships.  Also, the prevalence of these tests are quickly rendering the idea of “closed” adoptions and “anonymous” donors a moot practice.  From this point forward, children WILL be exponentially more likely to find out (whether they test or, down the road, one of their offspring does), and I can say from first-hand experience (as do the vast majority of others in this boat who I’ve talked to) that finding out something like this is incredibly impactful to one’s identity, and on what feels like a cellular level.  While not taking away (whatsoever!) from our social bonds to our adoptive families/members, and whether old-school society likes it or not, the drive to know your immediate biological family is, for many of us, an innate one–and exceptionally strong.  Society may ask us to stifle it, and we may successfully internalize this in some cases or for a time.  Yet, ultimately, it is nature. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my studies of Biobehavioral Health, it’s that both nature AND nurture are powerful, and neither can be fully removed from an equation.

We can have families of a million different sorts these days, and each formulation, born out of love, is beautiful.  That said, I can’t help but think that these new family formations are doing a disservice to their children if they are not only asking us to deny our natural instinct to also have some form of relationship with our natural parents (when healthily possible), but also dictating this denial through guilt.  Forcing us to choose who we love, as if it is ever truly a choice in this instance, is its own form of cruel and unusual punishment, especially since it’s punishment absent a crime.  Such an insistence, especially by those who love us most, feels confusing and devastating, and is ultimately inhumane. We were never a part of the decision-making that put us in this man-made “dilemma” of supposedly finite, conflicting love in the first place–we were born into it through the choices of our natural and adoptive families alike.  We should not be put in a position to feel ashamed of our basic human instinct to be connected in some way with our biological families.  On all sides of the equation, we are capable of so much more love and empathy than that, especially for those we care about most.  It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) harm our adoptive parents to make space for these instincts, as there is infinite room when we are treating each other with and operating from a place of love.  It knows no bounds, only human insecurity does.

Society has, for many years, defined the model of what shape and structure loving families must take. Yet the truth is that, as is true with many things in society, the model is an out-dated one and its confining restrictions are self-imposed.  We can free ourselves, our families, and the future health of our relationships from this thinking.  There is always room for more love, and no one member needs to feel under threat when we understand this. Families formed as ours are simply ARE composed of more parts than traditional ones, and that’s okay so long as we hold space for and honor this truth.  Putting on a blinders and creating artificial barriers won’t help, and these days they are only temporary bandages to something that can’t be contained later down the road.  Better to deal with it now.

While it might not feel ideal to have to navigate such complicated family relationships, and it’s probably not what most couples struggling with infertility dreamed their families would look like when they were kids, it does seem to me that, these days, especially given the advancements in technology, we have to accept that starting a healthy, open, and loving family under these circumstances requires that we do so thoughtfully and holistically. Certainly there will be situations where it won’t be in the best interest of the child to have his/her biological family in their life, but that will more often be the exception rather than the rule.  And, as with most areas in life, we must also approach our expanding configurations of (equally valid, loving) family models with the best interests/future rights of the child at the heart of our decision-making.  Our relationships can’t afford for us not to, and I think this is something that most of us, as difficult as it may be to confront at first, know in our hearts is right.

Processing Time

The wait to receive Adam’s AncestryDNA results, let alone Darrin’s, has been exceptionally long and grueling.  Typically, results take up to two months to be received.  However, due to so many people purchasing kits as gifts over the holidays (yay! more people can unpack their identities and connect with new family!) AncestryDNA’s processing lab has been WAY the heck backed up (boo).  Adam’s kit was mailed out at the beginning of February.  Darrin’s was mailed and received at the lab the week after.  Despite the fact that both kits were technically received as of February 14th, (interestingly? coincidentally? the universe works in mysterious ways…) they didn’t begin to be processed until the end of April.  Good Lord.  I love this organization, but they need to pick up the pace on that front!

On the morning of my friend’s wedding, I got an email that Adam’s results were in.  With only a few seconds of hesitation, I opened the email and clicked into the results.  Nothing unusual to report–thank God!  His ancestral breakdowns were very similar to mine, and he popped up in my match list as a full-sibling.  I briefly scrolled through his match list to see if any other helpful clues were there, but then needed to get ready for the wedding for real.

As happy as I was to see that his results were as expected, I also couldn’t help but feel a bit sad for our Dad.  Part of me was holding out hope that, possibly, one of his swimmers had made its way to that last egg.  Maybe the third of us would bear his biological mark.  But, regardless, we are still and always will be his.  He raised us and showed enough love, care, and dedication to put countless biological fathers out there to shame.  He is our Dad, always, and regardless of the messiness of the rest of this, I will always be eternally grateful for that fact.

That said, seeing Adam’s results come in jolted me into the reality that it couldn’t be long now before Darrin’s results come in.  And how could anyone prepare themselves for that?  I didn’t have to deal with it earlier when the tests had just been submitted, and I knew I didn’t have to really worry about it until Adam’s results came back, indicating that Darrin’s were likely only a week behind.  How would I feel if his results revealed that he wasn’t the one?  That he was only a first cousin once removed, as I was increasingly suspecting after finding more matches with surnames linked to the other Reardon line?  And it crushed me to think of what Darrin would be feeling–he really seemed excited that we could be (biologically, of course) his.  He had already been so generous to even open his heart to the possibility of us at all, let alone step up to take the test.  I really didn’t want to be the cause of any pain or disappointment he might feel if the test showed that we are related only at the cousin level.

But it’s been out of my hands, our hands–it was up to fate now.

A few days later, I got a message from my new-found cousin who I had just met in NYC, Danielle.  It was through the 23andMe platform.  She had just received her test results.  I had forgotten entirely that she had tested with the company at all.  When she told me over lunch when we met, I assumed her results would have to come in after Darrin’s.  I was wrong.

When I logged into my 23andMe account, there she was on my match list.  In the second cousin range.

I was devastated. No, no, no I didn’t want to find out this way!  And what would I say to Darrin’s family?  Although maybe this was just a fluke–sometimes it happens at that genetic distance for you to share slightly out of typical range DNA levels with a relative.  But this was just one more indication that we probably weren’t biologically Darrin’s, but Keith’s.

While I knew it wouldn’t be the end of the world either way, just as I had been holding onto hope that Adam might biologically be my Dad’s, and despite increasing suggestions to the contrary, I have still holding onto hope that we might be Darrin’s biological kids.  There are a few reasons for this.  For one thing, at least with Darrin, we already knew that he actually wants to know and have some sort of relationship with us. It would still be a complicated thing to navigate, as he wouldn’t be our parent, yet he would be our biological father.  For another, if Darrin is our biological father (I’m going to start abbreviating this as BF for now), than we know that we were never any sort of commodity to him.  We were never sold.

While I haven’t really talked about that aspect of things here, the thought that your biological father may have literally SOLD you to a another family (albeit through a third-party and before you were fully conceived) feels pretty weird.  And, honestly, kind of shitty.  It’s also yet another reason why the term sperm “donor” sort of sounds like the wrong terminology.  You’re not really “donating” something if you’re getting paid to do it.  Now, just because you happen to be getting paid for something doesn’t mean that you’re not also providing a helpful service–many of us in the non-profit sector live in this reality every day.  However, I can’t imagine that MOST sperm “donors” would have still chosen to “donate” if they weren’t ALSO being paid.

Regardless of whether or not our BF was paid for both creating and instantly severing his parental connection to us (at least legally), that wouldn’t mean that he’s a bad person.  There are many ways to make the same amount of money, and at least this particular way ultimately allowed a new kind of family to be born.  Our Dad became our Dad.  My Mom got to experience pregnancy and become our Mom.  Besides, recent surveys of sperm and egg donors has suggested that many “donors” would have selected an “open donation” if it had been presented as an option–it’s just that anonymous donations have been the only option available in most clinics, certainly until much more recently.  Also, just because someone may have prefered to be anonymous originally and may have, at the time, taken the use of their gametes to create a birth child of theirs for someone else lightly, that doesn’t mean that they’re always felt that way since.  I could rattle off countless far less significant decisions I’ve made as a 21-year-old that I would love to love to do differently if I only had the chance.  That’s just not how time works.

Yet sometimes the universe gives us another chance.  That chance is certainly becoming the norm as more and more people choose to test.

Four days after Danielle’s results came in, so did Darrin’s.

Suddenly, there he was on my match list.

But in the cousin section.

We are Keith’s.

Divine Grace

I had been so close to a happy ending’s start–the opportunity for the meaningful connection I craved with the other half my biological kin was already guaranteed, if only Darrin’s results had come back slightly differently .  It’s just hard to be so close and yet wind up having the thing that you’re essentially biologically programmed to be invested in taken away by fate.  Granted, it’s not impossible that Keith and his wing of the family will feel the same way as Darrin’s, but it’s certainly not a sure thing, either.

As much as finally finding out the identity of your BF is a gigantic win in its own right—to finally have at least that much truth—it’s only the beginning.  You now have a name, and maybe a picture (courtesy of some savvy googling), but that doesn’t tell you a hell of a lot more about your biological identity than its absence.  It certainly doesn’t fill the connection void.  What is he like?  Is he a good man?  What traits do I get from him?  Where does he show up in my brothers’ faces and their idiosyncrasies?  What parts of him do I share with our other biological siblings?

Our other biological siblings.  My brothers have always had a sister, but I never have.  I now have at least two.  And another brother.

Not only do I not know how Keith and my newest siblings will respond to our eventual outreach, but I had no idea how Meredith and Darrin would react to learning that we’re not her niece and nephews, and not his biological children, after all.  Maybe it would be too hard on Darrin for them to even maintain much of a connection after he had gotten his hopes up.  And would they really still be as interested in knowing us if we’re a little further away genetically than we hoped? Or will we wind up losing them, too?  That was an equally painful proposition.  To have a connection, then have it taken away.

It was too overwhelming, and I couldn’t even BEGIN to fathom how I could gently break the news to Michele (and, in turn, Darrin).  I had to let myself succumb to sleep, my only escape from the present situation.

Several hours later, I messaged Meredith:

Then I said a little prayer and went about my day.

About an hour or so later, she messaged a response.  As per usual, I was completely blown away by the love that was shown. While they were disappointed, too, that Darrin is not our BF, they couldn’t have been more clear that they’re still 100% supportive and glad that we were able to find one another.  We even established that, even though I’m not technically her niece, she would be honored to be my honorary Aunt.  Words cannot describe how touching and heartwarming that was.  I hadn’t lost them all after all.

And Meredith was already brainstorming next steps.  She asked if I knew how and when I’d like to reach out to Keith, even offering to make the connection if that would make us more comfortable.

Ultimately, though, we agreed that it might be best to start out with a certified letter.  That way, I could get out all my brothers and I wanted to say at once.  However we approach him, it’s going to come as a shock, but at least absorbing the news in the form of a letter wouldn’t put him on the spot quite as much as a sudden phone call would.  I don’t want him to feel pressured to have to both navigate his own feelings and figure out how respond in-the-moment to something as high stakes as this.  It seems like the kind of thing that he might want to have some time to process, then come back to when he’s ready.  I can leave contact information, and even some pictures of us growing up.  That way, we’re REAL PEOPLE, and not just names on a page (which can more easily be discarded).  I can also let him know how I found out about all of this, and the degree to which the extended family is already looped in.  And, importantly, that the extended family has already embraced this news–potentially relieving any concerns around what their perceptions might be.

The next day, I got another message from Danielle, letting me know that she heard the news and was there if I wanted to talk.  She even offered to connect me with our sisters, who she knows fairly well.  We spoke for a bit, and she assured me that, no matter what, we’re still family and it’s truly a miracle that we were able to find each other.  I was really glad that she brought that up, because it truly is incredible that we’ve gone from never knowing each other existed for 30 or so odd years to finally connecting in the flesh.  It hasn’t been an easy road, and has taken a lot of work, but also a lot of what I can only describe as divine intervention.  I’m not a religious person, but I do believe that there is some sort of power that connects us.  Over and over again, various forms of synchronicity and perfectly timed fortunate have appeared to guide and further the search.

More than anything else, though, this whole experience has shown me what it means to show true compassion, empathy, and love to fellow human beings.  This has been demonstrated in such extraordinary ways not only by Meredith, Darrin, Danielle, and their family members, who could just have easily treated me as a stranger, but every bit as exceptionally by my parents through their strength in trusting the unshakable natural of our core bond, openness to learning about and understanding my drive to know and connect with my roots, and their blessing in exploring “Who I Also Am”.  All absent egos.  Rising above.  This is what love looks like. With awe-inspired gratitude, I am incredibly proud that this is the type of family that I come from, and the caliber of people I have in my life.

At the end of the day, the decision on how to proceed is going to be in his and God’s hands.  In the meantime, we’ll be doing a lot of reflecting and prayer around the contents of that letter.  Your prayers and positive vibes are welcome, too!

When Coffee Calls

Holy Moly.

I got a message from Meredith today letting me know that she had spoken with Christy, and Darren’s test results came up.  Now Christy knows that Keith is our biological father, and she is our biological Aunt.

And apparently she wants to meet me!  Christy is going to be in the Philadelphia area TOMORROW, then she’s taking a flight from Philly to Ireland at 8pm.  She wants to try to meet up with me over coffee before then.  Meredith gave me Christy’s phone number again and her email address, and asked that I email Christy with a summary of the DNA information that I’ve been collecting, and to give her a call about meeting.

I quickly put together the DNA evidence and family tree connections I had gathered so far, explaining it in as straight-forward (but comprehensive) a manner that I could, then passed it along.  Then I sent her a text message about meeting up, because I’m a wuss.  Meredith nicely encouraged that I give her a call, haha.  About an hour later, I did.  Voicemail!  Not so bad.  I explained that I had tickets to go to a wine festival the next day with a friend at 1pm, but that if she wasn’t able to meet up before then, I could always meet up with my friend afterward.

Around 9pm, she called me back.  She was still on the road on her way to Philly with her husband, but she let me know where she’d be staying so that I could look up coffee shops nearby.  I’m supposed to call back tomorrow early afternoon so that we can finalize a place and time!  I found the closest coffee shop to where she’ll be staying that I could, since it sounds like she’s going to need to get a ride from her cousin who she’s staying with (according to Meredith, these are cousins on Christy’s mother’s side, so additional “new” cousins of mine as well!)  Maybe I’ll end up meeting her too?  Who knows.

Anyway, I still haven’t written that letter to Keith, mostly because I have NO idea how to even start it, but maybe that will be a non-issue depending upon how this first meeting with Christy goes?

Breathe.  Breathe.

Faith. Hope. Love.

Coffee…or Wine

Faith. Hope. Love.

And/or just wine.  Wine would be fine, too.

Allow me to explain.

On Saturday, the day Christy wanted to meet up for coffee outside of Philadelphia, I originally had tickets to go to a wine festival with a group of friends.  I was supposed to drive to my friend Rachel’s house, then carpool with her to the festival.  Then drink wine all day.

Meeting my biological Aunt was probably one of few events that could get me to cancel those plans.

When I spoke with Christy on Friday night, she asked me to find a coffee place for us, then give her a call back Saturday afternoon.  Well, wine-time was supposed to start at 1pm, so I gave her a call at 11am to find out what time she was thinking would work for her (and I could go to the festival before, after, or not at all, depending upon her schedule).

This time when I called, she picked up right away.  I explained that I had found a place close by to where she was staying, and asked what time she wanted to meet.  She let me know that she was going out with her cousin (incidentally, also one of my “new” cousins!) first, but would call me when that was wrapping up.  Alright then.

So I drove to Rachel’s house to attempt wine-festivaling after all.  I’d just wine very lightly (yes, I’m using that as a verb in this case), so that I could head over to meet Christy when she called.  It wouldn’t be terribly far away, as it turned out.

By about 3:30pm, since I still hadn’t heard from her, I decided to send a text letting her know that I was at the festival but could leave at any time to come meet up with her.

It was an hour later before she responded.  The wine-crew and I were taking a sushi break when I received her message.  Basically, she wasn’t going to be able to make it–time got away from her as she was getting ready for the trip and she needed to head to the airport.

Was I disappointed?  Yes.  I can’t say that it didn’t feel like an early rejection, like perhaps not mattering all that much.  But at the same time, she doesn’t even know me yet, so maybe that makes all the sense in the world.  So far, I’ve largely just been a name on a screen, or a voice at the other end of the phone a couple of times.  That alone doesn’t make a person.

Besides, the fact that she was even considering working me into her schedule when she was going to be in Pennsylvania for less than a day and staying with other family (who she probably hadn’t seen in a while) to boot, well, that’s not nothing.  We mattered enough for her to consider it, and to ask.

And it wasn’t all bad news.  This did mean that I had full permission from myself to wine-on at the festival in accordance with the day’s original plans.

The next morning, I got an email from Christy apologizing again for not being able to make the timing work, but suggesting that we try again for her flight back to Philadelphia early next week.  We’ll see!

In the meantime, I’m re-tasked with writing this darn letter.  But where to even begin?!?!

It’s the last big thing (to my knowledge) that I need to do in this search, and yet the one that has always been the scariest.  And the most complicated.  It’s been much easier to put off than to get started, but I know that putting this off has been keeping me from doing anything else of consequence in the meantime.

I need to at least try to write what can’t fully be contained by words.

So maybe wine gets to save the day?  I did bring home two delicious bottles from the festival, after all.  It’s no Guinness, but the Irish seem to generally look favorably upon a little liquid courage now and again, yea?  No hurt in trying.

Hello?

As it turns out, liquid courage was not required to draft my letter.  Miracles come in all forms, folks.

It took me a few days to get it all out (and a whopping 12 pages, although many of which contained pictures!), but it is done.  My brothers gave it the thumbs up, and James even added in a few pictures of his own.  Meredith gave it the thumbs up, too.

There was only one thing left to do.  I had to bring that massive letter to the post office and send it via certified mail.

On Friday morning, before driving to the shore to spend the holiday weekend with my family, I made a pit stop at the post office, manila envelope in tow.  My postal worker was fantastically helpful, as per usual (which reminds me that I still need to fill out his survey).  Overall, I had no idea what I was doing, except that I needed to send the letter both certified mail (so I’ll be sent a receipt once it is received) AND restricted (which means that only he will be able to receive and sign for it).  Given the sensitive nature of the letter, and what I’ve heard from others in this boat, this would be the best and most respectful way to get the letter to him.  That said, I definitely questioned my choice as I watched the postal worker blow up the envelope with bright red “RESTRICTED” stamps.  Whoops.  Hopefully he sees past that as a first impression of our message.

My postal worker said that since Monday is a holiday, the letter would arrive on Tuesday.  Phew, I had a few days.  However, it sounded like if they weren’t able to deliver directly to him on the first attempt, the letter would be kept at his local post office until he’s able to pick it up.  I thought  most packages allow for three delivery attempts?  Maybe it works differently with certified restricted mail.  Anyway, I could be looking at a while longer than Tuesday before he ever opens this letter.

Or he could get it on the first try, who knows.

The weekend flew by, because today is the day.  I’m trying not to freak out about it too much.  It’s just hard when you know that his world is about to seriously shift.  And how will he respond?  I left my phone number at the bottom of the letter, so it’s entirely possible that I could get a phone call today.  That’s really too big to fathom.  There’s also a return address, which could yield a reply letter anywhere from a few days from now to years. Or never.

He might even reach out to Christy or Meredith, since I mentioned them in our letter.

There’s really a million different possibilities for how this could play out, and I’m not sure that it’s helping my nerves to conceive of them.  (No pun intended).

What did the letter contain?  I’m trying to decide right now if it’s appropriate to include it.  The letter, in many ways, is his, and still feels private at this point.  It feels too sensitive in nature to post here, at least for now.  Maybe in time I’ll feel differently, but it does feel too soon.  If nothing else, aside from my brothers and Meredith, he deserves to be the first one to see it.  I have to give him that.

Christy is supposed to get back from Ireland today, and we’re supposed to try again with meeting up.  I sent her an email a few days ago confirming that I’ll make myself available and am just waiting to hear from her.

So I’ll just wait to hear from either one, or both.  I waited over a year to get this far on my search–I can wait a little longer.

Tracking Status

Yesterday (Tuesday), I signed up for tracking notifications to my phone so that I’d get pinged with shipment updates.  Around 11:30am, the letter was attempted for delivery, but he apparently wasn’t around so a notice was left for pickup at the post office.

To be continued!

Tomorrow Is Another Day

It’s been over a week and he still hasn’t picked up the package!  I wonder if he’s forgotten about it at this point since there was only one notice/delivery attempt?  All week I just figured that he was waiting until Saturday to pick it up, but I guess not.

Honestly, I can’t say that it hasn’t calmed my nerves a bit that he hasn’t picked it up yet.  As long as I don’t get a notification saying he did, I can temporarily pretend that something that feels so incredibly high-stakes isn’t actually happening, and the possibility of rejection feels more remote.  Until I get that notification, I don’t have to wonder for every second after what he is thinking and feeling.  I don’t have to worry that he is angry, or panicked, or doesn’t care.  My sense of worth in the eyes of my creator is not in jeopardy.  I haven’t yet been told that I’ll never get the chance to meet my maker, because he doesn’t want to know me.

And yet why am I so afraid, assuming the worst?  Because it is possible, I suppose, and because, for better or worse, it is part of my nature to feel the need for self-protection.  I read a line in a book recently that captured the futility and self-destructiveness of such a mindset perfectly.  According to Miguel Ruiz, “Making assumptions and then taking them personally is the beginning of hell in this world.”

Ain’t that the truth.  I’m trying to focus more on a world of possibility, the one that has at least taken me this far.

I was going to ask Meredith if she would reach out to him, just to let him know that he has a package waiting for him at the post office, but I decided to attempt re-delivery one more time through the USPS website first.

Tomorrow is another day.  (Coincidentally, I just saw the mail-man in my neighborhood drive by!)  The universe hears.  And responds.

Tracking Notification Countdown

I have good news and “meh” news.

Today was originally supposed to be the last day that Keith would be allowed to pick up the letter from his post office before it would be returned to sender (me).  However, even though he still hasn’t picked it up yet (meh part 1), because I was able to electronically request that it be re-shipped on June 9th, the updated “last day for pick-up” has been extended to June 21st (this would be the “good” news).  Sort of.  It’s also slightly “meh part 2” because this whole process is taking waaaaay longer than I originally thought it would.

I reached out to Meredith a couple days ago to give her a status update and to brainstorm what could be done.  We decided on her calling Keith to give him a heads up that he has an important package waiting for him at the post office.  I asked that she not disclose the contents, but just convey that it was important/only for his eyes.

I wonder if he knows.  Or maybe his memory is just as awful as mine?  Coin toss.

Anyway, Meredith did reach out and left a voice message this past Monday (today is Wednesday).  Earlier today, she said she’d try again.

Breathe…breathe…

Honestly, none of this comes at completely excellent timing given that there are a few unrelated crises happening at the moment, but maybe this delayed response is the universe’s way of factoring all that in.

I also can’t help but remain keenly aware that this Sunday is Father’s Day, the same day that I began this journey, in earnest, with my first post.  Yet, I’m also reminded of the main message of that post, that as I seek to uncover and connect with the biological roots of “who I also am”, I am already firmly planted in the knowledge of who my DAD is–the man who raised and consistently loved me every single day of the past 32 years.  My “father” may be someone different, and that relationship has its own significance and meaning in the world of human connection, but this fact in no way takes away from the clarity of who in my life this upcoming holiday was first and foremost meant to celebrate.  I hope to one day be able to celebrate a different type of meaningful relationship with my biological father as well–in one way shape or form–but this will simply be in addition to the enormous blessing of having my Dad, my hero, in my life.

Onward.

Alternate Paths Forward

It’s now the end of June, and I just received a notice a couple of days ago that the letter I sent Keith is being shipped back to me.  He never picked it up at the post office.

Meredith did try calling him again, but wasn’t able to get through, so she left another voicemail (simply asking him to call her back, not disclosing anything about the reason for her call).  He never got back to him.  Honestly, I can’t help but think that he and Kristy may have talked, and he might have gotten freaked out, but it’s equally possible that this is all in my head.  Even if that did happen, it would be totally normal for him to initially react with a bit of hesitance and fear.  Whether he voluntarily “donated” or not, he wouldn’t have expected to hear from us one day.  No one ever thought that technology would overcome the original arrangement of anonymity.  And if he didn’t voluntarily “donate”, and if he even believes all of this is true, then that has to be one huge mind-“explosion” (to keep things PC).

But at the same time, we’re only humans on the other side of that fact.  Humans begotten by him.  Strangers that nature never intended to be anonymous to one another.  Or at least not in the absence of insurmountable tragedy.

I was in Haddonfield/Collingswood, NJ with my Mom the other day, catching up with family and running some errands.  As we had lunch in a local diner, I looked around the room, wondering if any of my “other” family would be there.  As we rode around town in the car, I looked at the street signs, wondering if we would haphazardly pass his street on our way to where we were going.  So physically close, but there’s still 32 years between us, and that’s a lot of distance.

Last week, when I told Meredith that Keith still hadn’t picked up the letter, (and Kristy still hadn’t gotten back to me since her trip about a month ago), we wondered about other possibilities for finally reaching him.  I could call, but, honestly, I just don’t feel comfortable with that.  What would I even say?  How could I possibly initiate that conversation?  Without knowing whether or not he intentionally “donated”, there’s just no clear-cut and appropriate way to enter that conversation, or at least not that I can think of.  Besides, a.) I’m MUCH better at communicating sensitive/complicated thoughts via writing and b.) something in my just knows that it would be better for him to passively take in my introduction than for him to abruptly need to answer me in the moment.  I just KNOW that if he were to fully read the letter and see the pictures of us growing up, that enough of his fears would be assuaged and he would SEE us enough to open up to us.

The possibility of reaching out to my half-siblings instead was brought up.  I do definitely want to.  But I’m concerned that if I don’t try hard enough to get in touch with him first before approaching my half-siblings, then I might lose what chance I had with him.  He might really value the opportunity to tell them first.  Besides, it’s entirely possible that he still doesn’t know about any of this, and going to him first might make all the difference.  I would like for him to be able to tell them about us himself, if that would be his preference, and I don’t want to take that option away from him without at least giving him the opportunity to do it himself.  It’s another story entirely if I’m able to get through to him and he expresses that he doesn’t want contact with us.  That’s something I’m willing to respect, provided he would at least be willing to hear us out first by reading the letter.  However, if that’s the choice that he makes, it would have to be with the understanding that it’s a choice that he can only make for how HE proceeds with our relationship.  His kids are adults at this point in their own right, too, and should have the decision-making power to choose and manage their own relationships that they make space for in their lives.  Hopefully it won’t come to that.  If it does, maybe they would want the same thing as him, but my heart tells me that at least one of them would want to reconnect.  It’s not blasphemy to want to know and relate to your own biological family, but it is sometimes an act of courage and love.

I’ve also thought about the possibility of sending the letter again, but just through regular mail.  The only trouble there is that I wouldn’t know if that would impact his privacy, since I don’t know how many other people live with him and what their internal policy is around sharing/opening each other’s mail (which can be pretty normal and totally benign).  It’s just probably not how he would want other close family members to find out about this, although I hope that they’re the kind of people who would be understanding.  His wife struggled to conceive initially herself (she participated in a newspaper article about this, so I feel like that’s okay to share here, too). Given her own experience with fertility issues, hopefully she would understand what my parents went through. As a biological parent, I’d hope that she would also understand our curiosity around our own biological parental connections.

So, I’m trying to avoid the regular mail route for right now.  Some people have suggested the possibility of using a courier, but given the nature of his work, I don’t really think that it would pan out.

With all of that in mind, back to the internet I went to try and find a dang email address for him.  Through Spokeo and a couple other services (getting a trial account), I was finally able to locate an email address for him.  Granted, it was through AOL, so who knows if it’s even still active, but I think that some people still use it.  Even if it is still active, who knows how often (if at all) he even CHECKS it, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take at this point.  It’s better than the alternate options, and is certainly better than nothing.

So, yes, sometime in the next week I plan to send him our letter in email format.  I might try to send a test-email to him first, just to see if it bounces back.

This past weekend, I was at my Dad’s annual family reunion.  It was great to be back and to catch up.  They will always be our family; their love and support of us is just as thick as blood.  It was a nice reminder.

While there, one of my cousins and his wife were telling us about how his Mom had to secretly give up a baby girl for adoption when she was a teenager.  She had to live with that secret until about a year ago.  Since then, her daughter-in-law helped her locate her birth-daughter, and apparently it has been life-altering in the best of ways for them to be reconnected.  I spoke with my cousin a bit afterward about what it was like to find out you have a half-sibling, as an adult.  He also just put me in touch with his new half-sibling so that we can share experiences and support.  It’s fascinating to me, yet I also want to better understand what it might be like for my own half-siblings to find out about me, and how I can make it as easy for them as easy and pain-free as possible to process.  I know I can’t ultimately control those things and how someone reacts, but maybe I can at least shape the optimum path for acceptance…and possibly even some sort of relationship.  I like to think that it’s not too late for us. For any of us.

Dúchas Dóchas

SO, so much has happened in the past few days.

My letter to Keith finally bounced back to me, but I had found an email address for him.

At that point, I figured that it was possible that he wasn’t picking up my letter because maybe he suspected it was something bad.  Since he already saw my name on the return address of the notification slips, I figured I should probably NOT send the email from my usual email address, since that contains my full name.  But if not that, then what?  After thinking about it for a long time, I got inspired to look up some Gaelic (Irish) words.  Maybe I could find a word or two in Gaelic that felt particularly meaningful/lucky to me.  The luck of the Irish, am I right?  I figured he might know a few words in Gaelic here and there, given that he was raised to be proud of his Irish ancestry, but that the ones I chose would fall fairly safely outside of the “conversational-Gaelic” realm.

Ultimately, I chose to combine two that felt especially resonant:

Dúchas (Heritage)

Dóchas (Hope for the Future)

Putting them together, with our birthdate, just felt right.

Once I finished transferring the letter into email form (which took a heck of a long time because it was stormy and my internet kept going in and out), I had to figure out SOME kind of title that wouldn’t reveal too much, but also not seem like spam to just delete.  While it wasn’t especially creative, I decided to keep it simple and went with “To Keith”.  It took all the courage I could muster to finally hit “send”.  “Take two”, I thought, “trying again”.

Not 30 seconds later, I received this fun message:

Gosh darn it!  After pouring my heart and soul out, yet again, my plans had been foiled.  Will this ever get to him???!?

I tried again several times, thinking maybe I just typed it wrong, or maybe he updated his email address to another provider, but kept the original first half before the @ sign.  ANYTHING, I was willing to try anything.  It just didn’t feel fair.  But each time, I got the same message saying that my email had been kicked back to me.

Ugh.

I really wanted to still try for the email address, so, desperate, I reached out to my “new” cousins for help.  Maybe they could discretely ask other family members if they had an updated email address for him?  They said they would.

By the next morning, it seemed like we weren’t having all that much luck. However, I knew who we could ask who WOULD definitely know if he had an updated email address–one of his kids/my half-siblings.  I figured that Danielle could ask nonchalantly, maybe asking for the whole family’s email addresses rather than singling him out.  It was a big risk that our sibling would get suspicious and ask why, but by this point, our options were limited.  It also was starting to feel increasingly less “right” that so many of my half-siblings’ family members knew about me but they didn’t.  Maybe it WAS time for the truth.  Danielle had already volunteered to introduce us anyway, and Meredith had suggested recently that it might be time to go that route.

So, I asked Danielle to reach out about the email address.

It was an hour later before I heard back.

I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  Silence.  I didn’t know what to say or how to respond.  He knows about me?  How?  Is that why he wasn’t picking up the letter?  Is he upset?  If he knows and is upset, then she probably wouldn’t be offering his phone number to me…right?!

I really didn’t know if I wanted to know.  Part of me said no, no, no thank you I don’t.  This can’t be good.  If he knows about me but hasn’t picked up my letter, and hasn’t tried to be in touch, this can’t be good.

But, being that I’m more curious than any cat I know…

Deeeeeep breaths.  Deep breaths.

From there, she basically told me that my half-sister, “Courtney”, was asking if this was about the girl claiming to be Keith’s long-lost daughter.  (Whelp, sort of).  When Danielle confirmed, Courtney explained that Kristy had told Keith and Courtney’s Mom about me, and that they both assumed it was impossible and must be a scam.

Shit.  She must not have been able to explain all the DNA details, which makes sense.  And maybe she didn’t know how to explain the million details involved, and about how my parents’ fertility treatments at the same hospital fit in.  Of course they would think I was a psycho.

Uuuuuugh.  The last thing I ever wanted was to not only be cast out, but also not even believed.  If he didn’t want anything to do with me after hearing me out, that would be one thing, but I still just KNEW that if I could only get him/them to read my letter, they would finally understand.

Thankfully, Danielle explained to Courtney that she had also DNA tested, along with several other Reardon family members, and that I’m on the official DNA match list for all of them, in the right relationship range.  I’m not sure what else she said, but essentially she helped Courtney see that I’m a real person, just looking for the rest of my family.  She also must have explained my alternate theory for how Keith might be our “donor”, even if he never voluntarily donated himself.  If, like in the other cases I’ve heard of, the fertility doctors supplemented their stock of med student sperm samples with samples from their own patients, without their consent.

Danielle suggested that maybe Meredith should talk to Keith.  I agreed that this would be a great idea, and even offered to email my letter to Danielle, who could then pass it along to Courtney and her family.  Maybe it would have the information they need.  She agreed.

Then, Courtney asked Danielle which facility my parents went to for their fertility treatments.  I told her the hospital, and her doctor’s name.

I frantically searched for a link to the doctor’s biography online so she would see that she really did work at that hospital.  Then I explained that my Mom still goes to see that same doctor to this day since she’s also an endocrinologist.  She even got a script from her just last week!  (I passed along a picture of this, too, for verification purposes.  Sorry, Mom.)  As I anxiously twisted my hair, I noticed that it was starting to come out, shedding furiously.  It was peak stress, and I felt like I was going to throw up.

I needed them to know that I was telling the truth.

THANK GOD.  I know they will see and hear me now.  I sent the letter, knowing it would finally be received.

Then I waited.  The ball was in their court.  I went to sit outside, to be in nature.  And to try to visualize a better future.  I thought of what it would be like to get to hug each of my new family members, finally knowing who we were to each other.

When I came back inside, I knew that I would have to find a way to distract myself, so I turned on some awful reality-TV to binge watch.  As strange as it sounds, I suddenly felt at peace.  They finally had what I needed to give them.

The Weight of Miracles

Eight hours later, after several recitations of “Hail Mary” and “Our Father”, followed by numbing-out on countless episodes of a mindless (yet appropriately named) show called “Second Chances” (hey, no judging, I couldn’t handle anything more serious at the time!) I received a message from Meredith.

It was everything.

My prayers had finally been answered, and it was a miracle.

Of course I could give them time to process, and I definitely understand that they’ll want to have some words with the hospital.  Instinctively I knew that this must mean that he never voluntarily donated, but I had to ask.

Of course he thought it was just a scam when he first heard about me from Kristy.  If he had never donated, there was no reason to believe that I could be real.

In finally verifying that he never intentionally donated, there were so many conflicting feelings in my heart.  I can’t say that I wasn’t slightly assuaged in a way, because it meant that I was never actually sold and signed away forever by my biological father.  He never had any intention of erasing me permanently from his life.   I wasn’t meaningless to him before I was even born.  I know that not every anonymous donor feels this way anyway, but certainly some of them do, and I was relieved to find that I wasn’t begotten from one of them.

When he created those samples, he meant to have us.

Yet, there was the flip side.  I knew that he was now faced with knowing that the children he tried to create with those samples, with that part of himself, were taken away from him without his knowledge or consent.  At best, the doctors had been irresponsible with labeling his samples.  At worst, they intentionally stole from him for their own profit.  Either way, they took away his ability to know his own biological children, and sold us to another couple. If it hadn’t been for the DNA test that I randomly took, the repercussions of those actions could have been for life.

And, of course, there is the devastation that this brings to my parents who raised me.  They played no part in that deception.  They only sought to create and raise their own family.  To find out that THEIR family was created in part through a deception that they never asked for…to have to face that what they thought was freely given was a gift that had been stolen, and to have to feel for even a second that their greatest happiness might not be fully their own…it is an absolute travesty.  How dare a doctor, who swore an oath to do no harm, cause any of us to question if our life was borrowed?   My parents didn’t deserve this.  None of us did.  And yet this horrible deception or mistake is also responsible for my life.  And, importantly, it also gave me the parent-child relationship of a lifetime with the most meaningful man in my life.  There is no world in which that could ever be viewed as a mistake.  We are not of him, but we are and always will be his as much as we are hers.

And still, we are also connected to another.

Back and forth, back and forth my mind races between the implications for all sides.

For Keith to have read my letter, and seen pictures and anecdotes of us growing up, the children he never knew were out there, and to watch our childhoods slip away between those photographs…it must have been devastating.  Beautiful, yet devastating.  31 years of separation that he had no knowledge of, although joyously spent with another family.  These images were of strangers, yet close family by blood.  Just 35 miles apart.  Our smiles were reflections of our parents, via both nature and nurture, but also of him.

Although it will never be a traditional parent-child relationship, since we have already been raised and are now adults, we inarguably have a third branch to our tree.  It stretches back in time, connecting me with the other half of ancestors of my birth-line.  Most have already passed, yet rest in peace as they live on in my veins.  The closest of this chain of forebearers is Keith, and his story, like those of the rest of this shared succession, is one I’d like to get to know.

And what must discovering this shared connection be like for my siblings?  I could understand if they had complex feelings as well.

Danielle texted me later that night to say that they had each read my letter and were processing.  Who knows how you’re even supposed to process something like this.  It’s been weeks now, and I still am.

While it was a horrible thing for my parents’ fertility doctor to have done…it’s why I’m here today.  It’s how I exist.  It’s a heavy thing to weigh.

And, again, it’s also the miracle that brought my Dad into my life.  Another innocent party, and one of the best things in my entire life.  How could the thing that has brought both me and my biological father/family so much anger and pain also be responsible for giving me my parents, my greatest loves, and my life?  How could something so awful be something so miraculously wonderful at the same time?

At the end of the day, though, we’re here.  It has been tremendously hard on my core family, and I can only imagine how hard it must be for Keith’s.  My parents never intended for our lives to merge, and everyone is understandably on edge.

I just hope that we can find a way to forgive each other for these wrongs that none of us even committed.  Keith, and his wife, and my parents are all innocent parties, as are we.  I hope that they can see each other in that light, and trust in the strength of our pre-existing family relationships while having compassion for the new ones. We are here now, and we ARE connected, even without substituting or canceling anyone out.

We are the addition, and we are greater than the sum of our parts.

A Birthday Known

Clearly it’s taken me a while to write this.  I guess I had been hoping that in my next post I would be able to share more news, and what I have now is fairly limited.  But, I’m not sure that this will necessarily change anytime in the near future, so I’ll share the parts that I do know.

When Meredith finally spoke with Keith, she passed along that while he does eventually want to get to know us, he’s being advised to hold off on direct contact for right now as he sorts things out with the doctors/hospital.  I’m not sure what that will look like, or how long it will take, but I guess legally it’s better if we’re not in direct contact in the interim.  Another cousin of his (well, ours, I should say) also let me know that she spoke with him, a bit later, and that he really is sincere about wanting to meet us, along with our siblings, but that we just have to wait a bit.  I’m sure all of this is a lot to process, too.  I’ve at least had the benefit of knowing I was donor conceived for close to two years now, whereas he’s only had the knowledge that he has other kids out there for about two months.

It’s still hard to not hear much of anything.  You start to wonder if maybe they’re changing their minds.  I held off on reaching out to Meredith about it for the past two months largely for this reason.  Granted, I also used that time to switch gears to focusing on things that I’ve put off over the course of my search.  However, beyond that, I couldn’t bear the possibility of hearing from her that this extended silence was the result of his getting cold feet and changing his mind. It was almost better to just not know.

I’ve spoken with many donor conceived people in the past several months who have recently made contact with their “donor”, and it’s been a mixed bag.  Many have had positive stories to share where they were welcomed.  But there have also been those, close to me, whose donor’s (or family of the donor) coldly turned them away.  They have been devastated.  To knowingly choose to bring a biological child into this world, and then refuse them the mercy of being able to know you in any way–to literally make the choice of shunning/rejecting your biological child…it’s madness to me.  I could see (sort of) preferring to remain anonymous, but to out-and-out reject your biological child if and when they DO find you?  To show no mercy?  A person like that has no business intentionally creating a child, regardless of who will raise that person.  That PERSON.  A human at the other end of this–not a thing, not a purchase.  A person with feelings and rights.  A child whose best interests should always be protected and held paramount.

Ugh, I could go on, but I don’t want to right now.  The mental and emotional energy it takes to fully and accurately explain the toll that all of this takes and the inherent, natural rights that have been violated can be exceptionally draining.  At other times, it can be incredibly liberating.  But there is a time and place for everything, and sometimes we need a different path to recharge.

I have spent countless hours helping other donor conceived and/or adopted people recover their biological families and roots, which has been enormously meaningful work for me.  I’ve also spent just as much time providing recommendations and advice to parents (and/or potential parents) of donor conceived children on ways that they can best support their kids through this journey.  There are a number of private online groups for these kinds of discussions, which is at least one benefit of this digital age.  These kinds of resources weren’t available in the same way to my parents, and our generation of donor conceived kids have lived the consequences of that period of darkness.  At least, now, parents are able to educate themselves on the topic and make more informed decisions for their families.  They’re able to hear from a diversity of perspectives–from other “recipient parents”, donor conceived children, and even people who have donated themselves.  It’s not always easy information for any given party to hear, but it’s tremendously important that we have each other’s perspectives so we can support and learn from each other.  And, most importantly, this way we can help the next generation of donor conceived children to grow up as a healthier, happier one.  They can have so much more than we had.  It makes my heart explode with happiness to play a role in giving that gift.  The transformations I’ve seen in certain parents I’ve spoken with have been nothing short of miraculous and astounding.

Anyway, in the past two months, I’ve been able to virtually meet even more of my cousins and family members as we catch each other up on our lives.  It’s been beautiful.  We all just wish we would’ve had more time with each other from the start–there’s so much lost time that can never be fully replaced.  But we’re trying our best, or as best biological family members whose life-long separation has rendered us strangers can.  Many of us have so many similarities already that even though we’re “strangers”, we’re also pretty familiar in a way, too.

Several days ago was my brothers and my birthday. A few days before that, I finally mustered up the courage to reach out to Meredith.  I explained how I had been hesitant to reach out, because I was concerned that maybe things had changed.  She replied right away, and let me know that she actually hadn’t heard any updates in that span of time either.  Aside from that, she assumed that everything was fine, and that they were still just trying to figure things out with the medical team/get some answers.  I could definitely understand that, as I’m SURE I would have more than a few questions (and quite the bone to pick), too.  She said that she would try to check in with him.

And so, our second birthday since we have known passed.  I have to say that it did feel a bit odd, all things considered.  This was our first birthday since he and most of his family has known. Was he even aware that it was our birthday?  How might that have felt, if so?  Would any of our “new” family acknowledge us on our birthday, now that the cat was out of the bag?  I let myself be somewhat hopeful that they would, but was also scared that maybe they wouldn’t, and that we would remain a secret in plain sight.

As it turns out, many of them did.  Even my aunt friended me on Facebook and said happy birthday, too!  We were finally allowed to exist to them, and to be celebrated.  The day might never have come.  I was grateful.

I’m not sure where exactly the future of these relationships will take us, and I’m still eager (and yet also definitely scared) to meet our BF and siblings, but I also know that we’ll figure it out in time.  It won’t be easy on any of us, but that’s just the nature of the situation, given all of the secrecy for all of these years.  We’ll make the best of it however we can, and I just hope that we can always choose love over fear.

No coincidences

I just now found out about the FOURTH case of another donor conceived person finding out that their anonymous “donor” had never intentionally donated, but had (like in my case) just been another patient at the clinic who never consented to having any of his samples (meant for his wife) diverted to another couple.  In this case, like in the others, the receiving couple were lied to, and told the source was an anonymous donor medical student.  This time in Kansas.  There are so few of us who even know our status as being donor conceived from that era (the 70s-80s), so to find out that so many of us out of those experienced this “fluke” is kind of incredible, and unsettling.  Was it really an accident?  Even if it was, it’s an unacceptably irresponsible one.  And was it really so uncommon?  Apparently there was a similar large scandal involving egg donors (who were actually patients themselves, and again gave no consent) in California at the University of California-Irvine. http://articles.latimes.com/1995-07-06/news/mn-20673_1_fertility-clinic 

It happens, and while we owe our lives to it, it should not be happening in the future.  Especially by doctors who swear an oath to “do no harm”.  All families involved deserve better, and at minimum the truth from their doctors.

The only reason that she even considered that she might have the right person was because several others, including myself, shared our stories.  She might have totally discounted the possibility of him being her “donor” and neither of them would have discovered the truth.  Well, we are going to be spreading the word to not treat someone who “never donated” as a dead turn.  Always ask if they utilized assisted reproductive services around the same time.  Something unbelievable has been happening, but we’re shining the light on the truth that we’ve all always deserved.  Thank God her “donor” is taking it well, and they are now newly in connection.

What can be done about this?  How can we better reclaim what was always also our own, and while ensuring that other families don’t have to be put through this hell in the future?  It all starts with uncovering the truth and letting it be known.  I believe we can put an end to these unethical practices.  And we must.