At this point, I figured the best match to reach out to would be my closest.
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.
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.)
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 (although my personal feeling was that if donating is truly altruistic and nothing to be ashamed of, why would it ever be something to hide?) 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.
She started off her message by saying that it was nice to meet me! (Good sign!) While she hadn’t had much time yet to investigate, on first glance, it wasn’t immediately apparent to her how exactly we were related. However, she did say that her Mother grew up in Camden, as did mine, so that could somehow be the connection. From there, she told me that she’d be doing some more thorough searching in the next few days in addition to inviting me to view the private family tree that she had been working on. Then she wished me a happy trip with my parents before signing off.
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.