Last spring one of my sons did a DNA test through Ancestry.com. We were excited to see what our blood lines showed. Not surprisingly we were mostly Scandinavian, with a little bit of Southern Europe–Spain–mixed in and about 7% from the Volga–Russian?! It was interesting, it was fun, we had a cool map and it told us most of what we basically already thought we knew.
Soon we began getting emails showing 4th and 5th cousins matched through DNA. Then unexpectedly my son got a first cousin match. I looked at it and told him it must be an error. We know all the first cousins.
But when the “first cousin” sent an email explaining that he had been adopted and was looking for his birth family, wondering if one of our brothers or sisters could be his birth parent I suddenly had an entirely new understanding of DNA!
My mind traveled back forty-one years to the tiny baby boy I had put up for adoption. I could see his tiny face, his cap of dark hair. I remembered the kindness of the nurses who moved his bassinet into my room where he stayed with me for twenty-four hours a day during my three-day stay. (Such a thing was unheard of in 1972. Babies stayed in the nursery and parents and family peered at them through the windows.) I remembered the calendar I had on the wall, marking off the days one by one, I had cut open the 30th, making a window like an advent calendar and attached a picture of a baby on a spring behind it. That was the due date, the date I would not check off–he would pop out! But like all my children he came nearly two weeks early.
Not one to jump to conclusions, I responded to the message, asking for date and place of birth, etc. I soon had the pertinent information and had to write back that my son was not a cousin, but a half-brother and that I was his birth mother. Was I filled with joy? What a blessing! No, I was filled with doubt and questions. I waited for his phone call and wondered what I would say.
A closed adoption meant just what it says. It was closed. The birth certificate was sealed. I never knew the name of the adoptive parents or where they lived. There would never be any contact between us. The baby had a family and was no longer a part of me. I never told our eight children they had a half-brother. It was irrelevant to their lives.
Now suddenly it was very relevant. And so I told them, one by one. It is not an easy thing for them to assimilate information making your family different, more, other than you have known all your life. Someone out there–a complete stranger–is also a brother.
That took a little time. We traveled to Memphis. The trip was physically difficult for my husband. We visited with our oldest son. He was very accepting. We traveled to Costa Rica with our sixth child and his wife. My husband became critically ill and was hospitalized and stabilized so that we could fly home.
After that I talked to the kids by telephone. And finally, when everyone knew and responded in whatever ways they chose, I felt a sense of relief. And that was when I got a call from the Katie Couric Show.
Would I be interested in going to New York and appearing on the Katie Couric Show. I could tell no one because I was not only going to meet my son, I was going to surprise him. He didn’t know I was coming. I had some reservations. Is TV really the best place for a reunion? But if not the best place it was A place. And with my husband’s health I didn’t see another trip together in the immediate future. And I felt a debt to Ancestry for the gift I had received and for the great work they do. So, I agreed. The son who took the DNA test came with me and was a part of the show.
And we met. It was exciting, it was emotional it was fun. Afterwards we went out to dinner with my “new” son and his wife and nine other members of our family. Finally we could relax, talk and get to know each other in a more personal way.
It is strange to sit with a blood relative, a son in my case, a person that you should feel love and attachment for, and to realize you are complete strangers.
Not so much strangers anymore. Family in the process of getting to know each other.