Tag Archives: Biological fathers

An Update on My DNA Journey

I’ve heard adoptees searching for family should fish in many ponds so I’m casting my line in Ancestry’s pond, hoping I might net some clues about my blood relatives, especially those on my father’s side.

While most people were getting psyched for the Super Bowl on Sunday, I shopped for a DNA test from Ancestry.com.

I dove into the DNA pond a couple of years ago, purchasing the Family Tree DNA FamilyFinder test. The results did not turn up a father, brothers, sisters or first cousins, just distant cousins, hundreds of them. My experience is fairly typical. Very few people find a parent or sibling match directly through a DNA test.

Checking out my DNA matches at the kitchen table
Checking out my DNA matches at the kitchen table

Still, every week or so, Family Tree DNA uncovers a few new cousins and sends me their names. Which side of my family these relatives hail from and where they belong on the family tree is usually unclear.

Analyzing the results can be frustrating and time-consuming. Why didn’t I pay more attention to the genetics discussion in high school biology? If I had, maybe I’d have my DNA cousins sorted out. (Actually, all I remember about biology is the fetal pig dissection, which I delegated to my lab partner.)

The truth is I have not spent enough time with my test results. Too busy with my everyday life.

Despite my lazy approach, I have confirmed relationships with a number of  cousins on my mother’s side, including several second cousins. I had the pleasure of speaking with Shannon, my second cousin once removed, on the phone recently. You have to be adopted to understand why it was exciting to speak to a blood relative, only the third one I’ve talked to in my entire life.

My biological son, Jake, is the only bio relative I’ve hugged and kissed in real life. My half-sister, Michelle, and I have never met in person but we talk frequently by phone and end each conversation by saying “Love you.” But that’s it for my blood relatives.

If you’re adopted and searching for family, you should give DNA testing a chance. Unlike me, you may have been riveted by your high school genetics lecture so sorting through DNA matches might come more naturally. Or maybe you have the time and patience for parsing the test results.

DNA tests cost around $99 each. While they are affordable for many of us, it never hurts to save a few bucks if you can. Through a Google search, I found a free shipping offer, which saved me almost $10 off the cost of the Ancestry test. Every penny counts, especially since I’m sure this won’t be the last DNA test I purchase. My fishing trip continues.

 

Medical History: Adoptees Fill in the Blanks

Every time we turn around, we hear about the importance of family medical history. Yet for adoptees, these facts are missing or at best incomplete.

A couple of recent  situations reminded me how little I know about my family medical history.

Leafing through Better Homes and Gardens on the subway, an article about heart disease caught my eye.

“When it comes to heart disease, what runs in your family matters—a lot,” the article began. “Studies show that if one of your parents had a heart attack or stroke, your own risk for these conditions can double, and having a brother or sister with the disease ups your chances of having a heart attack, too.”

I turned the page. Another article suggested talking to relatives about diseases that run in the family and then telling your doctor, who can use the information to recommend lifestyle  changes or screenings. “So grab a pen and paper and start interviewing Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, and everyone in between,” the article said.

Yeah, right. Like I can pick up the phone and get the scoop on family health conditions just like that. The writer is obviously not adopted.

On another day, sitting in an office in Manhattan, my doctor and I tried to calculate my lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. Lillian, my mother, died of breast cancer at the age of 48 and that’s why I made this appointment. I have no idea how old Lillian was when she was first diagnosed with the disease so I couldn’t answer my doctor’s question about age of onset. Hell, I didn’t know about my adoption until 11 years ago and didn’t know Lillian’s name until 2012. By the time I found out about her, Lillian had been gone for nearly 30 years.

I recalled hearing from a relative that Lillian had battled cancer for quite a while.  How long is quite a while? Let’s say my mother had the disease for seven years, I told my doctor.  She knew I was guessing and she wasn’t pleased. My doctor quizzed me about the other members of my family who had the disease. I don’t know, I don’t know, I said. My blood relatives are strangers to me.

I knew what my doctor was thinking: you should know your family history! I am adopted, I said, feeling compelled to defend my ignorance.

pic for medical history article
Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Grant Cochrane

As we wrapped up our meeting, my doctor commented on how frustrating this lack of history must be for adopted people.

Yup, adoptees from the sealed records era run into these situations all the time. We don’t have family gossip stored in our memories because we never had a chance to talk with our biological kin. We can’t answer doctors’ questions with actual knowledge. We are clueless about our family histories.

In recent months, I’ve learned a few things about the health issues that run on my mother’s side of the family.  Lillian, in addition to breast cancer, struggled with alcohol and probably bipolar disorder. At least one of her brothers struggled with bipolar disorder, too. Lillian’s father, George, also had a drinking problem. My half-sister has diabetes and suffered a mild stroke some years ago.

What little I know about my mother and her relatives seems like a treasure chest of facts compared to what I have on my father and his family – absolutely nothing.

This problem is finally getting attention from the outside world. New Jersey lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow adoptees to gain access to their medical histories along with their original birth certificates.  I say it’s about time.

In the absence of information, I will do what I can to keep heart attacks, strokes and other bad stuff away.  Healthy genes, heart attack genes, mystery genes – whatever I inherited doesn’t have to dictate what’s going to strike me five, 10 or 20 years from now.

I try to take care of myself by making (mostly) healthy choices. Today I have a head cold. Part of me wants to take a nap, the other part of me thinks it’s time to get up, stretch my legs and have a glass of water with another shot of cold medicine.  It’s snowing and 27 degrees outside but a walk might do me good and get my mind off the things over which I have no control.

Adoptee Rejection — It Hurts Like Hell

I cringe every time I hear about an adoptee who is rejected by her biological family.

For all the happy Hollywood-worthy reunions, there are many sad stories of adoptees who get the cold shoulder from their bio families. This comes after many spend months, even years, looking for relatives. I don’t know how frequently it happens but anecdotally, I hear the depressing stories on a fairly regular basis.

woman-72153_640
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

It’s a shame. How can people be so cavalier toward their own flesh and blood? We are not black sheep. Many adoptees just want to fill in the missing pieces in our history. We want names, faces and a few anecdotes. We are not looking to turn somebody else’s life upside down.

Fellow blogger Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy attempts to explain why birth mothers in particular turn away their long lost children. I imagine for a birth mother it must be like opening an old wound.

Adoptees are outsiders. We didn’t grow up with our biological families. Without that experience, we approach our kin as strangers. We are at a disadvantage. Relatives may associate us with a dirty secret from the past, the child who was given up for adoption, the child who was not supposed to re-appear ever again.

Of course, that’s baloney in the 21st century. Anyone with Internet access can dig up facts and faces from their past. It’s hard to hide in today’s world.

Personally, I don’t need a warm and fuzzy reunion filled with hugs, kisses and tears. My yet-to-be-found paternal relatives don’t have to welcome me with open arms or even send me a card at Christmas. Just answer my questions, please.

Adoptees go through life with questions about identity, relationships, family history,  medical history….so many questions and so little information.

Being adopted can be a challenge. In families with biological and adopted children, the adoptees sometimes are treated like second-class citizens. Fortunately, my parents bent over backwards to treat Melissa and me, their adopted girls, the same.

Some adoptees struggle with depression and low self-esteem. Given all these challenges, adopted adults don’t need to be treated like garbage by their newly found blood relatives.

I am fortunate. Since I began searching for family this year, I have not encountered any jerks among my kin. I’ve had friendly phone conversations with my half sister, Sissy, and her daughter, my niece (or half-niece), Chrissy.  They’ve answered my questions and shared stories about my birth mother, Lillian. They’ve welcomed me. We have even found things to laugh about, not easy to do considering all the pain in our family.

But knowing how common rejection is gives me pause. I hesitate to pursue my bio dad’s family too aggressively. I don’t want the door to be slammed in my face and I don’t want to go where I don’t belong. Now I understand why adoptees don’t bother to search for their kin.

I’ve made a promise. If some adoptee searching for family calls me out of the blue, I will take the call, be nice and answer questions as best as I can. After all, I’ve made those calls and know how difficult they are to make.

Who the hell needs rejection anyway? What purpose does it serve?

Who is Bio Dad?

When you don’t know who your biological parents are, you jump on any little scrap of information you can get.

I’ve talked to several people who knew my mother, including her best friend, Nancy. During our first conversation, she assured me she had no idea who my bio father could be. The second time we talked, she told me she never knew my father but very casually mentioned he was a golfer. A golfer?  A professional golfer? A suburban guy who liked to putt around on the golf course for fun? Nancy didn’t know. How long did he and my mother go out? I asked. Just a couple times, Nancy said. Hmmm. Very interesting.

good golfing photo
Courtesy of Flickr/Sean MacEntee

That’s all I know about my father. My mother was married and had four kids when she met him. She worked as a waitress and cook at a number of bars, restaurants and a very nice private club with a golf course in the suburbs north of Chicago. Did she meet my father at one of those places? Possibly. I don’t know where she was working in the summer of 1963, which is when I was conceived.

I hope a DNA test will move my search in the right direction. Using Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test kit, I scraped samples of DNA from the insides of my cheeks and sent the results back to the company. Family Tree DNA will contact me if my sample matches any samples in the company’s database.

I know where my mother came from and what her childhood and adult life were like. I have a picture of her in my head and several photos of her on my desk.

Dad is a mystery man. Unless I find someone who knew him, someone who can tell me what he was like, I’ll always picture my father as some featureless guy in a golf shirt toting a cart full of clubs and flirting with married waitresses.

Hitting a Dead End

I hit a dead end in my search for bio dad. Ok, that’s a stretch. Finding my biological father seems next to impossible so I’ll be happy to get a few nuggets of information about the man, who’s a stranger to me.

Last week, I tried to reach a distant cousin. As an adult, she lived with her mother for a while and her mother was very close to my adoptive mom.  I have a hunch there could be a family tie linking my birth parents to my adoptive parents. My cousin might know something, I thought.

I left a couple of messages for people with my cousin’s last name in Green Bay, Wisconsin, her last known place of residence. The phone rang at 11:30 one night. I was in bed. My cousin’s son was on the phone. A little groggy, I explained what I was looking for. Sorry, he said, but my mother passed away a little over a year ago. She was about 65.

Damn! Why didn’t I reach out to my cousin sooner? I should have started this mission a long time ago.

Image
Courtesy of Flickr/Al-HikesAZ

Continue reading Hitting a Dead End

Questions for My Father

Now that I know something about my birth mother, I am eager to find out about my biological father.

I grew up thinking I was German on my adoptive father’s side and Polish on my mother’s side. Cousins tell me I definitely look like I could be a biological relative.

My mother had dark eyes and black hair and may have been part Native American. I have blue eyes, naturally dark brown hair and fair skin. Maybe I look more like my father than my mother.

Image

Courtesy of Flickr/Enigma Photos

Continue reading Questions for My Father