About three years ago, I bought my husband a DNA kit for the holidays.
He spit in the tube and sent his entire biological makeup away to a lab somewhere the day after it arrived.
I didn’t order myself one.
I didn’t feel like doing it. I was apprehensive, maybe a little skeptical.
But, so, my husband ordered me a kit. It sat on my closet shelf for about eight months. I looked at it every couple of days, green tree design on the side of the package—partly calling to me, but mostly advising me to stay away. “You’re not ready,” I kept hearing over and over.
But, curiosity got the best of me. I have questions. I have always searched. I decided it was time. I was ready. Initially, I wanted to discover something, anything about my DNA, my roots, my identity that would help me feel a connection, that would make sense. I wanted an aha moment.
I do medium work, and I was partly wondering if there were any cool links to others who had this same gift. I also teach high school English. I spend a lot of time reading and teaching the stories of others, analyzing how and why they write them.
My results came back. I was a woman with DNA from (mostly) Western Europe and a Jewish mother, but I already knew that!
The joke with my dad was always that when he traveled to Germany, he was German. When in England, English. When in Scotland, Scottish, etc. My dad was a veterinarian who died when I was six and my brother three. He was someone I mourned and missed my entire life. He was a name and a grave for my own children. And, he was a mystery.
The day my results came back, I was deflated. Bored. Let down. I guess I had high expectations that I would feel more myself. I got a few messages from women claiming we were related, but I ignored them, not recognizing their names or tiny thumbnail profile pictures. That was it. I logged in every once in a while. Sometimes I sent messages to others with my maiden name, but I was not content.
Flash forward to a year later. Thanksgiving dinner. My brother mentioned something about another DNA site and his son getting messages from a potential grandfather match. We talked a bit, drank our wine, celebrated what we were thankful for, and then went home.
I didn’t think anything of it, which is unlike me. My intuitive, spiritual self was simply not ready to listen to the messages.
And then—the day that changed our lives forever. January 14, 2019. My brother and I put a puzzle together that started to tell a story—our story. He called. We dug. Our identities came alive fully that day. We’d been incomplete. Seeing all the pieces together made sense, and yet made no sense.
What we discovered is that our parents had used a donor to conceive us. Me first, him a few years later. I responded to my long-ignored messages. We Facebook stalked. We joined online support and information groups. Our biological father wasn’t our biological father. My biological father is a man who lived an hour away my whole life and now lives across the country. My brother’s biological father is a different man who lives in the same town as his son.
We have fathers who are alive. We have half siblings who have the same one. We are half siblings. It changes everything, and nothing, all at once.
There are so many questions and only a few answers. Now what? There is no right way. It’s been just over a year, and I can tell you, DNA doesn’t lie. It uncovers hidden stories and reveals beautiful and painful secrets. It disrupts lives and brings peace. Because I’ve had a bit of time to process, I can say now that there is a lot to celebrate and a lot to grieve and a lot to seek and a lot to decide. It’s tricky, too.
Our mom is alive and wonderful, but as soon as this truth came to the surface, it became our story to tell. This was a secret she never, ever planned to reveal. There is vulnerability and rawness there that I want to respect. What helps is that we’ve decided that we must keep love at the center of this strange journey, no matter what.
That said, there are so many questions.
What makes a family?
Do donors have a right to privacy in a time when “anonymity” is no longer possible?
How much do nature and nurture factor in to who we are?
Are parents obligated to tell their children the truth about their conception? When?
Is it worth taking a DNA Test?
Discovering my truth did set me free, and as I ponder my new existence, I sit with it. I write about it. And, I release it. I’ll keep releasing it. I wrote the words below on the shore of the Virgin River in Southern Utah. I’d love to hear your DNA stories, and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.
I’ve always felt connected to the earth, always dreamt of wild shores, and always have searched for the truth of the ancestral blood running through my veins. Today, I pondered how half of this truth has so drastically changed. I know so much less than I did before. I know so much more. It’s odd. It’s overwhelming. It’s a little exciting. It’s a heaviness I will never shake, yet it lightens each day. It changes. It will never go away. I will proudly carry it—on days when it drowns me and on days that it sets me free. I believe deeply that this new truth will lead to unexplored and unanticipated forms of beauty and connection. It’s a spontaneous, delightful disaster, really. It makes me question the process, the benefits, the unpredictable and vast ramifications of seemingly small decisions made in tiny offices, with strangers and loved ones bonding over desires of another kind. Who deserves this? Who doesn’t? Is this ethical? Is it good?
I am grateful.
In all my beauty, I accept.
The newness of something so familiar.
The oddness of features so defined—handed down
from an unknown.
Known, but not.
I am human. fragile. bold.
craving the running & staying.
I embrace my wildness & my longing.
I long for something.
things I will eventually know.
things I will never know.
l o n g i n g is a habit, understood. Even more now.
I am content
in a constant
state of stillness & searching,
coexisting in a space
so simple & so reserved
so incredibly vast and ongoing.