DNA and Adoption

Connecting Birth Families through Genetics

Julia K. Porter August 27, 2018
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With the popularity of websites like Ancestry.com and 23andMe, more and more people have started spitting in a tube and learning about their genetic makeup. Though for many of us, this is just a fun way to connect with the past and an excuse to take a European vacation. For adult adoptees, this is a real way to connect with their family.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a family friend who, at 68, was able to find her extensive birth family, meet siblings, and even meet her biological father just weeks before he passed away. It was through this experience that I yearned to know more about those who have connected with their birth families through DNA as this might be something that my daughter does when she is an adult.

Diane found out she was adopted when she was 4 and was told by her father that she had another mother who “loved her but couldn’t keep her.” Due to her mother’s mental illness, she felt like she was lacking a maternal connection and longed to know her birth mother. She was able to track her birth mother initially through her birth certificate since the state of Illinois opened sealed records in 2011. Imagine her surprise when she found that her birth mother was a famous actress in the 1970s! Her birth mother put her in contact with her birth father, a long-time theatre professor and Emmy winner. Later, she sent for her Ancestry DNA kit and confirmed what she had learned and connected her to several additional family members. Since then, she has also sent in her DNA to 23andMe to learn more about her ancestry, which has enabled her to learn more about her genetic makeup.

Diane’s husband helped fly her out to meet her mom and eventually to care for her. She died of cancer one year to the day after they connected. Her sons have met her birth family as well. “I am part of both families now,” notes Diane.

Unlike Diane, Katie wasn’t intentionally looking to find her birth family when she sent her DNA to 23andMe. “Perhaps subconsciously I thought doing a DNA test would someday lead to it, but I had a good family growing up and am close with my siblings, so I never felt a void that I was looking to fill,” she says. Working in a startup in Boston, Katie had a friend who was working with a company partnering with 23andMe who suggested it would be a fun way for her to learn about genetics.

The Wednesday prior to this past Easter, Katie got an email from the site that she had been connected to someone as a second cousin. When she told the cousin where she was born, they realized they might really be related. On Easter Sunday, Katie got a message from a woman named Maggie. “I had put a few things together and had my suspicions at this point, but was at a country club with my in-laws and not in the position to talk on the phone, so I flat out asked, ‘Are you my mother?’ and she said ‘Yes,’” says Katie.

Katie notes that their situation is unique, and she is lucky to have this gift. “We bonded instantly and are already incredibly close just a few months into our relationship,” she says.

“We dug into the details, and there was no doubt. The thing she said that will always stick with me when I think about the brevity of this situation was “I lost you on Ash Wednesday and found you on Easter Sunday. This was the longest, darkest Lent.” I am not even religious, but it gives me chills to think about it. Let’s also not forget that April 1st was also the day my adoptive parents got me. Talk about coming full circle,” says Katie.

Maggie was from a religious family who felt that maintaining appearances was important. When she found herself pregnant at eighteen, she kept her secret until she was eight months along, where she was whisked to her sister’s house before she gave birth and then placed her daughter for adoption. She wasn’t able to see her daughter before she left the hospital. Just one week after her birth, she returned to college and kept her secret for 35 years.

“After several miscarriages, which I believed to be my punishment, my son was born. He was a gift that I treasure, but his presence made me even more acutely aware of my daughter’s absence.

As time went by, I continued to miss my daughter every day. I imagined her graduation and prom. I wondered where she was going to college and what she was passionate about. I knew she was of age and could come looking for me at anytime, and I hoped she would,” says Maggie. “Rationally, I knew the likelihood of a reunion was slim, but my heart never stopped hoping that one day I would open the door, and she would be standing on the other side.”

After the two connected, Maggie also did a DNA test and requested verification from the New York State adoption registry.

“On a Sunday morning as Katie was grocery shopping, I sent her the text. A screenshot of the page from 23andMe where there, right below my name, was Katie’s name, labeled as ‘daughter.’  We now felt like we could share this joyful news with the world! Two individuals, living very separate lives, and who were not actively searching for each other were brought together,” says Maggie.

The commonality that links all of those I’ve spoken to is a feeling of joy—they are happy they made the choice to find their birth families, have been excited to tell their stories and inspire others, and have had support from their friends and families to find out more about who they really are.

Your first step in your search and reunion journey is to register in Adoption.com’s Reunion Registry.

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Julia K. Porter

Julia K. Porter is an educator, writer, and cultural competency consultant. She began her career as a high school English teacher in Brooklyn, NY, and has taught college courses since 2008 and has done nonprofit work. Currently, she is the project manager for Celebrating Cultural uniqueness at Tiffin University. Julia has a passion for diversity and in educating about the nuances of adoption as that is how she chose to grow her family. Julia holds a Ph.D. in Global Leadership from Indiana Tech, an MA in English Literature from Brooklyn College, and a BS in English Education from Indiana University/Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI). Her personal interests include reading, writing, traveling and experiencing new cultures, and knitting. She lives in Indiana with her husband, Kyle, daughter, Brooklyn, and Australian Shepherd, Hunter. For more information, visit www.juliakayporter.com.


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