23&Me and Me

When I was growing up, my mom’s adoption never seemed like that big of a deal to me. It was a routine confession to doctors, that I only knew half of my family’s medical history. The way she talked about it, she didn’t miss the family that had given her up. If anything, it seemed like maybe she was still a little angry–even if, as an adult, she could fully understand why a woman in the 1950s might choose to give her baby away.

And plus, she always told me, her parents are her parents. They’re the ones who raised her–who took care of her when she was sick. Their relationship wasn’t perfect (let’s face it, who’s is?) but she never seemed to waiver.

Then a few years ago, after her father had died and my brother had been diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder and I’d struggled with digestive issues for years, she told me over a breakfast date that she wanted to look for her birth parents. Mostly, she said, for my brother’s and my medical history.

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It’s a complicated prospect to start to look for your birth family at over 60 years old–her parents could be dead. But they also probably went on to have other children and long complicated lives that she was not a part of, and perhaps they stayed together and wondered about her and perhaps they never saw each other again and maybe–maybe, they had given her up and never looked back. Maybe finding them would be an intrusion. Maybe she would find out things about them she didn’t want to know. And maybe she’d never find them at all.

But, she wanted to try. And after the first few phone calls she learned the adoption agency her parents had used closed down in the ‘70s. It became clear that the search would take a while.

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So in the meantime, that Christmas, I gifted her a 23&Me genetic test; figuring the most it would do would give her a clue to her background and maybe make her feel a little more connected to her biological family. I didn’t realize they allowed you to contact possible close family members until she mentioned she matched with some third cousins.

Meanwhile, the months slipped by and she spent more hours on the phone with the state of Texas, digging through possible avenues to find out about her parents. They narrowed it down to the last possible option–she’d need to get an original copy of her birth certificate, which would have, at the very least, the name of her biological mother.

Then suddenly, the way these things do, everything changed. 23&Me sent her a notification: they’d found her half sister.

It was exactly what she always thought might happen. Out of nowhere, she has a sister; one who grew up knowing her biological father and who begins to put the pieces of my mother’s origin together.

Since the story is only just beginning I’ll save it for my mother to tell. But when she spit into the tube that day after Christmas two years ago, I never imagined my gift might open the door to that story.


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