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What DNA can do

October 21, 2015
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

I marvel at the family connections I'm discovering here in Emmet County. So many families that have been here for over a century, so many people with parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews living within yards or a few miles of one another. My parents were not from Iowa, and though I?had extended family on both sides that kept their tribes together in one town or county, I?traveled 400 or 800 miles to see grandparents, twice that far to see my first cousins. The upside is, that distance coupled with the fact that my parents were school counselors meant we traveled a lot in the summer.

I?was adopted, and I knew it from the start. I?had some idea there was a whole other tribe out there, and was fascinated that there could be a group of people who was tall, blonde, klutzy, etc. like me, I didn't think on it much because I?was having a really fun childhood and my parents were mom and dad to me like anyone else's, so I wasn't going anywhere.

A digression. I've followed the story of comedian Rosie O'Donnell, who adopted five children over the years. Her eldest daughter, Chelsea, recently turned 18, had some troubles, and has decided to live with and consider her birth mother as mom. Part of me gets it:?birth moms are often so overjoyed to see their relinquished children again, that they give love without limits, boundaries, criticism or rules. It's tempting for a confused adolescent to embrace that and in their stubbornness mixed with inexperience, think that's how it's supposed to be. Experts have written books about attachment in adoptees, even those adopted at birth, and how the loss of the mother has created some kind of primal wound, and there are elements, even memories in our DNA?that bind us to our tribe even when we don't remember them, wouldn't recognize them on the street, and even when the parents who raise us are loving, nurturing, and did all they could to bond. I?didn't experience a primal wound nor did I?feel anything was lacking. I?was certainly curious. I?liked the idea of having a sibling out there but had no way to know if one existed.

I?believe that in order for the joy of adoption to take place, another family is first lost. Everyone involved in adoption could be a bit more sensitive to that. Adoptive parents are parents in every sense, but adopted children have additional need for reassurance and acceptance.

This brings me to DNA. Websites like Ancestry, 23andMe, and others have made DNA testing easy and affordable. If you have a lost branch of the family, whether through adoption or the early estrangement of a birth parent, or a family member just seemed to go off the grid and could be raising a family somewhere out there, it's possible to order a kit for less than $100, spit into a tube, send it in, and in a few weeks, receive all your matches.

At the beginning of 2015, I did just that, but by the time I was on Facetime spitting into a tube with a man who had a matching kit, we were pretty sure we knew what the answer would be. We each put the kits into the mail and we waited for an achingly long time. We did want to be sure, scientifically sure, before we told our kids and all our families. My results came back first. I?knew some of my birth father's family names because I'd created a family tree on Ancestry from our grandmother's obituary. Hence, when I?matched names like Scheer and Hauschildt, I?knew when Sam's results came back we would be officially half siblings.

Later in the Spring, I?took a trip to New York and Boston to talk to directors about my play. In so doing I?left my wallet at Sam's house before my flight from Des Moines. I?danced like never before for the TSA and made it through, albeit with no money, ID, or really anything.

Apparently that's a combination of moxie and carelessness that echoes my birth dad. When?I attended a family reunion and met my grandfather, aunts, uncles and cousins, some looked at me like they'd seen a ghost as I so resemble my birth dad.

I?also found out through DNA that I was also my late adoptive mother's sixth cousin -- biologically.

DNA?connects us in more ways than we've been able to know before.



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