Who Am I?: DNA Testing with my Adopted Child

I’ll be the first to admit that I am often guilty of “dealing with the devil I know”. When I was applying to colleges, there was one school I desperately hoped to attend. I spent countless hours on the application, editing and re-editing until I believed I couldn’t do any better. I applied “early action” so I could map out my future as soon as possible. I was excited; I was going to do this! Ready to take on the world.

Then the envelope came in the mail. It sat under my bed for several days, unopened.

Change is hard. Absorbing new, life-altering information often feels overwhelming, no matter how positive or negative that information is. Despite my best intentions, sometimes I choose the familiar over the unknown. Even if the familiar has its own pitfalls and isn’t truly in my best interest.

I had this experience again recently with my oldest kiddo, a tween adopted from East Africa when she was a toddler. We have no information about my daughter’s birth family to share with her. We cannot tell her anything about her birth parents, or whether she has any siblings, or where they might be today. I don’t know the exact day of my own daughter’s birth, nor do I know who cared for her prior to a nurse finding her alone in a hospital as a very young infant. The baby photos that I do have of her are treasures more precious than gold.

Because my daughter spent approximately sixteen months of her first eighteen months of life in an orphanage, I don’t know her first word, or when she got her tooth. I don’t know the day that she started to crawl or took her first steps. While my daughter was fortunate to be placed in a widely respected and ethical orphanage, these personal facts simply cannot be recorded for 60 children at a time. Such facts are taken for granted by those who were raised in biological families, myself included. It is, at times, excruciatingly painful that I cannot offer my oldest child pieces of her life story.

Some time ago, we started talking about DNA testing with my daughter through one of the DNA registries that have been so prominently featured in the news recently. DNA testing wouldn’t be able to answer any of my questions listed above, but I felt that it would give my daughter SOMETHING. It could give us a piece of her heritage and history that we didn’t already have to share with her. My daughter jumped on the bandwagon, seemed excited, and didn’t express any reservations. I was excited, too. Ready to take on the world. Can you guess where this is going? She spit in the tube, we sent it off, and waited for the results. When the results came, they sat in my inbox for days, unopened.

What if my child had a DNA match in the system?

If DNA registries can solve decades-old true crime, surely there are DNA matches in there for everyone (though admittedly these registries are skewed toward individuals of European descent). Would we be able to communicate with her birth relative? What if she didn’t like him/her? What if she did? Would that change the relationship we have with our daughter? The familiar anguish of not knowing my daughter’s history temporarily overruled the potential for anguish about what we would learn.

Until I realized something.

These results were absolutely, unequivocally NOT about me!

They were my daughter’s to read or not read. How often do we make parenting issues about us as parents instead of about our child? I knew I needed to take myself out of the equation. My daughter deserved to know where she comes from. A person’s quest for identity is so innate, so inherent to our very being…and it is my job as her mama to walk beside her through that process rather than drag my feet.

So we sat down together, anxiously opening the e-mail. We discovered fascinating information about her heritage! I was overjoyed to be able to give my daughter another piece of her identity, even if it was only a piece. We learned that my daughter has only roughly 50% “Southeast Bantu” heritage, which is the area of Africa that we adopted her from. We also learned that my daughter is 25% Congolese, with some additional heritage in Western Africa and the Middle East! She loved looking at a map and “exploring” the countries of her ancestors. 

My daughter didn’t have any DNA matches in the registry that we utilized, although we know that could change if the “right” person enters their DNA one day. If it does, I will be there.

Any person who shares any traits at all with my daughter is a person that I want to know.

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