DNA and the Need for Adoptees to Know Their Truth


There is no experience or condition more isolating to the human spirit than a soul denied of its truth. 

I don’t think there is anything more lonely and confusing than not knowing who you are; not knowing where you’re from.

As a young adoptee, I would stare into the mirror and every time I did, I came face-to-face with a stranger. I knew that I was supposed to be familiar with this girl I saw. Yet, she was foreign to me. I didn’t know her.

I didn’t really know her story or the stories of who had come before her. I felt as if I was a girl all alone in the world. A tribe of one. No true understanding of a biological identity or a DNA history. Many around me said that it—the biology of who I was—really wasn’t important, anyway.

It is true that I speak of a family as having little to do with biology and everything to do with love. I believe in this statement with all that I am. We don’t have to be biologically related to be parent and child, brother and sister. Adoption proves this day after day.

Yet, in the creating of a family through adoption, we should not forget that the biology of identity may matter to your adoptee. It has always mattered to me.

My DNA had been given to me by my birth parents. The rights to knowing of my DNA heritage were taken from me upon their abandonment. As an international adoptee, I had been offered a new identity, a new heritage, and a new story. Still, I longed to know the one story that ran through my veins. I longed to sing that tribal song. I longed to feel the pulse of my ancestors.

My childhood was lived out before DNA direct-to-consumer testing companies like 23andme, Ancestry.com, and Myheritage.com came into being. In other words, I had no way of accessing genetic information for myself. No way of finding out about my ancestry information, at all. In addition, I had no way of learning of any medical risks I might face or of finding biological relatives.

I was a mystery. And, I didn’t have a clue to help me open up the locked doors of my ancestry. Even after reuniting with my birthmother, as a teenager, most of those doors of information remained locked. So, as an adult adoptee, I made the decision to take the DTA (direct-to-consumer) DNA tests named above. I did this mainly for ancestry information. What I found is that the results of every test were very similar. For the first time, I had an idea—a picture—of my ancestral story. It was empowering. I began exploring all the different facets of my genetic mapping.

I’m a mom, too. Two of my three children are adopted internationally. We’ve all taken DNA tests in my family, adopted or not, in an exercise of ancestry discovery. We’re a multi-cultural family. Celebrating our diverse cultures is essential so that every person in our family feels known and seen.

Recently, a dear friend of mine, who also happens to be a mom-by-adoption, posed this question to me inside of my Facebook group, Adoption Out Loud. It’s a great question and one that is important to debate within the adoption community.

Should adoptive parents conduct DNA tests on their minor children? A lot of controversy surrounding this. Would love your opinion!

Before I share my thoughts on this question, let me add that I am keenly aware not to impose my adoption experience onto my children. In other words, my experiences and feelings growing up as an international adoptee do not equate to what my children are experiencing and feeling today. We’re different people growing up in different times. However, I do know that there remains a powerful need that connects many—if not all—adoptees. That need is the desire to discover identity.

For this reason, it’s my belief that DNA testing for the discovery of ancestral information can be a beneficial exercise for parents and their children-of-adoption. Both of my internationally adopted children are under the age of 18. These ancestry maps have been reviewed and celebrated by each of my kids. They’re happy that they know this broad stroke of who they are. It’s provided our family with a good amount of “genutainment.”

There have been no medical risks reported in either of their reports. As for biological relatives, this part of their DNA testing has not been activated yet, because my kids have not expressed interest in reviewing. This information is for them. It belongs to them. If and when they choose to explore birth relative information, my children know that my husband and I will be there for them.

Like in all things parenting, think thoroughly before you make the decision to provide a DNA test for your minor child. Consider all the pros and cons. As written in a Forbes article from July 11, 2018: “The decision you are about to make may have lasting, life-long consequences for your child. It is unlikely to provide relevant medical advice that could help guide that child’s medical management and surveillance before he/she is an adult. That child may wish to understand the risks, benefits,  and limitations of the process. Consider letting your child make this decision for him or herself in a few years, when able to weigh the big consequences that could come with that little DTC genetic testing kit.”

While this is all good and sound advice, consider also the ability to take the DTC genetic testing while your child is still a minor, giving to him/her a window into who they are and from where they come biologically. Any additional information can be held for a later time when your child becomes ready, interested in, or wanting to know more.

For me, as an adoptee, I know that the consequences of growing up without any knowledge of ancestry can be painful. As a parent-by-adoption, it is my responsibility to offer to my child—responsibly, ethically, and with integrity—any means by which they can discover a deeper part of themselves and of the ancestral story that they carry within them.

Onward to truth,

 

 

 

 

Anyone who is searching, on any level, for truth in their life will want to listen to Zoe Johnson’s insights as she walks the real and raw path of reunion after finding her bio dad on Ancestry.com. Listen to her inspirational story on this episode of The Greater Than Podcast.

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2 thoughts on “DNA and the Need for Adoptees to Know Their Truth

  1. Hi Michelle. This is a thought-provoking post. Since I’m not an adoptive parent, I had never considered a DNA test for my child. As an adoptee who found out about my adoption at age 38, I have taken two DNA tests mainly to discover my bio-dad’s identity and learn about my ancestral background. The tests opened doors to a great deal of information about my biological roots. I found answers to many of my questions. When parents adopt children, don’t they receive information about the bio parents and ethnic background from the adoption agency? I assume conscientious and loving adoptive parents would tell their children what they need to know about their bio parents. How would adopted children benefit from taking a DNA test? I think maybe it’s best to wait until the adoptees are adults and can decide for themselves.

    1. Thanks, Lynne, for your comments. As for your question regarding adoptive parents receiving information about bio parents and their ethnic background via adoption agency…information is not always available. Very little information was given to me regarding the backgrounds of my two children adopted internationally. I also had little information about the depths of my biological roots as I grew and, from experience, I know that this can be a very lonely place. I believe it can be a healthy experience for kids — guided carefully by their parents — to discover more of their bio ancestry via DNA testing. Having a sense of where your roots are on a map can help support a child as they grow in celebrating their bio culture/heritage/and identity. Even those “family tree” projects in school can be cause for anxiety when you really don’t know the truth of your roots. I believe knowledge is power. For my kids, DNA tests have helped us to celebrate more completely their origins and to fill in some of the gaps that adoption agencies, medical records, social/background histories did not cover. This has been my experience. I always urge others to make decisions based on what is deemed best for their child. Always. I hope this helps! And, thanks again!!

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