DNA Matches Part 3: Overloaded

Usually things get easier to write about over time.  Not this time.  It's getting harder.

My First Cousin (technically he's not, but he'll always be my Very First Cousin) was eager to help me.  He's an elderly man in poor health, who needed the mental stimulation such a puzzle provided.  He's been very encouraging, even as my moods have swung like a weather-vane in storm.

I'm one of the least emotional people you'll ever meet, although I'm self-aware enough to realize that for me this symptom is a sign of an underlying problem.  But here I was obsessively combing through genealogies and bursting into tears at every photograph.  I desperately wanted to know who these people were, what their stories told about them, and how their stories related to my stories.   I craved the stories grownups swapped while visiting and told to the kids on the porch during long afternoons.

I cried the first time I spoke to First Cousin on the phone.  It was the first time I'd heard the voice of a blood relation I hadn't given birth to.

But I'm still me, capable of burying myself in data to the exclusion of the outside world.  So I was hard at work in trying to figure out my father's genealogy when my First Cousin emailed me that he had a possible lead on my mother, a young woman the right age at the right place in the right time and a promising genealogical match.  I wrote back, "Great!  I'm tracking down leads on the other end!" and went back to work.

Hours later the meaning behind his words hit me.  I was a basket case for the next three days.  Fortunately it was spring and I could pull weeds to my heart's content, as I wasn't fit for much else.

We narrowed it down to two good leads and a wild card.  First Cousin made inquiries, but no one knew anything.  A lot of interest was raised in me however.  I became the hottest topic of gossip they'd had in ages, and my promise to show up at this fall's family reunion caused promises of attendance to jump.

I was just thrilled to get the invitation, but also amused on another level.

After my finances recovered from Ancestry's price tag, it was time to get the second of the Big 3 gene-matching tests, 23&Me.  They're more science oriented instead of history oriented.  First your Neanderthal percentage shows up (2.7%), then your cousins start to trickle in.  Many of the same profiles were there, but I did find another cousin fifteen years older than I am who was also adopted and searching for her biological family.  We've had a great time swapping stories.

Then one day there was a bright red link at the top of my cousins' list.  It said "Close Relations".  I clicked on it and a warning popped up.  "Going any further might tell you things you don't want to know."  Thanks, but that's what I signed up for.  I clicked on it.

Up popped a name I'd never seen before, designated my "niece".  Who, what?  She had the exact same mitochondrial DNA as I do, indicating a close maternal relative.  I looked up the alternate designations for a match that close:  "grandchild, niece or nephew, double first cousin, or half-sibling".  I double-checked my genealogy.  The only one of those that made any sense in the given context was half-sibling.

Oh My God.

The first name was the same as the daughter of one of the two good leads. She must have married.  I wrote her a quick, "Hi, let's get acquainted!" note.  She didn't answer.  Days went by.  Okay, maybe she didn't check 23&Me that often.  I set about trying to find another contact point for her.

Google came up with two women in America with her name, and one lived near her  hometown and was the right age.  I took a deep breath and called her up.

She'd never heard of 23&Me and had no idea what I was talking about.

After it sunk in that she was telling the truth, I put the phone down and tried to deal with my embarrassment and grief.  Immediately I got a message from First Cousin that the woman I was looking for had moved to Canada.

D'oh!

First Cousin got the contact information, and introduced me as someone looking for genealogical information.  She hadn't bothered to look at the genealogical information on 23&Me, just the health information.  She didn't have a clue what our "close" relationship meant, so I said we could talk about other things and save that for later.

We spent a week and a half chatting intensively.  Unbelievably, she has the same number of children the same ages as I do, has also homeschooled, lives in a similar town, and moved with her husband into a trailer that's the same make and almost the same model as ours, only wider.

Giving her time to adjust, not blurting everything out all at once, was a constant stress.  Every time she commented on our resemblance I wracked my brains to come up with a neutral comment to make.  It worked, but I burned five meals in a week from the strain.  There's no way I could have done this in my younger days; I didn't have the patience or self-control.

Meantime, she friended me on Facebook, which gave me access to her journal.  I read about her life, and her view of her mother.  It's clear her mother -- our mother -- is troubled in certain ways.  Becoming a birthmother is toxic to the soul, and she has every negative psychological symptom associated with repressing such a trauma.  Reading about her troubles was like going down a checklist.

I'm saddened, but not surprised.

Finally she's ready to go over the findings.  I break it down for her as simply and gently as I can, then point out that her mother's constellation of problems is associated with being an unacknowledged birthmother.  I sent the email and sat back, hoping she believed me.

She did.

After she got over the shock, she called her parents.  Her -- our -- mother confirmed the news, said she had told her husband-to-be when they met (they married shortly before my first birthday) but they hadn't told their children, said she was too traumatized by what had happened to remember much (not uncommon), but gave the name of my father.

So, all's mostly well on that front.  My sister and I have had several long conversations.  She's excited to finally have a sister at this late date, and grateful to know the cause of our mother's condition.  Our mother isn't up to talking yet, but that's to be expected.  It may be several months before she's ready.  But I've been welcomed into the family and told her husband would not have objected to rearing me.

That is huge.  It meant my childhood didn't have to be the way it was.  There might have been someone around on the same wavelength as me.  I didn't have to be alone.  I probably would still have been an oddball, but not an alien.

There's also a severe grief associated with that fact, and anger.  This is what I should have had; and a bunch of prissy, greedy, no-nothing busybodies took it away from me.  It's going to take a while for that emotional constellation to settle out as well.

Without the trauma of relinquishment, my mother would doubtless be in better shape today.  I don't know if she had problems beforehand, but that certainly didn't help any.  Although even with problems she didn't do that bad rearing my brother and sister, so she wasn't incapacitated or anything.

Of course now other cousins are starting to "remember" the details they had "forgotten" earlier.  Sheesh.

A few days ago I took a break from the constant emailing to give my feelings time to catch up.  I guess I feel elated; it's hard to say with all the stirred-up muck my emotions have to traverse these days to make it to my consciousness.  There's a few tons of shock, and the stress of having to adjust to new relationships.  It's similar to becoming a stepmother, only to two different families at the same time and on top of enormous other strains.

I've felt emotionally overwhelmed before, but always with negative emotions.  It's a numbness with barbs attached.  I've always sneered at Pink Floyd's phrase, "comfortably numb"; there's nothing comfortable about feeling too worn out to hurt anymore.  This is a numbness without barbs.  There's some trepidation, but that's common with any new relationship.  It will take time for everything to sort out, but I knew that going in.

I haven't mentioned that I was an abused child yet.  I  will have to keep that from my mother until she gets over the initial shock.  I may have to keep it from her forever.  Time will tell.

Meantime I feel strange.  More solid, like I'm not about to float away in the first stiff breeze.  There are people who look like me and to a certain extent think like me that I can compare notes with.  That's new.  I can now sort out what's unique to me and what I share with other people.  I never really had that opportunity before, as what was unique to me then was "everything".

I'm working on approaching my father.  I'll get back to you on that effort later.

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