Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Surprise of My Life

This past Father's Day, I opened a letter from my estranged mother that I'd received a couple weeks prior. I'd set it aside to read later, because sometimes I need to be in the right emotional state to read and process her letters. You will soon see the irony of opening it on Father's Day...

In this letter, my mom told me a secret she'd been keeping for my 41-year-long life. She told me that my late father had not been able to have children. So she could have a biological child, they elected to do Artificial Insemination, using a sperm donor. She told me the name of the hospital, the name of the Dr, and that if I wanted more information, to call the Dr. 

Receiving this information was, as you can imagine, shocking. It still is. Less, but I'm still finding myself undoing decades of beliefs about myself and my origin, my medical predispositions, my children's medical predispositions, my characteristics and tendencies...the list is endless. 

The day after I opened the letter, I looked up the Dr's office, and called. The Dr had retired a few years prior, and all medical records from the 1970's, I was told, had been archived. There was no way to find more information. I was told that back then, most sperm donors donated very few times, and they were always promised anonymity forever. Little did any of them probably anticipate where we would go as far as DNA testing in the next few decades.

My second step to quell my curiosity, was to order a DNA kit from 23andme.com. I'd known about this website for years, and had often thought I should submit my DNA to test for the MTHFR genetic mutation that is affecting so many people nowadays. I never got around to doing it, and I now wonder how all of this might have played out differently if I had. 

I knew there was a chance of finding DNA relatives. I assumed I probably wouldn't find my sperm donor, since he probably wanted to remain anonymous, and surely wouldn't submit his DNA to 23andMe. I thought maybe I'd find half-siblings, who also came from his sperm donation. Being raised with three adopted brothers, I've always had a curiosity about what biological siblings of mine would look like. What traits would be similar? What would be different? I think this natural curiosity is what has made me revel in, and be completely enamored with my own children's similarities. I love how much they look alike! 

Mostly, I wanted to know what genetic markers for disease I have, for mine and my children's sake. I've assumed I was genetically predisposed to Alzheimer's, since my social father died from it. He was also legally deaf, and I've wondered if my own son's hearing loss was caused by an illness he had at 3 1/2 years old, or the genes he may have inherited from my father (I can now rule out genetics). 

I submitted my DNA kit late-June, 2017. They said it would take 6-8 weeks for results. 

Four weeks later, as my family was on our journey, moving from North Dakota to South Carolina, we stopped in Knoxville, TN for our last night of lodging. We got to the hotel at 1:30 in the morning. I needed to check my email, as we were in the process of buying a home, and I knew there may be important documents waiting for my review. Just before sleep, I checked my email, and found an email from 23andMe, telling me my results were in. I knew if I clicked on it, I wouldn't be able to sleep. I knew if I didn't click on it, I wouldn't be able to sleep. So, since I wasn't sleeping either way, I let my curiosity win, and opened the link. 

And I found him. 

I found the name of my biological father. He had written some personal ancestral history, had no picture, but he was a 50% match. He was my biological father. 

So, I did what any other curious adult in 2017 would do...I searched him on Facebook, of course! There were like 20 men with his same name, so I started browsing through profile pictures. As soon as I saw his face, I knew deep in my soul, that he was my father. I felt connected to him. I have his eyes. I could see my own face in his. My smile in his. The shape of my cheeks in his. I just knew, without question, that he was the one. 

I was scared about approaching him with this information (although, I was pretty sure 23andMe would be notifying him shortly anyway!). I have longed to be parented by a nurturing parent my entire life, and I wondered if he had any desire like that for me. I was scared of being rejected. I was scared of angering him by destroying the anonymity he believed he'd had. I started wondering if he intentionally put himself out there because maybe he wanted to find me too? Or others like me? (That was not the case...he submitted his DNA for the same reason--to see if he had the MTHFR genetic mutation. He never even thought about finding children from his brief time of sperm donation in his early twenties. As an aside, my belief is that I'm likely his only child resulting from his donations. I'm basing this on the information I've been given by him and my mother as to how frequently he donated (between 5 & 10 times), an how often his sperm was used for my mother (I was conceived on the 6th try). 

I attempted to sleep, while mulling over if and what I should say to him. Needless to say, I didn't sleep much that night. At some point, I woke up and drafted a message to him. I was cautious, tentative, and let him know I wanted to respect his boundaries and privacy as much as he wanted. I told him I wanted as much or little contact with him as he wanted with me. And I left it at that. 

The next afternoon, when we arrived at our new home, I found a message from him. He was curious about me. He seemed happy that I found him, but worried about the feelings of his four other biological children. He asked me to keep this information quiet indefinitely, until he had some time to process how to handle it. He also invited me to talk with him on the phone that night. We did. Until 6 in the morning. He has since told his whole family about me, so I don't have to keep this quiet. 

You guys, it has been the most incredible, healing, gift from God to have this man in my life. I truly believe God orchestrated all of this over the last 41 years, to bring us together at this perfect point in time. Much earlier, and I think one or both of us would have felt much differently about knowing one another. I see so many ways that God knew he and I both needed each other, at this point in time. I see ways that we are both helping each other heal from past hurts, especially familial ones. 

Only a few close friends of mine know (and obviously I'm letting the cat out of the bag now!), but the last three years of my life have been the most difficult of my whole life. I have experienced so much relational trauma in multiple relationships in my life. It seemed as though I'd feel like it had to be finally over, and then another huge, hard thing would happen in a relationship in my life. It was relentless hurt, after hurt, after hurt. I've been in counseling to try to deal with some of this relationship trauma, but even my amazing counselor told me that what I needed was beyond her scope, and that I needed to seek specific trauma therapy to help me heal. There are not many resources for this kind of treatment in North Dakota, and that is a big reason why we began looking to move out of the state. There are other reasons, but that was the driving force. I needed to be on a journey to heal, and we realized I wasn't going to be able to get the help I needed, if we stayed in North Dakota. 

I find it lovely that on my literal journey to heal (driving from North Dakota to South Carolina), I met my father, whom, I believe, God gave me as part of my figurative journey to heal. How amazing is that?!?! I get giddy just thinking about it. 

So much has come of this beautiful relationship with my father. There are reasons I want to keep it private, sacred, and close to my heart. Maybe someday I will share more. But for now, I'm just sitting here, enjoying this gift I've been given in this father who looks like me, sounds like me, acts like me in so many ways, has similar mannerisms as me, laughs like me.  It amazes me that I didn't know him for 41 years, yet I am so like him. So much nature. So.much.nature. And now we get to nurture. Nurture each other on our mutual paths to healing. 

I am so thankful for this beautiful, redemptive relationship we have both been given. And I wanted to share my story with you. 

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