A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to see what my genetics had to say about my medical history. My entire life was spent not knowing my drug-addicted prostitute mother, and thus not knowing her (or my) medical history. As I was raised by my paternal family, I was pretty well aware of all of the afflictions and medical maladies they faced — I dutifully recalled dates and ages and ticked off all the appropriate boxes for my medical history forms.
I knew that the chances were good that 23andme would sell out the data (they did), but I figured the gains that I could get personally would outweigh those risks. I had a deep, legitimate fear that I would carry BRCA genes on both sides of my family and that I should, in my 40’s, begin to consider what to do about my health in that regard. I steeled myself for the very real possibility that I was going to have to seek medical genetic counseling and face the possibility of a double mastectomy. I figured that 23andme would at help me feel prepared to talk to a doctor to get moving on a medically necessary genetic test.
When I received the results back, the news was stunning. It wasn’t a revelation about my chances of breast cancer (I think I’m ok on that) — but it was the fact that none of my paternal-side relatives showed up in my family list. Not one. I kept that information to myself — I was already estranged from that family due to the abuse I endured at their hands and my refusal to accept that as status quo. I figured I could keep my bastard status to myself.
Equally stunning was a sudden influx of data about my mysterious maternal side due to the strange social media aspects that 23andme allows. One of my cousins is particularly dear, and we still reach out to each other via email (instead of just 23andme’s messaging system). Through her, I got to piece together parts of my mother’s story. I thought that was going to be about all of the discoveries I could possibly make, and relegated myself to the fact that the family that raised me wasn’t mine — and that I’d probably never know the paternal side of my family.
I had put all of this to rest in my mind — until a half-sister appeared last year, just a few weeks after Christmas. I wrote to her, to see if she happened to know anything about our mysterious father. Ends up, she was adopted. We both might discover our father. Since both of us were born in the 70’s and are from Maryland, we figure he was partying hard in D.C. — how else would he have managed to meet my 17 year old mother?
The family I have met through 23andme has been an enormous blessing, but I can also tell you that a lot of family reunions aren’t. One of my half-siblings that I met (far before 23andme) has hit me up for money nearly constantly since knowing her. She lost one of her sons to her addiction. I’ve ‘lost touch.’
More than just some of the genetic discoveries, I hope that people using genetics services are aware of the type of information they can provide from both a genealogical and genetic standpoint, and that my story can help them decide if those sorts of tests are right for them.
ETA: As an added twist, it took years, but finally people from my father’s side of the family showed up — but not my half-brother. So — I AM my father’s daughter (but someone in my half brother’s family has a secret).