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DNA helped me find my birth family

I never remember a time when I did not know I was adopted. The same holds true for my brothers as well. We were all adopted in the 1960s in Michigan; our parents had tried unsuccessfully for 11 years to have children. They told us we were "picked out special." I have always loved saying that.

Still, I always wondered, "Who do I look like? What are my birthparents like? What are their stories? Why did they surrender me?"

That last one is heavily charged.

I loved my parents and had a wonderful life. Although I could understand my birthparents' decision intellectually, I never could shake the feeling of having been abandoned. Rejected. 

After seeing the movie Lion about an amazing adoption reunion, I realized each of us in the option equation has deep human emotions about this strange and beautiful process. This realization gave me the courage to launch my own search with the help of Traci Onders, Program Coordinator, Adult Adoptees and Birthparents at the Adoption Network of Cleveland. 

My search was complicated because there are no open records laws in Michigan. With Traci's help, I wrote a letter petitioning the Department of Children and Family Services for all non-identifying information. While waiting for the reply, I submitted a DNA sample to Ancestry.com.

And then I waited.

Within two months, I had a comprehensive reply from the state, which helped Traci build my family tree. When I started getting DNA matches on Ancestry, she helped me align the matches to my tree. On a Friday afternoon in May, the mystery that had haunted me for 52 years was solved. I held in my hand the phone number of a woman who was my mother's sister. Traci helped provide the courage and words I needed to make that call. I dialed; my aunt answered. I was awestruck when she said, "You've found who you are looking for. Your mother was my sister. I can't believe I found you."

My birthparents, who are deceased, had hidden the pregnancy, birth and adoption from their families. My birthparents were young, married and in college. All of my newly-found aunts and uncles have shared their deep conviction that their siblings made — although difficult — the right choice. Traci helped me navigate the revelation of this family secret. Having no experience in these types of conversations, I have relied on her guidance and support so that we all can feel good about the new knowledge of my existence. And my newly-found family members are thrilled to learn they have a niece.
We are planning a reunion in the fall. With Traci's encouragement, I have allowed myself to sit in this for a while to see how I feel. It hasn't been the "fairy tale" ending that I wished (my mother, sweeping me into her arms saying "I've searched for you my whole life!"). Nor was it the horrific rejection I feared ("Go away. You are my biggest mistake."). I'm taking it slowly and enjoying getting to know these new people in my life.

To anyone considering a search, I recommend you talk with an experienced professional. We all tell ourselves stories about our surrender and our birthparents. I learned these stories are complicated — no one grows up hoping to surrender a child to adoption. Traci shared scientific data and anecdotes from her experience that helped me solve this mystery and see the perspective of others in the adoption equation. If my search had not had a "happy ending", I would have needed even more support from Traci, and I know she would have been there for me. Don't rush through the process. Be kind to yourself, and good luck with your search.

This story was shared with the permission of the author. Kara Carter is an adoptee and member of Adoption Network Cleveland from Shaker Heights, Ohio.