Thursday, May 24, 2018

Discovering Family

Now comes the tricky part. AncestryDNA has connected us and made a fairly convincing case that we are cousins. What do we do about that?
My first cousin and I made contact through the messaging option of AncestryDNA. Her first reaction was that I might be on her father's side, he had five sisters and several illegitimate children. I might be his child. Although AncestryDNA talks in terms of 1st cousins, that can be a half-sibling as well apparently. I said her mother's maiden name was part of my birth story. I mentioned my disease, her mother had a lot of polyps. Come to think of it, her mother had had a "breakdown", lived a while in Oklahoma City and in Wichita. There is enough there to look more closely.
While the family I grew up in would have been quite suspicious of someone claiming to share DNA with them, this new family seemed comfortable with it. They had some experience of finding relatives in the past. I know I grew up in a family that felt scarcity rather than abundance, not scarcity of resources, though that was the case, but scarcity in the sense of living abundantly or living life freely and fully. I get the impression that my newly found family lives more in abundance.
My cousin's sister (I guess that makes her my cousin, too) had died the previous week from complications of brain cancer, so much of our conversation came in the form of texts as she and her brother crossed Kansas, stayed in the Denver area, and continued to a small town on the western slope. We shared photographs. They see a resemblance to their mother. My cousin sent a poignant text, "This is surreal. I lose a sister one week and find a possible sister the next week." She's more comfortable with sister than I am. I'm feeling more comfortable with cousin. But then, she has experience with finding siblings and I have none. I have much to learn from this new family of mine.
We've made a few stabs at times to get together, but nothing has worked out yet. We are Facebook friends. Who knows what we will find? We share 1,872 centimorgans shared across 70 DNA segments, and AncestryDNA counts that as an almost 100% probability that we are closely related. What we do with this is uncertain, but I know I have blood relatives and that is a start. Will it matter if we are half sisters or cousins? We agree that we are at least new friends.
They are having a memorial for the cousin I will never know, the one who died the week before I found this new family, on June 2. There's irony they cannot know it their choice of date. I was adopted on June 2, 1951. My adopted family celebrated that more than my birth day.
This has been something of an emotional rollercoaster. One of my priest friends asked me, "Where is God in this?" I didn't have a good answer. I still don't. I have seen glimpses of God in the closeness and acceptance I detect in these new family members. They seem to be much more of a family than the one I grew up in. Perhaps I needed to find that is possible in people to whom I am related by blood. Perhaps is  that idea of living in abundance rather than scarcity. It is something I believe in, but do not always practice as I would like. Perhaps the next thing I need to do is search out God in this experience.

More Ancestry than I bargained for

While my first DNA test was a cheek swab, the AncestryDNA test was a saliva experience. They assure you it is just a quarter teaspoon, but my mouth was desert dry. I filled the tube to the line, got the preservative trigger to work, and send it off. I fiddled around with the AncestryDNA website for a while, trying to bring up birth records from Oklahoma City on my birthdate, didn't have any success, and got on with a myriad of tasks for my various volunteer jobs. I actually sort of forgot about the DNA testing.
One random Saturday morning, I checked my email and saw my DNA test results.

Not the almost entirely German results of the fairy tale I had been told about my biological parents. No Ashkenazi results that I thought might be there.
What was in the DNA was a pretty clear indication that I was not conceived by two married professional immigrants whose marriage did not survive the immigration, the story I had been told.
No matter how much I reminded myself that what I'd been told could be wrong, no matter how often I told myself that there may be a different story, I found nothing prepared me to confront the truth. I shocked myself with how shaken I was to find my DNA was a fairly normal Heinz 57 type of DNA.
The nationality information wasn't the only shock. Because of my rare and hereditary disease, I really didn't think I would find many, if any, relatives on one side of the family. So seeing that I had 559 relatives 4th cousin or closer who had had their DNA done by the same company was amazing. Most amazing -- I had a first cousin. I had a first cousin who lived less than 100 miles from my orphanage. Her mother's maiden name was a name that I had heard in the crazy jumble of my birth story. Did I want to make contact? Did I want to pursue this?
I'd been given up for adoption which kind of felt like rejection; I didn't fit in with the adopted family very well in looks or ambitions which was another kind of rejection; did I want to risk another rejection?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Amazing DNA

When I was in my early 40s, I was diagnosed with mesenteric fibromatosis and familial polpyposis. Big words, rare disease, also, hereditary. The Cleveland Clinic did genetic testing, but there remains a world of difference between medical genetics and something like DNA testing. I was relieved to find I did not have the syndrome often associated with familial polyposis that is invariably fatal.
All this is odd for an adopted person. People who grow up knowing their biological family know about the health stories of immediate family. There is a tumor registry for mesenteric fibromatosis, but there is the inevitable issue of confidentiality. If I ever found a blood relative, I thought it would have to be on the side that did not carry the gene for the disease.
I tried again to get the adoption records opened, but without success. Life was busy and full as I got used to a new health normal.
Twenty years later, DNA testing was common and I thought I would at least get reinforcement of the information my adoptive mother had given me about my biological ancesters. I did the cheek swab, sent off the packages and waited for results.
Meanwhile, the polyposis interferred again and I had major surgery before the DNA results arrived. The results seemed odd. Mitrochrondial (mother's side) showed something like 97% Caucasian and the other DNA result was 98% Austrian. Something seemed very odd about those results. Who has nearly 100% of one ancestry?
Neither of those DNA reports resembled the story I'd always heard about my ancesters. I'd been told that my biological parents were professionals who immigrated from Berlin, Germany to the U.S. Their marriage did not survive the migration. That wasn't consistent with Austrian and Caucasian DNA. Meanwhile, I developed some complications from the surgery. Life happened and I dropped the search for my roots.
A couple of years later, I caught an episode of a TV show that unites families who have been separated, often a child given up for adoption. Maybe I could find a cousin or something. I tried another DNA company, thinking it might be preliminary to hiring the experts on the show or something like that.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Who Am I, Where Are My Roots

So, I've always limited this blog to food, politics, and religion. But there is one other obsession in my life, one that I've talked about only superficially. As in, "I'm adopted and I envy people who know where and who they come from."
I was an only child for my adopted parents until 1955, when my sister was born. I was thrilled to be a big sister. That is, until a neighbor who obviously did not understand about bright and alert 4-year-olds. "Isn't it nice you could have one of your own since you had to adopt?" Uhm, Mommy, what is adopt? Why did you have to adopt? Mom told a story that wouldn't make so much sense without knowing that we had an old-fashioned candy store a couple blocks away from our house to which we walked for special treats. I've forgotten the proprietor's name, so I'll just call him Mr. Jones.
You love to see all the candy in the cabinets at the candy store and choosing exactly the candy you want. What if Mr. Jones put all the candy in little brown bags before you got there. You'd have to take whatever was in the bag without knowing what it was. What if you got candy corn (I hated candy corn at the time)? Well, that's what Daddy and I did, we went to the orphanage to look at all the babies and we chose you. With your sister, we had to take what God gave us.
I worried for a little while about them haveing to take what they got with my sister, but by the time my brother was born 18 months later, I knew I was somewhat superfluous. The candy store analogy was a good one, just not as accurate as I hoped.
Nonetheless, I had a reasonable, childhood with a roof over my head and too much food in my stomach. There was, however a lurking worry that they would send me back, that I had to be the very best student, person, and so on so they would want me. I also became the family scapegoat.
I always struggled to "fit in" and never felt very good at it, not in high school, not in college, not in grad school. I even struggle with believing that my wonderful husband will keep me around, though, after more than 35 years, I probably am doing okay on that front.
I sent cheek scrapings off to a DNA company a few years ago, but the results came back oddly inconclusive and inconsistent with everything I had been told about my birth family.
A month or so ago, I sent saliva off to another DNA company to see if I could satisfy my yearning for blood relations.
I'll be continuing to blog a bit about my yearnings, learnings, fears, and experiences as an adopted kid, now grown up, in search of a sense of belonging.

The Riverwalk in Pueblo, Colorado is a charming place to walk on a cool summer evening. In places, it is quiet and peaceful; in others, boisterous.
We chose a restaurant in the repurposed jail. Though there are many ramps, the place is not really very accessible. After 10 months of life on oxygen, I can assure you that not not everyone who needs a handicapped parking permit is in a wheelchair, I saw just one handicapped parking place and I was not entirely sure it wasn't left over from the building's previous life.
Still, the menu offered creative drinks and several options for a vegetarian. I didn't make the best choice. I should have asked more questions. My meal was chunks of squash, some onion, some peppers stirred in a garlic and adobo sauce and served in a grilled poblano. It was very flavorful and there was no place for the tastebuds to go to be refreshed. It certainly was not worth the price.
I told the waiter that it wasn't what I expected when he delivered it. I spoke to the manager who wanted to know what he could do to make me "happy." The chef came out and I explained that even a vegan (which I am not) needs some protein, suggested white beans in with the veggies would take care of the protein deficiency. We discussed the need to give the palate a break in the meal, maybe applesauce, a fruit couli, etc. He seemed to understand and appreciate the information. We had a nice dessert, a lemon tart with berries and meringue peaks. Then the bill. None of the concessions offered by the manager showed up on the bill. The chef did come out with two housemade chocolates and a card for a free dessert on a future visit. We were visiting overnight and had no expectation that we would be back at another time to use that free dessert.
I wanted to like the restaurant. I was thrilled that there were options for vegetarians and vegans. The drink was excellent. The food had potential. In fact, I think I will replicate the dish as a side dish with grilled tofu or a veggie burger. The key in that sentence is side dish.
I want to make two points:
1) I resent paying main course prices for side dish portions simply because I am vegetarian. My husband's meat-based meal was substantial and filling and cheaper than my vegetables; and
2) When the manager offers another meal to take home, to add a protein, etc., and the customer is not in a position to accept the offer, the bill should reflect some concession like a price reduction. In other words, don't imply promises you don't intend to keep.