Having been adopted at birth, I was never in a position to learn much about myself. It was a closed adoption with no way of finding a paper trail. My parents wanted me to just belong to the family and not poke around in my biological roots. They made it clear to me as a child that it made them uncomfortable.
When I was 41, I found 23andMe and joined right away. It was thrilling for me to be able to finally peer into my genetic history and see a story emerge that had never been revealed to me.
When my results came in, I was like a kid at a birthday party. As I opened the Web page, these words greeted me and sent a chill down my spine:
Welcome to You!
I went to the ancestry reports right away and read about my haplogroup and the tribes that I descended from. I was fascinated as I peered into the 40,000 years of history that was found in my saliva sample.
From there, I watched and read books about the Laplanders and the Basques, two of the tribes that I came from. I delved into the history that I could never in a million years have known if I was born even 50 years earlier.
The Relative Finder feature became my constant checkpoint. Never having been related to anyone in my life, I opened it up and found more than 300 cousins who were all to varying degrees, related to me. From zero to 300. It was overwhelming. I began to share my genetic profiles with as many as I could and wrote them all by hand. One man around my age began corresponding with me. He was a fifth cousin and was very articulate and educational in helping me understand a bit about genetics. Our correspondence led to a friendship, and eventually we met after six months of daily emailing.
He was the first person I’ve ever met that I was biologically related to. It was a huge day for me when we met in Boston at an Irish pub for the first time. I had no idea how to feel, but it was extremely cool to meet him. We’ve been friends ever since and will always be, I’m sure.
The health reports were also extremely interesting and helpful. I took the reports with me to my doctor’s appointment and we looked at them together. I got to learn what traits I have such as difficulty with metabolizing caffeine, the sprinter gene, and a tendency toward sneezing in sunlight along with dozens of other traits. I got to see what diseases and conditions I have a predisposition toward and ones that I have less of a disposition toward. That helped me tremendously in putting my attention on particular pieces of my health and raising my awareness on preventative measures.
But the best and most important thing that I learned from joining 23andMe was this:
On a deep level I always felt that I didn’t belong somehow in the world. Being adopted, even under the best circumstances (which I had), can cause a very subtle sense of disconnection from others in a person. It may even be felt unconsciously. By doing this “cold calculating” DNA test, I found connection to the world. I not only felt welcomed to myself, but to everyone. And that shift in identity and perception changed my life forever.
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