“Mental health research indicates that major, unexpected shocks have the potential to cause much emotional upheaval. As such, learning new and unexpected truths about family relationships can raise intense psychological and existential issues for individuals and families” (Psychology Today)
DNA Surprise: You Have Three New Sisters is part two to my story of finding out at the age of 56 that my father was not my biological father. You can read that story here When Your Father is Not Your Father: The Shock Results of Ancestry DNA Test.
Meaning: An astonishing or unexpected event.
I have to say that this is not the first surprise that my mother has dropped on me. Because of a history of feeling unsafe as a child and of historical trauma and abuse, my first concern was to minimise the triggering effect that this may have on me and in turn on my family.
Finding out that I had three half-sisters was most definitely ‘astonishing and unexpected’. I have never really liked surprises, this one was no different. What does this now mean for me?
Therefore my first port of call was to contact my psychologist.
A shock like this leaves you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away. It can also leave you feeling numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people. When traumas happen, it can take a while to get over the pain and feel safe again.
My new sisters appointed Jade as spokes-person to help me not feel so overwhelmed. Jade kindly realised that this shock would take a while to navigate. As we were saying our good byes on that first phone call, she suggested that it may be helpful if she sent me some photos of her and the girls and also of our biological father. This was the text she sent after we had hung up.
“I hope you are okay. I completely understand this is virtually a tsunami of information. I will send through a couple of pics. I hope it helps. Please know that I am here if you need to chat, but I will just leave you to process the information from here and wait to hear from you when you are ready. Take care…. Jade”
She then sent through pictures of these glamorous creatures that were apparently somehow related to ME. Along with photos of my new nieces and nephews and a photo of my biological father.
I threw the phone across the room and started bawling like a baby. I raced down-stairs into the kitchen. My daughter in law Rachel was the only person home and the poor thing hardly knew what to do with her nearly hysterical mother in law.
She did the perfect thing and held me in her arms and cried right along with me even though at this stage she didn’t know what we were crying about. Bless her.
The next day I confirmed with Jade that I had spoken to my mother and that she had confirmed the affair, which meant that I was starting to believe her. I then sent her photos of my husband Phil and our children.
Taking small digital steps to connect.
This was her reply.
I’ve thought of you all day. What an enormous amount of ‘stuff’ to process with this bombshell. As I have said, I have sat on this information for so many years, only wanting to communicate what I knew WHEN you made contact with me.
I am so sorry darling, although I completely trust the process of how it unfolded, I do feel, in some small way, responsible for being the one who has delivered the news that has caused you shock and heartache.
As I said last night, I truly believe that you contacted me because you already knew.
I sincerely hope that you are okay and will follow your lead with however you want to move forward with this. NO pressure NO expectations.
P.S. Your children and their partners are beautiful and what a gorgeous couple you and your husband make.
I included this correspondence because I think it gives such a clear picture of how Jades handling of me and the situation made the eventual contacts and ensuing meetings so much easier.
When I showed the message to Chloe and Rachel they were both shocked.
“OMG…….It’s like reading a text message from YOU mum. This is exactly something that you would say… its how you would react”.
This was not lost on me and made the mystery of our DNA connection even more insane. I will be forever grateful that I was taken care of by such a precious soul. There could have been a million reactions to my connection, but this was the one that meant that I could indeed take safe steps forward and not live under the bed for the rest of my life.
I am very aware that not everybody is held with such grace and wisdom in this unique journey. Many people are not so accepting. Some people are disbelieving, some people are angry, some people grieve the person they thought they knew and didn’t. Some people are incredibly grateful to find a sibling. Some don’t have the emotional energy or will to even care.
The choice of whether or not to reach out to these sisters was a difficult one. Was this going to bring more trauma into my life? Did my family need anymore upheaval? My psychologist, my family and friends were all amazing and echoed the same things.
This is your choice. You can control this. You can go as fast or as slow as you want. We will support whatever you want to do. They have known and waited for 10 years, they can wait a few more months.
When I showed my psychologist the message above from Jade, she just smiled and said. I feel really good about this. I think that this is going to be a positive experience for you.
“You’ve got this.”
She did advise me not to meet them all at once.
She said, ‘I know you, you will spend all your energy learning their stories and will exhaust yourself’. She suggested that I meet them one at a time on neutral ground and that I take someone with me the first time.
A month after the first contact I made a date to have lunch with Jade. I cannot even explain what this felt like. What do you wear to meet a sister for the first time? What to expect? Do we sit near the door in case I need to run out for air?
Chloe accompanied me and I will forever remember trying to look for the table where she would be seated. I had seen her photo but nothing could prepare me for the real deal. She jumped up and met me half-way and scooped me into a bear hug. We then sat and just stared for a while until the conversation and the questions naturally began to take over. Chloe was amazing. Hilariously she piped up early on in the piece with.
“I just want to say right at the beginning…. we don’t have any money”
Jade and I just looked at each other and exploded into laughter. She said that’s okay because we don’t have any either. lol…….
What followed was lots of questions, lots of long looks, secret studies of each other. Later Chloe explained it to her brothers like this when they asked what Jade was like.
“Well, it’s like having a really cool aunt. Like Jennifer Anniston on friends. What was really weird was that if you closed your eyes and just listened it was like you were sitting at the table with two of mum. They sound the same, they use the same words, the speak with the same sentence structures and have the same way of being careful of people.”
My poor husbands response: “OMG there is TWO of you” faint.
Jade later explains that seeing Chloe was like looking at a younger version of herself. She said. “I fell in love with Chloe the moment I saw her”.
The overwhelming summary of that first meeting was safety. We felt safe.
A little pause before I chat about the meeting of the other two sisters. This is a thumbnail sketch of the backstory of Kallan so that you can understand the somewhat complicated birth order of the four sisters.
At the age of 15 Kallan and a 15 year old work colleague had a rather short affair which resulted in the birth of a baby girl Felicity. It was the late 1950’s and an era that was not kind to single unmarried mothers. The young mother was put into a girls home to have the baby which was then put up for adoption. Felicity was raised by a loving family but was always on a journey of searching for her birth father.
In the early 60’s my mother and Kallan had an affair and I was conceived. Two years later Kallan and his wife had a baby daughter they called Jocelynn and not long after that baby Jade arrived.
Felicity had been on a search for her birth father for some time. We call her the ancestry sleuth. Felicity eventually found details about the other two girls by searching through death notices. She contacted the two girls expressing her desire to meet. You can imagine the shock of Jade and Jocelyn. They initially thought it was me trying to contacting them. Instead they were confronted with the news that there was ANOTHER sister.
Not long after my meeting with Jade I arranged to meet with Jocelynn. We decided to meet in a cafe in Abbotsford. I arrived first and waited anxiously for my half sister to arrive. There was no mistaking her. When she breezed into the cafe I jumped up and after a huge hug we just sat staring at each other. It was pretty confronting. I felt a little like I was looking in the mirror. We had the same build, the same colouring, the same eyes, the same chin. Talk about a mind spinning moment.
Growing up I was always told that I looked like my mother and never really identified with my siblings or father in regard to similarities. Here I was sitting opposite the other half of myself. To say I was a little wobbly was an understatement. We hit it off immediately and chatted like old friends. She was so kind, so gentle, so loving, so funny.
The meeting with Felicity was a little more orchestrated. The other two sisters advised that one of them should be there with me as I might feel a little overwhelmed. They were now understanding some of my story and were very protective of me. They had nothing to worry about. Although Jade accompanied me, Felicity was adorable. Bright, bubbly, gregarious and a lot like a puppy. She is very chatty and with a heart bigger than texas and a soul of teflon. We joke that Felicity won’t be happy until she has collected a full set of sisters.
So here I stand considering these three beautiful souls who have walked into my life. Each a vibrant expression of myself in some way. Parts of myself that are finding a place to belong for the first time. Jade the spiritually seeking, wise owl. Jocelynn the maternal, loving caregiver who cannot say ‘no’ to anyone. (Insert my daughters voice here. “As if you can say NO to anyone mum”). Felicity the bouncy, energetic sleuth who is responsible in some ways for connecting us all.
You never know when you are going to hit an epic bump in the road people and you can never prepare yourself – just hang on for the ride.
I am very aware that my experience is unique and not everyone has such a positive story to tell of DNA revelations. We are on the cusp of a new journey together and are currently planning an event where my sister, and our friends and families can all meet. We have been holding them all at bay while we navigate this space.
I now can’t imagine my life without these women in my life. I am not sure if I would have wanted to meet Kallan if he were still alive. I haven’t quite processed that yet. For the first few months I had a lot of referred anger toward him. It doesn’t make sense I know but that was how I was.
In those first few months when my life was like swimming under water. I stumbled through google trying to find resources. Unsuccessfully Googling sentences like “what to do when you find out your father is not your father”. I wrote to ancestry.com asking what support they provided for such earthquaking revelations that DNA tests revealed. This was the response I got back.
Hello Lisa, Thank you for contacting Ancestry in regards to your DNA results.
We’re sorry for any shock that this has caused.
Regrettably, we do not have any services like you described. Though we we completely empathize with your predicament, as a genealogy company your best bet for help with this would be to discuss this shock with your local GP who may be able to refer you to a family counselor.
If you need additional assistance, please feel free to reply to this email or call us at 1-800-251-838 between the hours of 9 AM to 8 PM AEST, Monday through Friday or between the hours of 9 AM to 4 PM AEST, Saturday and Sunday.
Customer Solutions Associate Ancestry
Thanks for nothing Barbara.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many psychological resources available for people who stumble across family secrets with DNA testing. It is an ethical minefield. Support can be given by professionals like psychologists but there is little knowledge or training about these issues, perhaps due to the recency of the phenomena and the associated lack of research.
The surprises thrown up by DNA ancestry testing raise a set of complex ethical, psychological, and social issues.
Support groups have sprung up over social media like the NPE Facebook community founded by Catherine St Clair. It has a rigorous screening process. (You can’t join the group unless you’ve actually gotten the DNA rug pulled out from under you. Lurkers need not apply.) NPE stands for Not Parent Expected.
In the following posts I will be exploring the power of DNA on a person and how profound it is as opposed to nurture and family of origin. I will also share some truly mind bending episodes of meetings with the sisters.
Stay tuned for the next exciting episode.
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