Here is my story…
My name is Jaclyn and I am a 33 year old wife and mom of two. Before I answered to the names “Mrs. Baxter” and “Mommy,” I was an only child growing up in Pollock Pines, California. One thing you should know about me is that from day one, my dad and I were inseparable. To call me a Daddy’s Girl would be an understatement. Even though I always wanted siblings, my dad filled that void by being the best parent, confidant, and friend that I could ask for. He was was the greatest joy of my life for 18 years – my happy place. He died in my arms when I was 18 years old after a life filled with health issues, and his last words to me were “I love you.”
Losing my Dad was my worst fear come true. The journey to heal from his death has been a long and hard road that continues to this day. What made it even more challenging is at the time of his death, I had to get through it without the support of a mother. Without going into a lot of detail, my mom is someone who has hurt me in very sick ways all my life and as soon as I turned 18, I ran and didn’t look back. The few times I’ve had to see her over the years have brought me nothing but pain.
In the years after losing my dad, I struggled with feeling like I didn’t have a family. I have aunts, uncles, and cousins, but I missed having a parent to love and support me unconditionally. I watched all my friends with envy as they went to college, pursuing their dreams while being supported financially and emotionally by their parents. I was completely on my own. As an only child, I didn’t even have any siblings to share in my grief.
Over the years, I have formed beautiful relationships with people that I now consider my family, and in 2011, I married the love of my life. We now have two amazing kids, and I finally feel like I have the family that I craved for all of those years. But having kids caused new emotions and questions to surface. When my doctor would ask me, “What health issues run in your family?” or “What is your family history?” there was only so much I could answer. It’s not like I could ask my dad. As a mom to two young children, I thought it was important to know as much as I could.
May 14th, 2017 – 23andMe
I took the 23andMe test to learn more about my health and ancestry. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the test, it basically analyzes your DNA using a swab of saliva and gives you all kinds of information related to your genes, including ancestral background information, genetic health risks, and carrier information. I received my results, and was excited to dive in and learn more about my genetic makeup. The ancestry component was just for curiosity’s sake, but it was still fascinating. It turns out that I’m 50.7% British and Irish, and 25.1% French and German. I had no idea! Oh, and I’ve got some super healthy genes. Sweet! But there was even more. When I took the test, I didn’t realize that the company matches you with others who have taken the test when you share DNA. There was a long list of 1,211 “relatives” that I never knew I had. You can imagine my surprise when I clicked on the list and at the very top was a half brother! “What the hell?” were literally the first words that escaped my lips. How could that be?! A half brother?! A million thoughts, ideas, and questions hit me all at once.
I immediately called my uncle, who is my mom’s brother. “Hey…so, any family secrets you want to share with me? Because I just found out I have a half brother!” My uncle was as baffled as I was, and couldn’t imagine that my mom could have hidden a pregnancy. He assumed that this new half-brother must have come from my dad. My heart lept. A brother from my dad? That would be amazing! Since my dad was the best guy ever, I knew that if he’d known he had a son, he would definitely have been involved in his life. I called my cousin Kelly on my dad’s side to see if she knew anything and, again, I was met with confusion. She had no clue that my dad had another child. He was 40 when I was born, so I knew that meant that there could have been a lot of years for shenanigans before I came along. Maybe he was with someone, and she never told him she got pregnant. The idea of a brother, a piece of my dad, felt like an unexpected gift.
But then, at the end of our conversation, Kelly said something that made me stop in my tracks. Kelly said that her daughter, my second cousin, also took the 23andMe test. That seemed strange, because she didn’t come up on my list of relatives. My heart dropped and I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was very bad news for me. Afterall, I was matched with 1,211 people. My list was filled with 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th cousins. If someone shared even 0.2% DNA with me, they were on the list. So why wasn’t an actual confirmed relative there?
It was all too much to take in at one time. I pushed aside my concerns about my cousin and decided to focus on what I knew. I had a brother – after 33 years of being an only child! My next step was to jump on Facebook. I found three guys with his name. I looked at the first, and then the second. I didn’t feel a connection with either one. But as soon as I clicked on the third profile, I knew in my gut that it was him. My brother. I dove deep into his profile and became a stage five Facebook stalker. Looking at his photos and posts gave me a glimpse into who is – what’s important to him, who he loves, what he loves, where he has been and where he wants to go. We had so much in common that it blew my mind. He seemed to have a happy family, with a wife and two kids. He was passionate about the same social and political issues that I am, which told me he is loving, kind and accepting. We had traveled to many of the same places, including Africa and Bali. We even have the same BIRTHDAY…WHAT?! At this point I was hoping and praying that my gut feeling was right, because I wanted this guy to be my brother so badly.
Still reeling with a head full of questions, I went back to my 23andMe results to see if there was an option to contact this new brother – and there was! With shaking fingers, I sent him a short message, “Hi, I’m sure you can imagine that when I took this test I never thought I would get this result. I would love to connect with you if you’re willing. All the best, Jaclyn”. And then, I waited.
May 15th, 2017 – A sibling at 33
Lucky for me, he got back to me quickly. “Jaclyn, Wow! Yes, I am definitely open to connecting. I have so many questions! First, what made you take the 23andme test? I’d love to know a little about you. I am a donor conceived kid and I have spent my life not knowing anything about my paternal line, which I have come to accept. I am 37 and from the bay area. Thanks for reaching out. All the best to you!”.
I read one line in particular over and over again. A donor conceived kid? The words seemed foreign to me. Never in a million years did I expect that. And what did it mean for me? Did my dad donate sperm? Or am I a donor kid, too? My head was spinning. Honestly, it still is. I reviewed my entire life up until now and tried to piece together any information that might lead me to find answers. What was happening?! Like a punch to the gut, I remembered my conversation with my cousin on my dad’s side, and the fact that her daughter wasn’t listed among my relatives. I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping and praying that my dad had been a donor at some point in his life. I came up with a million scenarios where this would make sense. But I couldn’t hold back the tears, or the sense of dread that was growing in my heart.
I tried to pull it together and wrote back. I didn’t know what any of this meant, but I was determined to find out. “I’m so relieved you replied! I was born in Concord and lived there until 8 years old, then we moved to Pollock Pines. My dad grew up in the Oakland/Berkeley area. To be honest, this test has led me to wonder if there is a chance he might not be my birth dad. So I’m a little lost right now with lots of questions! If my dad was your donor, I would be happy to answer all of your questions. If I find out otherwise and I, too, had a donor dad, then maybe you can guide me in that. So happy to connect. Big hugs, Jaclyn.”
I considered both scenarios and felt an enormous weight no matter which way I turned. If my dad was my brother’s donor, it broke my heart that he died without ever getting to meet his biological son. My dad was a wonderful man – and it would be terrible if my brother never had the opportunity to know him. But the other scenario was also painful to consider. What if the man I was most proud to be related to wasn’t related to me after all?
My brother emailed me back. “Jaclyn, I can only imagine how you feel. I’m sure this is all quite a shock. I grew up knowing that I was born from a donor and it is still surreal and hard to place the facts in context. I know that there could be any number of siblings out there in the world and it’s still surprising to have contact with you. However, when I first took a test through the donor sibling registry, I came into contact with a half brother. We have remained in close contact for the last 7 years and our kids are close. It would be wild and amazing if your dad was my donor but it’s pretty wild and amazing either way isn’t it? Did your father go to school at UC Berkeley? All that I really know is that the donor was a Berkeley grad student. Are you going to ask your parents about this? Please let me know what questions I can answer. I’m sure that you have a ton. If this is all real, I can tell you that our half brother is an amazing guy with a beautiful family and of course I’m partial to my incredible kiddos. Hugs back to you”.
I couldn’t believe it. Another BROTHER??? I have TWO brothers??? I have two brothers. Two brothers! The only child in me could hardly wrap my head around it. Back to Facebook I went to stalk the new brother. His Facebook was pretty privatized, but I could see that he was a happy family man with a beautiful wife and kids. I was eager to find out more about him.
The next 6 weeks were a whirlwind. It was important to me to get some answers, and the best way to do that was to get more DNA tests. Since I couldn’t test my DNA with my dad’s, I arranged to have it compared to my first cousin on his side. This would tell us definitively if my dad was related to me biologically, and therefore the donor for both of my brothers. We also ordered tests to confirm whether the second brother and I were siblings, and I reached out to a specialist to look at my DNA and compare it to the first brother’s DNA to confirm we are related. I also reached out to my mom, but all I got from her was “You’re ridiculous for doing such a test. Why would you want to know about your health and ancestry?! How do you know this DNA stuff is true?” I replied, “Because science”. I told you she’s crazy.
During this time, both my brothers and I started emailing each other to get to know each other better. I am the queen of question-asking under normal circumstances, so you can only imagine how many questions these poor guys had to answer. But the more I learned about them, the more excited I was to be their little sister. My love for them was growing, and it was an exciting feeling.
But at the same time that I was starting to get to know my brothers, constant “what ifs” were running through my mind every single day. What if my dad isn’t my biological father? What if the DNA results come back and there was a mistake, and they really aren’t my brothers? How many siblings could I have as a donor kid? What if they are my brothers, but we don’t get along? What if they don’t like me? How do I begin to have a sibling relationship at 33? Will I scare them off by wanting to hang out with them so much in order to catch up on the last 33 years? If I’m a donor kid, why did my parents make that choice? Will I ever know my donor dad? (Insert a million more questions and emotions here) Those six weeks while we waited for the results were really, really hard. I prayed and hoped that my dad was my biological father AND that he was the donor, therefore giving me two brothers. That would be the best of both worlds.
Finally, the results.
The DNA specialist contacted us and confirmed that my first brother and I are indeed siblings. Yes! My other brother got his results back – again, we are definitely siblings. Double yes! After 33 years of being an only child, and spending many of my adult years feeling so alone, I suddenly had two awesome brothers! But then my cousin got her results back and they confirmed my worst fear…we don’t share any DNA. I felt like screaming. No! No! No! I literally fell to my knees in tears. The pain was overwhelming. It still is. My dad, the man I have idolized for my entire life and miss more than anything isn’t my biological father? How can this be happening? Why? Why!
I wanted out of my skin. I felt invaded. Who was this other man that made up the other half of me? I don’t want another “father.” I want the one I had – just him. It’s hard enough living without him, but now I need to live without ever knowing my biological dad. It feels like a cruel joke that the Universe has played to take away the Father/Daughter relationship from me – twice! In tears, I called my mother-in-law to come over and rescue me because I couldn’t parent at that moment. I also called my husband home from work because hugs were definitely needed. My whole world had turned upside down and everything I thought I knew about myself seemed to be changing.
How could I even begin to juggle the feelings of devastating loss and overwhelming joy? How would this new information affect the way that I viewed my parents, my children – and myself? Even though I finally had some answers, in many ways my journey was just beginning.
To be continued…
*A special thank you to Annika Campos for supporting me emotionally and helping me find the words to write this post.