Secrecy, trauma, & DNA

The registry to which I was sending my personal information did nothing to provide me with any sort of starting point in my search.

Today there is a better chance of spitting into a tube or sending in a cheek swab and running a DNA search than of a registry providing a name and address to an adoptee in search of their biological roots.

DNA search does create a whole new layer of concerns, particularly about how DNA data will be collected and utilized in the coming years, but it does provide a way to route around adoption laws that vary wildly from state to state. US citizens are unequal, and nowhere is this inequality more absurd than in the criminalities associated with adoptees in search of their own identities.

In my situation, I had finally found and connected to biological relatives on my mother’s side of the family, but was asked to take a DNA test to confirm my relation by my birth mother’s brother’s wife, or my birth aunt-in-law. Once the results showed I was related, that unlocked a different kind of relational stasis between me and several members of my blood relatives.

Every adoptee who knows they are adopted will search for their identity in some way. Some may only ever search within themselves, as a way to orient themselves without genetic mirroring within the social world they inhabit. But we, as a cohort, as a diaspora, are destined to search. Many of us may find something of substance, but we will all be altered by the experience of searching. This search is the processing of loss; searching is grief in motion.

I lost an identity and a relationship with the woman I had been inside of, and every scrap of information I’ve assembled paints a picture of a woman who did not want to give me up.

When I contacted her, she relayed an unwillingness or inability to remember details about those years, pregnant and after I had been born. My search did not provide me with the answers I was looking for, but it did lead me to a place of deeper empathy. My ancestry is one of uncovering, my heritage is one of loss, lack, void and concealment. I am driven to uncover, to unrune, to destroy secrets and sense pain. I am drawn to trauma, to narratives of pain, of recovering, of remembering. My coming into awareness of the implications of my adoption have broken down all the social bonds that were imparted by my adoption.

To find myself I had to undo all the coercive and constructed social fictions that came with my adoptee status. I remain estranged from my adoptive parents as I write this, and I doubt I could write this were I to be in contact with them. The clarity I need to be aware of my past can only be accessed if I am not repressing the emotions to remain civil with them. When I am honest with myself, and recall their actions and attitudes, I am awash with rage. My anger is a desire to protect that younger version of myself from the physical attacks from my adoptive father, often in the form of whippings with his leather belt. My memories are tied to back pain, to a sense of bruising on my upper thighs, and a dreadful malaise that renders me nearly immobile. My anxiety attacks arise from these and other moments, and have driven me into moments of self-harm, cutting myself to wake up from these near-day-dreams. These reveries are crippling. Adoptee-trauma differs from individual to individual, but, as with searching, some form of trauma is near-universal.

I am evidence of abuse

My existence, the life I led, was set in motion by an original trauma, intentionally inflicted on my real mother and myself. I learned that my real mother wanted to keep me but was dissuaded from doing so by her church in the final weeks before I was born. She’d worked overtime for months to buy baby supplies. And when she gave birth, she remained under gas mask anesthesia until she had signed the forms they demanded she sign.

Now you imagine signing legal documents, as a minor, under anesthesia, for something as life-altering as giving away your child because your parents and church demand it.

I do not believe that my adoptive parents were aware of the way I was acquired for them. I believe that they probably would not have accepted me if they knew what had been done to my real mother.

They certainly tried to be good parents, but they started from flawed assumptions and then continued to inflict damage through the guidance of their religious beliefs.

Now, with the benefit of knowledge, I can see how lies and dogma created a situation where my abuse was hidden, not only from them but also from my real mother, my real father, and the state of Idaho. The actions of a lawyer and his assistant, with the acknowledgement and cooperation of the surgeon, buttressed by the pomposity of not one but two pastors from two rival Baptist churches, who conspired to destroy the emotional well-being of my real mother, simply for daring to want to raise me as her son.

I am processing

I’ve gotten all the puzzle pieces. There’s a lot I’ve got to make sense of… but I have all the pieces.

The struggle just to put together the story of my birth has been exhausting, and the mental discipline to process everything is grueling. I intend to survive this process, and put the story together so maybe what happened to me could be something other people could learn from, or find cathartic, or make something positive out of… I don’t just want to sit with my story jutting out of me as a nervous trigger.


I’m in a period of time that is often called a “reunion” – but I find the term itself complicated.

The people I’ve met are all disconnected from the event of adoption, most of them were not alive at the time I was taken. I’ve met my younger sisters, on both my biological father’s side and my mother’s side. I’ve met my nephews and nieces, cousins, and a brother on my father’s side, all younger. There was no reunion there, as there had never been a union.

Similarly for my biological father, whom had never had any idea that I existed, that I was alive. No union there either. The terms that are used for these moments are borrowed terms, and have no real map to the experience.

Mark Twain

“Plain clarity is better than ornate obscurity.”

“Some authors overdo the stage directions; they elaborate them quite beyond necessity; they spend so much time & take up so much room in telling us how a person said a thing and how he looked and acted when he said it that we get tired and wish he hadn’t said it at all.”

– Mark Twain.