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.

Published by

Jeffrey Wes Unruh

Adoptee, born at the Magic Valley Regional Medical Center, April 15, 1974. I spent 23 years trying to figure out all the details, concluding my search in 2019 after meeting my biological father. I'm working on a book that encapsulates my thoughts on adoption in general, and the experience of being adopted.