LOYAL. COURAGEOUS. PERSISTENT.
On December 24, 2018, my grandson’s first Christmas Eve, I made a discovery that would change my life forever. And then the murders began (#LaidlawsRule).
In all seriousness, on a whim, I decided to spit in the tube of a home DNA kit in order to help build a family tree for my grandson. What I did not know is that I would discover that my birth certificate father, David, was not my biological father nor did I anticipate that I would find an entirely new biological family; my father, Bernie, 6 siblings, and many nieces and nephews. Despite the initial shock, I was granted one of the greatest gifts of my life. I am the sort of person who reads from the back of the book. I do not enjoy surprises. Perhaps this is why I was given the surprise of all surprises—life knew I needed some excitement. I believe in serendipity and this was one of those moments.
Life is full of chapters and in my current book of life, I will start at the back, as is my custom, and then start at the beginning. On September 5, 2021, after 33 wonderful months, my biological father, Bernie, passed away. After grieving the absence of him for the first 51 years of my life and finding peace, I now find myself grieving for him for a second time. Grieving the loss of him. Grieving the death of the parent that I found and needed. My journey is not yet over and I hope to enter the next chapters armed with what I have learned about and from Bernie but more importantly equipped with what I learned about myself. In the NPE forums, I was introduced to the word “Hiraeth” which loosely means “homesickness for a home you never knew and can never return to.” This single word really does explain how I and likely many people with misattributed parentage feel, especially when they make these discoveries about their genetic identities as adults.
When I first made this discovery my mother, like many mothers, denied the science. To this day she continues to deny the truth of my situation and is on an active campaign to destroy me. From hearing other people’s stories I have discovered that my mother is similar to the mothers of other people with MPEs. She has a character pathology, trauma responses, and unresolved issues that have affected the way she engages with the world and her children. My maternal grandfather was a Pacific POW of World War II. He was held and viciously tortured for three and half years. It is a miracle he survived. Despite the acts of his life, and especially at the end of his life, I consider him a hero.
Most people would not have been able to survive such horrific treatment. We failed our POWs. We did not identify things like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or battle fatigue. Our POWs suffered alone and their mental and emotional wellness was not attended to. As a result, many, like my grandfather, turned to drugs or alcohol to battle their internal demons. My mother grew up in a violent household; a household that contained great love but was also haunted by great demons of the past. Shortly after my birth in 1967 my grandfather murdered my grandmother and committed suicide. I firmly believe my mother and her brother also died on this day.
The trauma they endured that was left un-resolved and untreated shaped the rest of their lives in ways where neither of them truly lived. My mother carried this trauma and dysfunction into our lives and I carried it into my adult life. My children were also impacted by the events of decades before. It took me many decades of my own adult life to do the hard work needed to break this cycle, tackle these demons and stop carrying forward the dysfunction of the past. Slaying these demons has not been easy and I am still doing the hard work necessary to keep them at bay. It is hard to know what impact my grandfather’s violence had on my NPE story but I venture to guess that its impact was dangerously significant.
Back to the beginning. My mother and David were engaged to be married in the summer of 1966. Due to the violence of my mother’s household David broke things off around late October of 1966. My conception date was around late November to early December of 1966. At the end of 1966, David found out from a mutual friend that my mother was pregnant. It was 1966 and being an unwed mother was not a position a young woman wanted to be in. I am certain my mother was filled with fear and uncertainty. Abortion was not yet legal but it was available. David, albeit he did not admit this at the time, is a gay man. Being gay in 1966 was likely a scarier status than being an unwed mother because it could bring personal harm or death if he admitted to being gay during that time. So, it made sense for them to marry; my mother is no longer an unwed mother, David could live as a heterosexual man and I was safe from other choices my mother might have made.
My mother knew, without a doubt, that it was likely that David wasn’t my father. David, who I initially gave the benefit of the doubt, likely also knew that he wasn‘t my biological father (events subsequently occurred that now lead me to believe that David did know that he wasn’t my father). I am deeply thankful that David stepped up and raised another man’s child and I give him a ton of credit for this. However, the continuation of the lie and deceit into my adult years and following into this DNA discovery is unacceptable to me. It is Dante’s ninth circle of hell. Each circle of hell contains people who committed certain acts with increasing bad acts as the center is approached. The innermost ninth circle is reserved for people who betrayed the trust of the people close to them. Like many of us, I grew up in a household full of violence, lies, and deceit. The people I should have relied on and trusted the most were not safe or trustworthy people for me. My parents provided food, clothing, and shelter and for these I am grateful. However, there is more to raising children than providing minimum basic needs. Yes, my physical needs were met but my emotional and mental needs were seriously neglected.
I was brought up in a household where I didn’t fit in. I was different from my parents and younger brother in many key ways. We simply did not think, see or feel the same about the world. Instead of embracing these differences, I was made to feel bad for not “being like them”. I was not encouraged to express a point of view (and in fact was attacked for doing so). Children learn quickly to go along to get along so I allowed, for many decades, my family of origin to throw mud on my wings and to silence me. I struggled with self-doubt, low confidence, and self-esteem. I made bad choices. Made errors in parenting and life decisions. Brought the trauma and dysfunction from my childhood into my own household. Finally, after many decades as an adult, I took back the reins of my life and started doing the hard work needed to be my best self, set healthy boundaries, and started approaching life with as much love and grace as I could. This has not been easy and I am still working on this. My scars show where I have been but I refuse to let them define where I am going. I started this process well before this DNA discovery which I feel has helped me handle this discovery better.
Unfortunately, in setting boundaries you will lose some people in your life—usually the people who you needed to set boundaries for. Admittedly, for many decades I was a professional doormat. I allowed people to wipe their feet on me with impunity. I blame myself, not them—I laid the doormat down for their use. My boundaries represent a removal of that mat and anger from the people wanting to still wipe their feet. The first casualty of this was the loss of my mother from my life. Due to her behavior and treatment, I have had to go no contact for my own health and for the health of my family: husband, children, and grandchildren. The second and third casualties are David and the brother I was raised with. Unfortunately, David and my brother have been unable to deal with or discuss my DNA discovery and they have been unable to support me on my journey. I could accept their lack of support but I am unable to accept their mistreatment of me over the issue. Their own inner demons, anger, and trauma quite simply outweigh their love for me. They cannot accept my boundaries or the life path decisions I have made for my own mental, physical, and emotional wellness and have put me in a position to choose a life that includes them or my own health. I have decided that I would rather adjust my life to their absence than adjust my boundaries to accommodate their disregard and disrespect.
Let me briefly explain. It is impossible to illustrate 54 years of dynamics with the trials and tribulations of my family of origin so I will focus on the crux of the matter as it relates to my DNA discovery and associated journey of healing. I am a firm believer that names are powerful. Names can shape our identity and tell the world who we are. On this journey, it was extremely important to me that I try to gain back some of the power I lost with my misattributed parentage and the lies and deceit that surrounded me. Power was taken from me without my knowledge or consent. As such, I decided to add Bernie’s surname, McCabe—the name that should have been mine at birth, as a second middle. I got Bernie’s blessing on this. I also informed my brother and David of my plan. They never responded. After I did it I was celebrated by Bernie and his wife (my bonus mom) Carolyn, my friends, and family. However, my brother and David lost their minds and attacked me viciously. They never asked me why this was important, they have never once asked me how I am doing with this discovery or ever asked me about Bernie or my newly found biological family. The only thing they cared about was themselves and how my decision may affect them. Bottomline: they forced me to choose them or a relationship with Bernie and his family. If people are forcing me to make a choice then they will not be the ones chosen. I will never choose to sacrifice my own health and wellbeing again. I will not be silenced or bullied into submission again. I did that to my detriment for years and to the detriment of my children; their mother was not her best self; I was not the best mother they deserved. But, I intend to be so now for the sake of my children, my grandchildren my spouse, my friends, and most importantly for myself. I have worth; I have a voice; I have value.
The journey of getting to know Bernie and my siblings has been scary, exciting, sad, happy, and amazing. Like many people with an NPE, I have struggled with a ton of emotions; grief, joy, gratitude, and loss. The biggest struggle was realizing I will never have the sibling society with my six new siblings they have with each other and that I had with my brother; the society created by growing up together. After a lot of bellyaching, soul searching, self-care, and using family, good friends, and my life coach as sounding boards, I was finally able to switch my perspective and help me deal with the what-is vs the what-ifs. Kinship can be formed in many ways; consanguineous, affinal, or societal. So while I might have a consanguineous relationship with my siblings, the lack of a sibling society makes this kinship hard to form—my son-in-law is every bit a member of our family just as my children are. Our affinal kinship is just as strong, if not stronger, than many blood ties I possess. Affinal relationships are part of our sense of kinship and these relationships usually form in adulthood. This revelation made me feel better. It is my hope that over time I will form strong and loving bonds with all of my siblings. They are important to me and my family.
Something I did not know I needed or was missing in my life presented itself over the 33 months I had with Bernie. I am not well bonded or close to my family or origin and due to the nature of our dynamics, my parents were not the sort of people I went to for support or advice. In fact, they would be the last people I went to. Despite being 51 years old when Bernie and I found each other, I realized that I was missing him—that I had been missing him my entire life, that as a grown-up woman and grandmother I was seeking a parent. I connected with Bernie in ways that I never connected with my family of origin despite the newness of our relationship. We spoke on the phone each week and visited in person several times before his death. He always made me feel important. He made me feel accepted. He gave a sound and amplification to my voice. I will miss him. I will grieve the loss of him. I will never regret finding him.
Many people with an NPE are devastated when they make this discovery. I wasn’t. It made sense. I was relieved. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t close to my family of origin or because of the abusive and oppressive environment they created in my household or maybe it was simply DNA. I am not sure but I am and will forever be grateful that I found out the truth. I am a seeker and will continue to explore and embrace this aspect of myself. Meeting and knowing Bernie and the McCabe family has added value to my life and has challenged me to be my best self, find gratitude when possible, and act with love and grace. It is my hope that my family of origin will choose to join me, in healthy ways on this path. It is my hope that the McCabes will continue to embrace me and my family. And I further hope that my mother finds a way to set down any shame she might be carrying, shame will wear us down and there is no need to carry it one step further. I forgive her even if we cannot have contact and even if she does not seek forgiveness.
To my family and friends who have loved and supported me on this journey and on many others “I love you, I am sorry, please forgive me and thank you.”