Alyson Nowell


Ever since I found out I had an NPE in February 2021, it has been a tough thing to reckon with. Is it a big deal; is it not a big deal? Can I just move on and forget it? I have been back and forth between facing it head-on and holding myself back by trying to stay busy. One thing is true: no matter how much I try to distract myself from the reality of what has happened, I still need to face it, process it, and accept it. It is a big deal and I need to just sit in the muck sometimes.

On that fateful, cold Minnesota day in February, I not only discovered my dad who raised me wasn’t my biological father, but I learned my biological father and his daughter had also taken the same 23andMe DNA test just months prior, as they had shown up under my DNA matches relatives tab. They were not names I had ever recognized or seen before, except for their last name. After some internet sleuthing, I realized I had known my half-brother through mutual friends from my high school days. He is only several months older than me.

What would ensue was a complicated combination of emotions, shock, grief, and one dismantling identity crisis. The strangest emotion of all was “relief”. I was relieved to have found the answer to what I had been searching for my entire life. I hadn’t been sure what I was always trying to understand, but as many other people with misattributed parentage feel, I always felt there was something “off”.

I began to grieve what I believed to be was my true identity, part of it being my father’s biological daughter. I grieved for some of my relationships with the people closest to me, for they were now changed forever, in my eyes. Amidst the grieving, I looked for answers, hoping the circumstances of my conception weren’t what I was suspecting they were. I eventually found out I was the product of a years-long extramarital affair. It made me feel sick for a long time. I saw pictures of my biological father and saw physical traits that I recognized in myself. I would look in the mirror and feel disgusted with myself, asking my reflection, who the hell are you? I would look down at my arms and legs in disgust. For a while, I fantasized about shaving off my curly hair. My fiance walked me off that ledge a few times, fortunately. Instead, I cut off several inches.

People tell you that you’re still the same person, and I tried to believe that for a long time, but it’s just simply not true. On the outside, nothing has changed, but inside, everything has changed.

A rocky relationship between my biological father and I began after I reached out through a letter I mailed to his home. We met in person once and it was the strangest day of my life. I felt as though I was talking to an old friend I had known for a long time. I felt conflicted. I was mad at him, a person I had never known, for invading and disrupting my family. I was mad at him for doing this to his own family. I was mad at my mother for cheating on my dad for so long, for keeping this secret from me, and for disrupting another family. I had all this anger, but this invasion, disruption, and chaos was the reason I was born. It’s hard to come to terms with that sometimes.

I realized after a while, and I still have to remind myself of this, that I am still my own person. Whatever faults my biological parents have, I have the opportunity to make things right in my own life. I can continue to do the right thing everyday, tell the truth, improve the lives of the people I love, and be true to myself, always. I can attempt to right my wrongs, and I can leave relationships that don’t bring me value or happiness. I am so incredibly lucky to have had a partner who has stuck through it all beside me. I would be lost without him. My younger sister I grew up with, who is now my half-sister, has listened and validated me. My dad, who raised me, has known since I was five years old that I wasn’t his, but he still chose to be in my life, to love me and support me, and be my dad. Other friends and family have been wonderful at listening and supporting me as well.

My biological father was adopted, and never knew his biological family, other than his brother whom he was adopted with. Through the frenzy of discovery, I found my biological paternal side of my family too. I have learned about and seen photos of my biological grandparents. I have connected with two wonderful aunts, and I was fortunately able to meet one in person. I have also connected with two of my cousins who have welcomed me with open arms. They have all given me more than I could have ever asked for. I learned that my paternal grandmother and I look a lot alike, we share the same eyes, nose, and face shape. It is just a truly incredible feeling to see yourself in another person for the first time.

My MPE has been quite the journey, and some days I wish I would have never taken the test. It has brought me a great deal of pain. However, I have learned that it’s okay to connect to the good parts of your story and try to let go of the rest. Learning about my grandmother and my paternal family—I have discovered so much about myself in the process. A year and a half in, I am still learning to accept it. I still have my bad days, weeks, and even months. With the help of family, friends, support groups, therapy, and journaling, I have been healing.