UNBREAKABLE. EMPATH. ADVOCATE.
My family of origin consists of two older sisters who are 10.5 and 8 years older than me—where I grew up much like an only child with parents who were in and out of the hospital with major health issues from the time I was in Junior High (Dad having a heart transplant and Mom with Multiple Sclerosis then breast cancer twice). I can recall many very significant moments in my life that changed the whole trajectory, living in unpredictable chaos and dysfunction. One relationship I held closest to my heart and with whom I had an unspoken special connection with was my Dad (the man who raised me)…who was always my hero.
In 1998, my sister let it slip out that my parents were divorced for 3 years before I was born, thinking I already knew. I only started wondering and asking questions like…what were the circumstances of my conception? But my brain was not letting me get past the circumstance between my parents – did they get pregnant with me and THEN get back together, or did they get back together first? My thoughts were not going to the fact that my Dad might not be my biological father. I sat on these questions for a few more years.
Then, in 2005 my Dad passed away. This is when my brain started to allow the thoughts to expand. I started wondering whether or not he was my biological father. I even got the courage to start talking about it out loud and asking questions to cousins, aunts and even my sisters. Nobody knew enough information to confirm, until 2 years later when one of my sisters finally said “well, now that Dad has been gone for a couple years, I can tell you how I feel about the situation”. What situation?? She went on to explain the biology class she took in college discussing the Putnam square learning genetics. Her teacher confirmed that according to this theory, 2 blue-eyed parents can only have a blue-eyed child. We started researching paternity eye color and found similar information. We also found full sibling DNA tests that cost $500 to do through an online service. Commercial DNA was not yet developed.
My Mom was in the early stages of dementia due to her MS. My sister and I decided that she would have a conversation with my Mom before spending the money on a DNA test. She approached my Mom with the same story about the biology teacher and simply asked “is it possible that Dad is not Liann’s biological father”? My Mom immediately said, “I know he’s not”. By this point, I was more surprised that she so readily admitted it than the fact that it was actually true. I am lucky that I was able to have a conversation with her and she gave some answers, although she could not remember his name. What was confirmed was that I was a product of an affair as he was married, he was Jewish and there was a possibility of other siblings. He lived in a different state but worked for the same company she worked for. She was a month pregnant with me when she quit her job without notice, left the town where she was living with my sisters and got her family back together, all the while not telling my Dad (who raised me) she was pregnant for another couple weeks. My Dad asked no questions and raised me as his – happy to have his family and the love of his life back.
In 2017, I was finally in a place where my urge to know more answers provided me with the courage to do 23 and Me. My results did not generate any close relative matches, so I did Ancestry in 2018. BOOM…a close relative match that turned out to be a half-brother! Messages were sent back and forth for a few weeks but knowing his Dad’s history, there was not doubt in my half-brother’s mind. Not to mention, DNA doesn’t lie. After a couple high anxiety months, he finally had the conversation with his Dad (my bio father). Through our communication, I knew that his parents were still married and worked through the years of his infidelities. I was prepared for rejection when I received the answer “he just wants to leave it alone”. What I was not prepared for was that I was asked to keep the secret from my half-sister. My whole goal in my journey was to no longer be the secret. I was “the secret” my whole life in my family. And here I was, still being kept a secret. Communication did not continue with my half-brother even though he previously stated he would be willing to continue. I understand as I’m sure he is only protecting his Dad (his secrets), his Mom and sister.
Not long after I was asked to keep the secret from her, I knew that I would be the one to tell her. I also knew that the timing would need to be right. I sat on this request for 2 years and did a lot of personal work on myself. I needed to get to a place in my own heart where I would be able to handle rejection again. I needed to be strong enough in who I am to understand that their response to me has nothing to do with me…either way it goes. But she had a right to know about me.
September 2021, I finally got to the place where I felt like I had a great support system around me and had myself prepared for any outcome. I sent my half-sister a Facebook message explaining who I was as delicately as possible. It took her a few days to get the message since we weren’t friends on FB, but she responded! She was shocked, obviously, but responded and asked for some time. It was just a couple days later, and she started asking with some questions. I told her whatever she wanted to know if I had the answers. We continued communicating, compared pictures and figured out we drove the same car, even the color! While it was a very sensitive situation, the communication had a very different vibe than with the half-brother. We even had the opportunity to meet a couple months after I first contacted her. There are still many guards and much processing for her to do. I was (and still am) very conscious of the fact that this was very new information for her, but I have known for many years. The communication is not consistent and is still very surface level, but I’m grateful for the open response I received when I messaged and the open arms treatment I received when we met.
At the time of my discovery, I was in therapy for other reasons. I thought this would be a benefit to have a therapist help work through what I was feeling. After the novelty of my story left her, there was no understanding or trying to work through the depth of trauma this causes. Looking back, I didn’t even realize the true depth myself, so how could I know what I needed from her? I ended up having to break-up with my therapist. I spent many years sorting through memories and connecting dots on my own. Finding alternative modalities of healing, NPE support groups, learning self-love and connecting to my authentic self. I was finally able to put into words what this journey has been like for me. Finding out the man who raised me is not my biological father caused my foundation to crumble from underneath me. I had to put the puzzle pieces of my foundation back together without having the picture of what it should look like. When we put puzzles together we have the picture in front of us, right? I am currently diving into inner child work/shadow work and ancestral trauma. I’m still processing and coming to terms with different after effects of trauma I’ve endured, like self-abandonment. While working through much of this for myself and giving myself the vocabulary, I am also realizing that I’m in a place in my journey where I’m ready to help others and advocate for NPE, adoptee and donor conceived communities when it comes to trauma informed care, specifically in the healthcare industry. The wheels are turning, and I feel like I can combine my professional background with my new trauma certification to make a difference. I’m excited to see where this new journey takes me.
If there is one thing I realized through this journey, is how much of a hero my Dad actually was in my life. He raised me without question, and I know deep down he knew. That’s the kind of man he was. I feel him with me all the time and I see his name everywhere. I feel the connection we have now is even stronger than I could have imagined.