I’ve had an incredibly busy week, numerous evening meetings, two new staff have started and they require a lot of my attention and I have a new boss. I’m preparing for a trip to Detroit to connect with a childhood friend and then an intense half week of work there. I’m tired, haven’t had enough time to prepare or do laundry. I haven’t checked the tracking on the DNA sample but I find myself wanting it to arrive before I leave. I don’t want it sitting in my cold entryway, stuffed haphazardly into my too small mailbox. The mailbox is so small and oddly shaped that frequently flyers, letters and small packages are ripped or torn in order to make them fit. I once complained to the US Postal Service because I received a card from a friend that was practically torn in half. After making the compliant I realized it probably would just end up penalizing some postal worker and not change much. I probably need a new mailbox.
The swab arrived, thankfully or dreadfully I’m not sure which, the night before my 7:00am train to Detroit. I got home late and pulled it out of the tiny black metal mailbox along with a credit card offers. I can never seem to figure out how to get them to stop sending me all their garbage. It came in a white envelope with half a dozen Swedish stamps, my name and address scrawled in Sharpie and no return address indicated. I felt the envelope to confirm that it was indeed the swab. I ran my hand along the outside until I felt the long cardboard stick at one end. I imagined it as white, wrapped in a plastic or paper sheath with a clump of cotton at one end.
It felt strange bringing it down into my garden level apartment. Walking it across the threshold of my door, bringing a part of this woman into my home all these miles away. It felt wrong like stealing or a violation of some natural law. At the same time I couldn’t help but be curious. So much potential information was included in that tiny little patch of cotton. So many potential answers, answers to questions I’d trained myself not to ask. Questions that I’d grown up telling myself were too dangerous to ask, too dangerous to be hopeful that I may be able to know them one day. Questions about my own ancestry, about my people. Who are they? Why I am light skinned if from southern India? How much about my birth father could be gleaned from my own DNA? Who is my mother?
Its somewhat curious that I haven’t ever submitted my own DNA to be tested. I’ve avoided the idea for as long as its been an option. I told myself the story that the only reason to have my DNA tested and included in a database would be if I thought it could lead to being reunited. The likelihood that some distant relative of mine had submitted their DNA seemed highly unlikely and making this a futile endeavor. Although it had occurred to me to submit my own DNA to learn about my own ancestry I’d never seriously entertained the idea. Perhaps because in the same way it feels wrong to me to know whether or not Sarai is my mother without her being a part of that it felt wrong to know my lineage without knowing anyone who is a part of it.
It feels wrong in part because of the impersonal nature of the transaction. It feels wrong because I want the knowing, I want the experience, to be one that is mutual and shared. It is hard to accept the fact that I may be able to know and she may never want to. I’d always envisioned this moment as a romantic one from a movie, us locking eyes and knowing deep down inside that we are connected, embracing, crying and laughing while exclaiming in our own languages at the incredulity of it all. Until the arrival of the DNA swab I’d never really entertained the idea of this experience being one-sided.
Growing up it was easy to tell myself stories that would keep me from getting my hopes up or letting my mind wonder about my birth family. I told myself lots of little stories most of which allowed me to induldge in self protective fantasies but never actually probe the unknown. I didn’t want disruption or to cause any issues. My sense was that I would never be able to know my true origins. They felt lost, or at least inaccessible. If there was no possibility of knowing it felt risky to hope. The fantasies I did entertain involved my birth family being of extreme wealth, usually characterized by having a large house and coming to pick me up in a helicopter or something similarly romantic and far-fetched. I remember wondering if they were royalty, if I were royalty somehow, and that they would, in my darkest moments, appear and swoop me up from this temporary life and take me back to my home in India.
Keeping the specifics of my origin hazy and fantastical served to protect me from developing any sense of connection to the actual people and places I came from. Without the specifics of my ancestral heritage it was rather easy to remain disconnected from others because I didn’t share a common historical identity with them. If I had known, say, that I was actually 15% South African what would that have done for me? Would I have felt a kinship and desire to connect with that culture, even without knowing what exactly the nature of that genetic relationship was? What exactly did I feel I was protecting myself from? Likely a sense of connection or rather a sense of lost connection (through the relinquishment process) that felt threatening. I didn’t want to open up a wound I wasn’t sure I knew how to heal, or I wasn’t sure I could heal. Perhaps the fear of knowing, of certainty, is also part of what holds me back now, holds me back from just submitting the DNA sample. Submitting the DNA sample and learning whether or not Sarai is my mother and learning about my genetic ancestry essentially makes everything real. If she is my mother, it means I was relinquished and that I likely will never have a relationship with her.
In some ways it feels absolutely amazing that 7 years after starting this cute little blog, venturing out into the online world of adoption solidarity that I am now on the door step of knowing. I’m not entirely sure I am ready to get an email notification with the results of the Family Finder test but I’ve never been more prepared. I’ve spent these past 7 years, particularly the last three, digging into myself, into my relationships to try to understand better who I am and how this part of me is an actual part of me, not a tumor or parasite to be rid of. It feels good to be able to say I want to know, I want that knowledge to be a part of my life, to be a part of my identity that I can call my own, integrate into my slowly coalescing self. My heritage, ancestral, cultural and biological feels like fragments of my identity that were initially stripped from me and I learned to repel. I’m now ready to pull them back into myself in whatever new ways they’ll fit.
Photo credit: Max Shannon