The Dark Side of DNA Tests

A surprising amount of people are innocently taking a DNA test to find out their ethnicity. Instead, they discover family secrets. My family is no exception.

My AncestryDNA test went into processing today. I should have my test results back in approximately 10-14 days. For me, it will be interesting to find family but it will also be closure to whether I have a sibling on my father’s side. I suspected I had one in my youth but my father would never admit it. Outside of my mother’s side of the family, no one would believe it. I will tell the whole story later, but my life tanked when I was pretty sure I was right (I overheard a conversation I wasn’t supposed to hear) because I couldn’t handle the weight of that deep of a lie. I made choices that today, I look back on and laugh at the foolishness and pointlessness of them. I was also raised to be close to my siblings as my older brother and I were very close. The idea of having a sibling, and having nothing to do with him or her, was mind boggling to me at the time. So that I wouldn’t have to keep up the lie, I distanced myself from the family more than I had previously. I want to be clear: I did not handle the situation as well as I could have. My life tanked because I allowed it to. I, solely, am responsible for the things I do so I blame no one but myself because I could have done better. Hind-sight is 20/20, isn’t it? I learned a lot and gained wisdom. Life is funny because once I learned my lesson and got my head on straight, I was rewarded with situations that led to great happiness and me finding out my true passions in life. Without all of that happening, it is highly unlikely I would have found it.

I was reminded of an article I read last year about a man who got a DNA test for his parents as a gift, only to find out the father had a child no one knew about.

At first, I was thinking this is the coolest genetics story, my own personal genetics story. I wasn’t particularly upset about it initially, until the rest of the family found out. Their reaction was different. Years of repressed memories and emotions uncorked and resulted in tumultuous times that have torn my nuclear family apart. My parents divorced. No one is talking to my dad. We’re not anywhere close to being healed yet and I don’t know how long it will take to put the pieces back together.

My family will experience a similar situation. My step-mother is going to find out that my father had a child I’m assuming she knew nothing about, with a woman she considered a friend, before she married my father. While it would be easy to say the mother did not know it was my father’s child, that is a bold-faced lie. My sibling was tested at birth to make sure she did not have sickle-cell disease like my father. The way I found out was because the mother kept asking my father for money for my sister and I kept overhearing it. My father’s best friend at the time knew as well.

I cannot imagine how my step-mother will feel finding this out. I cannot imagine how my brother is going to take it that he has a sister, by a woman he knows. I was fine, and initially embraced my sister, because it wasn’t news to me that I had a sibling. I am not naive and I realize how painful this situation can be.

I would want a warning saying, “Check this box and FYI: people discover their parents aren’t their parents, they have siblings they didn’t know about. If you check this box, these are the things you’ll find.” And I’m the one with my PhD. I understand how this works. But I didn’t think through all of the practical implications, in part because I thought, “This wouldn’t happen to me.”

Most people think it wouldn’t happen to them until they get the test results back. I would not be surprised if there are more secrets uncovered with my DNA test results. I won’t make excuses for my parents, and I apologize in advance for any pain they may have caused. And the irony is that the test might not reveal anything now but something may come up in the future as more people are tested. Time will tell the tale, it always does because the truth, eventually, is revealed.

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