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23andMe (andMomandDad)

In exchanging email with CeCe Moore, I now had a DNA game plan.  I would get a second opinion.  I’d re-test my father and me at the DNA testing company, 23andMe.  23andMe had something I didn’t know I needed: a chromosome browser.  A chromosome browser is an illustration of your chromosomes, all  23 pairs of them, neatly stacked one on top another.  When you DNA match someone, the part of your DNA that’s an exact match to their DNA is called, “a shared segment.”  You get a visual representation of your shared DNA segments with other people using a chromosome browser.  If I’m a DNA match to my dad, or anyone else in their database, I could see exactly where, on what chromosomes, the DNA match is taking place.  A parent shares 50% of their DNA with a biological child.  Comparing them against each other will light up all 23 chromosome with color.  Good.  An easy to understand visual.  I liked that.

“I know you don’t want your dad to know about this,” CeCe began in one of our email exchanges.  “Do you think you can get him to DNA test again for you so soon?  Will he question it?”  I knew he wouldn’t.  He was raised by his grandmother and a bunch of aunts.  If a woman made a reasonable request, he’d oblige them every time without a thought.  I ordered the spit kits and when they arrived, I called him.  “Hey Dad!” I chirped enthusiastically,  “You know how I DNA tested you and me a couple of months ago over at Ancestry?   Well, there’s this new company called 23andMe and they’re doing really interesting stuff with DNA.  Would you test again for me?  I’d love to get our DNA in this new database.”  Within the hour, I was sitting in his living room watching him spit in the tube.  Our tests went into the mail the follow day.

I called my mom.  “I DNA tested dad at another company to compare results; you know…get a second opinion,” I told her.  “I didn’t say anything to him about us not DNA matching.  I don’t want to upset him.  I should get the results back in a month or so.”

“Good thinking.  No sense upsetting your dad for nothing.  I’m glad to hear that you’re getting a second opinion, honey,” she said.  “I know this whole thing has been weighing on you.  You need resolution.”

“I do,” I replied.  “Are you totally sure, mom?  One-hundred percent sure that Fred’s my dad?”

“Yep.  I’m one-hundred percent sure.  Not a doubt in my mind.”

“Because I would understand if he wasn’t,” I offered (yet again).

“Laurie, you know me.  If I thought that Fred wasn’t your dad, I’d tell you.”

She was right.  I would expect her to come clean with me.  Being the only two females in a house of guys, we had an exceptionally close relationship.  We could tell each anything, and we did.  There wasn’t any subject we couldn’t openly talk about with one another.   When I was in high school, my mom said, “You’ve been dating Greg a while now.  Look, if you are even thinking about having sex, you need to get on birth control pills.  If you wait until the moment you need it, it’s too late.  Let me know and I’ll make you an appointment with the doctor.”  She made an appointment for me at her OB-Gyn that day.  Oh, she wasn’t thrilled about it, but she knew she’d be far less thrilled to have a teenage pregnant daughter.  Pick your poison.  There wasn’t any point in shaming me over this, or imagining that I was some sort of moral saint; impervious to the human condition.  Some parents expect their children will be the perfect people that they could never be themselves.  My mother wasn’t one of those people.  “They’re living in Fantasyland,” she’d say.  “What a ridiculous burden to put on your kids.”

That’s not to say that we had a storybook perfect mother-daughter relationship.  We had our challenging moments, mostly due to both of us having a tendency for strong opinions and the nature to share them freely; whether or not people asked for them.  And we enjoyed a good debate.  Sometimes, a debate would take a wrong turn and from time to time heated words would be exchanged between us, phones would be slammed down, and we’d go all of a couple of days without talking to one another.  Eventually, one of us give in and make a phone call. “Look, this is stupid.  I love you.  Can we just agree to disagree on this?” The other would reply, “I love you, too. Okay. We’ll agree to disagree.  “Hey, did you catch the news this morning?  What did you think about…”

And life would go on.

But this wasn’t a difference of opinion between us.  She didn’t understand what a DNA test can reveal and no amount of explaining it to her seemed to make a difference. She was the one person I could turn to that would always understand, and she wasn’t understanding any of it.  She thought DNA tests were on par with the kiddie microscope she bought me for Christmas when I was a seven.  I wasn’t going to make some crazy new scientific discovery with it.  It was for fun!  My conversations with her about my DNA results were extremely frustrating.  I’d ask, “Maybe?” and she’d reply, “Impossible.”  And that was that.  She was a little old lady, seventy-five years old, and in rapidly deteriorating health.  How hard could I press her?  Not hard, though I often had not-so-fleeting thoughts of waterboarding and truth serum.

One day, while waiting for the 23andMe results to post, I had an idea.  I’d find the local newspaper published around the time I was born and get the names of the other girl babies born at the hospital the same weekend I was born.  Back then, newspapers regularly reported this stuff and I was pretty sure The Lewiston Daily Sun did, too.  I would find out who they are and where they were today.  I’d create family trees for all of them on my account at Ancestry on the off chance I’d been the victim of a baby switch.  My mother happened to call while I was in the midst of this project.

“Hey, whatcha up to?” she asked.

I told her.

She was quiet for a moment.  “Do you honestly think I wouldn’t know my own baby, Laurie?”

“I don’t know what to think about anything anymore, mom,” I sighed.  “If I’m not Fred’s child, how do I know that I’m yours?”

The mere suggestion that perhaps I wasn’t her child immediately ticked her off.  “Of course I’d know my own baby!  They handed you to me when you were born.  I wasn’t going to forget your face, come on!  You’re being ridiculous!”

“Well, can I DNA test you, too?  So I know for sure?”

“Yes,” she said, “but let’s not make a big deal of this.  We can do this sometime when we’re alone together.  I don’t want your brothers to know about it and be suspicious of anything, okay.”

I was excited that she was willing to test for me but…“suspicious?”  Why would my brothers be suspicious about anything?  I could understand why she didn’t want me to tell them about my results with our dad but why would she think they’d care if I tested her, too?  They had no interest in genealogy or DNA.  She was being overly cautious about something.  I just didn’t know what.

I ordered a DNA test at 23andMe for her, too.

 

 

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Laurie Pratt

Perpetually curious. I love history, genealogy, old movies, good books, all sorts of music, and adventures involving travel. In my spare time, I help admin a genetic genealogy Facebook page for CeCe Moore ("DNA Detectives") and coach people how to connect with their biological family using DNA.

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