Intro from Brianne:
If you haven’t read part one of this story, that is where you must start. Part 2 below covers the same story, but told from birth mother Ginna’s perspective. This story still catches my breath. That’s how it feels when a story is like a roller coaster, and when the truth is more unbelievable than fiction.
THE STORY OF JUDEY AND GINNA: GINNA’S SIDE OF THE STORY:
Fishing has been something I’ve done nearly my whole life. It was a family affair; we’d pile in the boat and enjoy the relaxation and fun together. My dad and brother taught me to fish when I was three, and it is something I never stopped doing once I learned. Fishing is in my blood.
I never knew that one day I would be fishing in a different type of pond -- a DNA testing company’s family matching database -- and make an unbelievable catch.
It all starts in 1968 when a good friend and I had a brief relationship and conceived a baby.
It was a very stressful time in life for me, unmarried and expecting a baby at a time that was very much a stigma.
I was already well into my second trimester before I discovered I was expecting. I considered planning an adoption for the baby. It hadn’t been decided on, but near the end of the pregnancy, my family had stepped up and stepped in to say they would help me with the baby however I needed it, whether that meant family adopting the baby or having me move back home.
Near delivery, I unexpectedly fell ill with Asiatic flu and had a high fever. I found myself in labor with the baby much earlier than expected, and with hospital staff who were unfamiliar to me. A different doctor was on call - not my own doctor - when the baby was born.
The high fever and medications I was given rendered me incoherent.
I never heard a baby cry, and I wasn’t conscious for a very long while.
When I came-to nearly a full day later, my doctor - the one who cared for me during the pregnancy but did not deliver the baby - informed me that while I had been unconscious, the baby had passed away from blood issues. They never brought her to see me.
Even though I was in the middle of figuring out an adoption plan, it was still devastating to have lost the baby, to say the least.
I never forgave myself for the role I felt I had played in the death of my innocent baby.
I began that day to pray to St. Anthony for forgiveness. Every day for the next 49 years I prayed for St. Anthony to carry my prayers for my baby in heaven.
This all happened in the late 1960s, when I was a young 20-year old. This was a time of the past when emotions did not get talked about - you pushed them down and were expected to move forward with life after a loss. So my close family, the only ones who knew I had had a baby, never brought it up again.
I went home, recovered from the sickness and childbirth, and went back to my job within a matter of days, as soon as I could. It never dawned on me that I should ask to see the baby or a death certificate. My experience at the hospital was traumatic. The nurses had treated me roughly, not bringing me food while I was there, for example. I thought maybe it was because I was unmarried and having a baby. But I had no reason to doubt what I was told by my doctor.
I never forgot my baby, and I prayed every single day for forgiveness, but life moved on.
I took a lot of pride in my work and career in the culinary field and rose through my chosen line of work to own and run a restaurant. I traveled and toured the country as a result of my work and I found a lot of pleasure in it. Although I had dating relationships over the years, including one that was quite long-term, I never married or had other children. My nieces, nephews, and godson were like my own children to me.
My life was full. Still, I went to mass every Sunday and throughout Lent. And I prayed to St. Anthony. My faith was a steady part of my life.
Fast forward five decades to the year 2017.
My niece encouraged me to do a DNA test. I thought nothing about it except it was interesting and might show me my ethnic heritage. I knew there was the family matching component to the testing and was expecting I’d match my sisters and my niece and other relatives. I didn’t know my niece had discovered the biggest surprise with an unexpected close match because my niece was the one who had my login information and took care of the testing and online account.
Family means everything to me, and I have great relationships with my relatives. I was in town visiting my sister unexpectedly after she developed some medical issues, and my niece asked me to come over to her house alone. I figured it was news related to my sister’s medical incident that we needed to discuss in private, so imagine my shock when instead she asked me about myself.
“What were you doing on October 14th, 1968 in Queens, NY?”
Confused by the sudden unexpected question about myself, I paused a moment. But then I responded almost immediately with the truth. “I was in the hospital having a baby, a baby girl who died.”
My thoughts moved so quickly at that moment. I still wasn’t thinking I had been matched to an adult daughter by the testing, it just wasn’t registering. I still thought of her as a baby, believing she had died as my doctor had said.
My mind was racing around, and it quickly jumped to the conclusion that my deeply held secret of being responsible for my baby’s death due to the blood disorder had finally been revealed. Somehow, the DNA tests done for the ancestry purposes must have revealed my secret. My blood ailment must have been found out and everyone finally knew I had caused my baby’s death.
I have never been more shocked in my life as the moment that followed that. My niece explained that no, the baby was not dead! She was living. Alive! A grown woman with two sons. Her sons had daughters. I had grandchildren! Great-grandchildren!
The shock that people have when I share this story can only be a fraction of what I went through at that moment. Believe me. We screamed and cried and hugged, my niece and I.
The amount of happiness in that moment has never been matched by another moment in my entire life.
People have asked if I want revenge or justice for having been wronged by whoever was involved in Judey’s being taken away from me at her birth. I went back to the hospital to try to find out more about that time in 1968 when I was a patient. There are no records from that period of time. The people who cared for me are long gone.
I don’t feel like this was a regular occurrence that is still happening today. So it isn’t about revenge for me at this point.
With the time I have left, I want to spend it with my daughter.
Don’t get me wrong, it is still extremely hard for me when I think back on the fact my baby was taken and given to another family. Yet every day, I’m so impressed by the person she is, who Judey became. She is just an amazing person. I live with both bits of regret for lost time and at the same time, great joy for who she is.
I’m still working through the guilt of not having done more to make them prove to me my baby had died. Should I have asked for a death certificate? It’s hard not to think about all the what-ifs and things that in hindsight I would have done differently. But think about it from my perspective. I have already lost so many years, and I refuse to lose any more.
I will not feed the anger. That’s not how I will choose to spend my time and energy.
My family is my support, and my belief in answered prayers gets me through. Every day for 49 years I prayed to Saint Anthony! This wasn’t how I expected my prayers to go answered, but I am not going to complain about that part!
Judey and I didn’t meet in person right away, we developed our relationship over the phone first. By the time we met, we were closely acquainted from our long, late-night phone calls. Those had been an important part of the process of us getting to know each other.
Six weeks after I had discovered she was alive, I met my daughter for the first time.
Before I got on the elevator to go up to the hotel room where we had agreed to have our reunion in private, I told her to make sure she truly wanted to meet me. It was her last opportunity to change her mind. Because I told her, once I open that door, I am not going to leave again.
She chose to open the door, and that first moment I’ll never forget. The nicest smile and the warmest hug were there to greet me. It was an unbelievable feeling. I grabbed her and hugged her. Pure happiness I can’t even put into word. Pure happiness, mixed with gratefulness for answered prayers.
I decided to move cross-country within months of our meeting in person. She’s busy with work all day, but we laugh together while we watch reality shows together in the evening. Since I’m recently retired from my long career, the way I choose to spend my time is all mine to choose. I wouldn’t be anywhere else doing anything else than what I am right now.
My family has expanded since I innocently spit in that tube for my DNA test. My life now includes a daughter and grandsons and great-granddaughters and a home on the opposite coast from where I’ve spent most of my life. I am a New Yorker through and through, and now here I am living in California! This is an unbelievable course of events that I never could have dreamed of in my wildest dreams.
A love for fishing must pass through our DNA because I was ecstatic to discover Judey had a love for fishing as well. The first time I took her out on the boat, I had to teach her the ways of our family. I scanned the boat as I stepped on, to make sure all the equipment was there. Safety first! No alcohol should be allowed on the boat, and life jackets are not to be ignored.
Judey laughed at me, but I had to teach her the way our family fished.
Some life lessons are never too late for a mother to teach her daughter.
Conclusion from Brianne: Stigma against single motherhood has been a pressure felt by many women for decades, possibly centuries. Even though some families will now help and support young or single mothers to keep and parent their children, there is still pressure on some women to consider adoption who have a desire to parent.
Some developments, like the availability of paternity tests to establish who is the father of a baby even prior to its birth, are helping women better plan and prepare for their children. The increasing encouragement of fathers’ involvement in the day-to-day care of their children mean that fathers also expected to assume more responsibility when a child is conceived and brought into the world, compared to years past.
There is so much more to this particular “DNA surprise” story than has been included in these two posts. In deciding what parts to include, it was important to Judey and Ginna that this wasn’t to be a story focused on the terrible things people of the past did. And we can all acknowledge that the story after the DNA test results came back might have unfolded differently had Judey’s adoptive parents still been alive.
These stories of DNA surprise seem to be relatively rare, but consumer DNA tests are bringing more of them to light. Maybe they aren’t so rare after all. Will there be more adults discovered by birth families who turn out to be the babies they thought had died?
Some situations in which babies were taken unwillingly from their birth mothers have been exposed, like in case of the Georgia Tann ring (Georgia Tann was the leader of a black market infant trafficking ring based in Tennessee in the 1920s-1950s time frame). The consequence is that some parents who were told their babies died are finding revived hope, but unfortunately not in every situation. One particular project recently investigated a suspected infant trafficking ring in Spain, and it turns out that trafficking does not appear to have been an issue after all. (Follow this link to read about it). Investigations into Ashkenazi Jewish babies of Yemenite descent (now adults) who were systematically taken from their families in Israel have also begun, with DNA testing starting to identify and reconnect grown children to their biological families.
These things aside, it was important to Judey and Ginna that they share the great importance of their faith and the outcome of their DNA testing situation.
I am grateful they chose my blog as the first place to share their story publicly.
Updated on 3.6.19 with the New York Times story about the Yemenite Children Affair.