A DNA Surprise Five Decades in the Making - Part 1

From Brianne:

On the Watershed DNA blog, I provide a platform for people to share stories about DNA surprises that don’t make it into TV commercials or on national shows.

The stories of surprise people share with me often don’t have happy endings. Or there is a period of stress and strain on individuals and on relationships before normalcy is re-established.

DNA surprises can devastate families, like this situation I wrote about. Trauma and shifts in identity result when “who am I, really?” comes into question. Some people experience major struggles lasting months or years before they can get clear answers to their questions and reach a place of acceptance or resolution.

The spiritual implications of these stories often go untold, and for some people this can be a center point of their DNA story. I’m honored that Judey and Ginna wished to share with my readers about their unbelievable story of finding each other.

Judey, a late-discovery adoptee, reached out to me with her amazing story of finding and reuniting with her birth mother after decades of failed searching. Turns out, her mom didn’t know she should be searching for her daughter. You’ll have to read Judey and Ginna’s story for yourself to find out why.

 The Story of Judey and Ginna: Judey’s Side of the Story:

Birthdays have been bitter-sweet for me since I found out at age 21 that I was adopted as an infant. Since then -- and every year until last year -- the wish I made over my birthday candle was a desire to know who my biological family was.

When I blew out the 49 candles on my cake last year, I never expected it would be the last time I made that wish.

The story of my surprise reunion with my birth mother begins 18 months ago and starts with a story about my boss’s dog, Lexie. My boss Taylor and I were having a conversation about her dog Lexie and dog DNA testing. All Taylor wanted for her birthday this year was to DNA test Lexie. The process is pretty simple and similar to human DNA testing. The company sends you a kit, you swab the inside of your dog’s cheek, and weeks later, you receive the breakdown of your dog’s breeds based on DNA.

This story may never have happened if it weren’t for a DNA test on this sweet pup, Lexie. Good dog, Lexie!

This story may never have happened if it weren’t for a DNA test on this sweet pup, Lexie. Good dog, Lexie!

The dog DNA testing of Lexie - a funny story itself, which included a surreptitious trip to the kennel and assistance of DNA-swabbing accomplices there - led to conversations between my cousin and myself about DNA testing on ourselves. Eventually, my cousin convinced me to buy the test, if for nothing else than to definitively prove that I am indeed Italian. A few weeks after, in November of last year, I had my results. The analyses the company posts online are incredibly detailed, listing percentages of ethnicity to the <1%, and it came with immediate vindication – 52% Italian! 

A portion of Judey’s ethnicity results by DNA

A portion of Judey’s ethnicity results by DNA

Another section of the online profile had a section for matching family. I didn’t realize that would be there! When Ancestry.com and other companies like it analyze your DNA, they search for matches in their database of family members as distant as 8th cousins. On my profile at the top of the page, there was a match to someone listed as “V.Q.”

It also stated this person was my mother.

My mother?!

I had searched for this person for years! And somehow, thanks to God, I had discovered her completely by accident.

For 15 years after the discovery at age 21 of my adoption, I searched for any information I could find about my birth family and kept coming up empty-handed. At one point, I even hired investigators to search through records in New York, where I was born. In those years, I discovered the last name I had at birth and a few non-identifying details about my birth mother. That was it, and after years of frustrating dead-ends and thousands of dollars, I had decided to give up the search.

Soon after getting my shocking results from Ancestry.com, I sent a message through the system to the person on the other side.

It wasn’t my birth mother, it was her extremely-bewildered niece who managed the account.

A first cousin to me on my maternal side.

We messaged back and forth and slowly my cousin came to an understanding of who I was. But she had never known her aunt - a woman who never married or had children and was a dedicated and successful career person - to have had a child.

Feeling like this wasn’t something she could talk about with her aunt about over the phone, she decided to wait until she had an opportunity to speak in person to my birth mom. It was an agonizing wait for us both.

A family health emergency unexpectedly brought my birth mother and her niece into the same city a week later. My cousin Lynn asked her aunt when they had time alone together,

“What were you doing on October 14, 1968 in Queens, New York?”

I’ll let Ginna describe what that moment was like for her, but you can imagine my cousin’s shock and relief when Ginna immediately replied she had a baby, a baby girl who died after birth. She reported the hospital name and other details that matched up exactly with the information I had already provided. 

“She is not dead, she is living and has two sons. You have a daughter. And grandchildren. AND great-grandchildren!” was Lynn’s reply.

My cousin and mother have both recounted to me what the moments following it were like - screaming, crying, hugging - but I can still only imagine.

Within days, my birth mother and I were speaking over the phone.

If we had lived closer to one another rather than being on opposites coasts of United States, I’m sure we would have met in person right away. Instead, we started a relationship over the phone that lasted many weeks until we were able to meet in person. Some nights, we would stay up talking and getting to know one another until it was 2:30am for me! I would have to pull myself out of bed to go to work, but I didn’t care. This was something I had hoped and prayed for years would happen and had gotten to the point of believing it never would.

After months of getting to know one another, I arranged a trip to see her. We had a quiet and private reunion in a hotel suite that I rented. Only she and I were there and we hugged without stopping for a long time. No cameras or balloons or big emotional event at the airport for bystanders to watch.

It was perfect.

I consider our story and our reunion a miracle. My mother Ginna and I have always been Catholics, and our story has strengthened our faith even deeper. So many things had to come together for this to play out the way it did. We both consider Jesus and a few specific Saints to have had a hand in our lives and our story.

My birth mother and I met in person for the first time in January 2018. Over the summer, she moved cross-country to live with me so that we need be separated no longer. After years of searching by myself and even more years of prayers by my birth mom, who prayed every day for St. Anthony to look after her departed daughter, we see no reason to be apart.

Judey and Ginna celebrating Judey’s 50th birthday recently - their first one celebrating together

Judey and Ginna celebrating Judey’s 50th birthday recently - their first one celebrating together

Our reunion has filled in a hole I’ve always had, but I have many questions that can’t be answered. Although it is less strong than at points in the past, I still struggle with anger that this happened to me and to us. But Ginna’s attitude about what happened has helped me towards healing.

My birth mother’s chance decision to take an ancestry test - and mine - is nothing less than a miracle. I pray our story will provide hope to others who have given up the search after an adoption many years or even decades in the past.

As I leaned over my birthday candles at my office surprise birthday party a few weeks ago, I was struck with a feeling I had never before felt. My birth mom was now in my life. 

I had to think of a new wish.

What an amazing accomplishment. 

Conclusion by Brianne:

When Judey reached out to me by email and during our subsequent phone call, I was incredulous as she recounted the details of her DNA results and discovery. Like you probably have now, I had so many questions for her. How could this be? But I quickly realized this story - corroborated by mother, daughter, and the people involved in administering their DNA tests - was for real.

The power of DNA testing and the deep social stigma surrounding unmarried mothers allowed this situation to occur. This is an unusual adoptee-discovers-birth-family story, but we are discovering more like it. It’s now unbelievable to any person with common sense and a single ethical bone in their body to think a group of actors involved in the hospital delivery of baby could scoop baby Judey and place her into another family, telling her mother her baby had died. Even if a mother planned to place her baby for adoption, telling her the baby has passed does not promote healing and ‘moving on’ as was a misconception in the past. But these things happened. And DNA tests are leading to these revelations.

What struck me most about speaking with Judey was her desire from the very beginning about the reason she wanted to share her story. Rather than becoming angry at the people who lied about Judey’s ‘passing’ (“All of those people are gone now, anyway,” she explained), the focus is on now, and on the future.

Judey and Ginna say they want to use what time they have left together to be present and focus on the relationship they are building now as mother and daughter. From beginning, Judey was clear that she and Ginna wanted this to be a story to give others a chance to renew their faith in God. For her, there is no drive to seek justice for or restitution from those who wronged them in the past.

“Wishes do come true! You have to be strong and believe!” she wrote me in a recent email.

Judey and Ginna have chosen not share their last names for the protection of the children and grandchildren in the family. They are not out for acclaim or notoriety. It’s the simple human expression of a desire to make a difference and give others a reason to have their faith restored in the good that can happen in life. 

Whether you believe in a higher power or have a faith, whether you pray to the Saints or not, Agape is here in Judey and Ginna’s story, and in their desire to share it.