My guest blogger Molly and her family have been through a stressful time after the discovery of a DNA relative they were unaware existed. Molly’s husband unknowingly fathered a child who is now an adult; a DNA test taken by a relative enabled the discovery.
Molly wanted to share with readers what she has learned from the experience being married to a newly found biodad, to provide for someone else the guidance that she thinks could have benefitted her husband who found himself in entirely uncharted territory.
This blog has been around nearly four years and during that time, dozens of other guest bloggers have talked about various aspects of the NPE/DNA surprise experience. This is the first time we’ve heard from a spouse. Most who have shared so far have been adult adoptees, NPEs, and their siblings. You can read some of those stories here:
More are listed in the Resources tab of this website.
Thank you so much for sharing about your experience, Molly. The more we understand all of the various perspectives of an unexpected DNA discovery, the better we can do at supporting each individual and each family through them.
There is a secret Facebook support group for spouses/“birth wives” and other support groups available which I and others run…if you find yourself looking for support, you can friend me on Facebook to find out more.
Congrats, it’s a (30-year-old) girl! Suggestions for the newly found biological father
by guest blogger Molly
Our family recently received some unexpected news after my in-laws were gifted DNA test kits for Christmas. An unknown person designated as “granddaughter” appeared on their family tree. It turns out she is the adult child my husband, unbeknownst to him, produced during a one-night-stand in college. She was adopted at birth by another couple and thankfully, by her own account, had a wonderful upbringing.
To say this news was unsettling is a huge understatement; it was a discovery that we were totally unequipped to handle -- both individually and as a couple. Every fault line in our marriage was magnified while we made important decisions from reactive mode, attempting to do what was “right” while trying to preserve our little family unit. Something that a stronger, more connected marriage could have adapted to and accepted came close to ending ours.
As I reflect on our experience I am reminded that still, there is virtually no support for the blindsided family that receives this news. The companies that market DNA test kits highlight the joyful Hallmark card-like reunions and first-ever meetings while certainly knowing that isn’t the reality for everyone (not to mention there’s never any follow-up on how the reunited have fared once the initial excitement wears off). The fact is these discoveries cause upheaval, to some degree, in a family that wasn’t aware of or awaiting the reappearance of a relinquished child.
I’ve learned a lot from our own experience and through my interactions with other women in the same situation. What seems to be true for all of us is that our husbands had absolutely no idea what they were doing. And that a little support and direction could have saved the marriage and family significant stress. In an effort to change that for other couples trying to navigate this situation, I would offer the following suggestions for the husband in the days, weeks and months after learning of a new biological daughter:
1. Don’t rush into anything in your initial communication/response. Instead offer a kind acknowledgement via email or letter saying you need time to digest this information and to determine how to proceed as a man with a wife and family. Ask what information you can provide to her in the meantime.
2. Go to therapy. Even the strongest marriages can be thrown off kilter by this discovery; weaker ones can be destroyed by it. Don’t take a chance going it alone. If your therapist doesn’t immediately grasp the potential implications of this discovery (whether you pursue a relationship or not) on the marital bond and the family unit find another therapist.
3. Validate. Don’t minimize your wife’s feelings by saying things like this happened before I met you, this isn’t that big of a deal, etc. Recognize that this news has likely rocked her world in a profound way. For one, until now she may have been under the reasonable assumption that she was the only woman on earth to bear your children. That alone can be the most devastating aspect of this experience.
4. Listen. Your wife may be struggling with complicated, conflicting feelings – fear of the unknown, jealousy, anger, sadness, loss (plus a ton of guilt for having those feelings)… curiosity, compassion. Recognize that this range of emotions is 100 percent valid and normal. Also respect that your wife, being a woman, has unique insights and observations that you don’t necessarily possess, insights that are particularly relevant if you have a biological daughter.
5. Own responsibility. Of course you didn’t intentionally get someone pregnant decades ago, but the reality is your past choices have affected your family today. Show that you understand that by talking openly, not only about your own feelings but about how this could impact the family you created with your wife. Showing an awareness and appreciation for what the biological mother experienced due to an unplanned pregnancy is also important; likewise for the biological daughter’s experience, whatever it turned out to be. Pro tip: If you show vulnerability in this way your wife is more likely to empathize with you and be a support to you. And you’re going to need her!
6. Put aside any innate desire to “fix it.” This discovery is not an everyday issue or problem to be solved immediately. Your biological daughter has probably known for years she’s adopted and maybe has had the support of a therapist leading up to and during her search. You just learned this information! Proceed slowly with care and recognize that there are lots of people and relationship dynamics to consider first.
7. Deal with your guilt. It is pretty heavy to learn you created a human being you had no idea existed – even more so if you find she’s had some difficulties in life. In attempting to take responsibility now it is easy to overcompensate by leaping in headfirst before you’ve gotten real about what you even want or can offer as a married man with a family. Work through those feelings before pursuing a relationship to save possible confusion or heartbreak later.
8. Consider your children. There is a huge spectrum of possible reactions to this news depending on all sorts of things such as age, gender and emotional maturity levels. Consider that as well as the strength of your bonds with the children you’ve been raising. You need to determine if sharing this information or pursuing a relationship now is the right decision for your family.
9. Remember you are a team. Involve your wife in every decision, big and small, as it relates to this situation. Do not be secretive – even under the guise of “protecting her feelings.” It is impossible to carry on a relationship with the new biological daughter in a vacuum without damaging your marriage in some way.
With the popularity of DNA test kits more and more men are going to learn they have unknown offspring. They are going to need support; so are their wives and children. Should you find yourself in this situation, hopefully these suggestions serve as a good starting point from which you and your wife, together as partners, can determine the path that is best for your family.