One year ago today, I had the surreal experience of sitting on the stage of the Megyn Kelly NBC Today show to answer questions about my work with people who make surprise discoveries after DNA testing. To call it memorable would be an understatement!
or paste this link into your browser: https://www.today.com/video/how-to-handle-shocking-dna-test-results-according-to-experts-1315003459699?v=raila&&fbclid=IwAR0kWclSE3kbdpduoAr6ZVZIGsNw6ZKSBwDSSQwvRdnrm7nyLP8mEiG56n4
I still get asked about the experience often, so I’m deciding to post a little behind-the-scenes details about that day and provide an update of the past year.
At the very end of August 2018, an email popped up in my inbox. It was from someone introducing herself as a producer for Megyn’s show asking if I would be willing to hop on the phone, and possibly be on the expert segment? I forgot to breathe for a minute. I have gotten bogus emails before, but this one looked legitimate. I clicked on some links in the email, and it seemed to all check out. So with shaking hands, I wrote back a quick response and arranged a time to talk on the phone. Then I pulled out my phone and called my parents. I knew I would have a tough time reaching my husband at work but needed to have a freak-out moment with people I knew would share in the excitement.
There were a number of phone calls with the producers after that - maybe three over the next week? We had to plan travel and accommodations and figure out what Megyn’s questions should focus on. What would viewers most need or want to hear about shocking DNA discoveries? they wondered. What exactly is it that I do? What exactly is a genetic counselor? I was glad to have these conversations and see that the Today Show was NOT going for sensational television but instead helpful and relevant content for Americans.
Eight days after the first email arrived, I was on an airplane with my six month old baby in tow. I accepted the invitation first, then told them about the baby coming with me. It all worked out fine, like I knew it would, and I did not want to risk having the invitation rescinded. I can mother on the road! So along came my youngest child. The little jet-setter got to take an airplane trip to the Big Apple with mama!
After a morning obsessing and fretting over what to expect from this new experience, I handed off the baby to my parents. We walked to Rockefeller Plaza and bid farewell at the doors. We had a plan for them to come back in a few hours to pick up a bottle of expressed milk at the downstairs check-in desk. I showed my ID at check-in and rode the elevator up to the studio floor. There was no escort at the top, so I began to wander a bit and found myself walking by the Jimmy Fallon studio first (!!) then was pointed to the dressing room. Here’s a video from the first room (before I got moved again):
Someone came to take me to hair and makeup. I talked to the stylist about what I did and gave a curbside consult right there in the salon chair. He never knew his biological father and wondered how could he find him? Of course I had some info for him! When I went to return to my dressing room, I had been displaced. So I was relocated into the dressing room with the other DNA Shocks Episode guests. That was great! I had grown tired of being anxious and in a room all by myself by then. A wardrobe stylist came in and put some fabric tape on my shirt to hold it in place, as it was deemed “too low cut for daytime television.” Here’s a pic of the five of us show guests packed into a tiny dressing room, a situation that created an instant bond due to our tight proximity.
Soon after, I found myself kneeling on the floor pumping milk (couldn’t reach the electric outlet otherwise) and the producers came in to review the show plans. I still giggle at that particular memory, the youngish show producers not sure how to address the fact that a guest was sitting there using a breast pump, even if covered and being discreet about it. Thank goodness to the other mothers in the room who were understanding! Rebekah jumped in to be the bottle transporter to the downstairs so Baby Henry and mama could get through a few hours spent apart.
The producers kept those of us in the dressing room busy talking and chatting, which is likely intentional so guests don’t freak out right before they are set to go on. TV show production is stressful. I was very happy after all was over, but I cannot say I enjoyed the process it took to get there all that much!
Up to the minute cameras began to roll, the show staff were tweaking things and running around. It took dozens of crew members to make the show happen. There was a last minute flurry of change when Jen and I corrected the producers and let them know Jen was the doctor and I was the genetic counselor; our titles had gotten flipped at some point. They got the script and teleprompter fixed quickly, fortunately!
After the first segment was recorded - an interview of Catherine and Steven with the NPE Friends non-profit - they cut to commercial. The set folks moved in, rearranged the stage, and brought Jen and myself up to the chairs. The “doctor” was supposed to be in the middle chair but “genetic counselor” was put there instead. The chairs were luxurious, and I remember thinking to myself, “Someday, it would be great to have a nice velour chair like this at home!” Suddenly, bright lights blinded me, and I was brought back to the present time and reality.
Megyn asked me how to pronounce my first name correctly (“Brianne, rhymes with Ian”) just as the commercial break ended. I remain impressed she got it right! Megyn, Jen, and I held a conversation about advice for those who discover an unexpected family surprise after DNA testing. It was quick - about four minutes long - but it felt even quicker, more like 20 seconds. How time flies sometimes.
After the segment wrapped, we were ushered off stage and back to our dressing rooms. What do you know, Paul McCartney of the Beatles was there in the hallway blocking our access! I didn’t get a chance to share a conversation, but I did receive a smile from a Beatle! The show ended, and the staff evaporated. I quickly bid farewell to my new friends and somehow found my way back downstairs and reunited with my baby and parents. We flew back home the same day. The entire experience was a whirlwind.
Since the Megyn Kelly show, a lot has happened in the world of DNA and NPE (“not the parent expected”) support. Online resources like Severance Magazine have launched to help those with unexpected DNA results and those who are seeking connection to biological roots. The support groups on and off Facebook are growing. NPE Friends Fellowship is doing great things, growing in size and beginning to offer more resources, conferences, and group trips for its support group members. I published a book catering to adoptees that can help anyone who is searching for information and support for DNA testing. To the benefit of many, the resources I am able to link to through my website continue to grow in number.
I have more ideas and projects in the works and am grateful for opportunities that continue to present themselves. They allow me to continue doing work that makes a positive difference in the world. When I have a chance to let more people know about genetic counselors, who we are, what we can do, and how to find and work with one, I take it.
It feels good to be part of a movement to do what the DNA testing companies have been reluctant to do so far…which is to acknowledge that DNA testing can be a watershed moment for people and families, and sometimes in ways that are traumatic. What every person deserves is the understanding, empathy, and support of others around them as they begin to heal.