Sarah’s DNA Surprise

Did you grow up feeling different from your family? That feeling of being inexplicably out of place haunts many people in the DNA surprise community throughout childhood and adulthood – before they uncover the truth.

In this week’s episode, Sarah shares how while she always felt different from her family – she was more sensitive and had a different worldview. Still, she never suspected that her beloved father wasn’t biologically related to her. After his unexpected and tragic passing, Sarah and her sister decided to take 23&Me tests, beginning her shocking DNA surprise journey.

She reflects on how this discovery has further strained her relationship with her mother, but has yielded an incredible relationship with her newfound sister.

Thank you for sharing your story, Sarah.

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Episode Transcript

Transcripts are AI-generated and may not reflect the final published episodes.

Transcripts are AI-generated and may not reflect the final episode

[00:00:00] Sarah: I definitely wanted to have my dad’s DNA, not just because he was somebody who could, you know, bike across the country in his sixties, but just, you know, Because I just admired him so much. And I didn’t have him physically anymore. And so I did want to have his DNA in me. And, and kind of like carry on his legacy.

[00:00:20] Sarah: And, and it meant a lot to my children. You know, he was like this hero now. Especially to my youngest son. I think was five when my dad died. And then My dad was this hero, you know, and he only had those memories. He didn’t have memories of the regular grandpa sitting on the couch doing nothing. He had, these superhero type stories of him, these legendary stories and all these people who had t shirts with them and bracelets.

[00:00:43] Sarah: It was important for him to have his DNA. 

[00:00:51] Sarah: My name’s Sarah, and I am 48, and I currently live in Minnesota.

[00:00:57] Sarah: Like most people, my story feels complicated to me and I’m not sure if listening to it, it’ll feel that way to others. But so I think it’s good to start just with what my family was like. So I was born into a military family. My dad was in the air force and, I am the oldest of three children.

[00:01:20] Sarah: I have a sister and a brother, and my parents were very young when they married. They were 19 and 20, when I was conceived. And, so I knew that my mom was pregnant at their wedding. And I always took some pride, I suppose, in bringing them together and being the reason that they married. My dad said that there wouldn’t be a problem.

[00:01:42] Sarah: Like any more important reason to marry, and I just helped them hurry it along. I did always feel different than my family and my siblings. I was always more sensitive than them and just saw the world differently and interacted differently.

[00:01:58] Sarah: With the world differently than they did and I just assumed growing up that maybe everybody thought that they were different Than their family. My sister used to claim that she was Actually Madonna’s child and had been placed for adoption. So she claimed that throughout our childhood and I Just I don’t know.

[00:02:17] Sarah: I always thought I was just I guess a little bit weird and my mom always treated me a little bit differently and some of that was probably because I was more responsible than my siblings but also very sensitive. So it was confusing, I suppose. And growing up, I thought maybe that she didn’t like me as much because, she always said I looked like her.

[00:02:38] Sarah: And so I assumed that she treated me differently and I always felt less like her. about myself when I was with her because I always assumed it was because she didn’t like herself and that she thought of herself as unattractive. And therefore when she looked at me, she thought of me as clumsy and awkward and unattractive.

[00:02:56] Sarah: I don’t know how else to explain it. My sister, she thought was just, and my sister was, and is very stunning. But it was clear that My mom saw her in a very different light, and there was almost nothing I could do to make her, she would say she was proud of me, but I never felt as if she was proud of me, and my sister could mess up in all kinds of ways.

[00:03:17] Sarah: And, my mom would be very proud of her. So I always assumed maybe she just valued appearance more, and again, didn’t like herself, and so didn’t like me. And my dad and I were. Extremely close. And so this is where I am a crier, just to warn you, I cry easily and freely. So I probably will cry talking about this.

[00:03:37] Alexis: That is okay. That’s, we’re, we’re pro crying

[00:03:40] Sarah: That’s right. Good. And, yeah, so I’m comfortable with this, so if it’s like all messy and snot and tears are mixing up together, I’m used to it. So my dad and I were very, very close. And sometimes my mom seemed to also a little bit jealous of that and would say that we would gang up on her.

[00:03:57] Sarah: And we would and he was my favorite person ever. And I often I always felt like I was probably his favorite person. And we did, like, a lot together. Even at 13, he took me to see the Tour de France. I mean, we just, we, in my 20s, we ran together went to concerts together. He walked me down the aisle for my wedding with, I had my uncle writing a poem that my dad wrote for me when I left for college.

[00:04:29] Sarah: Just, like, very special. And, so in 2017, my husband and I got ancestry because, my husband wanted to make sure that we weren’t related, even though it was really too late because we were married and had three kids um, and I wanted to find out if I was Jewish because my husband is Jewish and I’m not, but my dad’s dad, his last name was a more Jewish last name and he was from Brooklyn.

[00:05:01] Sarah: It was five two. It just seemed like probably like maybe I did have some Jewish in me and then it would, I don’t know, make our lives easier as parents. And I also wanted to find my paternal aunt’s child that she had chosen adoption for. So I wanted to do that for my, for my grandma before she, she’s still alive, but I was thinking before she passed away So, uh, that was why I did ancestry.

[00:05:23] Sarah: And so my dad’s dad had died when my dad was very young. And then my grandma remarried and had more children. And so I wasn’t too surprised on ancestry when there weren’t many like paternal matches. And my mom comes from a huge Catholic family. And so it made sense that I had lots of people from her side.

[00:05:46] Sarah: And all I really came from it that I was like 100 percent European American and not Jewish. And that was it. And so like most people, I kind of left it and put it aside. Then in 2018 my dad was competing in a cross country bicycle race at 64 years old. And he was doing really well. He was like, I don’t know.

[00:06:08] Sarah: Like, he was beating 30 year olds, he was so fast and then somebody like drove their car into him somebody was like distracted and hit him. So he was in a hospital in, in Kansas, uh, paralyzed, from the chest down. Um, Uh, yeah, thanks. It, yeah, it was, it was horrific so my mom flew out there.

[00:06:40] Sarah: And she was being kind of weird. I mean, my mom was kind of weird. She was being kind of weird about it and telling people not to come. And my sister, who’s more defiant than I am, just got on a plane and went I went about week two, cause it was my birthday. And I wanted to spend my birthday with my dad.

[00:07:01] Sarah: And every year I get myself a birthday dress, which I highly recommend that everybody do that. And I have been in the recent years getting some really nice dresses, and I had shown one on social media and said, I think this is going to be my birthday dress this year. And my dad was like, made a joke about it that I was going to have to fight the model for it or something like that.

[00:07:19] Sarah: Anyway, so I wore that dress to the hospital and spent my birthday with him and my mom. And my mom was I don’t know how people are supposed to act in these situations, but she was on Facebook a lot and on CaringBridge and just on her phone while my dad lay there. And it was really hard to see that.

[00:07:39] Sarah: There were things she did during that that just made me really question her character. And in the hotel, and I really just wanted to stay in the hospital with him, but we were in the hotel across the street and she, cause she needed the company. So I went with her and she told me some very over detailed story about my conception.

[00:08:02] Sarah: It just was strange, like on and on with details. I

[00:08:06] Alexis: just sort of, just sort of randomly, like,

[00:08:10] Sarah: Yeah.

[00:08:10] Alexis: she just started bringing that up? Okay.

[00:08:13] Sarah: Yeah, she’s like, Oh, when you were conceived your dad, because she had come back to Minnesota and he was still on the East Coast. Cause she missed her family. So she came back and he said, I’m going to work on the railroad. And when I’m near Minnesota, we can get together.

[00:08:27] Sarah: And my mom is more of a pessimist. So I’m sure she was like, yeah, right. But my dad, when he set his mind to it, to anything, he would do it. And so. He was like, I’m in Canada. Come meet me. I’m right by Minnesota, you know? And so she did. And so she tells me this story about how, I don’t know, eager he was to have sex with her and stuff like that.

[00:08:44] Sarah: And that, that’s when I was conceived. And I didn’t know what to say. I was like, my dad’s like in the hospital across the street paralyzed. I didn’t know what to say. He was intubated at that point. So I couldn’t talk to him. Or I could talk to him. He couldn’t talk to me. And I, all I could say was, like, does that mean I have dual citizenship?

[00:09:01] Sarah: And, and I knew I, it didn’t, but I didn’t know what else to say. And she was like, no, that’s not how it works. And I was like, okay, yeah, I know. Anyway, so it just gave me an unsettled feeling. And I went back and spent another day with him, I think. And then, so he passed away a week after that.

[00:09:17] Sarah: And my mom was still just being weird. It just was so much about her. And, uh, she didn’t seem to

[00:09:24] Sarah: care for him in those moments. Like, an example I give is, I turned golf on the TV that was in the hospital room, and she said, Oh, do you think he wants to watch that? And then I moved it. I asked her, what did you always complain about with him? And she said that he’d just stare at the TV and watch golf.

[00:09:43] Sarah: And I’m like, yes. And all he can do right now is stare at that TV. Like put some golf on for him. Like, what is wrong with you? You know, and my dad, all he could do is kind of move his eyebrows and make his eyes wider. And so he kind of showed like, he thought I was being funny. And then also he was relieved.

[00:10:03] Sarah: It just wasn’t what I was expecting. So it made me really, I think I had thoughts growing up that maybe, maybe I’d had a, you know, maybe I had a different dad just because of the timeline it seemed like it could be possible. But I just also thought maybe I was wanting to make my life more exciting or dramatic than it was. 

[00:10:23] Alexis: When your mom was going into such specific detail about your conception, 

[00:10:28] Alexis: the night that you went back from the hospital, Were you wondering if something was up at that point, or were you just kind of like, this is weird, maybe this is just her, her response to what’s happening?

[00:10:42] Sarah: in that moment, I was just thinking, this is really weird. And I just kept like a ringing thought was, why is she telling me this? Why is she saying this to me

[00:10:56] Alexis: Mm hmm. Yeah.

[00:10:58] Sarah: It didn’t make sense. So it just stayed as a question in my head. And then with how she was behaving. So I was, I know that, that, that was some, that was a piece that kind of just lingered in my head.

[00:11:08] Sarah: Those two pieces like she’s is the type of person that could be dishonest about something really serious. Because she was being so, it seemed to me so selfish and self absorbed. And it was all about her. I mean, she told his own mom not to come visit him in the hospital and told his sister. His sister had a ticket to visit him, but he passed away a day before.

[00:11:32] Sarah: So she didn’t get to say goodbye to him. I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t insist on being there for my birthday. Because the worst part is she had said that he had indicated that he didn’t want me to come because he wanted to wait until he could talk to me. And I was the only one he didn’t get to talk to out of the children because when I was there, he was intubated.

[00:11:54] Sarah: So he couldn’t talk. I just didn’t know what to make of it. So then we had a like a party for my dad. Kind of like a funeral type thing, but at a brewery. It was supposed to have been a fundraiser for his, uh, spinal cord treatment. But since he didn’t meet it, we kept the date there and the plans there.

[00:12:12] Sarah: And, uh, had like a celebration of life type thing. And so his whole family was there. And a bunch of family members were at my parents house. And, One of my uncle’s wives was talking about 23andMe, and my sister and I were saying, like, we should do it. Yeah, we should totally do it. My aunt was encouraging us.

[00:12:30] Sarah: And so my sister told my mom, Sarah and I are going to do 23andMe. And so I was not aware of this, but later learned. But so she had brought my sister upstairs and told her that she couldn’t do it. I’m not sure exactly which version of the story she told her then, but that my dad might not be my dad or, or that he wasn’t, or it was, she’s told different versions.

[00:12:52] Sarah: So I can’t remember which one my sister told me that she was told that. But so I didn’t know that. So I did 23 and me and my sister said that her results were lost. She’s like, it’s okay. I don’t need to do it. We have yours. And I just thought that was really suspicious because she’s just not passive like that.

[00:13:09] Sarah: She wouldn’t just pay for a DNA test and then decide, well, it’s fine. They lost it. No big deal. She would still want her own version of the test. So that made me suspicious. I started to question things more than there was some I had a lingering thought of maybe my dad wasn’t my dad. But I was in so much pain grieving that it was just getting kind of mixed up together and it’s still a bit mixed up.

[00:13:32] Sarah: The emotions about it, but, I was already online a lot trying to push for legal action in my dad’s death and, and like look for clues and answers and researching or reading up as much as I could about the person who killed him. And trying to fight for laws to be changed that that question got put aside a little bit.

[00:13:54] Sarah: Even my husband said like, Oh my gosh, calm down. Cause I was looking at my DNA results and seeing more that I just wasn’t seeing anybody paternally. And one night, it was in 2019, somebody’s name came up. It wasn’t, it was like a username came up. And I remember sitting up in bed and talking, I was like, I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t think he was my dad. And there were the through lines and I started using those and I wasn’t connecting any DNA with people. I should. But my mom said I could go back 10 generations and I’d share DNA with somebody. And so I was telling him that and I’m like, and there’s this person here and I don’t know who they are and I share a lot of DNA with them.

[00:14:37] Sarah: And he was like, Oh my gosh, calm down. You’re never going to sleep. Just like your dad was your dad. It’s okay. Just like calm down and, and try not to think about it right now. So I did stop thinking about it. I focused more. I had a a memorial built for my dad. When cyclists are killed, they put a ghost bike ups, which is just a white spray painted bike.

[00:14:59] Sarah: And I didn’t, I didn’t want that for him. I wanted something more elaborate and something that included his image and where he could be seen. And so I hired an artist to make a sculpture that was placed in Kansas near where he was hit. So that I put most of my time and energy and grief into that. Once that was done and, and kind of the years to follow it, now as my grief became more manageable, I started looking closer at Ancestry and 23andMe, and that one name that I didn’t know who they were, and I shared so much DNA with it had disappeared, and I completely forgot about it.

[00:15:34] Sarah: But still was trying to kind of make sense. Every now and then I would just start looking and trying to figure it out. I kept kind of wondering and again thinking like, I’m just trying to make my life more dramatic. Isn’t it dramatic enough? I don’t, why do I need to be so different than other people?

[00:15:49] Sarah: But then the thought wouldn’t go away. And so I asked my brother and this isn’t really fair. His IQ is a little bit lower. Because of some so I asked him, I said, you know, I know you’re worried about your health. Do you ever think about doing 23andMe? And he said, well, how much does it cost? And I said, don’t, you don’t need to worry about it.

[00:16:08] Sarah: I, I already sent you it. I sent it, it’s on the way, and now you can like, you won’t have to worry about your health. You can find out if you have, you know, anything genetic. And he’s like, oh, thank you, you’re so nice. And then I waited. And I kept waiting. I was kind of hoping that I was wrong and that I was just trying to make something out of nothing or villainize my mom.

[00:16:30] Sarah: But then it was late February, I got my brother’s results and it said half brother. And I wasn’t shocked, but I was disappointed.

[00:16:41] Alexis: What do you mean by that? You were, you were shocked, you weren’t shocked, but you were disappointed. Why were you not shocked?

[00:16:50] Sarah: I think because I had, I knew something wasn’t right. I was, there weren’t, there wasn’t a set pattern of names on the paternal side, and it wasn’t yet where you could see paternal versus maternal, but just the idea that there wasn’t anybody, and one of my dad’s cousins, when I did the through lines on ancestry, I didn’t share any DNA with them.

[00:17:13] Sarah: Something just didn’t feel right. And I was starting to see when I had both that there were, some names that were on both sides. So I knew there was a family out there. I just, I wasn’t shocked. 

[00:17:25] Alexis: You’d, you’d kind of already started putting the pieces together, although maybe not quite. Yeah.

[00:17:31] Sarah: Yeah. I know some people when they do it and they’re just hoping to find out how Italian they are, that would be like a complete shock. But I was looking for that information. I was checking frequently to see, is he going to be my full brother or half brother? So I was prepared for that.

[00:17:47] Sarah: I was still really hurt by it. But my brother didn’t seem, I don’t know if he didn’t notice. He probably, he wasn’t looking for that part or maybe he didn’t quite understand what it meant.

[00:17:58] Sarah: And I sat with it, I mean, I told my husband right away. I think his response was like, maybe like, holy shit. We’ll talk about more when I get home or something. I guess I also felt maybe a little bit like, wow, I was right. I didn’t want to be right, but and then I reached out to my sister. The funny thing was though, so I had made a homemade Kugel with homemade vanilla and I had been texting with my mom and she loves that kind of stuff.

[00:18:23] Sarah: So we were texting back and forth about it and then. I sent a text message to my sister and said, like, you know, Hey, I got Jonathan, that’s my brother’s name, Uh, 23andMe. And she’s like, that’s so nice of you. I’m like, yeah. And then The text messages from my mom stopped. And then I said There was just one surprising result.

[00:18:44] Sarah: And she said, Wait, you already got it for him? And I said, yes. And then she asked what was the result, and then I sent her a screenshot where it said half brother, and then she called me, sobbing. And so, this is the other part where I often cry. And she felt horrible. My mom had made her keep that a secret for, like, four years.

[00:19:06] Sarah: And my sister and I are very close, so it’s broke my heart that she had to do that. And she was like apologizing for crying. She’s like, I’m so sorry. This is about you. I’m so sorry. Like, I, you shouldn’t be making me feel better. I should be making you feel better. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.

[00:19:21] Alexis: How did you feel when you realized that your sister had known for four years before, you know, telling you, obviously it doesn’t sound like you were upset with her or anything, but I’m just curious how you felt when you learned that.

[00:19:36] Sarah: In that moment. I mean, I think I knew cause part of my suspicion also came from her not doing 23 and me. So I thought maybe she might have known. And there were a couple conversations we had had, which at the time weren’t suspicious completely, but I, we are walking into TJ Maxx and she had said, well, and we were talking about it and she said, well, would you even want to know?

[00:19:59] Sarah: And I just, I used some morbid humor and said, well, yeah, because then maybe I’d have a dad that’s still alive. Cause we always jokingly compete with each other. I just had more compassion for her cause I knew that she wouldn’t want to do that. I knew she wouldn’t have chose to lie to me. I don’t, I mean, I don’t, I wouldn’t have, if I were her and she were me, I would have told her, but you know, we’re different.

[00:20:26] Sarah: So she came over to my house and we talked and she told me this story that my mom told her. And again, there are different versions. Some that like the kind of knew that maybe my dad wasn’t, but then there were also ways where she indicated that they knew that he wasn’t my dad. And I think I tried to make everything okay, and I said, you know, I’m, it’s okay, I’m sure she didn’t want to tell me because she didn’t, you know, she didn’t think I could, that I would be too devastated and I’m sure she was worried about my feelings, and, and the hard part was, my sister said, looked me right in the eye and very sincerely and compassionately said, no.

[00:21:04] Sarah: It never was about your feelings like that. It didn’t even come up. And I was a little bit shocked when she said that. And she told me that my mom had said, I’d rather die than have everybody know. And that, really elicited compassion for my sister for me because my sister Called the code blue when my dad died and, and then told them that they could stop resuscitating and identified the body.

[00:21:32] Sarah: And, and that was a week maybe before that party at my parents house when my mom told her she couldn’t do the DNA test and said, I’d rather die than have everybody know. so I was

[00:21:45] Alexis: dealing with a lot, yeah. Thank

[00:21:47] Sarah: Yeah, and I just thought, I can’t believe my mom would put that responsibility on my sister. Like, holding her life in her hands when she just had to do that.

[00:21:59] Alexis: Wow. 

[00:22:00] Sarah: So she told my sister, keep it a secret. And then my sister told me and I

[00:22:06] Sarah: was just like most people replaying every part of my childhood through this new lens. Thinking of all of just the little and big things that had happened. And trying to understand, and that in itself was exhausting. And I learned though that during the years that my sister was keeping a secret, she was really trying to talk with my mom and help my mom understand why she, mostly why she treated me so differently, and that was a time I didn’t know, you know, that my dad wasn’t my dad, and I didn’t know that my sister knew that my dad wasn’t my dad, but She was behind the scenes trying to advocate for me and trying to make things better.

[00:22:45] Sarah: So once I knew, then I began, like everybody, becoming completely obsessed with figuring out who my biological father was. Different than some people, I did not confront my mom. I did not talk to my mom about it. I acted as normal as I could around her because I did not want her to be the one who got to tell me about my biological father.

[00:23:10] Sarah: I did not want her to come to the rescue and be the one to explain it to me. I wanted to know everything I could before I talked to her. And I couldn’t trust her to tell me the truth anyway. I became obsessed with both, you know, 23andMe and Ancestry and MyHeritage and obituaries and newspaper articles so I found out in late February and by mid March I was reaching out to people that I shared DNA with kind of, I had got it down to one family and.

[00:23:41] Sarah: Wisconsin. And I wasn’t hearing back from anybody. And so I went back and was looking through newspaper. com or whatever it is, and saw that the person, so I came across, before that, I’d come across like a graduation commencement announcement, and it, and one of the men from the family, who was around the right age, It said that he was graduating from St.

[00:24:06] Sarah: Cloud State, which is in Minnesota, and which is where my mom is from. And the years that he was in college fit for that. So I figured he was probably my biological father, and I saw pictures, and then I knew he was my biological father.

[00:24:19] Alexis: How did you feel when you saw him and put the pieces together? Yeah.

[00:24:25] Sarah: My heart hurt a bit like other people describe to see my face on somebody else’s face. Cause I was always baffled, like I just always thought, I don’t know why my mom keeps saying I look like her and I didn’t look like my dad. And even there was, so there was a moment where my mom, my brother and sister and I went out to eat and we took a picture.

[00:24:45] Sarah: And I think my sister said, Oh, it’s crazy how much I look like dad in this picture. And then my mom said, I’m, yeah, I’m sorry you two got my looks or something like that. And I just said, like, I’m just glad I didn’t get your self esteem. And then I moved on. But so to see myself in a picture, just, it it felt, comforting and heartbreaking all at once.

[00:25:09] Sarah: But I was confident that I had figured it out. So, I had his name then. I saw an article from the same company I work for where it described This woman who was on the board for hospice and they asked why she volunteered her time. So I was looking her up to because that’s my biological father’s ex wife.

[00:25:32] Sarah: And I was trying to get her contact information. And I was, I didn’t know if that would be a good route, but I just wanted to learn as much as I could about him. And the article, she was quoted as saying that she donates her time and energy. to the hospice organization because of how well they cared for her ex husband and daughter 12 years prior.

[00:25:52] Sarah: So I knew that she was the type of person I could talk to about this and that she would not be cruel to me. And so I reached out to her and she was so lovely. And so kind to me, which also stung a bit too, because she was responding so differently than I would imagine my own mom. You know, here I am, reaching out.

[00:26:14] Sarah: I, I think I said something like, I hope this message doesn’t disturb you, but I have some questions for you about your late ex husband. I hope it’s okay. Feel free to ignore this message if it’s not. But she responded and then she was also very protective of her daughter, which also stung. 

[00:26:35] Alexis: Because you wanted to make contact with her.

[00:26:39] Sarah: Not even that. I, I didn’t ask for that, but she said that her daughter would be the answer to this. And but she said, but I’m feeling really protective of her. I said, I completely understand that and I don’t, I do not want to disturb anybody. I don’t want to upset anybody at all. She said, I’m going to ask some of his friends, my biological father’s name is Jim. She said, I’m going to ask some of Jim’s friends if, cause I said, like, did they ever Do you know, did he ever talk about or tell stories about my, my mom? Because I think he might be my biological dad and stuff.

[00:27:14] Sarah: And she said, I, I don’t know. I’ll ask. And so she said, you know, she asked his friends and they had this female roommate, I guess, when he was in college who was the mother hen of the house and knew everybody’s business. And she said, absolutely not. He never dated her. I would have known. I knew everything that was going on in that house.

[00:27:32] Sarah: And so she said, you know, it must not be Jim. It may be one of his brothers, but he only had half brothers. And I knew that I matched with both Jim’s biological father’s relatives and his mother’s relatives. So I knew that it had to be him.

[00:27:49] Alexis: Okay, well that, that helped, I’m sure, like

[00:27:52] Sarah: yeah. 

[00:27:53] Alexis: yeah.

[00:27:53] Alexis: yeah, 

[00:27:54] Sarah: the same thing that kind of made it hard for me to know that my or that my dad, my birth certificate dad wasn’t my dad, was the same kind of dynamic that made it easier for me to figure out who my biological father was.

[00:28:05] Sarah: Because Jim’s father died when he was a baby. And his mom remarried and had more kids. Yeah, so it helped narrow it down. So she said that, you know, my daughter will be me. the answer. And I think she, she said, you know, I think she did ancestry before. Do you see her on there? And I said, no, but is her account private?

[00:28:25] Sarah: And she said, probably just a second. Let me ask her. And then, then she popped up. And it was the name I had seen in 2019. That freaked me out so much. So I was right so Jim was my biological father because Jamie came up as my, uh, half sibling. She is the only child of her mother and father.

[00:28:47] Sarah: Jim passed away in 2006. And so she And her parents were divorced. 

[00:28:52] Sarah: So her mom said, I’m going to give her some time. This we’re processing this. This is a lot. We’re also thinking about you and we want to know how you’re handling this. Which was really nice. And then Jamie reached out to me. And . We shared, you know, some pictures back and forth, she’s just been the best part of this discovery.

[00:29:10] Alexis: Hmm, what have you learned from her?

[00:29:14] Sarah: What I learned from her mom, which was fascinating, is that just that, that he was her favorite person and she was his favorite person too. So we both had that in common and they were both relieved to learn that I had a great dad growing up. She said that he was the life of the party and people couldn’t help but like him and he loved her deeply.

[00:29:38] Sarah: He just sounded like this really fun guy. And just a really involved dad. I guess she even said to her mom when we figured this out, she said, Oh, this poor lady has lost two great dads.

[00:29:52] Alexis: Oh, wow.

[00:29:54] Sarah: And it was, it was just, I just felt so loved. So the heartbreak was is, Jim died. living about 20 minutes from me. And I grew up all over the country, even lived in Germany for a while. I just kind of accidentally ended up here in Minnesota and was living 20 minutes from him and never got to meet him.

[00:30:19] Alexis: That’s really hard, I’m sure, bittersweet to hear that he was so great, and then, but to have not gotten to have a relationship. Something that a lot of people talk about in our community is this, what if, what if I had gotten to meet him, and those kinds of things. Now, I know you had an amazing dad who raised you, but have you had any of those thoughts?

[00:30:43] Sarah: Yeah, just what would it be like to be with an adult who probably was, who sounds like he was more like me than, or I was more like him than either of my parents. And I wonder what, like those differences that maybe felt weird to me growing up, how they could have been embraced or nurtured or what it would have felt like to be with a parent who kind of shared my energy and.

[00:31:07] Sarah: Kind of extroverted nature. And to grow up with Jamie, like what that would have been like. We both have kind of talked about that a bit. I don’t know how it would have worked, because my dad was in the military, so he moved a lot. So I talked with her in,

[00:31:20] Sarah: in April, of 2022. And then we met in July and I’ve been spending time, but so I eventually had to, because I had been reaching out to some of my dad’s family because I, what I wanted to know the most was, did my dad know? And actually the first thing my sister said to my mom or my mom pulled her up to the room in their house that day was, she said, Sarah will never believe that dad knew.

[00:31:45] Alexis: Is that true? Do you believe that he didn’t know?

[00:31:49] Sarah: that is my belief. I know that I don’t know and I can’t know, but I wanted to know. And and it wouldn’t, I would have found a way to. to make it okay either way. My husband jokes when my dad was alive, my husband would joke that even if my dad had murdered somebody, I’d be like, well, you know, they, I’m sure it was the right thing.

[00:32:08] Sarah: Like I would just

[00:32:08] Sarah: defend him no matter what. And my dad just like laughed at it. Cause like, it’s true. I just would make it not wrong. But I wanted to know, cause he was the one person I wanted to talk to about it and I couldn’t. And so I did reach out to family members. I reached out to my aunt, his sister, and said, did my dad ever question my paternity?

[00:32:27] Sarah: And she’s like, no, sorry, you’re one of us. Fran was on the phone with, that’s my grandma’s name, she was on the phone with your, you know, while you were being born in the delivery room. Like, you’re, sorry, I hate to tell you that. And then she said, why? I said, I just, just wondering, no big deal. Reached out to one of his best friends, and everybody said, He never mentioned anything.

[00:32:47] Sarah: It never came up. Even people who went through similar things. My aunt’s husband, like, had found out that his dad wasn’t his dad. So I asked him, because I figured maybe my dad would confide in him, and, and he said no. He said, no, but do 23andMe, and maybe you’ll find out. And I said, I already know. So eventually, I did need to tell my mom. I’ll read the email I wrote her. So it was in the end of April. I said, mom, I know that Jim was my biological father. I’m not interested in hiding this. And I choose to continue to live my life with honesty and authenticity. I am not ready to talk with you about this. And I beg that you respect this boundary.

[00:33:27] Sarah: I’ve spoken to Kelly, Jonathan and my children. Jonathan’s my brother. I reached out to. Robert and Lisa’s mom and uncle. In an effort to find out if dad knew. I do not believe he did. Because I wanted her to know who I had told. Because I did, you know, I thought that was important. I do not believe he did.

[00:33:44] Sarah: And I wanted her to know I wasn’t doing it to gossip either. Or to make her look bad. But I was, it was just in an effort to find out if he knew. So I said I don’t believe he did. I know he would never lie to me. He would not let me have un He would not have let me have unnecessary colonoscopies. He would not have allowed you to give your kidney to your brother.

[00:34:06] Sarah: who at the time had 11 full biological siblings and two biological parents. If he knew, I only had half siblings and one biological parent. He knew the pain of not knowing his biological father, and he would not have chosen that for me. Jim died in 2006 from cancer. At that time, he was living less than 30 minutes from me.

[00:34:27] Sarah: I could have met him if you had had the courage to be honest. I know that I look like him. I know that he was a class clown, life of the party, and people could not help but like him. He loved his daughter and was a wonderful father. I still love you and will be working on forgiving you.

[00:34:45] Alexis: Wow. That’s a really beautiful letter. Really well, well worded.

[00:34:52] Alexis: Did did she respond? 

[00:34:54] Sarah: She took the sentence I’m not ready to talk with you about this, and beg you to respect this boundary as some sort of indication that she should not talk to me. So she completely ignored me, didn’t even like my posts on Facebook and was telling people that I wouldn’t talk to her, I guess.

[00:35:22] Alexis: What have you been able to piece together about what happened with Jim?

[00:35:27] Sarah: I got some information eventually from my mom. So over months, I eventually reached out to her and said, look, I’m sad. And I circled, kind of re sent her the email and circled, like, I said, I told her, like, I said about this, not to act as if I don’t exist. And then I said that I’d be willing to talk to her.

[00:35:46] Sarah: If she saw a therapist and that therapist agreed that she was ready to have a conversation with me, and then I would only have that conversation in the presence of that therapist. She Eventually saw a therapist and then said that she, that therapist said that she didn’t need therapy.

[00:36:01] Sarah: Which didn’t happen. So then I asked for the therapist’s name, contact information, that a release be signed so I could talk to the therapist. Anyway, so, but in the meantime, before we had that conversation, she sent out an email to family members with her side of the story. So she sent me an email, and said

[00:36:21] Sarah: The therapist I spoke with suggested I try to write you attached as my narrative. I hope that someday you will read it and we can go forward and build from there. It is much more detailed than the one that she sent my grandma. Read it only when you’re ready and only when you want to read it. , so it was all about her.

[00:36:41] Sarah: And she talks about her like traumatic childhood and how she had no self esteem and how she like looked to men for comfort and support and how she had terminated her pregnancy before she got pregnant with me it like on and on. And on and then oh My gosh, yeah, just another I’m looking at it right now.

[00:37:01] Sarah: Just a paragraph after paragraph Not

[00:37:05] Alexis: apology?

[00:37:06] Sarah: I

[00:37:09] Alexis: you want one?

[00:37:11] Sarah: mean she eventually did say I’m sorry and I know I hurt you to be honest, I think she’s sorry that the truth came out and that she’s sorry that I’m so upset by it and that that it’s changed our relationship.

[00:37:23] Sarah: So the story she’s told, which is different variations and some of it’s that she was already pregnant when she went up to see my dad in Canada. There are some, some indication either way that she had had sex with a man. with both Jim and my dad around the same time.

[00:37:36] Sarah: I think gathering from what my sister said is like, probably she was already pregnant when she went up there. She’s told my sister something about her breast size or something that they were bigger. I mean, it just has been really bizarre. She then claimed that like he, I mean, she said things that made no sense that she reached out to him, to Jim To tell him it, but he never got back to her.

[00:37:58] Sarah: And I just had to ask her what, I don’t know what that means in the seventies. Like, what do you mean reached out to somebody you, did you have his address to mail him a letter? Like, what does that mean? And then she came up with a story that she. Flew out with me as a baby to Minnesota and went to the bar he was working at and that he said he needed to talk to somebody, his sister or mom, and then he’d get back to her.

[00:38:22] Sarah: And then she decided to go back to Florida where we were living at the time before he got back to her. And then he never reached out to her and, and she doesn’t know why. So in the end, her story was that my dad lied to me my whole life and that my biological father wanted nothing to do with me. 

[00:38:40] Alexis: So she maintains that your dad knew.

[00:38:43] Sarah: okay.

[00:38:44] Alexis: And that Jim also knew and just didn’t want to be involved. Do you believe that?

[00:38:51] Sarah: No, it doesn’t, to me, make sense either because it would also mean that neither of them told anybody. Like the idea that, and they don’t have the same investment that she does to keep it a secret but that somehow both my dad and my biological father told nobody, but they 

[00:39:09] Sarah: and even so, when Jim was dying he and his ex wife had this two hour heart to heart talk and it never came up. And I also, just from what I understand from Jamie, the type of dad he was, I, I just think he would have wanted her to know that there was somebody else in the world. for her. Like there was another family member for her.

[00:39:34] Sarah: And I would hope that he would also, he was only 53 when he died of cancer. I would also hope that he would have wanted her to find me, to let me know that I could be at risk for cancer too. You know, I just think

[00:39:46] Alexis: Yeah, so, yeah, and that’s kind of one of the things I wanted to ask you about because you mentioned in your letter that you wrote to your mom that you’d been getting unnecessary colonoscopies, know, he wouldn’t have let your mom donate a kidney, like all of these things. And now you learn that your biological father died of cancer.

[00:40:11] Alexis: So can you talk a bit about how the medical piece has played a role in your DNA surprise?

[00:40:17] Sarah: Yeah. It’s the piece my husband’s most upset about. So my, Dad’s dad died of colon cancer in his, uh, mid twenties, which puts people in that family at a greater risk for colon cancer just from how young he was. And so I had my first colonoscopy at 35. I’d had other ones scheduled beforehand, but didn’t show or canceled last minute because I just didn’t want to do it.

[00:40:42] Sarah: So I had one at 35 and that 40. And then around that time I did genetic testing to see if I had conditions that would make me, you know, to see if I had the genes that would make me more at risk for colon cancer. And I didn’t have, there’s a condition called Lynch syndrome, which it would be horrific to have.

[00:40:59] Sarah: And I didn’t have that thankfully, but Because of the family history, I still had to get colonoscopies every five years. If I had had that, some of those genetic markers, I would have had to get colonoscopies every one to two years. But so I still was on track to get them every five years. So then I had one at 45 um, before I knew.

[00:41:17] Sarah: And, and I don’t have any. It’s now changed every 10 years. My doctor changed it, my medical records. There was, there was that piece that bothered me. And then, And I do remember the genetic counselor saying something, because I did have some, And both my parents knew this, I told them the results, that there, there were some variants of unknown significance that I had.

[00:41:40] Sarah: And so I’m part of some genetic research to I continue to report on, like, cancer to them so that they can see what those variants mean over time. And so they knew that piece too, and I remember the genetic counselor saying, there is a family, I swear she said that, there is a family in Wisconsin who has this variant, but, so I don’t know if, And I just said, that wouldn’t be, that’s not relevant to me though because I don’t have any family in Wisconsin.

[00:42:07] Sarah: Now I know I do. And then, so yeah, my mom gave her brother a kidney. And I remember her saying that one of her sisters refused to even be tested because And she said, I worry if either of my sons needed a kidney, I wouldn’t be able to give them one.

[00:42:24] Sarah: And just thinking about that now, that really, it makes me angry because my mom really presents herself as a nice person and I, she wanted to be the one to give her brother a kidney because that would mean that she’s the nicest of all of them. And, you know, she sacrificed her kidney. in that moment, the way I interpret it is that was more important to her than my health and wellbeing.

[00:42:47] Sarah: And growing up, I was sick a lot. I had chronic bronchitis and just like all kinds of weird stuff. And then later on in my forties have developed a psoriatic arthritis. And so when I was trying to figure that out too, like that was an important you know, important piece to understand if there was anybody else with an autoimmune condition.

[00:43:05] Sarah: My family went to the Mayo Clinic to try to find answers and you know, I was going there with not all the necessary information. I was giving them inaccurate information about my family history. So that part frustrates my husband a lot. It makes him angry that my health and well being didn’t take precedent over.

[00:43:26] Sarah: My mom’s reputation.

[00:43:27] Alexis: So your mom sends this email out sharing her part of the story. So now can you talk a little bit about how your family has or has not supported you? It sounds like your husband has been supportive for you. How has everyone else been?

[00:43:46] Sarah: I don’t think my mom thought about the ramifications, like, she didn’t end up sending the, that message, thankfully, to my in laws, but I had to have my husband email his parents and say, like, if you get an email from Sarah’s mom, please do not open it and read it. Cause it was just so poor.

[00:44:03] Sarah: Embarrassing. And it, I wasn’t embarrassed that she talked about her like, like having sex at a young age. It was just that she would do that. That she would, and it was all about her. And because it was all about her, I didn’t have, and this was really disappointing, nobody who received it reached out to me to see if I was okay.

[00:44:22] Sarah: I’m assuming that they all ran to my mom to support her and it was written and I told, I let my mom know this, like it was written in a way that would elicit that, like it was clearly meant for people to sympathize with her. And that is exactly what happened. And an aunt that I’m close to did not even just check in and say like, how are you?

[00:44:41] Sarah: And everybody knows how close I was to my dad. And so that was, that was, Really hard. My dad’s sister did. She has been very supportive and did reach out to my mom and say like, you need to be there for your daughter. This is not about you. This is about her. And I’m sickened by this email that you sent.

[00:45:01] Sarah: It’s disgusting. And she said some cruel things to my mom, which weren’t fair, but my mom also focused on that. Like she’s attacking me. I don’t know. But my grandma, my dad’s mom, who’s just an incredible woman who has lost two husbands and two Children. She called me crying and she just told me she loved me.

[00:45:20] Sarah: And she’s been able to really talk about how my aunt to just how conflicted they feel. They feel like my dad was. Well, my aunt feels like my dad was this free spirit that was tricked into marrying my mom and settling down and joining the military so he could pay for these kids that they were having.

[00:45:35] Sarah: And then she didn’t like how he, my mom’s email to everybody was

[00:45:39] Sarah: sure that she was saying things about my dad, like it was no longer alive and not able to share his side of the story that she was claiming that he lied to me. She’s been on my side. But they’ve talked about how conflicted they feel, that they wish that that hadn’t happened to my dad, and that it hadn’t happened to me.

[00:45:54] Sarah: But also that they’re glad that I’m in their family. And they know that that’s the only way that that, would have happened. So my grandma said that, like I, you Sad this happened and I’m also happy that you’re part of our family. 

[00:46:06] Alexis: Yeah, which is, again, kind of that, that bittersweet. What is your relationship like with your mom currently?

[00:46:15] Sarah: It, it is strained. She was just in town. So she packed up, she got rid of everything in the house. Over this last summer. Sold things, donated things, gave things away, gave me back things. My high school senior picture, family pictures I’ve given her, pictures my kids have drawn for her. She gave us all this, she emptied out her house and moved to Florida with what fit in her RAV4.

[00:46:39] Sarah: It’s hard not to feel like, take that personally and feel like she was it escaping the truth and escaping how uncomfortable it was to be my mom now. So she was just back in town for a funeral and it was, I mean, it felt kind of like an aunt you don’t really talk to. Just distant.

[00:46:54] Sarah: And then she just, she does weird things. She came to my daughter’s choir concert and didn’t stick around to say hi to her. She hadn’t seen her in months, didn’t say goodbye to me or my kids before she left for Florida. She’s just continuing to avoid, which Really also confirms my sister had mentioned this, that she has avoided conflict her entire life.

[00:47:16] Sarah: And the idea that at 19 years old, that would be the one time that she was able to have a difficult conversation and put herself in the face of conflict makes absolutely no sense. I was always closer to my dad, so it’s not as much of a loss as if we had been really, really close. But it just feels like now I have no parents. 

[00:47:42] Alexis: What have you been doing to process this and work through your DNA surprise?

[00:47:48] Sarah: Well, I’m a psychologist, so I work with other psychologists. So that has been helpful. So I get the support of coworkers that maybe other people don’t get. Not using them as my own therapist, but they respond differently than maybe your average coworker.

[00:48:01] Sarah: Which is actually how I told her was like, do you know of anybody who would be good to work with somebody in this situation? And then I had to be like, so that person is me. And she was like, Oh my God. Oh my God. I’m so sorry. So I started, this is just work.

[00:48:16] Sarah: Like I thought had an initial appointment with a psychologist and kind of went through everything, cried with her. She had to reach out and say that she had a family emergency and wouldn’t be able to continue working with me. And I could tell she felt horrible. Cause it was just, people don’t go to therapy for good reasons really, but it just, I think that there was so much grief involved and then, and then she was also needing to just leave me.

[00:48:41] Sarah: She gave me some names, but I didn’t none of them really seem like good options and I so that’s when I started doing this the searches other people do online of like Your dad’s not your dad. What do you do? and then found the NPE term and then In that search found that there was a psychologist In Minnesota actually in the town I live in who?

[00:49:01] Sarah: listed that as an area of specialty and and is an NPE herself. And so I saw her for, I think three or four sessions, mostly to prepare for the conversation with my mom which went okay. I think my favorite part from that conversation was where she said she said, I remember thinking that you had his almost green eyes, referring to Jim.

[00:49:25] Sarah: I think that felt so that part felt healing because it was realizing that there were times that she looked at me and had a positive thought about him and about me. Instead of just shame and she was able to go to my daughter’s bat mitzvah. She had first said that she wouldn’t attend anything that my in laws were at because she was too embarrassed and ashamed.

[00:49:46] Sarah: But she did go to my daughter’s bat mitzvah. I don’t think I would. relationship with her if she hadn’t shown up for that. And so I’ve done things where I have been true to the email I sent my mom and have been working on living my life honestly and authentically. And both of my sisters, there’s this part in the service where you open up the arc for the Torah.

[00:50:05] Sarah: And both of my sisters went up and did that together. And they were listed as aunts to my daughter. And when we list the people who had passed away, uh, Jim was listed in addition to my dad. And both of my dad’s dads and both of my husband’s dad’s dads were listed. I have been allowing myself to cry and focusing on my relationship with my new sister.

[00:50:30] Sarah: And realizing like what a gift that has been. We even so I have to tell you the first time we met, we met at a restaurant close by and I was sitting and waiting for it and I wasn’t seeing her. And then eventually a server came up and said, I think maybe like you and this other woman are waiting, waiting for each other.

[00:50:47] Sarah: And I just thought that was like this weird coincidence. And then we’re talking and we realized we had so much in common. And then she had said, I hope this isn’t weird, but. I have some of his yearbooks in my car that I thought maybe you’d want to borrow, but I didn’t want to bring them in and, assume that you would be interested in them.

[00:51:02] Sarah: And I was like, Jimmy, I have been looking on eBay, trying to find old yearbooks from where he went to school. So I could just see pictures of him and, and see what his life was like. And just, there’s been all these beautiful moments with her that I just treasure. She had mentioned that first time we met that she’d always wanted to get him a bench at the state fair. You can get memorial benches and they used to go to get the state fair together a lot. And so then I had suggested for our birthdays the following year that we just both go in on that cost and do that together.

[00:51:36] Sarah: And so we were able to do that she goes to my kid’s sporting events, and I go to her daughter’s sporting events, and it’s been like the type of relationship I didn’t even know I was missing in my life. Cause even our, like, first text messages to each other, I read them to my husband, and he’s like, it’s like you’re texting yourself, she even texts like you.

 It’s just so wonderful to hear. Get to be with somebody like me. There’s times I didn’t even realize for my, like for my birthday, my most recent birthday, my husband made plans for me and I felt so uneasy and I thought, I like surprises, why am I feeling like so uncomfortable with this and on edge and kind of, and then Jamie and her husband walked into the restaurant and I just, like everything felt better. And I just, it just felt like, I just feel like so blessed. I know not everybody gets to have something like that out of it. 

[00:52:33] Alexis: How would you say that your DNA surprise has changed you overall, if it has?

[00:52:41] Sarah: Anytime somebody has a little bit of a difference from their dad, I’m like, well, you should probably do a DNA test. Like I feel like I’m seeing like NPEs everywhere where they probably aren’t.

[00:52:50] Sarah: I feel more vulnerable and that, that is hard. I didn’t go to my nephew on my husband’s side. I didn’t go to his wedding, last fall because I wasn’t ready to watch a dad walk another person down the aisle. I wasn’t ready to be around family. I love family. I love being with family and being at events.

[00:53:11] Sarah: And I don’t like that right now. It doesn’t feel good to me. I don’t like that I feel envious when I see my father in law with, with my sister in law. Want to be able to fully enjoy family gatherings again. I just kind of feel different in every setting. I don’t like the distance that it makes me feel that I have from my sister and brother I was raised with.

[00:53:32] Sarah: But it’s also helped me understand myself better. And, and I do try to focus on that piece as I have so much more understanding and appreciation for who I am. Like reading those yearbooks I, it was like I was reading my own. It was fascinating. And all the ways that he was involved in the different things in school.

[00:53:55] Sarah: I just, you could tell from what people wrote, the types of relationships he had. And so it helps me see myself through this different kind of curious light.

[00:54:06] Alexis: Yeah, I think that’s the interesting thing about all of this, right, is, is it does have negative impacts on our lives, no doubt. And there can be these positive things often in that we know ourselves better and, and we know the truth. We know where we come from, and I’m so happy that you’ve been able to build this beautiful relationship with your sister.

[00:54:29] Sarah: I think the hard part and I know other people have spoken on this a bit. that we somehow end up in this role of worrying about other people’s feelings and sacrificing our own for them. I Know that I’ve become really sensitive and reactive to any time where I feel like my emotions aren’t taken into account.

[00:54:49] Sarah: I feel like my feelings don’t matter to other people. I get really reactive. I’m guessing other people have that too. Same kind of bigger emotional response to that than in the past. And then also feeling protective. Like I don’t want to hurt the sister that I was raised with. And so I wouldn’t want her to see, sometimes I worry about if she knew how much time Jamie and I spent together, or if she saw us together, that she would feel really hurt.

[00:55:16] Sarah: Cause part of our identity growing up was how close we were. 

[00:55:20] Alexis: Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s tricky. I think we still feel that urge to protect people. Even though, you know, you’re well within your right to pursue a relationship with your sister and any other family members. What advice do you have for a parent who is keeping a DNA surprise from their child?

[00:55:44] Sarah: tell them I think we can lie to ourselves as parents and think that the things that we keep from our kids we’re keeping it for our kids sake because we don’t want to hurt them, but the truth is that it’s that we don’t want to. have to manage the emotions that surface from them. And so we’re really just protecting ourselves by keeping secrets from them.

[00:56:06] Alexis: And what advice do you have for someone who just uncovered a DNA surprise?

[00:56:13] Sarah: allow yourself to feel all of the feelings. Somebody once told me we get to be as happy as we allow ourselves to be sad. And I believe that’s true. If you can embrace All the hurt and pain and anger that comes with it. Then you’re better able to see the blessings and the joys that are there as well.

[00:56:34] Alexis: I love that. I love that. Sarah, thank you so much for joining me today and sharing your story. I really appreciate your vulnerability. And like I said, we’re, we’re pro tears. We’re pro crying here. And I just really appreciate you sharing all of the emotion that you’ve experienced as you’ve navigated your DNA surprise.

[00:56:56] Alexis: And I wish you nothing but the best as you continue to work through this.

[00:57:00] Sarah: Thank you so much, Alexis. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story and my tears.


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