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MPEs: You Have a Right to Know Who You Are

Updated On: June 4, 2024

Today, we’re diving into an extraordinary journey of self-discovery with our guests, Kara Rubenstein Deyerin and Brad Ewell from the organization Right to Know. Their stories about DNA surprises will astonish and move you. We’ll also explore the impactful work of Right to Know, an organization that emerged from these life-altering revelations. Get ready to be inspired by their resilience and the pursuit of truth.

Baby, You Have a Right to Know Who You Are

Episode Highlights:

  1. Kara’s DNA Test Revelation: Kara shares her initial intention to trace her African ancestry and her shocking discovery of being half Ashkenazi Jewish.
  2. Identity Crisis: Facing a profound identity crisis, Kara describes her emotional struggle after learning she’s not biologically related to her father.
  3. Finding Her Biological Father: The journey to identify her genetic father, Sam Rubenstein, a renowned philanthropist in Seattle.
  4. Rejection and Acceptance: Kara discusses the mixed reactions from her biological and raised families, emphasizing her father’s support despite the DNA results.
  5. Formation of Right to Know: Inspired by her experience, Kara talks about founding Right to Know to advocate for individuals with similar DNA discoveries.
  6. Brad’s Involvement and Support: Brad, a board member of Right to Know, shares his own experience and the value of the organization.
  7. Right to Know’s Mission and Future Plans: The organization focuses on education, advocacy and mental health, aiming to provide support and enact meaningful legislation.

Guest Bios:

Kara Rubenstein Deyerin is a non-practicing attorney with an LLM in Taxation and a master’s in Trade & Investment Policy. In January 2018, she wanted to see where in Africa her father’s family came from. Her over-the-counter DNA test revealed she was 50% something, but she had zero African DNA. This meant the man on her birth certificate couldn’t possibly be her genetic father. She lost her ethnic identity with the click of a mouse. Kara discovered she was 50% Jewish. The DNA pandora’s box she opened led to an identity crisis. Because there were few resources for people with misattributed parentage and a lack of legal rights, she co-founded Right to Know. Kara is leading advocate for genetic identity rights and people impacted by misattributed parentage. She has appeared on many podcasts, in multiple television interviews and articles, and is a frequent speaker on her DNA surprise, the right to know, and the complex intersection of genetic information, identity, and family dynamics. Read her blog about being Unexpectedly Jewish in Seattle.

Brad Ewell is a police officer in the Dallas, Texas area. He is married and has three children. For the first 48 years of his life, Brad believed he was raised by his biological family. That changed in 2019 when someone he matched from an Ancestry DNA test contacted him. In less than 24 hours Brad became a Late Discovery Adoptee with a MPE. Since that time he is in reunion with several biological family members including his biological father and four siblings. He is passionate about the right of every person to know their true genetic identity. While he knows his biological history, he still has to go to court if he wants to have his records unsealed. Brad has written essays and an article for Severance Magazine and is currently working on other essays and a memoir. You can find him on Instagram.

Mentioned Resources:

In today’s episode, we’ve explored the complex emotions and societal implications of DNA surprises. If you’ve been moved by Kara and Brad’s stories and the mission of Right to Know, I encourage you to delve deeper into this topic and perhaps find a community that understands your journey. Remember, you’re not alone. If you enjoyed this episode of Family Twist, please rate, follow and leave a review. Your support helps us bring more such compelling stories to light.

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Kara Right to Know

Hey, hey, thanks for joining us again on Family Twist. We have guests Kara and Brad today. Thank you for joining us. Hi. Good to be here.This show is all about DNA surprises, and Kara and Brad definitely have surprises. We're going to let them get into that and also talk about this very cool organization.

who would like to begin sharing the surprise?

Okay , I'll start. Why not? I did a DNA test. Like 99 percent of these stories, I feel like they all start the same way . I did a DNA test because I wanted to see where in Africa my father's ancestors came from. We traced his ancestry back to three slave brothers from Texas. I have three sons, and I wanted to do a tour of Africa, like a finding your roots thing.

When you are the descendants of slaves in the United States, you don't know where in Africa you hail from . I thought , how cool is this? You can see which part of the continent you're from and take it from there. I was very innocent in the sense that I was like, this is going to be great. While I did have that sense of not fitting in growing up.

Never in a million years if you had asked me, Hey, do you think you're going to find out you're not related to your dad from this test? I would have said no. I know sometimes people have a hard time reading their test results. For me, it was really obvious. At first I had a little bit of a blank moment because I got my pie chart and I am exactly 50%.

So I just looked at it was like, Oh, yeah, I'm half black. I'm not thinking about the fact that if you have African ancestry, you are not half anything if you're from the United States for a number of generations, because there's a lot of mixing going on. You have some Cameroonian, some Bantu, some Nigerian.

So I, if I was black in the United States, I would have a mix, but my pie chart showed half and I was like, Oh yeah, that's right. And then I looked at it and I said, Ashkenazi, I've never even heard of that. I had no idea what it was

back then. That's what ancestry showed it as is Ashkenazi Jewish. Now they just say Jewish ancestry. So what I'm not half black, I'm half Jewish. And I, my world just stopped right there. It's one of those moments that I think is hard to describe to people. buT my world stopped spinning and I know they got the test wrong.

That's what happened. Right. Yeah. So I called my friend who had worked on mapping the human genome, and I was like, hey, I got these results back and they're a little bit funny. And she said, open your thing and check your matches. Do you recognize any of the names? And so I did that and I saw some names from my mom's family on my mother's side and I said, maybe they got it half wrong, right?

Right. Sure. And she's like, that's not possible. That's not possible. And I just felt so devastated because I had been lying to everybody my whole life about who I was. And what does it mean for me now to be raised? I was 43, two days before my 44th birthday, when I got my results that I'm no longer half black.

I'm now half Jewish. And that really sent me into an identity crisis. I could not identify my family right away. It sort of felt like I was living in a purgatory space with no answers to some of these fundamental questions. I couldn't look in the mirror. I avoided the bathroom as much as possible just because I had no idea who I was looking at anymore.

And I very much felt alone. I mean , who grows up thinking their dad is one person and finds out there's someone else let alone the giant ethnicity shift for me. And I lived in that space for a few months. eVentually I was able to identify, I had a match pop up, which is often how it happens for us.

Right. And through there I was able to build a tree and identify my genetic father. He was deceased. My mother was 18 and was 54 when I was conceived. So he would be way above a hundred now. Yeah. And I ended up in some Facebook support groups, which was very helpful for me, but I'm an attorney by education and I really wanted my birth certificate to be updated, to reflect my accurate identity.

So when my great, great grandkids were assigned that elementary school project where you do your family tree. They could get it right. I have a very rich family tree from my Jewish side, some very interesting ancestors, and I think it's It, it explained a lot about who I am. My mom used to say to me, I don't understand why you're good at math or why are you interested?

And you know, my genetic father was very talented in math and he was an entrepreneur and a business person and a philanthropist, which really explains how I've gravitated to those things my entire life without any history of it before. So, I really wanted my birth certificate to reflect the accurate information and.

It's almost impossible in Washington state for me to do that. It's a paternity lawsuit. You have to have somebody to sue in order to do it. I hadn't really thought about it before, but the way our laws are set up for birth certificates is really about who has to pay for and is responsible for the child.

Nobody really cares about after that, but as a society, we use those birth certificates for family history. So there's two opposing reasons why we have birth certificates. I did a tv interview with some other people about DNA surprises, a donor conceived person, an adoptee, and another person with an NPE like me, a non paternal event, and we had dinner afterwards and we're sitting around and we're like, we need an organization that can advocate for us.

That can provide education for the public about how life altering these events are for people. And they can provide mental health support for people. And so we started Right to Know. Very cool. Have you connected with your biological father's side of the family? Well, I'm one of those extra special people who have been rejected on both sides of my family.

You know, we often think about rejecting from just the genetic side of the family. My father was extremely wealthy and I do think when you find a genetic family where there's a significant amount of money that can throw a wrench in the reunion process. I always say, none of us are out looking for money when we find our genetic family.

It's like the furthest thing from our mind, but that is something that pops up even when there's not a lot of money involved. What do they want? Why are they reaching out? I want to know why I look like I do. I want to know my family medical history. I want to know what makes me tick. That's why I'm reaching out to you.

There is really no other reason. My genetic family rejected me. I did have a first cousin who talked to me for a little while, and she did a DNA test to help me really confirm who my father was, because my, I did have a half brother, and he is a little older than my mother, so at first I assumed that he was my father, just given the age but this , else did some testing and we were able to triangulate and confirm who my genetic father was.

It was a, his name was Sam Rubenstein. He was a real famous philanthropist in Seattle. Which it was hard to get the story out of my mom, too. I'm like, mom, how did you meet this guy? You know, and it took about a year, whole little bits of truth because there's a lot of shame in these situations for moms.

And then my raising family, when they found out I wasn't genetically related to them, some of them also were like, oh, see you later. So there is rejection from both sides sometimes. Now, the parents that raised you, are they still with us? My mom got married at 18 to this man she just adored, Kenny.

And he was a heroin addict, and within a few months he had relapsed and left her. She was really depressed. sInce she was only 18, she was looking to kind of drown her feelings and her sorrows, and so she was going to bars. In restaurants because they would serve her and that's where she met my genetic father and they had a one night stand So I'm the product of an extramarital affair.

He didn't really clean himself up So she divorced him and I was really raised with just my mom and I and my Grandparents Kenny's parents in my life and then they got back together at different points when I was an adult and Kenny and I after I had children So my kids can have a grandparent, a grandfather is my mother's parents were murdered when I was little and my husband's father died when he was little.

So there was really no grandfathers in our family. I reconnected with him and we actually became very close the last few years of his life. He died two years ago, but that's where the name right now comes from. After I told him I wasn't his daughter, which I have to say is probably one of the most difficult conversations I've ever had with a personhe's like , Oh baby, it doesn't matter.

You're still my daughter. And I would go care for him. He was dying of COPD. And he would say, have you figured out who your family is yet? Baby, you have a right to know who they are. And he said that almost every day to me. And so that's where the name Right to Know came from. And he was very supportive.

My mom and I had been super close. We're still close, but because this was so close for her, she had a hard time processing. And so my dad definitely stepped up to the plate to be the supportive parent for the first time in his life through the process. Wow. That's, that's a lot to unpack for all of our stories.

There's always a lot to unpack. My wife was the one that came up with the idea to look for Facebook support groups. I was like, there can't be this many people that this has happened to. But you, you feel very isolated and alone when it happens because you're like, there's no way a lot of people are taking DNA tests and find out their parents, aren't their parents.

Well, the first support group I found online had 6, 000 members. And I'm like, does this happen to 6, 000 other people? So that was great. And at the same time in that group. There was a lot of drama and consternation and things I didn't really enjoy. it's a trauma filled room and if you put enough trauma filled people together, there's explosions all the time, and it got to the point where I was like, it's almost as stressful to be.

In the support group as it is just navigating it on my own. And about that time, I met somebody else who was in right to know that said, Hey, you know, you should come check out our group. And I checked their group out and it was just a lot more level headed conversation. People are still upset because they're having their worlds turned upside down.

But there seemed to be more of a focus on growth and not really getting past it. Cause I don't think you get past these. But learning to cope with it effectively rather than just ranting for the rest of your life about how nobody told you something. So I liked that better and I've stuck with them ever since.

Eventually got asked to be a board member and here I am today. Very cool. You can talk just a little bit about what what the organization is doing right now and what you're looking for. forward to doing in 2024. We want to make sure we're involving all of the communities, the assisted reproduction community, the adoption community, and the NPE community, as well as the entire constellation, meaning raising parents, genetic parents, spouses, siblings, our children.

I always say the ripple effects of a discovery just impacts so many people and families. And we all cope with these things in different ways and everybody needs help. And that's what we want to, we want to provide support for anybody who needs it. Some people have a DNA surprise and they're like, okay, whatever, and they move on.

And that's great. And then there are people who are very traumatized by it. I always like to remind everybody, there's no monolithic group. We span the level of our trauma and that's okay. There's no right or wrong answer for processing these things. We encourage growth, encourage working through, encouraged.

Coping mechanisms and healing as we can right. To know has three main areas that we focus on education, legislation, or advocacy and mental health. So we have a online submission form or a hotline that people call on average, we. Average about 1 or sometimes a little more, depending on the time of the year, because everybody gets that gift for the holidays.

And we're listed on ancestry as a resource, but we get parents calling us. Hey, I want to tell my kid that their donor conceived or adopted. How should I do that? Or we get people who have a discovery and we have a mentor program. We usually try to match people. If you've had a significant ethnicity shift, like I did, and you found out you're half Jewish, like I did.

we will pair you with somebody else who found out they were half Jewish, who's just a little bit further along in their healing process. Our mentor program is really robust. And that's really where we get a lot of outreach in the mental health. Side of things, the right to know has created some classes that are certified continuing education classes through the national board of certified counselors to give them continuing education credit to learn how to help those of us who are reaching out to them, because it's such a broad scope of things that are impacted in the advocate.

That's huge. Oh, that's so important because, we've done 60 or so of these and. There are a lot of people that, go that route. They're willing to go to talk to a therapist, but the therapist is, not prepared to help them that way. as you know, the community is getting bigger and bigger, so we need more and more therapists to know, they're doing through.

Organization, so kudos on the numbers. We say, at minimum, 5 percent of the population has misattributed parentage, part of the clinical side, the academic words for in a surprise and I would argue, if you go on our website. Right to know dot us. we have studies that show where we get this 5 percent from, but I actually think that's even at least 2 percent of the population is adopted.

There's no data collected about assisted reproduction at all. And that's at least another couple percent. The range for people we use NPE to mean if you're the product of an affair, an assault, or some sexual encounter where paternity is obscured, that is not assisted reproduction. Estimates range from 2 percent to 30%, so we, we use a lower number for that.

At minimum, 5 percent of the population, I think, is walking around with misattributed parentage. As more people do the over the counter DNA test, more people are going to be having their Discoveries and they, they're going to need help and support. And one of the ways that we do that is through education.

that's really what we've been focusing on this last year at right to know, and we'll continue to focus on, we're trying to get outside of our echo chamber and talk to other organizations, spread information. at I'm speaking the national genetic counselors conference in a couple of weeks.

We're also going to be speaking at Roots Tech which has a lot of people attending because we want people to understand. This is so nuanced and so life changing for people and hopefully there can be more empathy when people have these discoveries and understandings. Education has really been our focus and we're going to continue to do that.

We've advocated for legislation for assisted reproduction because it's an unregulated industry in the United States. In Europe and Australia, there's regulations, but we don't have any. David Berry on our board is the product of Dr. Fertility Fraud. And so we have passed legislation in one state, making it a crime if there's any sort of lying at all in assisted reproduction, including by the donors, as well as creating a civil cause of action, and that's been enacted in Nevada and, iowa, and then we have it in Michigan, New York, Washington, and we also have a federal bill that we introduced. And I'm hoping that we start working probably in Washington state for the first time on that birth certificate issue. We advocate for a change in birth certificates that include genetic parents and then legal parents.

And that way, genetic identity is lost for adoptees, for donor conceived, and for people with an MPE. So when you turn 18, you can look at that long form birth certificate that has genetic mom, genetic dad, and legal parent in. That could be three parents. It could be three men, two women, whomever is legally responsible for the child.

And that's really a direction we want to go with advocacy. And then the other big thing that we're excited about, we have the first conference for adoptees, donor conceived and people with an MPE and family and parents and professionals. Lots of therapists were this year in 2023, it was in Louisville.

And we're going to be doing that again next year in Denver, Colorado April 25th through the 28th. sO we're really excited about that. We just opened speaker proposals. It looks like we're going to have an awesome array. We have two full days of speaker panels and speakers and creative workshops, and we have a night of different movies one night related to the communities, so I'm really excited for us to have some musicals.

We're going to have live musicals about our discoveries as well. One night, it'll be a lot of fun. Went to my first conference like this, gosh, about a year ago for birth moms in adoption. And adoptees, and it is amazing to walk into a room and just be fully understood. Like, you don't have to explain your discovery to anybody.

And it's like this weight you didn't even know you had that you wear all the time is gone. It's an amazing feeling. So I encourage people to come and have community with us for that. That's great. Awesome. That's yeah. Wonderful. Well, I know this isn't going to be the last time that we connect with your organization because you're doing amazing things

we'd love to stay connected, this has been awesome. It's been great to chat with you guys. Maybe we'll see you at Summit. Thank you. Yeah. Kendall just wrote the dates. I underestimated how therapeutic that this podcast would be for me. And I can only see that these types of events would just help me more because my story has been overwhelmingly positive, but there've been some.

Bumps along the road and I never uh, I never expected to have the bumps because I'm, I'm very delusional sometimes about how things are going to go. I could use the extra help by finding community. My first conference was the Untangling Our Roots this year. And it is just being around people that understand already.

The trauma side of it, and you don't have to worry. I'm assuming you're in the same boat. I am that if anybody asks part of my story, I immediately try to decipher. Do I want to tell you my story? Do I want to open this can of worms with you? Do I just want to really gloss over this and not talk to you about it?

And to be in a room full of people that there's no hesitations. I mean, people are still surprised because everybody's story is still like, Oh my God, I can't believe that happened to you. It's still a room full of people that have all had it happen. I mean, the first time somebody looked at me, I was like, well, what's the big deal?

I was like, well, call me when you find out your parents, aren't your parents and tell me if it's a big deal. Right. So to not have that, those questions and just be able to be like, yeah, it's everybody agrees. It's a mess. And thank y'all for having a song. I agree. That's awesome.

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