Non Paternal Event: Not a Miracle Baby, Part 1
In Part 1 of our two-part episode, Non Paternal Event: Not a Miracle Baby, we delve into Amber van Moessner’s initial discovery of her donor-conceived identity. NPE Amber candidly shares her emotional journey of uncovering the truth, the impact on her family dynamics, and the significance of accurate medical histories for donor-conceived individuals. As Amber opens up about her early experiences, listeners gain insights into the challenges she faced and the vital support she found in online groups of individuals on similar journeys.
- Amber’s early life and upbringing, unaware of her donor-conceived status.
- The emotional rollercoaster of discovering the truth about her origins at age 32.
- The shock and mixed reactions within her family upon learning the news.
- The importance of knowing one’s genetic medical history, especially in light of potential health issues.
- The pivotal role of online support groups for individuals grappling with donor-conceived identities.
- The astonishing revelation that Amber could have more than 75 half-siblings.
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Kendall and Corey: Welcome back to season three of Family Twist. We're really excited to have our guest today, who's also a fellow podcaster. Welcome Amber van Moessner.
Amber: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.
Kendall and Corey: We're really excited. We spoke a while back now to Jeremy Bryant and you'll get to explain who he is, but that was an interesting conversation, which led us to find out about you and your experience with podcasting yourself. Then we found your NPR article. I mean, we're not stalking you, but, it was all interesting. You know, I love to find similarities between my story and other people's stories. So welcome. What would you like to tell us about your discovery in your DNA journey?
Amber: Yeah, we can start at the beginning, I'll try to tell the shortest version possible. I grew up being told that I was a miracle baby. My parents were told by their doctors that they could not have children. They had looked into adoption and then my mom miraculously got pregnant, and I was a healthy baby, and like, isn't that great? I was raised with an adopted sister and I never questioned that story. My relatives would reinforce how badly I was wanted, and how hard it was for my parents when they couldn't have children, and how great it was that they had this miracle baby. Strong golden child vibes. I was very close with my dad growing up, my mom and I are very similar personality wise, and tended to clash a lot, my dad was kind of like the safe parent. Yeah, so the whole fertility industry did not register to me at all, it wasn't something in my bubble of my world. Fast forward to 2017, I got a 23andMe for Christmas from my mother in law. I had been interested in exploring my mom's family history because my mom's dad was Native American, my mom's mom was a Holocaust survivor. They both had died really young and we didn't have a lot of information about that side of the family. I did the 23andme, my husband did it, and the first thing that came back was you're 50% Ashkenazi.
Kendall and Corey: Hmm
Amber: And I was like, I'm not Jewish, no one in my family is Jewish, even where I grew up in a very rural part of New York State, there weren't any Jewish people. So, I was really puzzled by this, but it was also kind of funny because after I finished college, I moved to New York City, and from the moment I moved to New York City, people just started assuming that I was Jewish. Other Jewish people would assume I was Jewish and I'd have to constantly correct people and say, Oh, no, that's so funny. I'm not. And people would be like, Are you sure? And I was like, Yeah, I'm not. And then I even had these friends who I became very good friends with their parents and their parents were these old like Long Beach Jews and were like, we're sure. When I did the 23andMe, they were like, whatever comes back, it doesn't matter, we'll still love you, but we know that you're Jewish. We know this in our heart. And so when it came back, it was kind of this weird moment of like... that was the sort of the first red flag of everyone sees something that I don't see. So I was like, oh, that's kind of funny. So I called my parents and I was like, hey, because I've been told my whole life that I was half Dutch. My dad was Dutch. His parents were Dutch. They were really big on like being Dutch. Like it was like a huge like point of pride and culture for them. I studied abroad in the Netherlands. I have a Dutch tattoo. Like it was like a huge thing.
Kendall and Corey: So I called my parents and I was like, what is this? And they were just like, weird, that's so weird. And my dad's like, oh, I must be Jewish and didn't know.
Kendall and Corey: Hmm. Okay
Amber: Yeah, right?
Kendall and Corey: Hahaha. Huh.
Amber: But again, on like Denial Island, I was like, lots of people decided to like hide their Jewish identity for a variety of reasons over the last couple centuries. Like there's been a lot of good reasons to do that. Who knows, like coming through Ellis Island, like what got lost or whatever. So I was able to ignore that red flag for a couple months. And then the other piece is that in that first 23andMe discovery was, I had two first cousins that I did not know. But again, my mom has eight siblings, a lot of them got kids all over, so that wasn't too crazy. And I sent both of them messages saying, Hey, I matched as your first cousin, but I don't know who you are, can you fill in the blanks? Neither of them responded. So I go on with my life and then I get a message a couple of months later from this woman named Caitlin who says, Hi, I matched with you on 23andMe as your half sister. Are you donor conceived? And I just immediately responded, no.
Amber: I didn't know what that meant. I had to Google it. And I was so deeply in denial, her and I were going back and forth, and God bless Caitlin, she's a therapist, the best possible person to... Blow up your life with, um, and she kind of kept pushing me. I was like, you know, no, I'm not donor conceived. My dad's my dad. And she was like, well, why, why do you think that we matched? And was telling me her story and she was like, oh yeah, my mom went to this clinic in Albany, which is near where I grew up and she used a sperm donor and she told me when I was 11 and then I was like, yeah, no. And I was so deeply in denial. I was like, You know what? My dad and her mom had an affair and her mom is like ashamed and lied and made up this whole story about a sperm donor. That's what happened. So I was texting my dad because again, I'm closer with my dad and I was like, do you know what this is about? And he was like, no. And I was Googling like, it was possible that like, One of my uncles could have been a sperm donor like the genetic match would be the same potentially. And I was going with that for a while. And my dad's like, yeah, I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. And then finally I just like, couldn't stop thinking about it. It was just consuming me. My parents at that point had started to become really evasive. Like they were just being weird all the time. So I was like, I'm going to call them and I'm going to record the phone call because at this point I feel so gaslit, I'm prepared for an emotional conversation and I don't want to like just have kind of an emotional blackout where you know the conversation happened but you were so emotional you don't know what was actually said. So I decided to record the conversation. I'm a former journalist so I still have the, you know, conversation recording app on my phone. And I called them and I was just like, look, what's going on? And my mom jumped in and told me that they were both carriers of a genetic disorder. They were told they could not have a healthy child, they both agreed to move forward with a sperm donor but it took so long that when my mom finally did get pregnant, the doctor told her, don't tell your husband, don't tell anyone,
Kendall and Corey: Hmm.
Amber: pretend like this never happened. And so she, with that advice from her doctor, told my dad that she had stopped going to the clinic and that the baby was his. And because they had a one in three chance of having a healthy baby when I was born, that was their miracle
Kendall and Corey: Whoa. Wow. So your dad, she and he had already discussed this or is he hearing this for the first time?
Amber: So I found out later a week prior, she told
Kendall and Corey: Okay. Oh,
Amber: because she knew,
Kendall and Corey: It was coming.
Amber: she knew the jig was up. Yep. Why she waited that long when she knew I was doing the 23 and me, she knew like she waited the last possible minute. So she told him, and then they kind of talked about it and then decided to tell me,
Kendall and Corey: Hmm.
Amber: and it was insane. I just like, couldn't, I couldn't believe what I was being told and then she was like angry with me for blowing her secret. Yeah, and my dad was like beside himself in denial. He kept asking me if we could get a paternity test.
Kendall and Corey: Yeah.
Amber: So, it was, it was really messy. And I just remember I got off, I held it together on the phone with them and then I called my husband and it was, everything just sort of came out and I was crying so hard I couldn't breathe and I couldn't talk. He thought I got in a car accident.
Kendall and Corey: I bet.
Amber: He was just like, what happened? Where are you? And I was just like, I just kept screaming. My dad's not my dad.
Kendall and Corey: Amber, how old your adoptive sister? Are you older than her?
Amber: I am, she's eight months younger than
Kendall and Corey: Oh, wow. I guess I'm a little surprised that this didn't come out sooner just because, you know, obviously it's not a stigma there because you've got an adopted sister. Right.
Amber: That, and, I mean, so part of it, I think, my sister's Black, and it's a kinship adoption, so, it was a known thing. It was also a guardianship that turned into an adoption, so.
Kendall and Corey: Mm hmm.
Amber: her mom was in the mix, she kind of knew, like, that was always out there and that was one of the things I was really flummoxed by is I was they, were always big on like, you have to tell the truth, we're always going to be honest with you and then, you know, it was just, I was so flummoxed. I looked back on all these times where there was an opening to tell me, Okay and my mom just didn't. And that was the thing that I was most upset about was I had had a medical issue a couple of years prior and my doctor was like, I think you're fine, but you should talk to your mom about her medical history. I know you mentioned that she had a hard time getting pregnant. You should talk to her about that. If you want to have kids, you should know what that history is. So I called my mom and I was like, Hey, I'm having this medical issue. They want me to talk to you about your fertility history. Can you tell me anything? I know you guys had a hard time getting pregnant. Is there anything I need to know? No. We just couldn't get pregnant. And I looked back on that, and I was like, One, that was like, I was giving you, that was the moment, to be like, actually, you know what, time to tell you. And I was like, I was asking you about my health, and you lied to me
Kendall and Corey: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Wow.
Amber: So that was really, that was tough.
Kendall and Corey: Was she planning on taking this to the grave?
Kendall and Corey: Wow. Wow.
Amber: And after much therapy, you know, I understand that there was no like bad intentions. Right? Like she wanted my dad to be my dad. She wanted to have a child with him. She wanted all these things to be true and in 1986, like there's no DNA, there's no genetic testing. She had a doctor, like an official person saying don't tell anyone. So I really think that she was just like, this is the right thing to do. This is the thing that will hurt the least amount of people. And that was the decision she made. And it really took a long time for her to come around on understanding why it was so important for me to know.
Kendall and Corey: You know, and in the back of her mind, she probably had this little thought that, you know, Amber's dad is her dad. You know what I mean? It was always a slim possibility. Right. So, you know, for her, you're right, it was the path of least resistance. You know, I guess what always me is that, you know, it's the DNA test consumer market has been pretty popular for more than a decade that, you know, at some point you would think like, uh, she'd get a little worried. Yeah.
Amber: Well, it's funny you say that because when we got the 23andMe, I told her I was doing it. Because again, it was her family that I was looking
Kendall and Corey: Right.
Amber: To kind of learn more about and she goes, well, you know, you can't really trust those tests.
Kendall and Corey: Yeah.
Amber: And I was like DNA is literally how they catch murderers, what you talking about?
Kendall and Corey: Wow.
Amber: she's like, you can't be sure. And now I like look back on that and I was like, Oh, the wheels were turning. And wondering how much time she had left in this lie.
Kendall and Corey: Well, and you wonder how much, you know, angst it gave her. I can't imagine having that overarching secret that you're keeping, you know, from your own child and how torturous that could be, you know, I mean, I'm not giving her an out...
Amber: And your husband!
Kendall and Corey: Exactly.
Amber: I mean, it was just, it, it was a really big secret. And, you know, my mom's had a tough life. I think there was a lot of stuff that she's just always been able to push down and think this was just one more thing where she was just like, if I don't think about it, if it's, if nobody knows about it, then not real.
Kendall and Corey: Right. How soon did you wait to tell your friend's parents that you were indeed Jewish? Ha, ha,
Amber: I told them almost immediately and they were overjoyed. I've known, they were so happy to be right. They were like, we knew We knew it. But it's now created this kind of complicated thing. And I don't know if y'all have experienced this with what your perceived ethnicity is versus, you know, what your actual ethnicity is. One, I get a lot of questions, because I have a Dutch last name,
Kendall and Corey: hmm.
Amber: so people, and I have this Dutch tattoo, so people ask me if I'm Dutch all the time, and I have to say, no, well. And then people ask me if I'm Jewish and if I say yes, they assume I'm Jewish, like I've been raised Jewish from birth, or people may, will not even ask me if I'm Jewish, they'll skip over to, oh, when were you bat mitzvahed? What's your Hebrew name? And I'm just like, well, um,
Kendall and Corey: Wow.
Amber: of a, a funny gray area that I find myself in now.
Kendall and Corey: I'm sure. You know, I've always known I was adopted, so, I mean, you know, I just got to make up all kinds of fun things. You know, just people would say, cause even my adoptive parents to look at the three of us, we look like a Benetton ad. We didn't look anything alike, and it was so interesting cause people would always say, well, when they thought I was my. parent's child, that I was their biological child, they were like, what is your family makeup, you know? We always tried to explain, well, mom's kind of Italian, dad's kind of Native American, but I'm not related to them at all. And, uh, yeah. we just had an interesting look in family photos.
Amber: Well, it's funny because growing up, people would always just be like, Oh my God, you look so much like your mom. You look so much like your mom. And I do, but then now that I know who my real dad is, I am, he calls me the clone. Because we have like, literally the exact same face. It's And it's just like, oh yeah, everybody thought I looked like my mom because you didn't see this whole... other person who I look more like right and I look obviously nothing like my quote unquote real dad. And I like and I don't know if you feel this way, I am fascinated by genetics and sibling resemblance and I mean with my kids now, too I'm like very like oh like he has this and he has that like and I wonder if that's from being donor conceived and kind of having that, like, absence your whole life of that piece.
Kendall and Corey: Absolutely. We talk about that a lot. How, because I'd always known I was adopted, I just assumed I'm never going to find people in my adoptive family that I'm going to look anything like, which is fine, I didn't care. But it's always intrigued me. Like, Oh, I wonder who I really do look like. And now, wow, when I look at my father's well, both sides of my family. You can put me next to my mother's daughter and you can see the similarities and you can put me next to my father's son and see similar. It's so fun. It's so cool to see that mixture, finally. It only took me 47 years to, you know, find them.
Kendall and Corey: So Amber, I assume your half sister is not your therapist, but when you got discovery, did you reach out to her and say like, well, it's true.
Amber: Well, it's funny, I always joke about, you know, we'll talk for a while and I'll be like, all right, so you want to bill my insurance or, um, yeah, no, she's, she's fantastic. I feel so lucky that she is the first sibling I found and the person who is on this journey with me. But yeah, so I spoke with my parents and then I texted her and I was like, you're right, I'm your sister. And then we made plans to FaceTime for the first time and you know, I'd seen pictures of her and it was funny because she kept sending me these pictures and I was like, I don't think we look so much alike and she, and that was, you know, before I put everything together and she was just like, she told me later, she was like, you idiot, like we look exactly like, what is wrong with you? But, yeah, when we FaceTimed it, just absolutely blew my mind because our voices are really similar. Our facial expressions are really similar. We do look a lot alike, we have a lot in common. So it was really just like, I don't know, just an instant connection. The first time we spoke, we talked for, I think, like almost two hours. It was just a total soul connection and she's just a wonderful person and I was so grateful to be going through this experience with her. Her mom had told her very early on her, you know, social dad wasn't in the picture, he kind of took off pretty early in her parents relationship. So she thought she had this deadbeat dad that she never knew. And then it turned out her mom was like, Oh, actually, he's not really your dad. So she was like relieved to learn that information. But she'd been an only child. I guess her mom had gone back to the clinic saying, Hey, I'd love to use the same donor. I want to have a sibling. And they were like, Oh, well, now that you're a single woman, we won't, we won't let you use the
Kendall and Corey: Yeah. Wow.
Kendall and Corey: It's so
Amber: it was just her. Yeah. Soshe was less interested in like finding our bio dad, but she was more interested in finding siblings. So we really connected and then shortly after that, we were staying in touch and I was keeping her updated on, you know, how things were going with my parents and we both had those same first cousin matches. so I was like, let me just try to email them like one more time, who knows, like if people see the 23andMe notifications, I'm just going to message them one more time. And they had very common names, so it wasn't like I tried Googling them and looking at Facebook and there was like millions of people with these names. So then one day I'm at work and I get a response from one of them and he was pretty young at the time, I think he was like 19. And he was just like, Hey, this is weird. I don't know who you are either. This is crazy. I didn't know that I had cousins that are there. And he immediately says, let me add you on Facebook and we can keep talking there. And I'm like, jackpot. Um, and all I knew about our donor was that he was a doctor. He had at least gone to medical school. And so I asked him, I was like, do you have an uncle who's a doctor? And he was like, yeah, I only have one uncle and he's a doctor. And I was like, okay. And at this point he started to get a little freaked out cause he was just like, he didn't know if he was talking out of turn or not. like, I think I need to talk to my mom about this. And I was like, that's fine, totally understand. But in the meantime, while we're connected on Facebook, I'm immediately
Kendall and Corey: Of course.
Amber: name and immediately found the other first cousin, his brother, and then our dad
Kendall and Corey: wow.
Amber: and as soon as I saw him, I was like, Oh yeah, my dad. Like it was just uncanny. And it was really funny at the time, my profile picture on Facebook was a headshot I had had taken recently at work and I'm standing like this with like my hands on my hips. His Facebook profile picture was him on top of a mountain, he's like a triathlete, also standing the exact same way. We're like making the same facial expression and I just like, oh, is creepy. But yeah, as soon as I saw him I was like, oh my god, okay. And I was texting with my half sister and we were just like, ah, like we did it, like, what, oh my god, like freaking out. And he came back to us and he was like, look, like he doesn't want me to give you any information. He doesn't want to talk to you. I've probably said too much already. I'm sorry, I can't. And he like blocked me on Facebook deleted like his 23andme. And I was like, well, I already know what I know this point. And at that time, my bio dad was still a practicing doctor. I looked him up on LinkedIn. I found his office and we decided to send him a letter of certified mail, right? That's the adoptee donor conceived preferred method communication.
Kendall and Corey: I get it. Wow.
Amber: Caitlin and I were like on the phone drafting the letter and we were being so careful about every word, you know, we didn't want to come off as like too weird or too needy or too anything. We just wanted to be like, Oh, we just want our medical history. We want our family history. We want to know who you are. And what's funny is, you know, now I'm very close with my bio dad, but he told me later, he was like, Oh, the letter seemed so cold. It seemed like you didn't actually care, like it didn't matter to you. And I was like, we were trying to play it cool. We didn't want to make it seem like we were to come to your house and kill you. We wanted to come off very neutral. And he was like, Oh, I took that as like, whatever, like this actually didn't matter to you. I thought that mismatch was very funny. Um, but he got the letter, and what's funny is that the Postmaster General called me to tell me the letter was lost. And I was like, literally, the point of sending a certified mail is to know that it got delivered. They were we're so sorry, this has never happened. So I called Caitlin and I was like, I don't know if we'll ever know, we won't even know if he got it. Turned out he did get it, it was really ironic, the day he reached out to us was the same day I got the confirmation in the mail from the post office.
Kendall and Corey: Wow. crazy.
Amber: So wrote us an email and he was like, this is who I am. What do you want to know, basically? I found out later that his wife had really changed his mind. Normally you hear the opposite, but him and his wife had been together so long, they were together in college when he was donating, she knew about this forever, which I think really played in our favor compared to other folks I know.
Kendall and Corey: Mm
Amber: and she was like, you owe them the medical history, you owe them this, just like what is it going to hurt to write an email, just reach out. And so she really pushed him and we went back and forth on email a little and he was like, let's just FaceTime. So the three of us got on a call and I have never been, I was so nervous. It felt like fun house mirror first date, like it was just like the weirdest, like, you know, that feeling of like, well, do I look right? And do I sound right? And are they going to like me? And, what do I say?
Kendall and Corey: Mm hmm.
Amber: And so it was kind of a little awkward at first and then once we kind of got into the conversation, we ended up talking for like two and a half hours. We just all really clicked and had a lot in common and he was so freaked out just like looking at me and looking at Caitlin and he was just really overwhelmed with the resemblance and I think up until that point, like obviously he had donated for a long time and he knew that these kids were out there and he even said that it was kind of a funny like cocktail party story where he'd be like, Oh, I have a hundred kids somewhere. Uh, uh, it's not funny. And so he was like, I knew you existed, but you were like, hypothetical in my mind. So we had this great conversation and then after that, Caitlin and I were kind of like, well, what happens next? Is that it? Are we never going to see him again? Like, you know. We got our information. And then he reached out to us the next day and was like, Hey, I really love talking to you. I'm actually going to be in Chicago, where Caitlin was living at the time, for a conference. Do you want to come meet me in Chicago? And so I booked a flight and two weeks later, I met Caitlin for the first time she picked me up from the airport and 90 minutes later, we were at dinner with him and met him for the first time. And it was so incredible. We ended up staying out until like two in the morning, the three of us. And then we ended up spending like the whole weekend together. And since then we've grown and built our relationship. And he's kind of, I would say kind of now almost like an estranged uncle. Like he's in town, we hang out, he's met my kids, he's met my husband several times. I've met other members of his family, and I've been to his house a couple times now, and he's been to my house, and yeah, we talk, and we stay in touch, and I just feel very, very, very lucky because I know so many people do not get that closure, and then even if they do, they don't get that. relationship, right? Um,
Kendall and Corey: Yeah. Now, do he and his wife have children?
Amber: No. So that's kind of the ironic thing is they were like never kids people.
Kendall and Corey: Huh. Interesting. I mean, which, brings its own set of dynamics, right? I We've talked to other people whose biological children that the found person raised don't want to, you know, meet the other kids. And I don't understand that at all, but, cause you share, you know, at least some DNA but, you know. How old are your kids?
Amber: My kids are one in four.
Kendall and Corey: So they're not really aware of the situation, right?
Amber: No. And it's kind of interesting because my husband's parents are divorced and he has a stepdad. And so I think they're used to like it's not just like there's a mommy and a daddy,they're kind of used to this kind of spectrum of experiences and like my sister in law is queer and is married to a woman So I think like their perception of like what a family is is kind of a little more broad. I've tried to explain to my son, I was like, Oh, Papa, I grew up with Papa, butKurt is also my dad and he's just like, okay, which I'm sure will warrant like a larger conversation when he's a little older, but, yeah, for now they're just like, whatever.
Kendall and Corey: Yeah. Yeah. Which is great, they'll never feel like it's strange. Yeah. So when did your other half siblings start popping up?
Amber: Yeah, so at first it was just me and Caitlin, and then it kind of happened all at once. I'm trying to remember who came first. I think Jeremy and his brother were the next group, if I'm remembering correctly. Oh no, because maybe it was Karen? God, there's so many now. No, it was, yeah, it was Jeremy and his brother, and then Karen, and then we have two sets of two brothers.
Kendall and Corey: Mm hmm.
Amber: So then Trevin and Brandon, and then we have two who are just not interested in knowing us and knowing anything. One kind of popped up and was like, Hey, and then just immediately disappeared. But yeah, Kurt's back of napkin estimate is that there are 75 to a hundred of us.