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The Lost Family – How DNA Testing is Upending Who We Are

Updated On: February 29, 2024

Family Twist Podcast Episode 38: The Lost Family – How DNA Testing is Upending Who We Are

Our guest this episode is Libby Copeland, an award-winning journalist and author of the book, “The Lost Family.” Corey and Libby discuss the growing trend of consumer DNA testing and how it impacts families in positive and negative ways. Everyone knows someone who has had a DNA test. And everyone who is listening has their DNA out there in one way or another, Libby says. The usage of DNA technology in the future is unknown and that is frightening for some people.

Guest bio

Libby Copeland is an award-winning journalist who writes about culture, science and human behavior. Her book, The Lost Family, published March 3, 2020, looks at the impact of home DNA testing on the American family (sign up here for updates and events). A staff reporter and editor for The Washington Post for over a decade, she now writes from New York for publications including The Atlantic, Slate, New York Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, The New York Times, The New Republic, Esquire.com, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Glamour and more.

Guest link:

https://libbycopeland.com/

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Transcript

00:00

This is Family Twist, a podcast about astonishing adoption stories and finding family via DNA magic. I'm Kendall. And I'm Corey, and we've been inseparable partners in life since 03-04-05, also known as March 4, 2005. In January 2018, our found family journey took us 3,000 miles from the San Francisco Bay area to New England, where we now live near my biological father, two half-siblings, and their families.

00:30

and the adventure continues. Thanks for joining us again. Our guest today is Libby Copeland, an award-winning journalist who wrote the book, The Lost Family, how DNA testing is upending who we are. Thanks for joining us. Oh, thank you so much for having me. Now, the book's been out for a couple of years, but I think it's safe to say that it's becoming more relevant every day. Would you agree with that?

00:55

Well, I mean, the numbers of people who sign up for consumer DNA testing just grow all the time. Right. And every time there's a big holiday or somebody decides that it's, you know, it's Amazon Prime Day or it's Christmas or it's, you know, St. Patrick's Day. Let's buy a DNA test kit for dad slash mom slash sister. Right. Yeah. The databases just grow all the time. And we're well over 40 million at this point.

01:21

Just astounding. I mean, I saw some recent statistics and Kendall and I were going over them together. And it's just like, wow. Like, you know, we knew that there were a decent community or a large enough population out there because, you know, we've been able to get guests, you know, for the show every week. But didn't realize that that many people were digging in and getting these discoveries. And right. Everyone knows someone who's made a discovery through a DNA test. And.

01:49

you know, everyone who's listening, their DNA is already in the databases in some form because cousins have spit into, you know, test kits already. So yeah, it's one of these technologies that is increasingly impacting everyone you meet. Right, right. And I mean, you touch on so many of the important aspects of home DNA testing in the book. And you just mentioned like sort of the privacy aspect of people who haven't taken the test yet. As you said, their DNA is out there.

02:19

potentially out there for people to utilize.

02:25

Yeah, I mean, it's, you know, the kind of complicated thing about writing about the consumer DNA industry is we don't know yet what we don't know, right. And we don't know what's coming. And so a lot of times, as I was reporting The Last Family, I would sort of say, well, like, what are the vulnerabilities here for my information, because my information is in three databases, right. So, you know, what are the vulnerabilities here? What are the potential issues with regard to

02:54

I don't know, insurance or a hack or law enforcement. And I would be told, well, this is possible. It hasn't happened yet, but. And then as time would go, sometimes those things that were possible but hadn't happened would happen. So for instance, this consumer DNA started being used to solve crimes.

03:17

which people have all kinds of feelings about. Some people are very upset about it. Other people think that it's really fantastic and there's a whole panoply of folks in between. So it's a little hard to predict sometimes just exactly how this technology is gonna wind up being used in the future. Absolutely, yeah. So many facets to home DNA tests. And as a journalist, I know what a huge undertaking a book is. So I've got to know what was the

03:47

the idea and what made you think like, OK, I want to take the time and do all this research and turn this into a book? Yeah, that's a good question because I've been a journalist for a long time. And I never, ever had a topic before that I wanted to write a book about. There were plenty of things I wrote about that were interesting, but I couldn't see living with them for that many years. What I like about DNA testing as a topic,

04:14

I mean, there's so many pieces of it that are interesting to me. Part of it is this kind of idea of technology kind of intersecting with our lives in a way that is really, really modern, feels postmodern, but then also is taking us into the past. So there's this crazy kind of collision of past and future and present happening, abetted by technology, which kind of blows my mind.

04:42

But what I really also liked were the kind of the human stories, the ways in which the family, this institution that goes back to as long as we humans have been around, is being altered irrevocably and reshaped by the technology. And also these questions around identity that are very relevant to our current day existence as Americans and all these assumptions we have about

05:11

where we come from and melting pot America and assimilation and like, you know, what, how we conceive of things like race and ethnicity, which are very artificial in many ways and sort of formed by our culture and our values around us, how those things kind of get shifted by DNA testing and how our assumptions influence our perceptions when we take a test. All that stuff was really interesting. So anyway, I started writing about it for the Washington Post, which is my old newspaper. And I wrote a story about

05:40

this incredible woman who named Alice, who took a DNA test back over 10 years ago when the technology was still new and she got this completely unexpected result, right? She thinks she's going to be completely Irish American. It turns out she's half Ashkenazi Jewish. And she's like, how can this be? You know, like this doesn't comport with anything I know about my family. Here she is one of seven kids raised Irish Catholic to Irish American parents. Like she's just figuring, okay, well.

06:07

this test that I took through this company called Ancestry. Maybe they don't really know what they're doing. Let me take a test with this other company called 23andMe, which she's never heard of before then. And so she takes this 23andMe test, and the results come back the same. She's half Ashkenazi Jewish. And she's like, well, but this is, what do I not know? Is my father not my father? And she goes through this incredible journey that lasts 2 and 1 half years. And she basically.

06:34

investigates every single possible theory she can think of. Oh, her mom had an affair, relationship outside the marriage. Maybe she's adopted. There's always the possibility of a donor conception, not in her family, but for many other folks. Maybe it's this, maybe it's that, and none of them hold true. And so her theories to explain have to get more and more far-fetched. And ultimately, she winds up proving the most far-fetched theory of all.

07:00

Um, and the kind of origins of her mystery go back like a hundred years. It's this really wacky story with a lot of history in it. So I wrote this story. It ran in the post in the summer of 2017 and I got the, like hundreds of react reaction emails from readers within the first few weeks of people who said, like that story was really good, but I also have a really good DNA testing story. And I want to tell it to you. And they were sharing their stories with me and it was the reading these stories and seeing their profundity of.

07:28

people's experiences that made me think, oh, this has gotta be a book. Awesome. Now I know how much journalism has changed over the years and which is one of the reasons why I sort of got out of it, you know, at a certain point, because it was just, you know, skeleton crews at everywhere you go. And, you know, it was like editing, you know, sort of went out the window and I could go on and on, but how rare was it back then to get that kind of response for an article, like to hear from folks?

07:58

Yeah, I mean, it's weird, right? Because sometimes you get a big, tremendous response just because you've done a listicle. So it's not necessarily relationship to how hard you work on something or how meaningful it is. This was a rare instance where it was something I cared about a lot and I got a big reaction. But in other instances, I remember kind of throw away political stories and getting huge reaction and being like, well, that's not really that meaningful. This was just a horse race story, right? Right.

08:28

Um, but yeah, I mean, it was, um, I think the biggest thing for me was that I got, uh, I know what you're talking about with freelance. I'm definitely one of those disillusioned people. Um, but in this instance, I did get a lot of support from the post for writing a piece that was quite, quite long. Yeah. Um, and so they were able to run the piece at like 6,000 words, which for a newspaper is, is a lot. Yes. Um, and they put it on the front. So, you know, it was like an A1 story that went on and on and on.

08:58

And I think people, like when they see such a long story starting on the front, they're like, oh, this is important, let me read it. Right, right. I think a lot of people get into writing books because there's some sort of personal connection to it. Was that, does that hold true for you or was it just compelling this whole idea of, you know? Yeah, I mean, personal connection, yes, although it's not like I took a DNA test and I was like, oh my God, you know, like.

09:24

this is reconfiguring my sense of myself. Like it was a much more subtle. I did take DNA tests over time as I was writing the articles and then the book. It wasn't as if I had some big surprise on the other side. But I think that the questions that we engage with when we think about things like genetic ancestry and inheritance and genes and what we pass down and all that stuff, I think that that

09:54

really relevant to like every human being I've ever met. Yeah. Right. Cause it's stuff about like, who am I, how am I formed? What made me who I am? You know, what is the me, the essential me? Like that's, that's stuff that if you're like, just kind of walking around thinking about like life and the meaning of life and why we're here, that like you ruminate on and that stuff that DNA testing brings to the fore, inevitably. Absolutely.

10:22

So I'm not sure how much you know about, you know, Kendall's story. And I can give you like the, just the 32nd version, but essentially, um, adopted at birth and both of his adoptive parents died when he was quite young. And closed adoption in Arkansas. So, you know, he, he tried for many years and nothing. So, um, eventually I did give him an ancestry kit and he took it and immediately matched with his, um, half brother.

10:51

here on the East Coast and then, you know, found out his, he's got a half sister and his father still lives here. And then after, you know, several conversations with his brother, like they, they've kind of solved the mystery for his mother's side. Then all of a sudden he finds out his mother's alive and he's got three siblings on that side. And it's all like, you know, we come and visit out here and decide to move here. It's all fairy tale until it's not, you know, until it's, you know, then, um,

11:20

You know, he's he's still had it's been more than five years and still hasn't had any contact with his mother. And and so, where did you guys move from into? We moved from lovely San Francisco Bay Area, California to New Hampshire. And you moved to New Hampshire because you were hoping to be closer to his birth parents in part and extended. Well, we do. We decided to move here because, you know, we just.

11:43

And I could see the sense of immediate connection between him and his brother and his dad and his sister. And he'd never had that. And I knew that that was a piece that was missing from his heart. So we had moved away from where we grew up and we're living in California for nine years and had kind of created our own family there. But I was like, it would be horrible for me to be that selfish and not give him this opportunity to get to know his family.

12:11

Because if we had stayed in California, how often realistically would we have seen them? Yeah, what a gift you gave him. Yeah, and so I would say it's been mostly great coming out here. I mean, I didn't love. I'm sure you're used to the snow, but I was out there dealing with the snow again today. No, it's bullshit. Let's just agree it shouldn't exist. Right, exactly. But this thing with his birth mother, I mean, he and I'm sure you've.

12:40

You've talked to many people who have done this same thing where they figure out who it is and he can't wait to reach out. So then, you know, on Facebook reaches out to his birth mother, his mother's sister, his aunt, and then finds, you know, two siblings, reaches out to them, basically just like thrusts himself into their world. And I said, you know, I don't know if it's such a good idea because what if your siblings don't know that you exist? And guess what? That was the case. Of course. I had no idea.

13:10

And so turns out, you know, he sends this Facebook message to his youngest sister. She's out shopping with her mother, reads this is like, this is crazy, shows it to her. Mom turns white as a sheet, has to sit down, you know, she's got the vapors and everything. And his sister knows it's true. And then what seems like is gonna be like an opportunity for a full reunion just never develops. And we still haven't gotten.

13:39

a straight answer as to why that is. I mean, I jokingly, I could say straight answer. We think it might be have something to do with the fact that it's, you know, we're a gay couple, you know, he's gay, but you know, we've never, he's never had that opportunity to have that conversation. And so- Can I just ask you, I'm sorry that I don't know the answer to this, but like, so we're just-

14:02

his birth parents, were they together? Like, were they a couple? Were they married when they conceived? They weren't married. They were young, young teenagers. They were military kids on a base. Now, according to his dad, you know, they were, yes, they were young, but they were in love. And, you know, it was this happened. They both wanted to keep the baby. And it being a military base, the captain or whoever was in charge decided that one family's got to go. Both can't stay. So,

14:31

Her family went away and she quietly had the baby and gave it up for adoption and that was that. Now, neither one of them learned their lesson, neither they both ended up having another child each within the next like less than a year and a half. And his mother, did she, how many children does she have altogether? Three. Three. And his dad has three.

14:55

Wow. Oh, I'm sorry. His dad has got his dad. I'm just. Sorry. There's another, he's got another half brother who was also, um, given up for adoption.

15:06

Wow. Is his mother very, his birth mother, is she very conservative, religious or conservative? Uh, we think, I don't know how, yeah, they are really, I think they are, yes, yes and yes, religious and yeah, and conservative, you know. Like Catholic or like? I think that, Southern Baptist, I think, or Baptist, you know, one of the, some kind of Baptist or something, which actually Kendall was raised Southern Baptist in, you know, yeah. It's so interesting to me,

15:35

I mean, I've heard so many stories, obviously, that each one is different, right? But in some situations where birth moms are reluctant to meet their biological children, it has to do with the shame around how this child was conceived or placed for adoption.

16:05

Um, but it sounds like it was a consensual relationship and everything we've heard. Yeah. You know, and it's, yeah, it's interesting. It's like, it's surprising, although for sure, like, I think there's something to this idea that if she didn't tell her children and she felt like she had a certain identity to them, that too, to like make that discovery, it's like it alters.

16:33

how people see you. And so the easier thing is to kind of compartmentalize it and just not deny it, but sort of. Yeah, I mean, I think it's just, you know, it was buried. Now it's become unburied a little bit, but I'm trying to rebury it. And I mean, the- Wow, what a situation. What a situation, yeah. Yeah. It's so hard. And you know, again, you never know what's gonna happen. You know, and I'm sure you've spoken to people who have had way-

16:59

you know, worse experiences and way bigger surprises. But yeah, I think, you know, like a big bummer is that he is really, really close with his sister, oldest sister on his mom's side, you know, and just the two of them together is like, wow, how are these two, how have these two not known each other their entire lives because they just, you know, instantly, instant connection. So she has a relationship with him even though her mother doesn't? Yes. And does the mother know it?

17:25

Yes, and it's become a source of friction within the family. Of course. And what's the mother say? Don't do that. You shouldn't have a relationship, or that's fine for you, but not for me? Well, it's funny, because I think the story has changed. I think at the very beginning was like, I'm not ready yet, but I totally understand a few kids want to have a relationship with them. And I think then, I don't know, maybe her mind changed or something. But yeah. I mean, a lot of times it goes the other way.

17:54

Yeah. Like, and so that's surprising and interesting. I feel so bad. It sounds like so much unfinished business for you guys. It sounds like this big unanswered question. And I have to say, like, when I was, I'm not obviously, I haven't had this experience personally and everyone's experience is different, but like one of the biggest things that people would talk about being a problem for them was this.

18:22

on inability to get their questions answered. Right. That is like this open wound. Yes. So frustrating, you know, to not be able to say like, okay, what is the real truth here? Like, what is it? It feels personal. How could it not feel personal, even though obviously it's not personal, it feels very personal. And so you need to say like, what is the reason behind you? Yeah, that's crazy making. That's so hard.

18:49

It is crazy making, yeah. I mean, it's something that, I'm sure he thinks about it every single day. I don't necessarily think about it every single day, but it does come up a lot, and it comes into my mind. It's like, if I see a post on Facebook that his sister posted or whatever, and his mom's in there, it's just like, oh, that's just, it's a huge bummer. Salt in the wound. Exactly, exactly. So, but yeah, I just...

19:18

I guess I'm curious because you've done so much, probably more research than we have just to put the book out. Like is that, how common is that? Is it, and like what kind of takeaways do you have for folks who are wind up in this situation? Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, I always wished that I had data, but I can't give you data, right? I can't, and no one has data. And part of the issue is that this whole situation, these situations are so self-selecting.

19:47

in terms of who wants to tell their story, right? What families want the 360 of their relationships told. Typically, the older generation that's willing to talk to me is willing to talk to me or another reporter because they have chosen to embrace their child, their newfound, oldfound genetic child, right? Right.

20:16

A lot of the stories that I wound up telling, I was forced to tell only from the point of view of the adult child because their parent had not wanted to have a relationship with them and didn't want to participate and didn't want to be interviewed. But it's really, really, really common. It's so, so common. And I think...

20:40

I, I, these situations are so hard because, you know, there's this, um, there's this way in which, I mean, secrets in a family are, are their own kind of, um, force, right? And, you know, when you make the decision to keep a secret from your spouse or your children or whatever, about say having gotten pregnant and placing a child, um, that becomes, it becomes, I think harder.

21:09

to break that, to undo that secret or to undo that omission or lie, right, over time. You would think like maybe, well, the culture is changing, it's liberalizing around me, so it's not such a big deal. But in fact, there's a kind of like inertia to the secret itself, I think. And then people's trust in you and their image of you is predicated on this thing that you never told them about yourself. So then it becomes

21:39

harder and harder with each passing year to ever reveal that truth. Right. Um, and then it's like, there's weird situation where, you know, somehow the person, when they get, when your genetic child, for instance, you know, you know, kind of makes an appearance and knocks on your email inbox and says, Hey, I'm here. I exist. I've discovered I'm related to you. You know, there's a way in which it can be felt by that genetic parent as like, um,

22:08

my pride, it's like an, you're costing me. It's, this is my privacy and you're, you're invading my space, right? Like your attempts to get to know your family, it's my family, right? So there's a kind of a boundary or a sense of mine versus yours. But of course, when it comes to biological relatedness, it's shared that these are his siblings, whether or not, you know, anyone does or doesn't feel that way, that is the reality of it, right? So, um,

22:36

Or there's this way in which your interests are up against my privacy or my secrets or my past or my myself, right? My image of myself or how other people see me. And people feel invaded. It's very interesting. I did see a lot of situations where families felt invaded by this person who was coming their way. And what was so painful for that person was that, you know, here they were. Hey, they had just discovered their

23:03

their parents, their genetic parents, and they were so eager to be embraced. And it feels incredibly painful to be rejected, um, by people, you know, even if you can say to yourself, well, they don't know me, so they're not truly rejecting me, it feels like a rejection, right? So it is really, really common. And I'm so sorry. It's common, you know, and that night, you know, I couldn't exactly parse what made, you know,

23:33

why people made decisions in certain directions. You know, it has to do with all sorts of factors, you know, religious belief, and, you know, are you now in a blended family versus a traditional family? You know, all sorts of things seem to go into whether a genetic parent can sort of remake their idea of themselves to allow a relationship with this adult child or not. Right, yeah.

24:03

book is definitely a cautionary tale. And I think I loved the headline. I think it was the New York Times that said, before you spit in a tube, read this book. Great headline. What advice do you have for people who are, oh, somebody just gifted me an ancestry kit. What do I do? Yeah, I think, listen, I'm someone who's personally benefited from DNA testing in the sense that it's-

24:30

accentuated our ability to understand our roots, make connections with distant relatives, discover people that we are related to that we would not have known we were related to, but for DNA. And so I'm glad to have done it, right? But the thing is, you don't know before you take a test whether you're gonna be one of those people who, it just helps your genealogy.

24:57

Or you've discovered nothing other than what you were already assuming to be true, or something radically different. And the vast majority of people that I talked to told me, even when their discoveries were really painful, that they were glad to know, because we put such value on the truth. But it's still a very emotional process to move through. So what I tend to say to people is just to kind of know that you won't know what you're going to find until you've taken the test. And you kind of have to be OK with that.

25:27

Anything. And if you're not in a place where you can kind of accept that level of potential destabilization, maybe you wait a little while. Although increasingly, it's not up to us, right? Increasingly, it's your sister who tests or your first cousin who tests and makes the discovery that changes how you think about yourself. And so to some degree, we're not even in control of this anymore. Yeah, that's an interesting thought, is that people are getting thrust into this.

25:55

who may have already made the decision that I don't wanna know. Right, exactly. Somebody's made that decision for them. And then all of a sudden it's like, here it's in your lap. What do we do with this now? Exactly, yeah. Do you think you're mentally prepared if something were to pop up in yours unexpectedly?

26:14

Um, I mean, I, I, I'm at the point where I think every family has secrets and every person in their, you know, kind of network is going to have a situation where someone doesn't know something important about their own genetic identity or about a sibling that they didn't realize existed for instance, right? Right. Like

26:42

I think that is true in every network, every family network. It's a question of closeness, right? Um, if you discover that in a second, cause that's different than discovering it about yourself. Yeah. Right. It's much more meaningful if it, if it happens to a sibling, you know, that's got all sorts of implications for how you view your parents and how much you trust your father's, you know, faithfulness to your mother, et cetera, et cetera, versus like far enough away that you haven't even seen, you know, your aunt since that, it's the way back in whenever, you know what I mean? Yeah.

27:11

Yeah. So I mean, I do kind of like given that all my, most of my family's already in the databases. So I know that like, I know I'm genetically related to my mom and my dad, right? So I know it's not, it wouldn't be a surprise of that kind. So any other surprise would be a little bit further out and I'm fully prepared for that to happen because I've seen it happen in so many families that it's literally a matter of time. Yeah. How do you feel about the fact that these essentially these two companies now are.

27:41

enormous. 40 million, most of them are Americans. It's, it's a really interesting situation. I mean, if you look at, for instance, the potential of it, from the point of view of medical breakthroughs, you take that amount of information and there is a kind of vast possibility for the development of, say, like a pharmaceutical breakthrough for a cancer drug, right? And that's what 23andMe's been pursuing.

28:08

There's also a great vulnerability there for our information. And how meaningful that information is depends on how you might want to use it, right? And who the goal is of the individual if they were to access it. So it's interesting because the way that the rules around this is governed has to do with contracts that are

28:37

put out by the company. So basically, they're telling me, these are the rules under which you're accepting our service. What do you think? Take it or leave it, right? So we're protected by a business contract. And that's interesting because I think in some countries, in some places, there might be more of a sense of the government wanting to step in and regulate it. But of course, that's not our environment. So it kind of remains to be seen how this information could be used if, for instance, a company

29:06

decided to change how it was treating the DNA information that it was genetic information that they had. And then the customers actually don't have that much power to say no to that, you know, aside from maybe deleting their data. Right, right. So, you know, the initial story you wrote for the post about six years ago, your book's been out for a couple of years now, but it's still in the conversation that we're having.

29:31

So what kind of feedback are you continuing to get from people? Are you still getting people reaching out wanting to tell their stories? And what does that do? What does that make you think for another project? Yeah, for sure. I mean, in the beginning, when I was first starting to write the book, I would tell people about it and like people would sometimes not know exactly what DNA testing was, or they'd be like, well, how does that work? Increasingly, that's like a thing of the past, right? Not only do I do like book, like I'll do book talks where I tell people about it. And, um,

30:00

Not only of course that they know what, how it works, whether or not they've done it, but everyone knows somebody who had some huge DNA surprise. Right. They discovered their dad's not genetically related to them. They found out they have a sibling they didn't know about. They, oh, they discovered their part such and such in terms of their genetic ancestry. And it was a big family secret, you know? Right. Um, so everyone, everyone's and yes, I still get emails from people telling me their stories. I still follow up with people that I interviewed. Some made it into the book. Some didn't.

30:30

And they update me on their situation, like, oh, my donor father has declined contact, or, oh, I've finally made contact with my donor father. You know, like, it's a journey. It goes on forever. As far as like a follow-up book on the same topic, probably not. I don't think that I would do that right now. I think you'd kind of want to watch the industry and let it develop for a while before you do a book that would be really fresh. Otherwise, it would be too similar to the first one. Gotcha.

31:00

But yeah, so not right now, but it's definitely an area that I continue to be very interested in. Well, sure, as you said, it's a journey. And if you're getting updates from people whose stories have changed, since you've told them, it's not sort of a cut and dry, like, here's the beginning, here's the end, and let me move on to the next subject. As you said, it's expanding every day. Right, and look at your all's experience with your...

31:25

you know, initial experience. And then as time goes by and then you make a decision to move and then this relationship develops, but this relationship stays frozen. You know, it, it's so difficult to predict how these things are going to play out in a family. Absolutely. Yeah. It's a, you know, it's, it certainly can be heartwarming and heartbreaking. You know, even when we hear, you know, people going through similar situations, it's like, how did your heart not go out to them? Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah.

31:55

It's I'm sure that that's you've heard from many of folk who, you know, they get this discovery and then they get all excited and they find out, oh, their parents died, you know, two years before they didn't get the. And they can't ask them. They can't ask them, like, was I wanted? Right. Why did you place me for adoption? You know, did you look for me? I mean, there was there was a woman who she had that she was a had been placed for adoption as a baby and she.

32:22

discovered her mother's, her birth mother's identity shortly after her birth mother died. And that was the one question that she wanted to ask that she could never get answered. And then it tortured her. Yeah. Because did you look for me? Did you think about me? Right. You mean she wanted to know that she was looked for. Yeah. So it's really hard. Yeah. I mean, I've got to wonder like what over the last, you know, five to 10 years, what percentage of people have started therapy because of discovery. Oh.

32:47

Definitely. Well, this was something that I noticed as I was writing my book and I included it in some of the reporting towards like one of the last chapters was this rise in mental health professionals specifically to treat, um, people who would experience DNA surprises. Yeah. Most commonly the experience of, um, a misattributed parentage, misattributed parentage experience or non, uh, parentage event, NPE or MPE, you know, and there's so many people and

33:15

You know, all of the therapists that I talked to who were treating people in this area were doing it because they had themselves taken DNA tests, had made the discovery that their father wasn't genetically related to them, and then went looking for a therapist and realized they couldn't find one. In other words, there was nobody who specialized in this and the people that they did go to sometimes didn't get it. They didn't get the seriousness of it. They didn't understand how big a deal it was. And so then they, once they worked through it, then they started to treat other people. That's wild.

33:42

Yeah, there's a whole network actually of therapists right now who treat MPEs. Wow. And you would you say that the majority of them have been through a situation themselves or the demand is there they've had to sort of up their game? Of the four that I interviewed, like directly at length, it had happened to every single one of them, right? There are many more. There's probably 20 or 30, you know, whether it's happened to every one of them. I would be surprised if they didn't all have some.

34:11

personal reason for getting into this work. Yeah. Wow. Interesting. It's so impactful, I think, for whoever experiences it. I'm sure it's like whatever industry, and you probably think, well, what can I do within my area of expertise to help people who are going through this? Exactly. Yeah. And that's kind of why we started this podcast, because initially, I talked about

34:37

you know, turning into a book. And then for one reason or another, that sort of got put on the back burner, but it's like, what if it was not just our story? What if, you know, we'd love to hear from other people because what can we learn from them? You know? And what can others, you know, that are on the fence about taking the test or have taken the test of, you know, had a horrible experience or something like it, you know, can we let them know that, hey, there are some happy endings out there or there are some good aspects of this.

35:03

And how can we normalize these experiences for people so people know it's not just my crazy family, it's everyone's crazy family. Exactly right, because it once becomes more normalized and it's like, I think people are more open to like, oh, you know, before somebody thrust this upon them, then like sit your adult children down and say like, hey, when I was 16, this happened and so. And if you know it's not just you, it takes the sting out of it, it takes the shame out of it, right? Because shame is like the biggest.

35:30

killer of conversations and healing, right? So to the extent that you can be like, well, like every family has been through this, lots of, like I'm not the only one making this discovery or I'm not the only parent who placed a child and didn't see that child for a long time and now is reconnecting with that child. I think it really helps. Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. So if that's not gonna be necessarily your next book, are you thinking about a next book?

35:59

Just as a journalist, I have to ask. I'm not right now, actually. I mean, I'm sort of, you know, there's a topic that I've been interested in reading on and off, which is sort of the history of eugenics. And so I'm very interested in how we came to certain assumptions about our genes and what defines us and what defines race. Because I think we bring all those assumptions to our understanding of DNA testing and also,

36:29

our understanding of difference and our understanding of belonging and our understanding of America and all this other stuff, right? Right. It's really problematic frame that was once mainstream science that we still carry with us to a great extent within the culture. So I've always been interested in that. I mean going back for a long long time even before I wrote the book I was interested in the history of eugenics and how mainstream it was. So that's something that I am interested in and if I could ever...

36:56

figure out a really awesome way of writing about it, that might be my next project, but it hasn't happened yet. Well, I can make a prediction that books like yours, I think are going to help inspire, not necessarily more nonfiction, but I think fiction, because as this becomes more and more normalized, we're gonna see this showing up in, you know.

37:22

TV shows and movies and things like that. I think last year there was a movie that came out, ended up being a vampire movie, but it was somebody got contacted, invited to a lavish wedding for a family member that didn't know existed. And it was this whole DNA sort of twist on it. So I thought it was clever in that, at least they're utilizing something. DNA and vampires? Right, yes. It's like never. Why not, right? Yeah, that's great. But yeah, I definitely see.

37:50

this topic showing up more in the entertainment side of things, just as more and more people, you know? I mean, 40 million people have done this, you know, how many millions would be interested in seeing something like or seeing a version of their story told? Yes, exactly. And there are a lot of shows, there are reality shows, there are scripted shows, there are memoirs, there are fictional books. And I hear about a lot of them, because I'll either get pitched on them or, you know, I'll

38:17

see a press release or something about them, right? Or the writers will write to me and be like, can you blurb this? It's a, you know, there's a lot and more and more all the time. Yeah.

38:29

Well, awesome. This has been great. We appreciate that you spent the time to write this book, because it's continuing, I think, to help a lot of people through the situation. If people have the opportunity, if they have this test sitting there, and they're waiting to take it, and wondering if they should, then they can read your book on a Kindle and make their decision from that. Well, and I think I'm glad that you guys are doing what you're

38:59

You know, the more stories that get told, the fewer people who will find themselves alone in this situation. They're definitely not alone, right? Yeah. It's such a common experience. And the one thing that's taught me, talking to all these people and writing about this topic, is there is no standard shape of a family. There never was. Right, right. There may have been stigmas against certain ways of being a family, but those families happened anyway.

39:29

And now is the moment when we're just kind of like, through a combination of cultural forces and DNA technology, right, we're lifting kind of the veil on the past and saying, okay, this is the like the way that it really was. Um, and I think if we can find a way to grapple with that in a healthy way where we bring a lot of compassion to it, um, I think we can emerge better on the other side. Absolutely. I think, you know, everyone can be a little bit more open to the.

39:58

Yeah, concept of what a family is, and not sort of be stuck in this. You know, this is what it was for me growing up and, you know, et cetera. You know, it's like we've. There isn't any such thing as like a, quote unquote, normal family or whatever you want to look at. There's no, there's that 1950s black and white TV show kind of thing. It's not, you know, that's, that's not reality. Right.

40:23

And as you said, it wasn't completely back then, but now, now that all these things are coming to light, it's like family can mean a lot of different things. Yeah. So yeah, so I'm glad you guys are talking about that and kind of using your joint experience to help other people, because that's the best way to take something complicated and spin it into gold, is to make your experience mean something to help other people that's so beautiful. Thank you. And that's.

40:52

Definitely the goal, and it's been very eye-opening and educational for us. Gives me the opportunity to continue to flex my journalist muscles, because I don't do it full-time anymore. What do you do as your day job? Marketing. So I'm a content strategist. So I mean, I still get the opportunity to write, but it's just not for the mass media. Well, it's always great to chat with a kindred spirit. Thank you so much for.

41:21

for inviting me on. I really appreciate it. Absolutely. Thanks for being on. And hopefully you don't mind if I reach out to you in the future either for advice or if I've got a question just related to a guest, that would be great. Yeah, no, absolutely. Always good to have a subject matter expert available. Yeah. I'm thrilled to be called that. Good. Right now I'm an expert in coziness with my sweaters. You do.

41:47

But yes, I'll be that kind of expert too. Well, you put the work in. I mean, it's like, I mean, a lot of people don't understand what it takes to write a book. And it's years of dedication. Yeah, for sure. And the science was very hard. That part was very complicated. So yeah, no, that was, I'm happy not to do that again for a while. But yes, I bow to you because journalism is not a tough gig, or it's not an easy gig.

42:17

especially these days. So, you know, thank you for, for continuing the art. Yeah, thank you. Okay. So thank you so much. Well, thank you for hosting me and I'm sure we'll be in touch. Family Twist features original music from Cosmic Afterthoughts and is presented by Savoir Faire Marketing Communications.

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