When A Genetic Test Rocks Your Storyline — It Happened To Me

by Michelle Talsma Everson
Originally Published: 
A woman in an orange long-sleeved shirt wearing black glasses reading the results of a genetic test
Scary Mommy and TEK IMAGE/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/ mediaphotos/Getty

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.”

– Anais Nin

I am a writer, for better or worse. For better, because my life and my experiences have been gratitude personified thanks to my storytelling. For worse, because when a story I don’t know how to put into words needs to inch itself out, I hold it in and don’t want to let it out… it nags at the back of my mind… it has to be let go. I’m a writer. This is what I do.

At first though, this story wasn’t for my traditional social media. It was too raw, and too real. I’m ready now though. At least, I think so.

My bonus mom said she was honored that I trusted her enough to break down in front of her. She’s seen me cry before, but it’s always me holding back, muted. This though… this.

How do you react when every emotion known to man collides? Well, apparently you scream, “How f*cking could she?!” and then laugh and cry and smile and cry and break down… and repeat. Time and space stop. This isn’t something that happens to you. It happens to other people. Far away. Somewhere else.

To clarify: both of my parents have passed. My mom passed in December 2008 from complications due to addiction; my dad followed in December 2010 from similar issues. I was an only child and had my son in between their deaths, in January 2010. I was 22, 23, and then 24. Yes, it was as jarring as it sounds.

Now, at 35, I took a 23 and Me DNA test after over a decade of procrastination. I wanted to find any long lost siblings. My dad supposedly had other children out there. Before I placed it in the mail, I said, “Lord your will be done.” My mom used to warn me against stuff like praying for patience (because you’ll get things that will test and grow your patience), so I always pray that generic one. I had a (supposed) half brother I was already in touch with so this was going to prove it and maybe add more to the roster. I was ready. I started ADHD meds just before this. I started yoga. I’m in therapy. I bought a damn treadmill. I’m good, let’s do this. Holy hell.

Details like names and dates don’t matter if those I found don’t matter. What matters in my story is that my dad, my DADDY, the man who I still miss on long car rides, is not my biological father.

Floored. Not. Expected. What. The Actual… you know. I called family, grasping for straws. They had nothing for me to cling to.


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My bonus mom said she was honored that I trusted her enough to break down in front of her. She’s seen me cry before, but it’s always me holding back, muted. This though… this.

As one of my friends I told said, my dad is such a part of my narrative that she was worried about me. Both of my parents were really good at being fallible humans. Drug addiction, alcoholism, undiagnosed mental health issues, instability, all… the… things. Oftentimes, I clung to his attempts at stability. Oh, he was no saint — he was an asshole through and through. But, he tried. She did too in her own way, but I was such a hurt baby bird that I mourned his death more. Again, she was not a villain. As I am older now, and a mom myself, I empathize with her and see where she tried too. She came to my college graduation, my wedding, she tried too. It’s just… my dad… was my dad.

The thought that we weren’t biologically related never crossed my mind. Once or twice there were hints — nothing though that wasn’t brushed off by “Oh, she’s drinking.” I have his nose, his smile, and his hustle. My narrative for my son has always been, “From your dad’s side of the family, yes there’s all of these degrees, and smarts, and high powered careers… from your mama my son, you get your hustle. Your grit. Your empathy. That’s all Talsma there.”

I kept my maiden last name to honor my dad, even though he was staunch against it. He supported my Christian faith while being a Wiccan pagan. I have his love of photography and curiosity. He never passed the eighth grade but was the smartest man I knew. I loved him. I love him.

And yes, I know that genetics changes none of this. He still is, was and always will be my dad. But, there’s a certain type of sadness, of unfamiliar, and of disconnect. I don’t see myself in this other man’s face. Then again, as my BFF pointed out, it’s because I spent years seeing myself in my dad’s. My friend and I joke that, “Nope, still look like your dad.” His photos are on my walls. His camera etched on my back.

That all said, this new chapter — I could not ask for a more welcoming storyline. These folks are all open arms and kind hearts. They use inclusive language, there’s no denying me. It’s been just a matter of months and I’m still reeling but I can see bits and pieces of me that always seemed out of place growing up. I close in to photos, pinching the faces to zoom, and I see my face — just a tad. They too seem curious, outgoing, and have hustle. It’s all new and fresh and an odd sort of plot twist.

This experience has unnerved me, shook me to my core, splayed me naked, vulnerable, so much back to the insecure little girl that I’m surprised. I know I will build it back up. But I’m giving myself time to be shocked and human.

And yes, I told my half brother this unexpected twist and he said he’s happy to be an honorary brother and uncle. I look forward to keeping him in my narrative too.

There are a million more details. I literally don’t know how to do this but take it one day at a time. I’m quietly getting to know those who seem interested in getting to know me; and respecting the boundaries of those who don’t wish to talk about it. I’ve cried and lost sleep; I’ve smiled and sent selfies. I’ve even met a new sister in-person recently, and it went amazing. I’m so grateful for that. I’m so scared to make this story public — I guess life just needed to hit me with one more plot twist. Good thing that I am, for better or worse, a storyteller.

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