For Christmas this past year, one of the most special gifts I received was a 23andMe DNA kit. When a Paraguayan adoptee friend told me she was interested in genetic testing a year ago, I was very skeptical of it- mostly due to 23andMe’s crackdown by the FDA and an ignorance about the way these companies operate. This past summer I was able to attend a workshop by Rich Lee at the KAAN Conference that discussed genetic testing and some of the issues around it. With more knowledge, I finally let my curiosity get the better of me.
Making the gift even more meaningful was the note that my mother wrote with it. My mother is a beautiful, articulate, and sometimes feisty writer. She is a near constant encourager of my writing, but also my search for self. Though I feel it’s a task adoptive parents sign on to do when they adopt, I am so lucky to have such engaged, active, and supportive parents.
I finally did the test last month with a good friend and the author of this piece, The House I Make. He graciously sat with me as I spat and spat and spat for a good five minutes. I closed the lid of the tube and sent my box back to the lab. And just like that, my DNA test was finished. While I know my genome sequence doesn’t define who I am, it is certainly something that fascinates me. Birth privilege is having a family medical history and having an ancestral lineage. Though DNA testing won’t tell me everything, it has been be able to provide some answers.
For the first time in my life, I have a more specific ethnic breakdown (And it turns out I have a somewhat significant amount of Korean in me). Moreover, for the first time, I share DNA with people and have the possibility of connecting with them. 23andMe shows how many segments and what percentage of DNA is shared. While I was admittedly disappointed that all of my DNA matches are fairly distant, I don’t know when some younger Chinese adoptee may enter her/his information or if a closer relative in China will become interested in the process.
Filling me with even more hope is the possibility of 23andMe aiding in potential first parent searches. Because of China’s history of street abandonment with absolutely no records, successful searches at this point seem almost purely out of luck. It may be extremely disappointing to an adoptee hoping to reconnect if a search comes to an early halt. More and more young Chinese adoptees have better records as well as parents who have, in some cases, begun searching while the trail is still hot. Older adoptees with virtually no information could be greatly aided if connected through 23andMe to a DNA relative in reunion with his/her first parents.
While the test didn’t change my world significantly or alter my sense of self, it is extremely interesting to have genetic information others take for granted. I have found these basic facts, the potential for even more DNA relatives to enter the database, and the continued validation from my parents well worth the $99.00 for the test.
My journey continues.