The rise of at-home DNA tests
As at-home DNA tests are becoming more and more popular, some people are facing the unexpected situation of grappling with surprises about their parents. DNA-matching can bring to light previously unknown or unacknowledged brothers and sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts, or even reveal that the man you call dad is not your biological father. In fact, in the UK, the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority is now calling on DNA testing services to warn customers about the possible emotional fallout.
When I decided to buy my own Ancestry DNA kit, I really didn’t think my results would hold a lot of surprises, because I thought I had solved all the “mysteries” in my early twenties.
For twenty-six years, I’ve thought Michael was my bio dad. So, when I took the Ancestry DNA test, I was pretty confident it would come back with at least 50% Italian from his side of my tree.
Last June I flew out to Texas to visit my adoptive dad and celebrate his 80th birthday. When I returned from that trip, my DNA results arrived. There was zero Italian and 65% England, Wales, Northern Europe and 15% Ireland and Scotland. No Italian.
AND Ancestry matched my DNA to several people I didn’t know. There were new names, but only one I recognized. A man named Thomas was my bio father, not my acknowledged bio dad, Michael. For a second the bottom fell right out from under me. After I pulled myself back together, I realized I could message those people right from Ancestry. But what do I say? “Hey there… I think your brother knocked up my mother, would you like to meet sometime?”
I’ve always thought my life was pretty “vanilla” and not all that unique. In a way that was true. In the past few months, I’ve discovered that there are (literally) thousands of people who have stories very similar to mine. DNA testing is about to become a phenomenon as we’ve never seen before. My story folds into a bigger picture and I’m confident we will hear more and more stories just like mine.
Many people are getting “surprise” results; they call us “NPE’s” (Not Parent Expected) and the number of NPE’s is staggering. One estimate I read was that 1 in 25 people don’t know who their biological fathers are. One in twenty-five!! How many of those people thought they knew who their daddy was until their DNA test came back?
It is estimated that over 12 million DNA kits have been sold in over 30 countries. That number is only going to continue to climb. If one in twenty-five is 4%, then about 480,000+ people are going to get a “surprise” DNA result.
The need for support
I commented on a tweet about my NPE status and was invited into a secret group on Facebook that has over 4,500 members! I’ve been reading all these people’s posts and I’m blown away. Some of the stories are heartbreaking. As unique as each person’s experience has been, I’ve noticed that there are some common themes emerging.
So many people feel an intense need for emotional support and direction from the clinical community. This is such a new arena that many therapists just aren’t familiar with the unique emotional burdens this NPE status opens up for people.
How Mariposa can help
As a counseling center that specializes in mental health and trauma, Mariposa is positioned perfectly to help NPEs. At Mariposa, our counseling model focuses on individual and group therapy. For some people, group therapy can be even more beneficial than individual therapy.
So, we have opened NPE support groups at both of our Orange and San Juan Capistrano offices). In addition, we are exploring an online platform to be able to offer group/individual counseling for people that have gotten their “surprise” DNA results but may be in a remote part of the Country without access to specialized counseling.
I hope you will follow along as I continue a series of blog posts on the crazy, beautiful, complex situation of NPEs. Whichever side of the “NPE” you land on (be it friend, family member, biological family member, stranger or yourself as the NPE), I’m confident you will learn something useful!
And remember, if you are in the Orange County area and need someone to talk to about your unexpected DNA test results, please contact us and consider joining one of our support groups!