By Amanda McCorquodale
For Christmas a few years ago, Tami Hawley’s brother gave her a 23andMe kit, a life-changing gift that ultimately connected her to the son she’d given up for adoption more than three decades ago.
“I was 17 and scared,” she said. “No one ever knew.”
When she received the gift, Tami had been writing a novel based on her family history and her experience of having to give up her son as a teenager, but she hadn’t finished it. She didn’t know how to write about that part of her life. That’s why the gift, even before she made the connection, had been so important.
“I just remember opening the 23andMe kit, crying and saying, ‘This is why my book’s not done,’” she said.
Finding her son took time. For nearly two years, Tami opened up emails from 23andMe alerting her to new DNA relatives with bated breath. After a while, however, she stopped looking at the emails as regularly. But one day, she decided to take another look and saw she had new DNA Relatives on 23andMe. Among her matches was as predicted “Son.”
“I was sitting on my living room couch and for five minutes, I just sat there in shock,” she said.
Tami saw his name for the first time. When she told her husband the secret she had kept for so long, he immediately urged her to direct message her son from her 23andMe account.
Tami did, but she didn’t hear back right away. About a month later, on her son’s birthday, she looked him up on Facebook and wrote him a note:
I’m so glad that after 32 years, no one and nothing stands in the way of me wishing you a Happy Birthday.
“I wanted him to know that every April 26, I thought about him,” she said.
Her son, Matt, replied within 30 minutes. Initially, the two began texting and then having long conversations comparing their similarities and discovering their differences.
Meeting for the First Time
Tami had been living in southwestern Connecticut when she had Matt, who was then adopted and raised in New Jersey. He now lives in Boston, about an hour and 20 minutes away from Tami in northeast Connecticut. They met for the first time in September of 2019.
“We met at a Starbucks where we sat for over an hour and talked non-stop,” she said. “I noticed that we had the same mannerisms with our hands. In fact, I eventually sat on my hands because I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable by seeing we were doing the same things.”
It was one of many traits the two share, Tami said.
“It has been eye-opening to realize how many things really are linked to genetics,” she said. “For the first time, he’s around people that look like him. I see me in him. I see each of my brothers. It’s fascinating.”
The Best Gift
Matt’s 23andMe kit was also a Christmas gift from his girlfriend.
“I think one of the big questions he always had was whether he was wanted,” Tami said. “My hope is that finding out that he was wanted has had a very positive impact on him.”
Tami admits it’s been bittersweet to hear how wonderful Matt’s adoptive mother is and recognizing that as strong as genetics are, so much of our personalities are rooted in how we grew up.
“I’m a very emotional person and he definitely is not, at least not outward,” she said.
At one point she asked him if he was glad he took the test and connected with her and he reassured her by saying, “Absolutely, not even a question.”
After their initial meeting, Matt and Tami got together about once a month until the pandemic stopped most in-person gatherings.
“First, he met my husband, brothers, and my best friend. Then he met my mother and my nieces literally the day before everything shut down,” Tami said.
In August, the extended family and Matt got together again for an outdoor picnic.
“Right now, we connect about once a week,” she said. “I would like it to be more often, but I’m trying not to overwhelm him.”
A year and a half after their first meeting, Tami said she finds herself looking at the selfie they took together.
“His smile is so big and both of us just look so happy,” she said. “It has been a roller coaster of emotions from fear to guilt to sadness to anger, and countless more. But I wouldn’t trade knowing him for anything.”
It has brought her happiness.
“The joy has been something I never imagined I could have, something I thought for so long I wasn’t deserving of,” Tami said. “It’s hard to put into words, in fact, but when I allow myself to fully experience it, it is a beautiful sense of wholeness and freedom, not just from finally being able to start living the truth of who I am, but in finding this amazing human I can tell the world is my son.”
Amanda McCorquodale is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in Gourmet, Miami Magazine, and Mental Floss. She previously worked as an associate editor at the Huffington Post and as an Arts and Culture Editor at the Miami New Times. She lives in New York with her family. Previously she wrote a three-part series on her own DNA journey with 23andMe.