For almost five years Megan McCarthy didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day. She couldn’t, it was too painful.
It reminded her of losing her mom, who passed away 13 years ago. It was all too much. But this year, and for each of the last three years, Megan is all in.
“It’s a full celebration again,” Megan said.
She describes her story of losing one mother only to find another with the help of 23andMe as miraculous.
“There are no words for the abundance of gratitude I feel for this marvel,” Megan said recently after sharing the story with us. “What child gets to feel the extraordinary love of two mothers in one lifetime? A miracle.”
It was never a secret. Megan always knew she was adopted. It was something her parents shared with her early in life.
They also never let her forget how loved she was and created a family — with Megan and her brother, Mike — bonded by that love. For her, it was like she’d “won the adoption lottery.”
Her mother stayed home to raise her and her brother. Her dad was an honest, hard-working role model. They offered lessons in faith, family, and love. Her parents knew she might one day be curious to learn more about her birth mother, and let her know that was OK, but that didn’t erase the guilt Megan felt about wondering about her birth mother.
Raised in the Midwest, Megan and her family would sometimes visit Chicago, and she remembers seeing women among the crowds of people on the streets and wondering. “Is that my mom?” In her head, the questions bubbled up: Who was she? What was she like? Would she embrace me if we met?
“Deep down I wanted to know her, to see her face, to have her arms around me, but something always stopped me,” Megan said.
With those feelings came the guilt. After all, Megan had two parents who loved her unconditionally. Wasn’t that enough?
And there was something else. Megan worried that maybe her birth mom had closed that chapter of her life. If Megan searched and found her, maybe that would just reopen the pain of having to give up a child.
“How could I do that to her when she made the decision to give me a better life than she could have provided?” Megan said. “The ultimate act of love: letting go. I made my peace with this decision but that never stopped the yearning to potentially love the woman who gave birth to me and to have her love me back.”
The one thing Megan knew was that her birth mom had been 18, and she didn’t want to reopen what might have been a traumatic moment in her birth mom’s life.
An Instant Sister
So, Megan didn’t search. Instead, she buried her yearnings and moved on with her life.
She started her own family. Megan and her husband had a daughter.
Even a few years ago, when on the cusp of turning 50 she decided to use 23andMe, it wasn’t to connect with family. Megan was focused on her health. Being an adoptee she didn’t know her family health history. She wondered if there might be something in her genome she should know about.
It was only after she got her reports, and didn’t see anything surprising in her health results that she got curious. First, she figured out that she was less Irish and more French than she thought. And then there was this curious thing called DNA Relatives, which, like the name implies, could connect her with people with whom she shared DNA, essentially blood relatives. She opted in, but even then the significance of that didn’t quite register. The next day she had a new “DNA Relative Match.”
She figured it was just some very, very distant cousin. “Whatever,” she thought.
But she logged in anyway.
“At the top of the matches was a half-sister,” she said.
She was stunned.
“Wow, an instant sister,” she thought as the blood drained from her face.
Is She Alive?
There are moments when she tells her story that Megan has to stop herself, and her smiling and positive demeanor cracks a bit, and the tears flow.
“It still makes me cry,” she said recalling the moments that altered her life so dramatically a few years ago.
She eventually put it down in writing.
“It’s amazing what raw emotion can do for someone’s creativity,” Megan said.
That moment when she learned that she had a half-sister, Megan felt shocked, and in a heat haze of emotion, she quickly composed a message, asking the question she’d wondered about her whole life.
“I think I’m your sister,” she said by way of introduction. “If this is too much for you, I understand. But can you tell me if our mom is still alive?”
Wrapped Up in Their Arms
Megan expected the answer was “No.”
She braced herself for that answer and then began to question herself. Did she say the wrong thing? Was it too soon to ask? She didn’t have to wonder too long because her half-sister, Sarah, came back with a loving response.
“She’s alive and well and living in Prescott AZ!” her sister wrote.
Not only does Megan have a half-sister, but a half-brother as well. And they both knew that they had another sister out there somewhere. Their mom had told them about Megan, and they’d all hoped one day they’d find each other. Again stunned, Megan quickly sent her sister her contact information and asked that she pass it on to their mom.
“After tapping send, I dropped my phone and fell to the ground … It was as if my bones and muscles couldn’t hold me up,” she said,
Home alone, she collapsed on the floor. Through her tears she picked up her phone and texted her husband and daughter, who were out hiking. She needed them.
Her daughter responded.
“We’re on our way now.”
When they arrived, her husband and daughter wrapped her up in their arms and the three of them cried together.
A Familiar Voice
The emotion of that day drained her to the point of exhaustion. And that night Megan fell into a deep sleep.
But in the morning, all that emotion came roaring back with the realization that her mom was still alive, and mixed in with that were a confusing set of emotions of both joy and fear, excitement and anxiety. Mixed in with all of it was confusion over what it might mean. There was nothing for her to do but wait, so Megan did what she did most days. Dropped her daughter off at school, and then went to the gym. It was there that the call came in from Prescott. She moved to a place where she had some privacy and answered her phone.
“I hear her voice and I swear it’s familiar,” Megan said. “It’s a calm, sweet, loving salve to my heart. We speak for close to an hour and a half. It’s effortless. An instant connection between mother and child.”
Megan had questions, so many questions, but her mom had just one at first. She wanted to know about the baby girl she gave up and asked:
“Did you have a good life?”
She told her about her parents and how wonderful they both were, and her brother, and her husband and daughter. Yes, she had a good life. And then her mom asked her whether or not Megan suffered from anxiety. That question resonated immediately. It was something that Megan struggled with and she didn’t like to share. Her parents were just so solid and giving that she felt that confiding in them about her anxiety was somehow selfish. But when she told her birth mother that yes she did struggle with anxiety. She got a healing response.
“We all do too,” her mom told her.
“It released in me 48 years of feeling it was all my fault,” Megan said.
It was just something that ran in the family. The call was healing for Megan, and she felt it was healing for her birth mom to learn that she’d made the right decision and that her daughter was loved so strongly by her family. She felt this circle of gratitude inside her for her parents, her birth mom, and the chance to find each other after all these years.
It was hard to hang up the phone after that first call, and each day after that the two texted or phoned. They made plans for her mom to visit, and then counted down the days.
“On the day of her arrival, my nerves are on edge,” Megan said.
Waiting at home for her to arrive, she had to do something to calm herself.
“I distract myself with a run,” she said. “I make a sign to welcome her. I obsessively crunched on hard candy.”
Then waiting with her husband and daughter on the front stoop, Megan sees a black town car come around the corner. It’s a moment she’s imagined all her life, and goosebumps cover her body.
“I can hardly breathe and my heart is pounding so hard I can feel it in my toes,” she said.
As the driver flings open the door, the two run toward each other, and they embrace in the driveway, with full throttle sobs. It was a long, long time before they let go.
“What did we do to get so lucky?” Megan said.
Megan and her Birth Mom Embrace
After her mom died 13 years ago, Megan simply couldn’t handle Mother’s Day. Her mom had been so amazing and loving and she missed her deeply. It was easier to simply let that day pass and not think about it. It took almost five years to get over that.
She still misses her but over the years the pain of that loss lessened, and she had a daughter of her own. And then this miracle happened.
Since her birth mom’s visit, during which they spent a week together talking, cooking, and hiking, the two have slid seamlessly into each other’s lives. They continue to text and call and have seen each other three times. Megan has met her half-sister, whom she loves. Mother’s Day has taken on a new relevance for Megan.
“We always talk on Mother’s Day! After my amazing (adopted) mom died, I didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day for almost 5 years,” Megan said. “It was too painful. But now, since finding my birth Mom, it’s a full celebration again. “
If not for the pandemic, the family would be together this Mother’s Day too. But it will only be a matter of time before they’re able to visit together again, Megan said.
Among the many blessings from this whole experience, were the words Megan heard from her father, who best summed up her story.
“The two of you no longer walk with holes in your hearts,” he told her. “They are now fully healed and filled with love.”