By David Silverberg
During Christmas three years ago, when Doug Clarke and his wife exchanged 23andMe DNA kits as gifts, he had no clue his life would be irrevocably changed.
The 54-year-old Lexington, Kentucky resident always long known he’d been adopted and he wasn’t searching for his birth parents. Rather, he took the 23andMe test to find out if he was at risk for certain health conditions.
But when the results revealed that a relative lived in New York, Doug reached out to him and found out this man was his cousin. Doug’s newfound cousin told him, “My aunt, Patricia, is your mother.”
A New Family Relationship
Within weeks, Doug was on a plane to Santa Cruz where his birth mother lived. It had been a tough year for Doug: he lost his father months before taking the DNA test, and the two had been very close growing up.
“To find my birth mother helped ease that sting of losing the father who raised me,” Clarke said in an interview.
Meeting his birth mother at a lighthouse near Santa Cruz proved to be the catalyst for a new relationship he never thought he would find.
“There’s literally no way I would have met my mother without 23andMe,” Doug said.
Patricia and Doug joined 23andMe for a special Mother’s Day event in 2018 where we chronicled their story in a video:
But it’s the relationship that the two have formed since that initial meeting, that has been the true gift. Their story of building a bond that has only grown since that first meeting is something they both have worked at nurturing. Now they talk every week on Sundays and spend holidays together. They have merged their two families allowing them to gradually become acquainted.
It’s been a blessing for Patricia Johnson, Doug’s birth mother. For years she felt shame and guilt for giving her son up for adoption.
“I always wondered if my baby was going to be OK, if he was doing well,” Patricia, 79, said. “But now that I know him and have seen what a great man he’s become, I no longer feel that guilt.”
In fact, Doug has been there for her during unfortunate mishaps, like when she suffered a fall and endured a compression fracture in her spine in December 2019.
“And who was there to take care of me after the long plane ride from Kentucky? My son,” she said. “He did my laundry, cooked for me, and applied those IcyHot patches on my back.”
Patricia saw a lot of similarities between the two even at that initial meeting.
“Our eyes are the same for sure, and we make the same hand gestures,” she said. “Even our likes and dislikes with food and music are the same!”
What New DNA Relatives Should Expect
It’s not just Doug she’s bonded with but his family too. Patricia is gradually getting to know Doug’s wife Lisa, his daughter-in-law, his sister, nephew, and brother-in-law. For his part, Doug is in touch with his half-sister and cousins, aunts and uncles from Patricia’s side of the family.
Doug cautioned that adoptees should temper their expectations if they reconnect with their birth parents via 23andMe or other methods.
“Don’t think the heavens will open and angels will start singing and you’ll have the perfect relationship,” he said. “Just go into it with an open mind. And if you don’t go through with it because you’re scared, you might have missed out on an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Patricia is often quick to share her story of reuniting with her long-lost son, so much so she even inspired someone randomly.
When her WiFi connection malfunctioned, a technician came into her home to fix it. The two began talking and Patricia said she:
“Got all blubbery and told him about Doug and what happened and what this DNA test gave me. He told me he is also adopted and just as he was walking out the door he said ‘I think I’m going try 23andmMe and look for my parents.’ And I said, ‘Honey, do it! It’s worth every cent you have!’”
David Silverberg is a freelance journalist and content creator who regularly contributes to BBC News, The Washington Post, Business Insider, and Gamespot. He is also a theatre artist and wrote about his Jewish heritage in his new solo show Jewnique. Find him at DavidSilverberg.ca