Why I am not in a Commercial for 23 and Me
A couple of months ago I wrote to 23 and Me to tell them my story because, I thought, it was a good one. I heard back from them the next day. It was a good story, I’d thought, but I hadn’t dreamed it was next-day good.
23 and Me wanted to interview me via Skye. We set up a time. I got my hair cut and colored and thought about what I wanted to say. I wanted to be the spokesperson for the happy adoptee. I wanted to show the world how exciting it could be to be adopted and to discover roots.
Imagine if all your life you’d walked around and had clouds where your feet were, and then one day you woke up and you saw your feet. You saw that you didn’t float. You saw that each step planted you to the earth. You saw the shape of your toes. You saw you had toes. For a long time, it would be hard for you to focus on anything aside from your feet because, for one thing, you could feel more.
That’s what it was like to find out who my birth father was. My feet felt the ground, and I felt more myself. It was easier to choose what I wanted for breakfast, for example, because I was a real person. Having an actual human being for birth father meant I had the right to choose. It meant I was real enough to care about myself. To be cared for.
I’d found my birth father by spitting into a tube. Afterwards, I wanted to tell the world, tell all the adoptees out there who were stumbling in the dark of who am I there was hope. That someone who had no idea who her birth father was had found him.
I imagined myself on a 23 and Me commercial talking about what it had been like to search, to have had people actively keep information about my birth father from me, people like my birth mother. It’s a strange thing to learn the world at large doesn’t think it’s that important for you to know who created you.
People believe they are telling adoptees, You are okay just the way you are. You don’t need to know that stuff, where you came from and who your birth parents were because you have us. You have your family. People think they are telling adoptees they are fine, but that’s not what adoptees hear. Or it’s not what I hear. I hear It’s not important for you to know who made you or where you came from or where you were for the first ten weeks of your life because you’re not that important. Don’t ask questions. Just be who we need you to be. Be a good girl. Be quiet.
I wanted people to see the joy on my face knowing my roots had brought me. I wanted the world to see what an adoptee feels like when she finds a missing piece. I imagined there would be birth mothers and fathers on sofas watching TV, and they would hear me tell my story, and they would see how important connection is, and they would order the spit kit from 23 and Me and find the children who’d made up all sorts of stories in their heads about why they had been relinquished. I imagined a collective sigh of I have been missing you my whole life. Please tell me your stories. Please fill in the gaps so I can feel whole.
The Skype interview was fun. I told the woman about reading the Modern Love essay 36 Questions that Lead to Love on the plane ride from California to New York and about answering the questions because I figured if I was going to spend 93 days writing about my life, a good person to fall in love with would be myself.
I told her about how my answer to the first question Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? had surprised me because out of all the marvelous, unreachable people I could have chosen, I picked my birth father. I hadn't known I cared that much. I had thought, because everyone told me he didn’t matter, he didn’t. But there on the hurtling plane, my heart told me differently. He was the person I most wished to meet. And, even though chances were good he was still alive, he was the person I would never find. Or so I thought.
When I was in New York, someone suggested I do 23 and Me as a way to find out about my genetic background, and because I was writing about adoption, I did it. I watched the videos on the 23 and Me website and cried at the one where the adopted woman reunited with her birth family, but I didn’t spit into the tube thinking I’d have a reunion. I’ve found many adoptees are funny that way. They are so used to numbing out over what they don’t have, they often don’t see or even imagine that what they want most is available to them. I thought I'd learn some health history, see what continents my ancestors had come from.
My birth father wasn’t listed on the results I got back just weeks later online. His brother was. And that’s when the miracle happened. I was able to email his brother, and his brother called me and he talked. A person was actually on the phone with me telling me about my birth father. I didn’t feel like a leper begging for crumbs from strangers who didn’t want to share information they’d been told to hold secret. All I had to do was say Hello, my name is Anne and I had someone there who was willing to tell the truth. My birth father was alive. He was real. He'd taught at a university. I’d taught at a university. He was tall. I was tall. He was an introvert. You get the picture. The more my uncle talked, the more real I became.
The fact that my birth father’s wife later told him I wasn’t family and so she didn't want him talking with me isn’t the best part of the story. And it’s the part of the story that, I believe, made me not good enough for a 23 and Me commercial. My reunion story didn’t have a classically happy ending.
I do have a few emails from him he wrote on the sly when his wife wasn’t in the room because she doesn’t like the idea of her husband communicating with a daughter he created but never met, but I don't have the tissue-box moment of reunion.
The woman from 23 and Me Skyped me out of the blue the day after our interview. I was sitting at Peets writing and she popped up on my screen. I’m not a big Skype user, and so I felt uncomfortable. I had food in my teeth. I tried to pick out the seeds as she told me she’d just called to say hi and to tell me everyone she’d shared our interview with at 23 and Me thought I had a great smile. I didn’t know this was a break-up call, and so I gave her a seedy smile and said thank you and then she said her farewell and disappeared.
Darling wife of my birth father, think about it, please. It takes so much courage for adoptees to search for what they have lost. What do you think happens when you deny a plant its roots? Are you afraid I am going to try to steal him from you? Are you afraid I want to sleep in your house? Drive your car? Get in your will?
I want to say hello. I want to see his face, once. I want to give him a hug and thank him for bringing me into the world.
I want the world to see adoption for what it is. I want people to hear the real stories. What really happens when doors open, when doors close.
I want to be a commercial.