Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Genetic Mirroring: The Missing Piece for Many Adoptees

“Genetic mirroring” is a term that no one used when I was growing up. I didn’t encounter it until a few years ago, though I had an intuitive understanding of the thing itself long before I discovered the vocabulary to match. If you grew up with biological relatives, genetic mirroring is something you probably take for granted. You’ve likely never given it a second thought, and you also probably can’t really imagine not having it. But for many of us who grew up without it, genetic mirroring was the strangely absent piece that we may not have even known was missing.

Genetic mirroring is one of the ways that human beings make sense of who we are and define our identities, by observing people who share our genetic make-up. I experienced it for the first time when I was 30 years old, after locating my biological family. The first people I met in person were an aunt and uncle, and I will never forget that night. I don’t think I can adequately describe what a bizarre experience it was to have reached adulthood without ever having met a member of my immediate biological family, and then, suddenly, to see parts of myself reflected back in these people, who were strangers but not strangers at all. And it wasn’t only the similarity of physical appearance, but also the unexpected little things, like gestures -- the tendency to turn a hand a certain way when telling or story or a certain tilt of the head. As I got to know my original mother, at first through letters and e-mail, and eventually in person, we discovered striking similarities of appearance, mannerisms, interests, personality, education, and even profession. On the day I met my biological brother for the first time, I was completely fascinated by his hands as we made tacos together in the kitchen -- my hands, on the end of someone else’s arms!

Yes, I survived without genetic mirroring, and no, I wouldn’t really change the course that my life took. I grew up in a loving adoptive family and am thankful for the nurturing and care that I received in that family. But I’m also truly thankful that I don’t have to do without genetic mirroring any longer. And I’m glad that my own adopted daughter, who lived with her biological family for the first years of her life and still maintains a relationship with them via open adoption, will be one of the children who grow up taking genetic mirroring for granted and not really being able to imagine life without it.


  1. This post gives me a lot to think about in raising my child (through adoption). Love your writing and your stories!

  2. Thanks Andrea! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. I can totally understand your story! I recently met with a member of my biological family for the first time in 36 years and was taken back by the similarities. We looked the same and had similar gestures......amazing!


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