Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Adoptee Laura Dennis on Biology and Genetics (NaBloPoMo/NAAM Day 21)

I am delighted to introduce you today to an insightful guest blogger, Laura Dennis. An East Coast US native, Laura now lives with her husband and two little kids in Belgrade, Serbia, where she blogs about anxious expat mommy life. Her memoir, Adopted Reality, is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook. 

Laura is also one of my fellow contributors at Lost Daughters, and I have enjoyed getting to know her recently. We have decided to do a "blog swap" today, with each of us responding to the NaBloPoMo prompt from Lost Daughters:

BiologyAccording to science, we all inherit something from our natural families. If you are in reunion, are there any traits or characteristics you know you inherited? How does that make you feel? If you are not in reunion, what do you hope to share with your natural family? How important is genetics to you personally?

Laura's response to this prompt is below. You may read my response, along with other great posts by Laura, on her blog.

* * * * * 

In my fifth grade unit on genetics, my teacher asked what color my parents’ eyes were. He planned to chart my “interesting” green-brown combo eye color in front of the whole class. (Wow, I felt special!)

I told him deep blue for mom and brown for dad.

Whoops! Something doesn’t jive! Mr. Han, perplexed, said, “Sorry, this doesn’t make sense.”

“Well, you asked for my parents’ eye color. But I’m adopted.”

Mr. Han’s reply? “I see. Moving on. Can we chart someone actual genetic history?” Awkward.

I didn’t learn much about genetics that day. I did learn that adoption, and by extension—my biological roots—were taboo subjects to be glossed over.

My (Biological) Reunion BBQ

I was twenty-three years old when I reunited with my birth mom, Kathy. I didn’t know about “genetic mirroring” at that time, but I did know that I was blown away by our biological similarities.

Shortly after reuniting, Kathy organized a barbeque lunch with her two brothers and my cousins. There were a lot of people to meet and she asked, “How are you holding up?”

“This has been amazing, thank you,” I said.

“I hoped it wouldn’t be too overwhelming. There’s someone else who wants to meet you. One of my best friends from high school, Gina, will be here soon.”

Everyone moved outside to the wooded backyard, and a breeze kicked up. Almost simultaneously—as if choreographed, Kathy and I both pulled out and wrapped our scarves around ourselves. Gina had just arrived, saw us, and said, “You two are exactly the same, the way you move, your gestures are the same—but you’ve just spent a couple of days together, right?”

“Yes,” Kathy said. “It’s pretty amazing what nature can do. And here, meet Laura.”

“Hi, Gina, it’s very nice to meet you. How was your drive here?”

“You talk the same, too!”

Kathy and I laughed, and now the uncles and cousins were laughing as well.

“You laugh the same!” Gina said.

We laughed again and said at the same time in the same tone, “We know.”

“When I hear her voice,” I said, “it sounds like I’m talking to myself.”

The biological connection

Are genetics important to me? Heck yes.

I have two biological children (age 2 and 4), and I remind them often that their father and I made them.  I talk about who they look like. Is this an “adoption trigger”? Probably, yes.

Genetics count. Knowing where we come from, that too counts for something. Reuniting with my birth mom filled a whole in my heart that I didn’t realize was there. It’s a biological connection that I get to see, now, every day in the faces of my crazy little kids.

When it comes time to chart their eye color, I know the biology.  And I’m sure I’ll embarrass them, reminding them yet-again, where they came from, and how I made them inside me.

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Please click here to read Rebecca's response to today's prompt.


  1. Great story about Mr. Han - the teacher without a lot of tact!! Awkward is right!! You made me realize i'm not the only one who is over the top about examining every way my son looks and acts like me . . . .he's probably sick of it but I never will be!

  2. No, no, not over the top, at all! Well, at least for now, while my kids are still small :) ... I think that everyone "back in the day" wanted to go along with the "story" that I was just like everyone else, a normal biological child. As if acknowledging that I'm adopted would some how be a bad thing. People are funny ...

  3. My son is 18 and we work together so I still gloat whenever anyone says he looks just like me! lol That sure was a lot of pressure to feel like a normal biological child. Whoever came up with that party line was in some serious denial!! I didn't look like my parents, think like them or come from them. My adopted brother didn't either . .. but let's pretend! ugh.

  4. I had that EXACT same experience with a biology teacher.... man they suck!

  5. Stories like this are EXACTLY why I believe in open adoptions so strongly. Yes, the ultimate goal should be to keep children with their biological parents. But if this is not possible then open adoption is the only alternative. You, Laura, would've known what color your biological parents' eyes are if you'd had an open adoption.

    Interesting to me that the adults in almost every story I hear about adoption seem to have more of a problem with adoption than the kids do. Of course their attitudes (negative or positive) seep in to the kids' psyches eventually.

  6. Awkward, for sure.

    I have often been surprised at how my daughter's facial expressions and gestures and speech mannerisms mirror her birth mom's. Stories like yours and her show just how much genetics really DO matter.

    Right, Mr Han?

  7. Monika,
    Yes, and I mean, this experience was totally a "product of the times." For one, people knew I was adopted, but the accepted the "closed adoption narrative" of the time, which was it's better for the child to have a clean slate. As if!

    It's also funny how my open-minded, liberal, PC school system actually negated the reality of difference. I grew up in the tolerance-at-all-costs era in the 1990s in which you couldn't even describe someone's ethnicity, what they look like, even acknowledge the color of a person's skin, without seeming racist. So, Mr. Han wanted to be "open-minded," but when confronted with the reality: I'm adopted, he had no further social tools to open a discussion about difference. And you're right on, Monika - these attitudes DO seep into kids' understanding of self and others.

  8. Andy, How funny/interesting/telling. I mean, the biology teacher could have tried to "reverse engineer" my bio-parents' possible eye color combos. That would have been a cool lesson in 1. social open-mindedness, 2. probability, 3. genetics. --Laura

  9. Interesting also to me that the groups or people that spout that they're most tolerant of differences usually aren't if they happen to disagree with those differences.


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