Kim Ross as a baby with her adoptive mother, Doreen Adams. Photo: SuppliedOn Christmas Day, 2016, Brisbane woman Kim Ross shared something unusual on Facebook.
The 59-year-old mother and wife then got a phone call. It was an old family friend.
“Kim I think there’s something you should know,” he said.
The next 30 seconds saw Kim scrambling to process several unnerving facts. Her parents were not her biological parents. They died without telling her this. But almost everyone else in her family knew. Kim was, understandably, stunned.
“It did sort of muck Christmas up,” she says, putting it mildly.
Certainly the timing could not have been more incongruous. Christmas had been a time for family and sentimentality. Now, it seemed her entire childhood – and 40 years of adulthood – had been a lie.
Holidays were always happy times when Kim was growing up. There were pets and cousins and grandparents. An only child, Kim lived with her parents in the seaside Auckland suburb St Helier’s Bay, New Zealand. There was a stint in the US, before her father eventually relocated the family to ‘s Gold Coast whenKim was 16. By the time she was 19, her father was dead. What the grieving Kim didn’t know was that she was burying the truth of her identity along with the man she’d always called dad. His dying wish was that his daughter be kept in the dark. The family, sworn to secrecy, kept their word.
“He was an imposing figure,” Kim recalls. “He was also very much loved. And it was a different time; people kept secrets back then.”
Yet secrets aren’t as easily kept these days as technology improves people’s ability to play family detective.
Trevor Jordan, president of adoption support agency Jigsaw Queensland and a late-discovery adoptee himself, saysfamily skeletons have started walking out of closets en masse in recent years. He says what had been a gradual awakening since ‘s closed adoption system was eased in the 1990s has, in the past two years, become much more prevalent, leading to a surge in demand for counselling services.
There are several reasons for this, he explains. The digitisation of government records, the commercialisation of family trees via companies like Ancestry苏州夜总会招聘, the rise in social media, and a significant reduction in costs associated with DNA testing. “Over this Christmas we saw really heavy advertising of the home testing on television … and people have been buying them as gifts,” Jordan says. Since 2008, when Victorian company DNA Solutions became one of the first firms to offer at-home test kits, there’s been a proliferation of competitive products. Price has also come down, from nearly $300 close to a decade ago, to about $150 today.
Jordan admits he too is waiting for the results of a saliva sample he sent to the US labs of Ancestry苏州夜总会招聘. “There has been an upturn in interest, and we’re finding people are needing our help when they’re confronted with truths about all sorts of things; not just adoption. It could be that you receive results that might indicate the man you grew up thinking was your biological father may not actually be, and that can present all sorts of challenging questions… and I’m not sure we’re properly prepared for the consequences this [home DNA testing] might bring about.”
Trevor’s fears are shared by retired molecular biologist Dr Michael Brisco, who helped developed DNA tests while working as a scientist at Flinders University. There are Facebook groups with thousands of members all searching for genetic clues about their identities, but Dr Brisco points out interpreting the results of DNA tests requires a comprehensive understanding of the complex language of genetics. He says test results used to be given in clinical environments by qualified genetic counsellors, adept at translating scientific data and communicating probable impacts; these days, many people are receiving genetic test results in an email from a company overseas. Dr Brisco says the DIY DNA process should be treated with caution.
“There are some tests that are far more conclusive than others,” he says. “There’s no reason people shouldn’t carry out these at-home tests, and certainly the results can reveal broad details about someone’s likely origins, but these are just quick looks – glances if you will – a glance at something that doesn’t really tell you anything specific or especially conclusive. Of course, if there is something that appears amiss, well then you check it out.”
Checking out a wonky result was exactly what led Kim to uncover the truth. Even before she started plotting her family tree online, she had been bothered by a strange, instinctive feeling that she somehow didn’t quite fit in. She would often joke with her mother and family about the small, seemingly inconsequential differences between her and her cousins. She was tone-deaf, they were musical. They were very petite, she was always just a little bit larger. Sometimes Kim would wonder aloud whether she really was her mother’s daughter. But her questions were always rebuffed, her doubts dismissed. She was reassured she was one of them, and that was all there was toit.
“‘Of course you’re not adopted,” Kim recalls her parents saying. “I used to say, ‘If I am, it’s OK; you can tell me,’ but they never did.”
Indeed, no-one ever breathed a word. It wasn’t until her grandmother died that she came across a crucial wrinkle in the family’s fabric. While sorting papers after the funeral, Kim discovered documents pertaining to the Ngai Tahu; a prominent iwi from southern New Zealand. It was a surprising discovery; no-one had ever discussed Maori ties. This was the revelation that led Kim to research the family’s newfound heritage. She didn’t know it then, but she was starting down a path that would eventually unravel her entire identity.
“I began researching our family’s heritage when I was about 30, and eventually, I signed up for Ancestry苏州夜总会招聘,” Kim explains. “As the technology progressed, and the more I used the program, the family tree I was able to chart became more detailed.
“Then they started offering DNA analysis. I thought, ‘Why not give that a go?’.”
So Kim spat in a tube and sent the sample to the company’s labs in the US. She was expecting some sort of chart back that would indicate what percentage of her DNA was Polynesian, and what other ethnicities she was linked to. Dr Brisco explains this kind of testing works by comparing an individual’s genetic sample with data collected from people with well-established, multi-generational links to a particular location. “Therefore you can assess whether someone’s particular DNA sample is more or less like the Irish samples in the database,” he says.
Kim’s results, however, were startling to her.
“It showed no Polynesian blood,” she said. “It didn’t make any sense. So I followed it up and the company told me that I could be Polynesian, but that I didn’t carry any genetic markers or indicators, and I thought, ‘Ok, that sounds like a reasonable explanation’. But it I still felt odd about it, so I posted the result on Facebook, and that’s when I got the phone call.”
“That’s when an old friend of the family called me up and told me, ‘Kim, you’re adopted’.”
More phone calls followed, along with apologies, confessions and explanations. The extent of the deception became clear. It was confirmed without a doubt when Kim applied for, and received, her pre-adoptive birth certificate.
“Pretty much everyone in my family knew except me,” she says. “One of my cousins said, ‘Kim, you’ve got to realise, they did it out of love for you. As far as they were concerned, you were their child, and that’s all there was to it.'”
But Kim finds it hard to get asense of closure, particularly because her parents are no longeralive.
“I don’t agree with their decision in hindsight. Especially when I asked the question over and over, and was told I was wrong, only to find out later that my instinct was right.”
Kim confesses her biggest anguish was her adoptive mother’s silence.
“I had 30 years with my mother after dad died,” she says. “I felt a bit disappointed she wasn’t honest with me. Though as far as I’m concerned, she is still my mother, and I couldn’t have asked for a better one.”
Three months later and Kim has, however, tracked down her real mother.
“She’d married twice, had name changes, but I found her. I thought, ‘I’ll write her a letter rather than call’ – I didn’t want it to be a shock for her; her daughter calling her, out of the blue, after 60 years.”
Kim waited for a reply to arrive, and kept busy with her research. There was no father’s name on the birth certificate. The blank space was a source of great frustration. Trevor Jordan says all too often, questions around paternity are the main source of confusion for people looking for answers.
But even when Kim made contact with her mother, she was left bitterly disappointed. Though responsive, Kim’s biological mum wasn’tentirely forthcoming. And she lacked one vital detail: the legal name of the man who left her a pregnant teenager. “It was a different era,” Kim says. Nurses removed Kim from her mother as soon as she was born, her mother was alone in a house for unmarried girls, and had been sent there by a family who never spoke of the matter again.
“Back in her day there was a stigma attached to me,” Kim says. “I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have been in the ’40s,’50s and find yourself pregnant at 15 years of age. You’re still a child.”
Kim’s not sure if she’d ready to meet her real mother yet. She’s not sure her real mother wants to meet her either. Kim’s children know, but for them, Kim’s adoptive mother will always be grandma, and the ties to her family remain steadfast, despite the absence of blood, and the upheaval of last Christmas.
“It still all feels a little unreal,” Kim says.
“Everyone is entitled to the reality of their own existence.”
First appeared on the Brisbane Times