Adoptee Finds Family Via DNA: An Interview with Stephani Harris


Good morning, Stephani! It is so great to speak with you today! As one of the contributors to The Adoptee Survival Guide, it’s great to be collaborating again for this interview.  Readers, today Stephani will be sharing about her success story with genetic genealogy.

As Gaye Sherman Tannenbaum reminds us in The Adoptee Survival Guide, with some luck and patience, it is possible to find out who your biological family is using genetic genealogy.  Sometimes testers get lucky and get a quick match, while other testers will need to be very patient, build trees and speak with cousin matches to fit the puzzle pieces together.

Stephani, please share with the readers what prompted you to take an autosomal DNA test and which test(s) you took.


Hi Lynn and thank you for having me on the blog! It’s been an honor collaborating with you and the other authors of The Adoptee Survival Guide.  I was on in 2013 researching for my husband. He is also adopted and recently had his adoption records opened up. I noticed the Ancestry ethnicity DNA test and it made me very curious. I am going to admit when I spit in the vial and sent it out, I truly thought it was just a  money making scam that wasn’t accurate. I wasn’t really taking it serious and I just couldn’t comprehend how my spit would reveal my ethnicity of myself and my ancestors.  I was proven wrong. The results were truly accurate.


You and I have something huge in common that really connects us.  We both found out surprises about our ethnicity after we were adults.  As I mention in my essay, I learned I am 30% Native American and that my father is Latino after taking a DNA test, something I did not know for the majority of my life.  Can you share with the readers about what your discovery was and what it meant to you?


Yes, it’s true that we were both surprised about the findings of our ethnicity, but I had met my bio father face to face at least 11-12  yrs prior to the test. So, the test didn’t give me a surprise of “Wow, the other half of me is Black and Jew too.”  The discovery was an accurate confirmation of my Paternal side and identity.


Thanks for sharing that, Stephani.  So what kind of DNA matches did you get and how did you progress in learning the identity of your paternal extended family?


So far as of today, I’ve been matched with eight 2nd cousins and three 3rd cousins on my paternal side.  On my maternal side so far, I’ve been matched with one 1st cousin (which is actually my niece) and several 3rd and 4th cousins. Lynn, I will be honest with you, I didn’t pay much attention at first when I sent off the test as far as being matched with other potential relatives. I was more interested in the ethnicity percentages than finding relatives. I am from an open adoption and knew my bio mother and half siblings and then later I found my bio father and half siblings. So, I wasn’t looking into seeking out other family members. I was just lucky with all the matches and luck found that my paternal cousins took the test as well, so we were matched.


I have talked to many people who have DNA tested and I think you are the first adoptee that I have known with that many close matches!  Wow!  How were your received into your paternal family?


My cousin matches from Ancestry were an overwhelming eight 2nd cousins. The three 3rd cousins are my 2nd cousins children. So, it’s so bizarre and unheard of to be an adoptee with having that high amount of close relative matches that are 99.9 % accurate. I think whether we are from an open or closed adoption, it’s still alot of close relative matches . I am very happy to tell you they have received me with so much acceptance and love. I am in contact with several of my 2nd cousins on a weekly basis from talking on the phone, email, facebook or texting one another. Last year, one of my 2nd cousins came to visit me and stayed at my home for five days. The visit from her was  very surreal and I have felt more than just a ‘lucky’ feeling with it comes to how well I’ve been received with open arms from most of the family.


That is some great news, Stephani! I am really happy for you and your paternal cousins.  What advice would you give to the readers about taking autosomal DNA tests and how has DNA testing changed your identity, if at all?


I must say it hasn’t changed my identity but has enhanced my life more to accept and love all of who I am.  The Caucasian, Black and Jew in me is part of who I always have been and it’s never changed my identity.  I can tell you what has changed, is having the truth confirmed about my identity through DNA.  Then, I think about something as I write this that I never really thought about before. My adopted family and my identity.  They have always supported me and their love for me has always been real and true. So, I am going to say that they are part of who I am as well.

Oh and as for the advice for others…I think if we focus so much about where we come from to the point of keeping others from loving us then we are making that part of our identity. We are allowing the place of rejection, hurt, pain and the lonely art of isolation to define our identity. If I can say one thing that can help others it would be to go and find a therapist trained in understanding adoption as a loss. Find support groups and surround yourself with people who love you. If we get so wrapped up in “who do you think you are,” then we can never focus on accepting who we are today and allowing that to be a part of our identity.


Some very wise words, indeed.  Thank you, Stephani, for sharing your story today!

For more information on genetic genealogy, you can find links to the major testing companies and Facebook groups here.

Stephani Harris lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her loving husband, who is also an adoptee from a closed adoption and her 150 lb. Big Bear Akita (also adopted). She also has an adopted stepdaughter who currently lives in St. Louis.

She is a business owner of over 20 years, a Salon Master Educator, and serves as a professional mentor in the salon business industry encouraging professional development. She has studied Internal Family Systems Therapy by Richard Schwartz for her personal growth and has been actively involved with IFS group therapy for over five years focusing on healing of grief, loss, and trauma/PTSD.

The Mother Wound and Adoption

by Lynn Grubb

“If we avoid acknowledging the full impact of our mother’s pain on our lives, we still remain to some degree, children.” — Bethany Webster

I read a fantastic post over at called “Why It’s Crucial For Women to Heal The Mother Wound” by Bethany Webster. You can read it in all it’s wonderful totality here:

This writing is not geared toward adoption, per se, but I wanted to summarize what I thought were transferable ideas into our dual mother wounds.  Since adoptees have two mothers, it stands to reason that we may have double the issues with our mothers than the average woman does.

The article describes how patriarchy, and generational losses and unresolved grief gets passed along to daughters from mothers in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways, just by living in a society that both worships mothers but does not support women in their mothering years.

The author defines the mother wound as:

“the pain of being a woman passed down through generations of women in patriarchal cultures. And it includes the dysfunctional coping mechanisms that are used to process that pain.”

Bethany further states:

“The mother wound includes the pain of:

  • Comparison: not feeling good enough
  • Shame: consistent background sense that there is something wrong with you
  • Attenuation: Feeling you must remain small in order to be loved
  • Persistent sense of guilt for wanting more than you currently have

The mother wound can manifest as:

  • Not being your full self  because you don’t want to threaten others
  • Having a high tolerance for poor treatment from others
  • Emotional care-taking
  • Feeling competitive with other women
  • Self-sabotage
  • Being overly rigid and dominating
  • Conditions such as eating disorders, depression and addictions”

With just a quick review of this list, I can imagine it resonates deeply with almost everybody.  I myself have struggled with not feeling good enough and in the past, have had an unusually high tolerance of poor treatment from others.  Through my work in counseling and dealing with family of origin issues, codependency, and via support from other female adoptees, books and a supportive spouse, I I have come to heal many of my mother wounds.

Here are some wounds I have identified in myself and other adoptees I know:

*feeling pressured to always be on a diet or somehow morph into the same body type as a non-biological mother (and along with this, the lack of recognition by some mothers that genes can play a roll in weight and fat distribution).

*feeling guilty if you don’t really like your mother (taboo!)

*feeling that your mother was hoping for a “different child” than the one she got (aka you!)

* Fear of success

*Fear of failure

*Feeling shame for normal sexual desires

*People pleasing

*Ignoring your personal needs because you are so busy taking care of everyone around you

*Feeling like there is not enough of the good stuff to go around in the world and what right do I have to grab some?

*Tolerating dishonest, unreliable or toxic people in your life

*holding back on your gifts and talents for fear of other people’s jealousy or judgment

As females, daughters and mothers (some of us), we live with  so many expectations that society places on us (many we put on ourselves!) So many responsibilities and an image of “ideal” motherhood to live up to.  These expectations are sometimes completely outside of our awareness (this article has been a wake-up call for me!).  Then when you add a SECOND mother (or a THIRD if you also have a stepmother) and all of those family dynamics to the mix, it can totally get out of hand.

Some of the expectations I struggled with in relation to my “mother wounds” post-reunion:

*Since I’m the one who “found them” does this mean I have to stay in their lives even if they are treating me in a way that is hurtful?

*If my birth mother and I don’t have a lot in common or don’t “click”, does this make me wrong, or her wrong?  (aka not living up to the stereotypical happy Oprah reunion”)?

*What are my obligations to this new family?  Is it more important to be true to myself or should I people please my way through this reunion and be “part of the family” even if I don’t feel part of the family?

*an uneasy sense that I am getting the residue of the competition between my two mothers, which then produces guilt and confusion.

*an acknowledgement that my adoptive mother both loves me and competes with me and has a difficult time understanding my differing interests, beliefs, and priorities.

*a realization that honesty is something I value highly and I can accept nothing less, regardless of how somebody is related or not related to me.

I am sure that you can make your own list.  Every mother/daughter dynamic is unique.  Every adoption reunion is also unique.  The takeaway for me is this:

Acknowledge the forces at play (both inside the family and outside of it) that create and perpetuate these mother wounds in all of us.  Work through the mother wounds so you can be your best, happy self.  The goal is to fully accept yourself, with all your flaws and go out into the world and be the best version of you that you know how to be.     If your mother has not given you permission to be bigger, louder and a more self-actualized person than she was, give yourself the permission.

It’s o.k. to be the best you, even if it provokes other people’s jealousy and insecurities.  Even if you have to push through guilt to make it happen.  Even if it feels a little awkward at first.

Even if your mothers would not approve.

Bethany outlines the benefits of healing our mother wounds:

  • Being more fluent and skilled in handling your emotions. Seeing them as a source of wisdom and information.
  • Having healthy boundaries that support the actualization of your highest and best self
  • Developing a solid “inner mother” that provides unconditional love, support and comfort to your younger parts.
  • Knowing yourself as competent. Feeling that anything is possible, open to miracles and all good things
  • Being in constant contact with your inner goodness and your ability to bring it into everything you do
  • Deep compassion for yourself and other people
  • Not taking yourself too seriously. No longer needing external validation to feel OK. Not needing to prove yourself to others.
  • Trusting life to bring you what you need
  • Feeling safe in your own skin and a freedom to be yourself.

Healing the mother wound is ultimately about acknowledging and honoring the foundation our mothers provided for our lives so that we can then fully focus on creating the unique lives that we authentically desire and know we are capable of creating.– Bethany Webster

Adoption Reunion on Social Media

posted by Lynn Grubb

The Adoptee Survival Guide author meet-up: (left to right) Paige Adams Strickland, Becky Drinnen, Lynn Grubb, Wendy Barkett (March 19-20, 2015, Columbus, OH)

It’s been an amazing whirlwind taking part in a momentous change in adoption law in my home state of Ohio.  From the walk to Vital Statistics, to the Adoption Law Event, March 20th will be forever etched in many of our hearts and minds. What has transpired since that time has been nothing short of amazing.

The opening of adoptees’ birth certificates (1964-1996) has made the national news and an Ohio adoption story was featured on Nightline,

One of the things I have been seeing repeatedly on Facebook in these new reunions is how social media is now affecting reunion both positively and negatively.

When I reunited with my birth mother in 2006, everything was done by letter (snail mail) as that was a requirement of the adoption agency. Of course people have been using the internet for years to discover public information, find photos in on-line yearbooks and for genealogy research.  The internet has changed search and reunion forever — allowing us to find information much quicker than the old days of looking through books at the library.

Genetic genealogy has created a whole new set of etiquette and best practices for contact with DNA cousins and asking for help in tracing ancestors.

New decisions pop up when you can find your mother or siblings on Facebook before you have met any of them face to face in real life.

Should I message her on Facebook and pay the extra $1.00 so the message does not go to her Other Folder? Should I friend request him and invite him/her into my social media life?

Should I send him a letter at home?  Certified mail or regular mail?  Call her first?  Should I use a third party?  All these questions and many decisions to be made in hopes for a positive reunion.

It seems there are no hard and fast rules and everybody has an opinion.  A few guidelines that many with experience have shared:

You want to keep the person’s information confidential from anyone except the person you are hoping to connect with. Going to a third party (i.e. other family member) before you have contacted your birth parent directly can have a negative affect on the outcome.

Allow yourself time to absorb new information before making a knee-jerk reaction.  And remember the person you are connecting with is being taken by surprise.

Have a group of supportive people to talk to about the ups and down of reunion.  If you do not receive a warm welcome from the family member, don’t give up hope. Grieve that your expectation was not met and hang on to your supportive friends and family.  There will be other opportunities with other family members in the future.

Take your time when planning to meet face to face. Nothing wrong with exchanging letters and photos over a period of time to slowly get to know the other party.

Write notes of the new information you learn especially any medical history you learn.   It’s easy to be overwhelmed with emotions and forget what the other person said.  Journaling along the way to process your feelings is also helpful.

Trust your instincts.  If something does not feel right, listen to your gut.  If you are not ready to take the next step, wait until it feels right.

Enjoy the ride!