My whole life, I had a gut feeling that one of my parents wasn’t biologically my parent, but I was never brave enough to ask them.
I felt I didn’t fit in the picture. I didn’t look anything like my dad, and he was probably six inches shorter than me. He also had a “widow’s peak” which I didn’t inherit—but my sister did.
My political views were completely opposed to those of my father and sister. I always felt like a black sheep in my family—not that they didn’t love me, but that I didn’t quite fit in. I was the weirdo. The weird kid. They all dressed preppy and I dyed my hair blue.
I always thought that something was up, but I loved my parents too much to find out what—I was a “Daddy’s girl”, so my fear was that taking a DNA test would destroy him.
My dad passed away in 2018. A couple years later, in December, 2020, my mother and I were having dinner at her house and I brought up out of the blue: “For some reason, all my life, I had always wondered if one of you were not my biological parent.”
She got this panicked look on her face, then hid it very quickly and asked, “Oh! Why would you say that?” She seemed flustered.
That night, when I got home at 2 a.m., I spontaneously ordered a DNA kit—and then sat on it for months because I was too scared to take it. Finally, in June, 2021, at the age of 43, I took the test.
Four weeks later, I woke up at 7:30 a.m. to an email: “Your results are in!” It surprised me how quickly they got back to me. I opened it and scrolled. I found my mother’s side of the family but I kept scrolling and I couldn’t find the surnames of my father’s side of the family. When I got down to the 9th and 10th cousins, I knew something was up.
It could have been that none of my father’s side of the family had taken a test but, given how prevalent Ancestry is and how long it’s been around, I thought it seemed very unlikely that nobody on my dad’s side of the family had taken it.
I found loads of relatives that I didn’t recognize and I was very confused. But nothing clicked in my brain just yet because I hadn’t talked to my mother. I had my sons with me and this happened to be the day that I took them to my ex-husband’s house, so I wasn’t going to open the can of worms at that point. I wasn’t going to freak out until I spoke with my mother.
So I dropped my boys off that night and, as soon as they closed the door to their father’s house, I rang my mother. I told her I had taken a DNA test and that I couldn’t find my dad or grandma’s surnames anywhere on it. All she said was, “Let me call you right back,” and hung up.
She called back about 15 minutes later and said: “I’ve always wondered but I never knew.” She then went on to tell me that, while she and her husband had been separated, she’d had a one-time affair with a man. Until I took the test, she didn’t know I was this man’s biological child. She thought I was my dad’s because when she had gone to the doctor, he had measured her belly and said, given the timeframe, her husband was the father.
My mom kept circling around the topic and not telling me the name of my biological father. Then she finally told me that he had two other daughters and, when she said their names, it clicked. We had been childhood friends. I played at their house all the time and had sleepovers over there. I hadn’t seen them since I was about 7 years old, but I had very vivid memories of them—and it turned out they were my half-sisters.
My biological dad had passed away, and he passed before I had the chance to meet him again. All I remember about him, from when I was a child, was that he was really nice and loving.
The impact of the news
After the call with my mom, I felt relieved because for so many years I knew something was off but I thought I was crazy. There was a bit of excitement, too, as I had other sisters. But I was also a little afraid; I’d grown up with my family, so I’d established my role within it. They’re used to who I am. Now I’d be meeting a whole new group of people—and I really wanted them to like me.
I had a small identity crisis for two days, as I felt I didn’t know who I was. I couldn’t sleep because my brain was overthinking. It wasn’t just my identity crisis that was keeping me up, it was the thought: Who am I going to hurt by talking about this? I’ve never hidden who I am as a person—I’m a very “out loud” kind of individual, and it felt like I was hiding, like I was keeping myself a secret. I feel like everybody has a right to tell their story and know where they come from.
The news drove a wedge between me and some family members who thought I shouldn’t have taken the test, and that I would be “ruining lives” by telling people the results.
I had my mom explain to my half-sisters’ mom what had happened, because I felt that was only fair. Then their mother and I were in contact because I wanted to know if there were any family health issues. I was very apologetic and told her that I understood if she didn’t want to speak to me. She said that she told her daughters that they had a half-sister, but they didn’t seem interested in learning any more. She didn’t tell them that it was me, or that they knew me.
Connecting with my new-found family
Shortly after, I took another DNA test to try and get some more information about my family history. From that test, I found I had a cousin in Texas and she texted me. That’s how I found out about all of my family: my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and our history. We haven’t met up yet because everybody lives all over the country, but we all plan on coming together in the next year.
It took me a year to finally tell my half-sisters who I was because I didn’t think they cared and because I had that voice in my head saying: I’m going to destroy people’s lives. But in July, 2022, I messaged them on Facebook.
Within 30 minutes, I heard back from both of them: “Oh my God, Miki, of course we remember you!”; “It’s you? You’re our sister?” They responded with nothing but positivity and excitement.
It was such a relief, I started crying. It was so unexpected. You hope for people to respond that way, but you don’t expect it. There are no words that can describe how relieved I was.
Now, we message back and forth on Facebook, and we are planning to meet up. One of my sisters tells me she is surprised at how similar we are: we’re both sarcastic, with dark humor but loving hearts. Apparently, I also have their family nose; that’s the first thing that anybody has told me, that I have the family nose.
I’m glad I took the DNA kit, so my kids didn’t have to try and piece things together down the road, and my mother was still alive to tell me the story.
My kids, who are 13 and 16, don’t care about what has happened. I said, “Hey, we have more family members you didn’t know about,” and they said, “Cool,” and went on with their day. Both of my boys were grandpa’s boys. My dad helped me raise them—he was their main babysitter, and he was an integral part of their growing up. This news doesn’t change that.
I don’t wish things had been different or that I’d known sooner because it could have changed my relationship with my dad. My father is and always will be my dad, and I was lucky to have him.
Miki O’Brien, 45, is a substitute teacher in Missouri. She is on TikTok @a.not.so.perfect.mom.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Newsweek’s My Turn deputy editor, Katie Russell.