Genetics, Adoption and First World Curiosities

For much of my life I’ve succumbed to the idea that many of my unanswerable questions fall under the umbrella of nature. I hoped that someday my genetic questions would be answered through a one-time meeting or a picture (thinking that was all the openness I’d ever get). I wanted to know if my birth mom is right handed or left handed or if my birth father had dimples. I assumed that everyone in my birth family had brown eyes, 4c hair texture and dark skin. But my curiosities didn’t stop there, I was also curious about some of possibly genetically impacted markers like “Achoo Syndrome” (a dominant trait also called, photo sneeze reflex), or “hand clasping” (learning which thumb one automatically places on top of the other when clasping hands together). After reuniting with my birth family I learned some of these answers, bur remained curious about similarities between blood relatives that aren’t necessarily within the genetic category, but actually may not have to do with nurture either…

 I was enamored with this photo (this is the first time I met my birth father) for many reasons, but specifically I kept looking at our fingers. The placement on the knee, the spacing between our fingers.
I have been enamored with this photo (this is the first time I met my birth father) for many reasons, but specifically I continue to look at our fingers. The placement on the knee, the spacing between our fingers.

For example, I’ve wondered; If a birthmother and her child reunite at a later age and find out that they both use smiley faces to dot their I’s is this a coincidence, or could it be explained by genetics? (this is a true story btw).

Another [recent] example that has me scratching my head;

While on the phone with my birth mother, Deborah, she said

“Your [adoptive] father sure is smart! Don’cha wish you could just crack his head open and take a look at his brain?”

Why yes! – I wanted to exclaim, but Deborah couldn’t possibly have known about all of the time I spent time in undergrad researching brains, and that I’d you-tubed every TEDtalk having to do with brain science and the psychology of why we do the things we do, read many books on the neurobiology of our brain, and singlehandedly tried to learn about the key differences between the brains of those who’ve been abused in utero, and those who were born with healthy utero experiences. I have long dreamed of looking at the minds of people and learning how traumas have affected their amygdala, or what makes different neurotransmitters fire. Yes, Deborah. My answer is yes! Wait…does that mean she’s done all of this, too?

Okay – I understand, that one was kinda a stretch, though titillating for sure. How about this one;

When I met my birthfather after being introduced to Bryan he replied; “It’s good ta meet’cha Bryan. B-R-Y-A-N, Bryan” spelling his name out loud. At that moment my mom and I exchanged long glances silently flashing back to all of the times I spelled out words just for the sake of spelling out the word. Throughout my childhood we thought this habit was to help me to more clearly understand the word as my hearing loss made it difficult to hear the difference between the words “curb” and “curve.” But now…now I wonder – could this be genetic?

Seems kinda goofy, I know, but these are the subtleties that matter after a couple of decades of deprivation. Example #3:

When my sister met her birth mom about two years ago, we all immediately noticed their similar sense of humor and their biting sarcasm (Example – I can guarantee they’ll both laugh at this joke; “Two scientists walk into a bar. The first one hits his head. The second one does too, in order to verify his results.”). Anyways, more interesting to me was how quickly they began discussing cats. I can’t remember a time when our family did not have a pet cat that my sister took care of. She has received countless gifts, cards and shirts that have pictures of cats on them – she can never have too many. It won’t surprise me if/when my sister and her birthmother both post a status update with the same pun about cats. Will I think it to be a coincidence? Probably not.

 

Not only does my brother and his twin look alike (obviously they are identical twins), but they even act alike after living their entire lives in different families. We've learned that they've made similar life choices throughout their lives at the same points in their lives.
My brother and his identical twin grew up in different families (long story). After unexpectedly reuniting at age 18 they learned how they made similar life choices at similar times in their lives.  Scientists who’ve studied identical twins who were raised separately have found that they had similar intelligence, personality, career and leisure interest.  

I’m no longer solely curious about hitchhikers thumb (the autosomal recessive trait of having a thumb curved back at nearly a 90 degree angle), diabetes or depression, but am continually curious about how to reason and understand the non-genetic similarities between biologically related peoples who haven’t known each other. Of course, I’m well aware that these are First World Curiosities and that without the good fortune of early childhood nurture, it’d be a far cry that I’d even be positing these questions.

I greatly dislike the idea of using adoptees for scientific experiments, or my first world curiosities, but it’d sure be wonderful to learn whether of not there is a genetic mutation for spelling, hobbies, smiley faces, or…a love of cats.

21 thoughts on “Genetics, Adoption and First World Curiosities

  1. Interesting article. I am 47 and just recently located my birth-mother and 3 birth-sisters. Amazingly the youngest sister and I look like we could be twins. They didn’t know about me until I found them. We are all in our 40’s now. But when she first saw my picture, she said she knew this wasn’t some sick joke. lol. However ironically not only do we look exactly alike, we have led parallel lives. And here is the jaw dropping part….we both like our coffee the same way, we both have the same favorite color, favorite location, favorite clothing style, favorite type of jewelry, even wear our hair the same. It is scary, exciting, interesting, and mind boggling how much alike her and I are having never met. I am on West Coast, she on the East Coast. There are of course similar traits of myself and the other 2 sisters, but by far, I feel like God made another “me” for my birth mom.

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  2. Angela, I’m so glad that you are writing about this issue. The photos were great, but as you said the biological and genetic influences seem to go beyond physical resemblance. I’d love to hear more about what you learned from your brain research and how it relates to your understanding of adoption.

    Kay, An adoptive parent.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So many thoughts on this article. Great insights. I’m still in the middle of my birth mother search and there is such a large part of me that only wishes I could catch a glimpse of her. I try to fool myself into thinking that would be enough to satisfy my curiosities about my genetics.

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  4. Love this post. I found my mom 3 months ago and we’ve been shocked at the similarities. Genes seem to run way deeper than many of us think and it’s more noticeable in adoption reunion. Things that we usually credit to nurture are actually sometimes nature! It’s been so fun to not only find family I look like, but also who seem to easily “get me” and act like me!

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  5. I find this to be such an interesting topic as well. I have noticed many seemingly random similarities between my son and his birth mother. For example they both do this shifting eye thing when they are talking quickly. I’ve noticed similar similarities between my daughter and her birth father. For example he often puts his hand on the shoulder of the person he is talking to, and my daughter does is exactly the same. It’s very, very interesting.

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  6. I’d love to see research done on that subject!!!
    When I met my father at age 19, he invited me to his home. At one point, I sat down on the sofa, while he was still in another room. The familiy stopped talking and stared at me, it was really strange. I figured that maybe I wasn’t supposed to sit like I was sitting (I usually sit on one of my feet) and changed my position. Just then my father entered the room and sat down on the sofa in the exact same untypical way i sat before….
    The next day, I wanted to use the bathroom but wasn’t sure it was occupied, so i knocked. In the same way he unually knocked.
    It was really really strange…
    Unfortunately we didn’T meet often after that, as he really never cared much about me…

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  7. Hi Kay, Thanks for your message. I so wish I could afford grad school and do legitimate research on this specific topic. In any regards i’ll continue to share my amateur findings.

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  8. Passing along best wishes on your search. I can completely identify with your thoughts of self-trickery and all of the other ways we try to downplay the significance of our primal longings.

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  9. Hi Erin, thanks for your comment. It’s so dear to me to hear your observations about your children’s birth families. I’ve heard it to be a comfort for adoptees when our parents affirm that these seemingly small intricacies of our humanness are actually important.

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  10. My son Steele has not been around his birth family since he was an infant but I see so much of them in him. He has a biological half sister and I see post about her on Facebook and I think they are a lot alike. My son Abel is from Ethiopia, he’s been with us for 6 years, he’s 12 now and we were told his mother and father died when he was a baby but who know what is really true. We plan to take him back to Ethiopia for a visit when he is older. We want to try and find his family.

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  11. Great article. Thank you! My son has never met his birth parents but I often wonder about them because he is a fascinating person. We have an expression in our family, “In the battle of nature versus nuture, nature kicks nurture’s butt.”

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  12. This is fascinating. When I met my biological sister 19 years ago, we started searching for our biological mother within days of each other. The day we met, we went to a resturant after our reunion and choose the same thing on the menu. I wonder if how we assimilate information and make mundane choices is related. I would emphasize “mundane” because moral choices would be defined by each individual’s values. I am not convinced moral choices are genetic.:)

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  13. Wow, Angela! Thanks for your post! The photo of you and your birth father with the same hand placement was truly amazing. I got goosebumps seeing it! As you already know, I recently reconnected with my maternal bio family too. It’s been a truly incredible experience. I’ve been amazed at the similarities between them and me. I am left handed, and I always wondered if my birth mom was. So, when I met my mom’s family for the first time, I asked if she was left handed. One of my cousins said, “No, but we are!” As he said that, the majority of my male cousins raised their hands to indicate they were left handed like me! It was amazing to feel that bio connection with someone that I had never had before.

    My birth mom has already passed away, but in meeting her family, I was able to obtain a photo of her! I posted it on my facebook page, and so many people commented and said that I looked like her. It made me feel so good to hear that, since it was something that as a transracial adoptee, I had never been able to hear before.

    It was also really interesting to see that I am not an exact copy of any one member of my bio family. So, in reconnecting with them I was able to see that I am still my own person. That no matter who I was related to, or who I was raised by, only I can be me 🙂

    Thanks again for sharing!

    Like

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