Healthcare worker Rachel*, 43, thought it would be interesting to explore her genetic heritage, but the result plunged her world into chaos. By Kate Graham.
I grew up an only child in a happy, ordinary home. I knew my parents had tried for four years to have me, but I certainly never questioned where I came from. In the mirror, I saw a face like Mum’s, with height and eye colour that came from Dad. Growing up, I didn’t know much about my dad’s side of the family. Both my parent’s families were Jewish immigrants – my mum’s from Germany and the Netherlands, my dad’s from Spain – but Mum clammed up whenever we talked about family history. I didn’t think too much of it, assuming that she wasn’t comfortable digging into the past because of how Jewish people suffered in the war.
That’s why, when I saw an advert for a DNA test in October 2017, I was excited. Dad had passed away in 2013 and, pregnant with my first child, I saw an opportunity to fill in some gaps. I didn’t mention it to Mum, but I did call her a month later when the results came back. I’d been expecting it to show I am mostly Ashkenazi Jewish, but instead it was only 49 per cent. The rest was a mixture of Scottish and English heritage.
I called Mum, fascinated that I had so much non-Jewish blood, but her response was instantly dismissive.
“I shouldn’t take any notice of all that rubbish,” she said. No alarm bells rang; I put it down to her sensitivity about our Jewish history. And with a newborn baby boy, I had other things to focus on.
A year later, the penny dropped. Late one evening, I was reading an article warning about DNA tests and the family secrets they can uncover. Without really thinking, I turned to my partner and said, “Do I look at all like my dad?”
“Actually,” he replied. “No.” My suspicions suddenly took root and I reached for the phone, blurting out, “Was Dad my dad?” I expected Mum to laugh, but instead there was silence. In a slow voice, Mum explained that I was conceived using donor sperm, because my dad was infertile.
That night, through tears, I thought of my lovely dad. He was the one I had called for after a childhood nightmare, who drove me to parties as a teenager. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for having had a dad who was so loving, even though I wasn’t biologically his.
Over the coming days, the questions kept coming. Mum wasn’t regretful, but she constantly told me how much they’d wanted me and how much Dad loved me. She explained that their doctor had advised them, for my sake, never to tell me. No one dreamt of DNA tests back then.