Nature vs. Nurture – Who Am I?

I was adopted as an infant and even some 60 years later, never knew who my biological parents were. I never knew if heart disease, cancer or dementia ran in my family; or whether I was 50% Irish, German, British or what. I had never seen someone who looked like me, or even a little like me.

Canva - Baby in White Onesie

I had been adopted by two wonderful parents, so throughout my life I never really cared too much about “who” I was from a genetic sense. I truly didn’t think about it very much except when new doctors asked me the inevitable questions relating to, “What health issues run in your family?” I always just drew big lines through the pages of questions relating to medical history while shrugging my shoulders. I just didn’t know anything relating to my biological roots.

Recently, however, my world has changed.

I, along with my husband and adult sons, did 23andMe DNA tests. I had thought it would be interesting, especially for my sons (who have already started getting those questions about medical history from their docs).  While they had some ancestry insights on my husband’s side, my family history had of course been a blank slate.  I had hoped that the 23andMe tests would offer at least some helpful info on my side of things, and I was excited for us to get our results.

The test results finally came back and I suddenly had new-found insights into my heritage.

Canva - free DNA52.4% British and Irish; 22.8% French and German; and 2% Italian. Ah, perhaps an explanation for my pale complexion and why I get so easily sunburned!

My sons also received their own set of percentages that at least began to fill-in some info on their unique genetic blueprints.

But another revelation was also presented to me. I had DNA matches to several second and third cousins. Even more unexpectedly, I had DNA matches who had my birth mother’s maiden name listed in their profile as a family name in their ancestral tree. That meant something! I had found biological kin.

With the names of several newfound cousins in hand I began a free trial on Ancestry.com. Using the info I now had, along with the info from adoption paperwork, it wasn’t hard to identify my probable birth mom.  Remember I hadn’t had her first name initially.

While I hadn’t really ever thought much about my biological birth parents, having a possible identification of my birth mom seemed to open up an opportunity to learn more about “me.” So with growing excitement I decided I’d build my family tree on the site and see what I could uncover.

If you have never seen Ancestry.com the outcome you are looking for when building your family tree is a large number of linked boxes. Parents linked to their kids; grandparents and those before them, all linked to each other.  Linked means family. Generations of links mean a view into your ancestry in terms of people and potentially even relating to the health of your genes.

The first decision I had to make was what name to put in my box, “Diane Marie Doran” or “Theresa Gale Diedrich”; adopted name I’d had all my life, or my biological birth name I’d had for weeks.

The question seemed simple enough. “Who am I?”

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I started with my biological birth name as I thought that made the most sense in finding all the linkages to my new found “biological family”.

Initially the box labeled with my birth name (a somewhat foreign name I had never used) sat there seemingly unconnected to anyone but the maiden name of a woman I didn’t even know. It was kind of a lonely feeling. But I kept trying to form other connections around me.

On Ancestry.com there is this concept of getting a leaf (a hint to moving forward on Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetbuilding your tree)…but no matter what I did or what I searched on, I just couldn’t get any clues. No leaf, no info.

My box just sat there with the one connection to my birth mom’s maiden name. At one point I even deleted my tiny two-box family tree completely, it just seemed so futile.

But the next day I started over with some snippets of info that I had found with some online searching (it is amazing what you can learn on the internet; almost scary, actually). I found an article on what I surmised was my biological grand-dad along with mention of his three children. With a little more sleuthing I was confidant that I had found my birth mom.

With the grand-dad’s name I found the correct Diedrich family tree (which thankfully was not set up as private so I could take more than a peek).

I got a leaf, and then another.

Soon it was raining leaves.grampa edwin and margaret

From there I quickly developed many generations of connected boxes (only on my biological mom’s side as I didn’t know my biological dad’s name as yet). I was amazed at the ability to pull up photos of biological relatives’ weddings, their high school yearbook photos, newspaper clippings, military paperwork, immigration documents and so much more. I felt like I was learning so much about my biological roots; when my family migrated from Germany and more. It was fascinating, especially the historical records one could pull up and see.

It was so fun that I wanted to add my “real” family to see all of their historical info as well. I was so excited to see the entire “me” unfolding in the myriad of interconnected boxes. I thought I’d add my husband, sons, adopted brother and my adoptive parents. I was eager to see some familiar names and start seeing those connections take shape as well.

But that is when I was told that I had to choose. I had to “set a preference” in my ancestral tree: Biological parents (and family) or adoptive; one or the other.

I tried to over-ride this default, adding my adopted brother as a sibling under my biological family tree; but then he showed up under my birth mother versus our adoptive mom! I tried to trick the app, but to no avail. I thought it wasn’t very kind of the app to make me have to choose.

Perhaps this requirement for me to choose, to set a preference, was just a design decision that some engineer thought made complete sense. Clearly that individual didn’t have to involve two sets of families to answer the question, “Who am I?”

Canva - Handpainted Watercolor Family Giving Gifts on ChristmasAll of this irritated me, confused me…and frankly, made me just a bit emotional. I had to decide. Which “representation” of me was more important? Which set of roots (DNA or a lifetime of living) was more important?

That’s when it really hit me.

I had thought the genetics of my ancestry was so important, but staring at the interconnected boxes of strangers made me feel like an outsider. Worse, staring at my adoptive family now made me feel just a bit like a traitor. Weren’t they my real family? But I started wondering…I wondered how my adopted relatives depicted me on their own family trees. Was I there in a connected box? Or perhaps I was a box floating out in the cosmos, with a dotted line saying, “adopted.” Now my brain really began to spin.

Should my family tree be the parents who chose me, loved me and cared for me? Should it be the cousins I have known over the course of my life?  By this time I had found many scans of documents and bits and pieces of my adoptive ancestors’ lives. Here were all the people I had actually known and cared about, many of who were no longer living, like grandparents, aunts and uncles. None of these people shared my DNA; they had just shared my life.  I looked at these boxes (with my preference set to adoptive family) with great fondness. I remembered these people. They were biologically linked to my parents, just not to me.

Then I clicked over to my biological tree. These boxes and linkages contained no real emotional ties; the people were foreign to me. The linkages might have appeared connected to me on the screen, but I felt no connection. I was fascinated by the linkage, but emotionally ill-at-ease. To some extent I felt like I was eavesdropping on another family, clicking on their photos and moments; trying desperately to feel some connection and sense of inclusiveness.

I know that the whole point of the site is biological kin. But at that moment I couldn’t think why I cared beyond the statistics of 52.4% British and Irish; 22.8% French and German; and 2% Italian. Except maybe to know more about health history…so is the benefit of my entire ancestral search really about how my biological family tree members have died?

I think about what is more important, the “who” I could have been versus the “who” that I am.

The adopted me is who I am, why I am not a fashionista, why I love gardening, my sense of ethics,  why kindness is paramount to me, and maybe even why I became a writer. My adoptive dad’s love for developing an amazing vocabulary, my adoptive mom’s insistent voice to be kind, open-minded and caring. That is all what made me, me.

I finally decided, after making a few notes on my biological roots for my children, that I will set my preference for the adopted me. That is really the “me” and the family I know. I feel it somehow honors my adoptive parents, who were the best parents in the world. And it leaves me in a comfortable familiar space, with comfortable familiar names, in comfortable familiar boxes.

The linkages may not be based on DNA, but the linkages are real. The linkages are based on a lifetime of shared moments and connections (still ongoing today).

And as for finding my birth mom?

Yes I found her. That’s another story for another time.

Let’s just say I couldn’t have had better parents than the ones who raised me.

Mom and Dad…missing you even more today and wish you could see your wonderful grandsons as the bright and loving young men they are.

That’s what true family is all about after all…who you have loved…who you have lost… who remains in your heart…and who you will always remember.

Honoring the “Heart Man”

Every year since 2004 I have been telling people the story of a man known as the “Heart Man”. It occurred to me that the story is getting old now, and that maybe I should write about something else this Valentines Day. But I can’t let go of the Heart Man’s story. Sorry, I just can’t.

heartman-138x103So I decided to take a slightly different approach this year. Instead of telling you about how the Heart Man, Cliff Steer, was one of the longest living heart transplant patients in the US; instead of telling you about how he spent some 18 years of his “new” life visiting schools around San Jose (CA), carrying his old heart with him and telling his story of how bad choices relating to smoking and alcohol had poisoned his body and crippled that old heart; instead of that, I thought I’d issue everyone who reads this a challenge.

Ready? Here’s the challenge: Become someone’s hero this Valentine’s Day (or any day!)

Relay your wish to be a donor this Valentines Day

If you haven’t already done so, sit down with your family and tell them that it is your wish to be an organ donor. I know, I know…you say you’ve filled out the donor card already. But if you haven’t sat down and told your family, your wishes might not be honored in that awful moment in the future when your grieving family needs to relay that possibly split-second decision.

If you haven’t already registered, go to, organdonor.gov. You’ll be taken to your particular state’s website for easy registration, it is very simple to do, so do it now (this website also has a lot of helpful information on it). You can also sign up when you renew your driver’s license and in most states you will get some kind of designation on your driver’s license itself, such as a dot or a heart, that indicates you are a donor.

Don’t wait until you are dead to save a life: become someone’s hero today

Second, save lives while you are alive and give blood. Every 2 seconds, someone in the United States needs blood, either because of an accident, surgery, disease or in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Did you know that just giving blood once can make you three people’s hero, as one blood donation can be used for saving up to 3 lives. The Red Cross (which provides about 40% of the nation’s blood) has estimated that only about 3% of age-eligible people donate blood yearly!

Go to redcross.org/give-blood to find out how and where to give blood. And don’t just do it once. You can technically donate your blood every 2 months if eligible (there is a longer time required between donations for platelet donations). You likely have other local options to give blood as well, such as hospitals and local events (often sponsored by schools and local businesses…maybe YOU can work with your company or school to organize a blood drive yourself…there is info on the site relating to how this works). The Red Cross offers a texting service at redcrossblood.org/texting; you can sign up and receive info about local events happening in your vicinity.

Remember the Heart Man and his hero, a 23 year old accident victim

Third, tell your kids the Heart Man’s story. I remember hearing it over a decade ago when he came to my 3rd grade son’s class. Tens of thousands of young adults heard his story. They heard him talk about how he had made poor choices in his youth. Poor choices about who he hung out with, what he put into his body. About how smoking and alcohol had killed his heart, almost killing him. He would stand there, in front of his young audiences, holding his heart. Yes, holding his original, diseased heart. He’d show them exactly what his poor choices had done to his heart, and why it had almost killed him.

At every presentation he would also talk about HIS own hero, the donor who had made Cliff’s continued life possible. 18 additional years to live. 18 additional years to make better choices and to influence the choices of others.

At Cliff’s memorial service so long ago, I remember seeing how much he had meant to so many people. He had lived long enough for he and his wife Jean to have four children, nine grandchildren and countless good friends, all of whom had clearly been blessed by Cliff being a part of their life.

Without his heart donor, Cliff might not have had those additional years of life to make such a difference in so many lives even beyond his family. Thousands of kids and teens throughout the world might not have heard his story and message, either through his live presentations or through his video (which he had made of his presentation and had sent out to schools and organizations all over the world, for free).

I remember that at the memorial service, Cliff’s unidentified donor – a 23 year old accident victim and Cliff’s lifesaving hero – was publicly thanked. I wish that individual’s family could have attended the service and seen what wonder had come out of the unselfish act of organ donation by their family member.

Jean Steer, Cliff’s wife, was a 3rd grade teacher in San Jose for many years. Even after his death in 2003 she continued with her husband’s mission each Valentines Day, taking his heart and his message to a new crop of young minds at local schools. 

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February 14 is National Donor Day and April is National Donate Life Month. Almost 113,000 men, women and children currently await life-saving transplants and every 10 minutes another name is added to this list. Minorities account for nearly half of the list. An average of 20 people dies each day from the lack of available organs for transplants.

According to the Donate Life America website, “95% of Americans are in favor of being an organ donor, but only 60% are registered.”

Take a moment and become someone’s hero this Valentines Day. Give blood and become a donor. And tell your family about your wishes, and suggest that they, too, become donors. Imagine how you’d feel if someone is your family needed an organ and it wasn’t available.

Do it because it is the right choice.

Do it for the Heart Man.

Do it to become a hero this Valentines Day.

Canva - Thank You! Heart Text

 

 

 

(you can read more about The Heart Man in this article…)

 

The Kids Are Gone. Time To Downsize?

My parents lived in their home long after my moving out. But when my father died, my mom did finally move out of my lifelong “home”.

At the time of my mom’s move we sorted through her and my dad’s life, getting rid of all the collected stuff of a lifetime. She moved away from long-time neighbors and nearby friends, from a 3 bedroom home to a small single bedroom apartment. I remember how emotional it was for her.

Now, I am sitting in my own home of some 23 years. My older son lives in an apartment a day’s drive away; my younger son still in college, but not really around much. My husband and I have a 4 bedroom home. It is a big house with a large yard.

My husband was the first to bring up the idea of downsizing. “We no longer need the space,” he said one day.  “If we downsize to a less expensive area we can retire early,” I heard over and over again.anniversary_window

Then, one day it seemingly started to make sense…

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An Empty Nest? Or Not?

I haven’t written for a while as my professional (aka: PAID) writing has taken off…yeh…so I’ve been too busy to do personal blogs…But, after a particularly long week of writing about others’ lives, I thought I should sit down with a glass of wine and tap into my inner self a bit…it has been too long…

I just went and watched my older son graduate from college. Truly a proud moment.

…took a lot of photos, hugged and kissed him, and then flew back home with the family. The younger son joined us, flew back with us and is staying with us for the summer. He’ll then return to college. When he moves out at the end of this summer, my husband and I will once again be in empty nest mode.

Thank God.nest

Now don’t get me wrong. I love my sons. But after the initial gut-wrenching sadness of having them both gone…and it truly was gut-wrenching, I have the therapy bill and prescriptions to prove it…well, after all of that, something happened.

The empty nest became a lovely respite.

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Rectangular Salmon

You know your life is busy when your dinner preparation consists of taking out a frost-covered package of frozen salmon wedged deep in your freezer…cracking it open, and placing the two perfectly rectangular frozen chunks (frozen together, of course) on a baking pan. I actually admit I did this last week, and let me tell you a little something about rectangular salmon…  Continue reading

Hair here…hair where?

Yesterday I put on my most powerful reading glasses and pushed my face up right next to the bathroom mirror, really close… I do this infrequently just to get a reality check on what is going on at close-range. Normally, I stand at a much safer distance – at least a few feet from the mirror – and wear a less powerful pair of glasses.

What’s the difference, you say?  Continue reading

The Vision-ary Reason Why I Carry a Big Purse

Eyeglasses When I was younger I had perfect vision.  Over the past few years, however, my eyes have declined…significantly…and I often wonder if in God’s infinite wisdom he planned on that…as your body becomes less than perfect as you age…as the wrinkles come and the grey hairs (and those other annoying hairs!) start to sprout…maybe poor vision is God’s way of being kind and cutting your self-esteem some slack…    Continue reading

Weighty Matters

wedding_snippedWho else out there is desperately hoping to NOT double their dress size from what it was when they were married? Anyone? 

The other day, while cleaning out the attic, I found a little yellow ballerina tutu that I wore in the 2nd grade. I marveled at the size of it…..such a tiny waist.

For a moment, seeing that tiny waist brought me back in time to my wedding…there, I wore a very petite (for my height!), size 8 gown…with a tiny, tiny waist…I remember people even commenting on it, so tiny… 

What the hell happened?   Continue reading

Men (o) Pause – the real story

Linguistics experts will provide one explanation relating to the origins of the word, “menopause”. Their root analysis will have to do with the “end of fertility in a woman” or something equally simplistic. Those linguistics experts must all be men. There is nothing simplistic about the menopausal experience, and I am 100% convinced that the term, “menopause”, really originated from the root term, “Men Pause”… because that is what they do when confronted with their wife (or significant other’s) symptoms… What do you think?

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I’m sure there are a few men out there who actually do have the capacity to sympathize with the middle-aged women in their lives… perhaps running to turn on the air conditioner or providing a cold glass of water at just the right moment. My husband wasn’t one of them. His approach in life is more, “What you don’t acknowledge doesn’t exist.” So I could flash away and he wouldn’t flinch. Ever.

Some of my menopausal friends, though, have husbands who really seem to WANT to help or understand, maybe even engage with them when they are “experiencing symptoms”. But something usually stops them from being successful in their intent, because they PAUSE in their tracks. Is it that they fundamentally don’t know WHAT to do? Or is it something more? Is there something just taboo about a man trying to relate to a female issue involving blood and sexual reproductive organs? Or is it as simple as fear. My vote is fear.

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