(When a DNA test revealed I was an NPE – the child of a Non Paternity Event – I decided to write about the experience in order to destigmatize the situation, and to let others in the same position know that they are not alone. These are my stories.)
I keep reminding myself this isn’t my fault.
It seems pretty basic. Family keeps my paternity a secret, presumably to protect me or ostensibly to protect themselves. I grew up as a lie. None of this is my doing: I didn’t ask to be born, didn’t ask to be told, didn’t ask to be kept hidden. It is not my fault.
The sense of guilt is overwhelming, inexplicable, baffling.
I’ve carried this sense culpability my whole life. When some crisis occurs, my first instinct is to say, “What did I do to cause this? Was I in any way responsible? Did I say something that made this situation worse?” My first impulse is always to blame myself. It’s exhausting.
I suspect it comes from my childhood where I had an instinctual knowledge that something was wrong. Off. What was actually the result of people hiding the truth, became interpreted in my child brain that I was what was wrong. I grew up trying to protect everyone else from what I was and what I’d done.
When my mother and father divorced in 1974, there was hurt and anger on both sides. I remember hearing my brother say, “Anyone who talks to Daddy about Mama is just being cruel. Who would be so selfish and unkind?”
I was seven, and I had just finished telling my Dad some detail about my new life in Michigan with Mama and my new stepfather. Instantly, I recoiled. I had just spoken to my father about my mother, therefore, I was the one who had done something horrible. I was the one who was cruel. For the whole rest of the summer, I refused to mention her to anyone. I was ashamed and mortified I had done something that would hurt my father.
I know now that of course my brother wasn’t talking about me, but at the time I assumed the blame. I learned how to swallow my feelings, to protect my family.
There was also something hidden deep in my psyche that knew that I was the reason my parents divorced.
And so, my whole life, I have assumed the blame for most everything. No one asked me to do this, it is an (unfair) burden I have placed on myself.
I know that my situation is not singular. I’ve read the stories of other NPEs who have family members blaming them for looking for their birth fathers and families, for upsetting their mothers for discovering the truth, for opening this Pandora’s box of secrets and lies and misdirection.
It’s not their fault.
It’s important to remember that we are just looking for our pasts, our medical history, the seed of genetic information that may reveal to us who we truly are. Some say it doesn’t matter, that nothing has changed, but the thirst for knowledge, for familial connection is strong, overwhelming, sometimes all-consuming.
Be kind. Be understanding. Know that we are probably struggling too, and we’re afraid we are hurting others by searching for our truths.
If you are an NPE, if you are the child of an affair, an abuse, a donor conception, a moment of passion, know that you are not a mistake. You are a gift. You are not to blame.
I wish I could go back and hug poor little seven-year-old me. As I try and piece together this unwanted history of my life, I keep thinking of that little girl. I’ll probably spend the rest of my days trying to comfort her. If I could, I would hold her and simply say,
“It’s not your fault.”