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Question

In 1980, I was raped and became pregnant. I placed the baby with an adoptive family. My husband knows about it but I have not told my children. I have never wanted this incident to define me or them. Also, when I placed my child, I gave the adoptive parents strict instructions to never reveal the events surrounding my child’s conception – I didn’t want it to define my child’s life.

Recently, my oldest child mentioned getting an ancestry DNA test. Now I live in fear that, if my child that was adopted has had a DNA test, and my other children do too, they will find out about each other. 

I have tried hard to make sure that the heinous action of one man does not affect my life or my children. Now, because of a technology I never dreamed possible in the 80’s, I fear this trauma could infect all my offspring.

Should I tell my grown kids on the chance the truth could be revealed or wait and deal with the situation if it ever comes to light?

Answer

It’s so tragic that you ever had to make these agonizing decisions in the aftermath of such a traumatic experience. I commend you for your sensitivity to all of your children as you’ve tried to shield them from the horrors of this violent crime. At the same time, I think it’s important for you release this heavy secret, take control of your story, and experience the freedom of not carrying this shame that was never yours to begin with.

I think it will be much more shocking and upsetting to your children to learn of their half-sibling through a DNA test instead of you telling them directly. Even though this is your child, it’s also their sibling and they would surely want to know this person exists. You were put in a terrible dilemma almost forty years ago and I have no doubt you’ve been thorough and careful about how to handle this difficult situation. However, now that all of your children are older, there’s nothing to protect anymore.

It’s also important to say that keeping this a secret also can perpetuate the faulty belief that you did something shameful. The rape was not your fault and getting pregnant was not your fault. You don’t need to carry this heavy burden any longer. You have absolutely nothing for which to feel ashamed. I have nothing but respect and admiration for you as you’ve sought healing and normalcy after such a tragic series of events.

You are at a stage of life now where your children are mature and have a more adult awareness of how messy and complex the world is. The reality of this sibling they’ve never met will naturally be a shock to them, but the backstory makes perfect sense and will likely open up the floodgates of compassion and support for you. Of course, you’ll want to give them time to accept this new reality and adjust to the range of emotions they’ll likely experience. Ultimately, you will feel so much better knowing that your family knows and sees you completely.

You might worry that your children will then want to track down this sibling they’ve never met. I think it’s fair that you explain your rationale for giving the adoptive parents the instructions to keep this information private and ask your children to be respectful of the fact that this sibling may or may not know they exist. This will require some mature and thoughtful considerations as they decide what to do with this new information. Of course, all you can do is tell them the truth and then hope they’ll be as thoughtful and careful as you’ve been all of these years. 

Even though this news will send a shockwave through your family, eventually the dust will settle and your children will likely understand the dilemmas and decisions you had to navigate with this completely unwanted and unexpected trauma you endured decades ago. My belief is that they will reaffirm the truth that you did the best you could, that your love and compassion for your children always led the way, and that you still want to make sure they are treated with respect and dignity by telling this information at this time.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity” and creates online relationship courses available on his website www.geoffsteurer.com. He hosts the Illuminate Podcast and has created the Loving Marriage educational vlog on YouTube with his wife. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc05gV4t9A0B8-TDT1EfWhQ?view_as=subscriber
Website: www.geoffsteurer.com 
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT
Instagram: @geoffsteurer