Ask Amy: DNA testing continues to blow the lid off long-held family secrets

Dear Amy: After 36 years, I found out via a DNA test that the father of my daughter was the product of a one-night stand, and that she is not the daughter of the man I married.

All those years ago, when I found out I was pregnant I married the man I was dating and in love with. I’ve had no contact with the one-night stand man since the morning after.

Do I tell my daughter?

I’m mostly concerned about this because she knows that the man I married (her non-DNA dad, who I later divorced) is an alcoholic. His mother and two aunts each died of genetic cancers.

If she learns about her DNA, my daughter will no longer believe she carries those potentially life-ending traits, but I still wonder if she should be told.

I certainly don’t want to tell my ex-husband – and won’t.

– Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s maybe

Dear Mama: Yes, you should tell your daughter.

If you can’t justify telling her the truth about her genetic history simply because it is the truth (and medically important to her), consider this: She’s going to find out, anyway.

The ubiquity of DNA testing is quickly blowing the lid off of family secrets, and the speed of this huge and sweeping change also gives you an out.

You don’t actually have to spend years sitting on this knowledge and wrestling with this dilemma.

Because she’s going to find out, anyway. So tell her now.

People should know the truth about their DNA heritage, if at all possible. Sometimes the truth carries tremendous surprises or huge challenges. Oftentimes it answers deep-seated questions people have held but never expressed – about hair or eye color, posture, preferences and personality.

Your daughter might be truly shocked by this revelation.

She might blame or judge you for your long-ago one-night-stand. Given the genetic history you cite, she might also feel a sense of relief.

Regardless of how she greets this news, you are ethically bound to deliver it.

Dear Amy: My husband had a vasectomy 15 years ago – after having two children in his previous marriage.

I was 18 when we married and assured him (and myself) that I was OK not having a baby of our own and that I was fine with the little family we had.

Fast-forward a few years. We’ve now been married for six years.

I’m now 24, and brought up the topic of wanting a baby to my husband.

(It’s weird how you change from 18 to 24).

We started going to consultations, found a doctor we loved, and got a credit card just to pay for the procedure.

Last night, he admitted to me that he never wanted to have another baby, and that he was just going through the motions to make me happy.

He said he does not want to raise another baby in his 40s.

I am heartbroken and I just want to move on and stop crying over a child I never had.

Your advice?

– Childless NOT by Choice

Dear Childless: The choice to have a vasectomy is a pretty solid indicator that your husband had made up his mind about not fathering more children; you obviously discussed this before marrying, and it sounds as if he has done his best to be honest with you.

However, you were still a teenager when you and he married, and he – as the far older person – should have anticipated that you would continue to mature and change.

This is the most important issue you will face as a couple, and whatever choice you make will affect the rest of your lives in a primary and deeply important way.

It is extremely unlikely that your desire for a child will lessen with time – instead, this yearning will grow.

You and your husband should see an experienced couples counselor who could help you navigate through this extremely thorny issue. You would also benefit from individual counselling.

Dear Amy: May I suggest what we do with unsolicited cards? We donate them to a local women’s prison. The ladies are unable to purchase birthday and other cards for their loved ones but still like to remember their folks on special days.

Perhaps other towns have similar programs. Hope this helps!

–Alison

Dear Alison: I love this idea!

Many prisons have extreme restrictions about material that can be donated. Obviously men as well as women would benefit from receiving blank cards (and stamps).

You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, PO Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

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