Wednesday, July 13, 2011

DNA Is Over-rated

I am moved to write this post after finding myself recently commenting the same thing on a few other blogs. In my opinion DNA is vastly over-rated.

I first wrote some of these thoughts as a response to an article in the Daily Mail a few years ago in which a 40-something man accidently found out that his father wasn't in fact his biological father. He was devastated. He blamed his mother, he cut off all ties with his 'father's' family as he no longer considered them his family. He felt orphaned and without roots, his whole life had been a lie, etc, etc... In fairness to the man in question, I have since found out from my friend Karen's experience that you can't necessarly believe everything you read in the Daily Mail. I hope they also misquoted this man because what I read really made my blood boil.

Many people choose the donor route when trying to conceive. It may be a matter of age, the lack of a partner, same-sex partners, other fertility problems, genetic abnormalities in the family or reasons that I've not even thought of. Others have used surrogacy with only one or neither partner contributing. Many more couples and singles, over the years, have decided to adopt. The effect is the same - a child in your family who has different genes. A child with a different set of DNA. So what?

DNA does not give you a happy and secure home. It does not give you a feeling of belonging to a loving family. Your DNA does not educate you, read you stories, kiss your knee or your forehead when you fall over. DNA cannnot give you wonderful childhood memories and an album full of funny photographs to reminisce over. Your DNA does not pick you up from school every day and take a day (or a week) off work to look after you when you're sick.

Brothers and sisters and cousins become close through shared experiences and family traditions. Mummies and daddies, uncles and aunties, and grandmas and grandpas, exist by the power of their love, their pride and their joy in the children of their family.

DNA cannot even keep families together. I know adopted children who have no desire to find their biological origins. My maternal grandfather was an immigrant with no family in England. Unfortunately he died when my mother was only eleven years old. She and I have no knowledge of or connection with any of his family. Many people have no knowledge of or connection with one side of their family. Many make the decision to cut themselves off from whole sections of their family. Families that survive as a unit do so because they are emotionally healthy and filled with love and support.

As my wise friend L said: children will accept their identity - it is a matter of how you present it. Maybe the Daily Mail man should have been told the truth, but in those days there was reason to feel secure that the truth would never come out. In these days of advanced genetics it is reasonable to assume that nothing can remain a secret. DD will know how lucky I was to be able to have her and about all the help I received in order to do so. She will know that DNA exists and that it is something to study in science. I firmly believe that it will have little impact on her identity and on her sense of family.


  1. a thought provoking post. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Thanks Jax - I hope it makes people who are obsessed with DNA see some sense.

  3. I do think it depends on how you communicate with your child. I'm sure you'll be honest and sensible.
    If we can believe it - which I don't now - the man in the Daily Mail article must have been totally shocked and had his life shattered.Probably felt he had been lied to his whole life.

  4. Karen, I think you are right, he did feel that he had been lied to his whole life. Which is why I think honesty is usually the best policy. Thanks for commenting and thanks for letting me link to your experience.

  5. hi

    I'm not sure what to say... I now feel bad for not considering gamete donation as a real option and also for not presenting it in a better light in my post... i also hope that i don't appear obsessed either...

    DNA is NOT everything just as you say... it does not create the moments spent with your child that you will treasure in your heart and it does not produce the abundant, unconditional love that you have for your child... this i cannot argue with...

    However, DNA, genetically and medically, is the essence of who we are and cannot be over-rated. It is the structure of life and in our family's case, this structure is faulty.

    Genetics and environment make us who we are, each contributing and influencing us in totally different ways: but that's the medic in me speaking!

    We all have options and decisions to make in this world - there is no right or wrong because we are all unique, living very different lives, making personal decisions which are right for us at the time - it's what makes the world go round...

    sorry for the long comment! great post by the way... and once again thanks for making me think out of my comfortable little box. take care x

  6. Everhopefulmummy - I was not meaning people like you when I referred to the DNA obsessed. I know that you have very real genetic issues to consider. I meant people who can't get past the fact that an adopted or IVF with donation baby has different DNA to the parents. I greatly admire you for considering all the options and wish you luck in your eventual decision.

    One thing I'm not sure I agree about though, is that your DNA is the essence of who you are. I think it is the biological blue-print for your body, concerning health issues, aging, looks, etc... but I think the essence of who you are depends on your experience in the world. You do say that it is partly genetic and partly environmental - I just put far more weight on the environmental.

    Am I biassed because of my particular situation? Probably. It was also a process for me to get to this point.

    Thank you for commenting. Rachel xx

  7. I agree with you on DNA and loving families. A friend of my dad had the same experience as the daily mail man and he was upset by the lies and this affected him deeply.maybe this is the issue.DD is a lucky little girl as her mum takes the time to explain the truth to her and this is what matters.

  8. Thanks Scorpiomoonrose. I'm thinking now that perhaps I was a little hard on the Daily Mail man. You are probably right that it was the lies rather than the facts.

  9. It would indeed be quite a universal shift and carry a feeling of great betrayal to learn that who you believe is biologically your parent all your life is in fact not at all. Not having this information can affect you medically, also. But to think that it should affect whether you think of them as mom and dad is purely illogical and ridiculous. If they were your mom and dad, they still are, whether they provided the fertilizing or not. Thousands upon thousands of children have parents who aren't genetically related.

  10. FBStuff - totally agree. Thanks for commenting.

  11. What a great post. I love your philosophy on life x

  12. Thanks Liska - like most things, you only develop a philosophy when you have to confront something.

  13. I'm one of those adoptees that doesn't believe that DNA is the be all and end all of family. I found out that I was adopted at the ancient age of 41 and my first and only reaction was that my parents are still my parents, and that's that. My children think it strange that I don't want to go looking for my roots, but I keep telling them I know exactly who my parents are, they are the people who raised me, loved me, educated me and drove me crazy. I have no intention of looking for my biologicals (I don't even use the term birth mother, she isn't/wasn't my mother, she just gave birth to me).

    It works for me.

  14. Wow Miriyummy, thank you for this comment. This is just the sentiment I was trying to convey. Of course your parents are your parents, everything else is a little quirk of bio-chemistry.

  15. Nicely written.
    My mum came to England after the war with her mother and her step-father who actually adopted her. She always had a very close relationship with the members of her adoptive family. On the other hand, she has hardly spoken for years to the surviving members of her biological family even though they all live in Israel.
    DNA ain't all it's cut up to be.

  16. Thanks david - totally agree. It's the human connection and relationships that count.

  17. reading this blog is so helpful for those going thru all these thoughts at this ipresent moment. thank you all for putting your thoughts down so openly. best wishes esther

    1. Hi Esther. I'm glad it helps and I wish you luck with your journey.