The Paternity Test, Part 2: “The Results”

After meeting a man who thought he might be our daughter’s birth father, we were all invested in the idea of an open adoption relationship—but how would the test come back?

opening the envelope, what woud the paternity test results say about this man who might be our child's birth father?

My wife, Laurie, and I had never met any of our five children’s birth fathers, but then a man contacted us via social media. Alan believed he was the birth father of our daughter, Vivianna. We already knew that he was the biological father of Vivi’s birth sister, Ella, and it made sense to us that he might be Vivi’s birth father as well.

Until that point, the only communication we’d had with any of our children’s birth families’ was with Maria (*not real name)—but that relationship has always been complicated. On the one hand, she’ll always be the person who made the decision that led to Vivi becoming our daughter. On the other hand, her accounts of Vivi’s birth dad over the years have been inconsistent. Furthermore, she often arrived late for birthdays and other events, or cancelled at the last minute. Laurie and I quickly learned not to tell Vivi she was coming until we knew she was on her way. And when we did meet in person, she rarely interacted with Vivi. I’d assumed she was keeping some emotional distance because her decision to place 10 years ago was still difficult.

We maintained the relationship mostly for Vivi’s sake. We thought it was better that she know Maria rather than develop a fantasy about her birth mother. But now that we’d met Alan and his family, and the meeting had gone so well, we couldn’t wait to see them again. That meeting had come after a respectful email exchange. Since then, we’d all friended each other on Facebook. Whenever we posted pics of Vivi and our other kids, they always commented within a few minutes with lots of exclamation points and emojis. We were looking forward to having our first healthy open adoption relationship.


Wanting to Be Part of Each Other’s Lives

Laurie and Alan’s wife, Hannah, set up a lunch date a couple weeks later to take the paternity test. We met at a TexMex restaurant and, a few moments after saying hello, we all picked up where we’d left off at our last meeting. More extended family attended the lunch, including some cousins the same age as our boys. The cousins seemed shy at first, but my oldest Isaac brought up football and they talked the rest of the meal.

Meanwhile, Laurie and I snuck off with Vivi to another table with Alan and Hannah for the test. Laurie had picked it up at a pharmacy for about $30, and the test itself was quite simple: Alan swabbed his mouth and put it into the “Potential father” envelope, then Vivi did the same. We sent the envelopes to a testing lab, which charges $80 and promised the results within two weeks. As we read the instructions and completed the test, we all couldn’t stop laughing at how awkward and surreal the whole thing was. “Just a typical Saturday: TexMex lunch and a paternity test.” The extended family knew why we were all there, but I was glad the restaurant wasn’t crowded. I know we were a sight.

As we finished the test, Alan said, “I can’t wait to get the results. I just want to know for sure.” Despite his shy demeanor, he was clearly excited.

“Me too,” Hannah said. “I really hope it comes back positive.”

As soon as we got home from the lunch, Laurie mailed off the swabs. She registered on the lab’s website, which told us we should get the results within 10 days at the latest. As each day passed, our hopes of early results dissipated. Alan’s wife told us, “He asks every day, ‘Did the results come in?’”

Up to this point, I had tried to keep an emotional distance; partially because we didn’t know the results of the test, and partially because I was still battling the thought in the back of my mind that they could be up to something. This was an abstract thought based entirely on watching too much TV. As I got to know Alan and his family, I liked them all the more. They were genuinely happy to see Vivi in our family, and wanted to be part of our lives. They’d already invited us to the next family reunion, and, as Father’s Day approached, Laurie and I discussed whether we should do something for Alan.


The Results—and Our Reactions

By the morning of Day 10, we were all a bundle of nerves. By now we were all texting daily: “I can’t wait” and “This wait is driving me crazy.” So when Laurie received the email stating Alan was not a match—0% probability, to be exact—we were devastated. We were flooded with emotions: sadness, anger, and confusion. Maria had lied to us when she told us Alan was Vivi’s birth dad, she’d lied to Vivi and Ella when she told them they were full biological sisters, and to Alan and his family. “It’s not just the lies,” Laurie said, “It’s the loss of a dream. I wanted Vivi to have a relationship with this family. But now we’re not related.”

Once we calmed down from the news, we called Hannah, who was equally disappointed. We cried together, and shared our disappointment that the dream was gone. “I don’t how I’m going to tell Alan,” she said.

“Make sure Alan tells Ella himself,” I told her. “The news should come from her dad and not Maria.”

“Absolutely,” Hannah said.

We agreed to stay in touch, and that we’d let her know how the conversation went with Vivi. She agreed to do the same with Ella.

Telling Vivi felt complicated because of the relationship we’d built with Alan’s family over the last few weeks. I felt strongly that her reaction would rely on how we told her, that we had to be gentle and that, if we made too big a deal of it, she might take cues from us and do the same.

Finally, we worked up the nerve and told her, “The results came back negative. Alan is not your birth father.”

“Well, who is my birth dad then?” she asked.

“We don’t know, Baby.”

“Oh.” She had a blank look on her face. I couldn’t quite read what she was thinking.

“But Ella is still your sister, just not your full biological sister. She’s your half-sister. And we can still see her and Alan’s family.”

“That’s cool,” she said.

Laurie and I waited for more questions or for her to break down into tears, but she said nothing further. This conversation occurred a few months ago, and we’ve casually followed up with her a few times to see if she’s been processing any grief or disappointment. She hasn’t said anything, but we’re ready when she does.

“It takes time for Vivi to process her thoughts and emotions,” Laurie said the other day. “She’s like you in that way. Really, she’s like you in every way.”

I considered some of my most obvious traits—introverted, moody, hard-working, perfectionist, loyal—and thought about Vivi. She has more of my personality traits than the other four kids by a landslide.

However, I’m glad she didn’t inherit the same irrational fears I have. Looking back on the emotions I felt about connecting with a birth father, I’m glad I got to meet Alan and his family. They put me at ease by proving they didn’t want any trouble. Rather, they simply wanted to get to know Vivi and love her. So, in my new fantasy of her actual birth father, I don’t have those same fears. I’m looking forward to meeting him, if that’s ever a reality. And, if not, then I’m ready to go through that with Vivi as well.

Read about the families’ first communications and meeting in Part 1 of “The Paternity Test.”
BILLY CUCHENS is the father of five through transracial foster and domestic newborn adoption. He lives with his family in Texas.

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