kids

“I thought I was misreading something”: Ellie took a DNA test and it exposed her mum's affair.

Ellie* is a 40-year-old mum of three who has been searching her family history for years. It started out as a hobby, but when Ellie couldn’t find out where her family had come from and their lineage, it became a passion project.

After hitting a dead end, Ellie thought ordering a DNA Ancestry kit, readily available via many family history sites, seemed like a natural step in her research.

“I decided to do my family’s DNA testing as part of the family history project that I was working on,” Ellie tells Mamamia. “I thought it would be pretty straight forward and fun to do.”

Ellie and her siblings grew up with her parents on the NSW Central Coast and was particularly close with her brother Tim* but she says all of her family had a ‘close’ relationship.

Despite this closeness, Ellie says that they didn’t really talk much about their lineage or what countries they had ancestors in and for her, this was something she “had a real desire to know.”

“This was the main reason I chose to order the kit and have my family do the testing. I had an inkling there might be some ethnic ancestry surprises but I never expected the surprise to be so close to home.”

Honor Eastly Says No Feeling Is Final. Post continues after podcast. 

In reality, the surprise Ellie discovered was a complete and utter shock for her and her brother Tim.

They discovered that Tim, who had grown up believing he was the child of his mother and father and brother of his two sisters by blood, was only a half sibling to Ellie and her sister.

“I couldn’t believe it when I first read the results. I read it about 50 times, I thought I was misreading something. Then I emailed the company saying there had to be an error. They assured me there wasn’t and these surprises happen quite often.”

After finding out the results, Ellie confronted her mum about Tim’s biological father and questioned why their DNA did not match. That’s when her mum told her about an affair she’d had that lasted a few months that she ended when she found out she was pregnant.

“My father didn’t expect anything because they were still obviously together at the time as well. My mother had never told anyone and for whatever reason, didn’t think doing this DNA test would uncover this secret.”

Ellie decided to tell Tim the truth in what she says was an impossible situation for her.

“I knew the truth so I either kept the burden of a secret which wasn’t mine or I told my brother the truth. My decision wasn’t made lightly but in the end, I decided if I were in this situation, I would want to know the truth.

“The likelihood would be that it would come out in the end anyway, the truth always does.”

Ellie says telling her brother was the hardest thing she’s ever had to do.

“He was in complete disbelief for quite a while but then something twigged and he told me that so much made sense to him now.

“The truth explained a few differences he saw in himself and my sister and I and also how he never really connected that well with our dad.

homeless woman
"Ellie says telling her brother was the hardest thing she's ever had to do." Image: Getty.
ADVERTISEMENT

"He was glad I told him which was a relief but it has, naturally, impacted him significantly."

Ellie says Tim now has a massive desire to find out about his biological father but is unsure whether or not that is the right decision.

“He is also angry with our mum. He just wishes she had told him the truth so he wasn’t discovering it like this.

"In his eyes our mother has stopped him having a potentially wonderful relationship with his biological father and any potential half siblings."

Ellie and Tim’s decision to not tell their father the truth about the DNA testing discovery has also added complexity to the situation.

“We are still ambivalent about whether to tell him but at the moment we have decided to not say anything. Our hope is that our mother will do the right thing and share it with him but if she doesn’t soon we may."

Like the situation with Ellie’s family, DNA ancestry testing and its often shocking results have had a significant psychological impact on many people.

Rob Whitley, Ph.D., the Principal Investigator of the Social Psychiatry Research and Interest Group (SPRING) at the Douglas Hospital Research Centre tells Psychology Today, “mental research indicates that major unexpected [from DNA testing] have the potential to cause much emotional upheaval.

"As such, learning new and unexpected truths about family relationships can raise intense psychological and existential issues for individuals and families."

The DNA ancestry testing can share a range of shocking results for participants. This can range from people discovering they are adopted or conceived with a sperm donor. It can even inform fathers that they have children they had no idea about as well as discoveries like Ellie's.

“Shocking news regarding parentage (and especially misattributed paternity) can upset the existing social ecology within families, leading to existential distress and family conflict," Whitley says.

Ellie’s brother is currently working with a psychologist on a regular basis in order to process and deal with the information he has received.

* Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. 

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer from Victoria. An ex secondary school teacher, Shona has a strong interest in education. She is an animal lover and advocate, with a morbid fascination for true crime and horror movies. Shona is usually busy writing and raising her children: two goats, two cats and two humans. You can follow her on Instagram

00:00 / ???