LOUDON — Sitting in her kindergarten classroom at Union Sanborn School after shepherding her young charges onto their buses home, Stephanie Parker of Loudon said the fact she was adopted was never news to her.
“I was never sat down and told. I just always knew,” Parker said.
She is one of many millions of people around the world who have placed a bit of saliva into a DNA kit, sent it off to a testing company, waited for the results and then discovered the sometimes life-altering secrets hidden in the DNA.
Testing companies analyze hundreds of thousands of particular genetic sequences and use those snippets as clues to all sorts of information. The tests can reveal your biological relatives, and how closely you’re related, by evaluating how much of your and their DNA patterns overlap.
With a loving adoptive family, Parker never had a gnawing desire to know the identity of her birth mother. “I always said I would leave the door open and if our lives were to cross, OK. But I’m not going to search,” she said. Contributing to her decision not to actively hunt for keys to her genetic past was a fear of the unknown.
“She could close the door in my face, or she could have (kept) Christmas presents under the tree,” Parker said.
She grew up in Nashua, after her adoptive parents Fred and Sandy Dehner moved to New Hampshire. They had always told her they would support her if she wanted to search for her birth mother and made the same pledge to their adopted son, who found his birth family 10 years ago.
In 2015, the state of Ohio where Parker was born allowed adoptees to legally access their original birth certificate. Parker had always had a copy, but her mother’s name was blacked out.
She decided to fill out the paperwork, mailing it off with the required small fee.
The document soon arrived and it revealed her mother’s name — Amy Comer — and the address at which she was living when she gave birth to Parker on Jan. 2, 1977.
Parker hoped the certificate would provide clues to her nationality — it didn’t. Despite the newfound information, Parker didn’t search the internet or use Facebook to try to learn more about her or find her.
In 2017, Sandy Dehner gave Parker a 23andMe test kit. She got the results back a year ago in January and decided to establish a sharing connection that allows 23andMe users to view one another’s profiles including the number and location of overlapping DNA segments. The results told her what she most wanted to know — her ethnicity. She is primarily of French and German descent with some English and Irish heritage as well.
In December, Parker got a message from a person identified as her “1st/2nd cousin.” It contained a list of names, and the sender Tom Dunning said his parents were on the list. Parker immediately spotted her birth mother among the names.
She replied, but wrote that out of “full respect for my birth mother,” she would only confirm that she was related.
Dunning wrote back that he knew Parker was Amy’s daughter, and that he was going to let Amy know he’d made contact with Parker. “Welcome to a wonderful family,” the message concluded.
Another message from Dunning asked Parker to confirm her birth date, which she did. Dunning then forwarded Amy’s telephone number and wrote that Amy wanted to talk with her.
Parker messaged Dunning, thanking him and expressing her gratitude for mediating the connection. She asked him to tell Amy that she would call her, but said she needed time to emotionally process a surprise reunion 42 years in the making.
Dunning messaged again, writing that Amy understood the emotional roller coaster, but was asking when Parker might call.
“I answered back asking whether she was available Christmas Eve morning and the reply was ‘a very heartfelt yes from Amy,’” Parker recounted.
When she finally placed the call, Parker said, it seemed like the phone rang for forever. “Is this Amy? This is Stephanie.”
Both women broke into tears. “What an amazing Christmas present,” Parker told Amy on the phone.
During the lengthy conversation, Parker found out she had a half-brother and that their entire extended family had always known about Parker. Each discovered they had both wanted to respect the other’s privacy and not search too hard so as not to potentially disrupt the lives they had established.
She also learned Amy had had a relationship in high school. He was 10 years her senior, was her bus driver and approached Amy, seeking help with his college coursework. When she revealed she was pregnant, he gave Amy $250 and told her “to do what you need to do,” and disappeared from her life.
Amy went on to get married, becoming Amy Ireton, had a son, but always remembered the daughter she never got to know.
The women continued to get to know each other via Facebook and email from January through mid-March. Her half-brother, Adam Ireton, urged Parker, her husband, Ken, and their 3-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, to fly to Ohio for a surprise meeting with Amy.
Under the guise of a birthday luncheon with girlfriends, Amy went to her favorite eatery. When the restaurant staff heard of the reason for the celebration, they ushered the Parker family into the kitchen to allow them to make a surprise entrance.
“She was just taken aback completely. Instantly crying. Are you really here? Rubbing my face and hair,” Parker recounted of the emotional meeting.
Each Jan. 2 after she gave Parker up for adoption, Amy said, she and her sister Pam Horsley had sung happy birthday. This year, they FaceTimed Parker and sang it in person.
“It was wonderful. I can’t really put into words what it felt like,” Parker said.