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Born of incest: DNA results reveal adopted man’s origin story

The realization that I was a product of my mother’s incestuous abuse shattered me. For many months, I struggled with feelings of worthlessness. I felt tainted and ashamed of my very being.

  • 2 weeks ago
  • May 31, 2024
8 min read
Steve Edsel, who tells his story adoption story and the moment he realized he was born of incest, stands with his wife Michelle Attaway. | Photo courtesy of Steve and Michelle Steve Edsel, who tells his story adoption story and the moment he realized he was born of incest, stands with his wife Michelle Attaway. | Photo courtesy of Steve and Michelle
Steve Edsel (right) and his wife Michelle Attaway
journalist’s notes
interview subject
Steve Edsel, 50, of North Carolina (left) with his wife Michelle Attaway. Steve was adopted as an infant and remained aware of his adoption. In his forties, he took an AncestryDNA test which revealed his biological mother and father shared a first-degree kinship. He was born of incest, leading to a long healing journey.
background information
In 1975, around the time of Steve’s birth, a psychiatry textbook estimated the frequency of incest at one in a million. However, this figure is almost certainly a dramatic underestimation. The stigma surrounding openly discussing incest, which often involves child sexual abuse, has long hampered the study of the subject. In the 1980s, feminist scholars, based on victim testimony, argued that incest was far more common than acknowledged. Recent advances in DNA testing have offered new biological proof, uncovering numerous cases of children born to close biological relatives, providing unprecedented insights into incest in modern society.

NORTH CAROLINA, United States — Despite growing up in a large and loving family with my parents, brothers, cousins, uncles, and aunts, I always felt something was missing—a piece of my identity I needed to find. Years passed, and in 2013, in my forties, I decided to try AncestryDNA, a company that works with genetic material and databases. I saw it as a last resort. “If it doesn’t work out this time,” I told myself, “Maybe it’s just not meant to be that I meet my biological family.” 

The results from that test revealed a shocking truth: I was conceived through incest. Initially, that knowledge felt like a heavy burden, stirring up a whirlwind of emotions and challenging how I understood myself. However, I have since come to a place of healing and strength. My journey equipped me to support others facing similar challenges, offering the help I once needed.

Read more adoption stories at Orato World Media.

Ancestry DNA shines light on adoption origins

From a young age, my parents were open about my adoption and provided tools for me to understand my story. I often looked through a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings about a baby left at a hospital, knowing that baby was me. Despite feeling different from my family—not because of how they treated me, but because of my distinct appearance and demeanor—I never felt out of place.

When I turned 14, my empathy for my biological mother deepened. She was my age when she had me, and the thought of a teenager caring for a baby seemed unfathomable. That realization sparked a strong curiosity about her, the woman who carried me in her womb. Despite everything, I never harbored any resentment for her decision to leave me.

In my twenties, I intensified my search for my biological family. One day, I went to the newspaper office where the clippings from my childhood originated and approached a journalist who covered my story. This local newspaper took an interest in my story, publishing some articles about it. Nothing came to fruition and nearly two decades would pass before I decided to engage in genetic testing. Suddenly, I felt a sense of urgency and dread, fearing my biological mother passed away.

Then, one day, I received an email from Cece Moore, the genealogist conducting my search. She found two people matching my genetic data and one was my mother. I immediately looked these people up on Facebook, and seeing their faces felt exhilarating. I didn’t know which one of the two she was, but I knew I was looking at my mother for the first time.

Excitement turns to shock at incest revelation

Amid this excitement, Cece sent me another message. “Can I call you? There’s something important I have to tell you,” she said. When I responded, the information she shared squeezed my heart. My father apparently came from the same family as my mother, with a first-degree kinship. This meant that either my mother’s father or brother fathered me. This revelation devastated me. I felt joy at finally connecting with my mother and seeing her face in a photo. Yet, the truth of her suffering and the circumstances of my conception seemed horrifying.

The realization I came from my mother’s incestuous abuse shattered me. For many months, I struggled with feelings of worthlessness. I felt tainted and ashamed of my very being. Happiness, sadness, anger, confusion, distress, and disillusionment collided within me. Processing these feelings became immensely challenging. I found myself unable to sleep, haunted by turmoil. My thoughts fixated on my mother, and I battled overwhelming rage towards my father.

I struggled with daily routines like combing my hair or brushing my teeth. My own reflection in the mirror morphed into my father, fueling my anger. Overcome by emotions, I turned to prayer, pleading, “I can’t do this alone, I need your help.” Time passed and I finally learned which of the two women was my mother and where she lived. Like a detective, I sought more information. I discovered that my uncle, my mother’s older brother, worked as an author and had a book signing at a local hotel. My wife and I went to see him. She purchased a book and asked him to sign it, though he had no idea who we were.

Man sees his biological mother for the first time, falls to his knees

I couldn’t say if that man at the table was my father. Not knowing prevented feelings of disgust or anger as I observed him. Instead, I felt immense curiosity about his character. That day, I also saw my grandmother at the book signing. My heart swelled with joy, feeling a connection to that severed part of my life. I went home contented, keeping my distance and remaining anonymous. Shortly after that day, I saw my mother for the first time.

When I learned she would be at a work event, I traveled out of state to catch of glimpse of her. When I saw my mother for the first time, I knew her instantly. As she walked by several meters away, I felt overwhelmed with emotion and fell to my knees. My wife helped me up and we tried to follow discreetly, taking a few photos from afar. With frayed nerves, I worried what might happen if I approached her and decided against it, unwilling to create an awkward situation at her work event.

That day, it felt like God answered my long-held prayer. I felt a profound sense of gratitude. It marked the only time we shared the same space since my birth. I wanted to keep going, so one Sunday afternoon, I got in my car and drove to my grandmother’s house. I made my way down a gravel road flanked by dense trees, a fenced pasture, and a small lake. The route felt eerily familiar, like returning to a place I once knew. As I navigated the driveway and rounded a bend, the house came into view, evoking a profound and unexpected emotion. As I drew closer, despite having never lived there, it felt like coming home.

Rejection by grandmother cuts deep

I stepped out of the car, my hands nervously sweating, and walked to the door. I knocked and waited anxiously. The door opened, and there stood my biological grandmother. Caught off guard, without a prepared speech, I managed only to say, “I’m Debbie’s son.” Very quickly, she responded, “I know.” My emotions surged inside, threatening to overwhelm me, but externally, I remained nearly motionless.

I brought a photo of me as a baby, which I handed to her. “You have your mom’s eyes,” she mentioned. Our conversation remained brief, but I felt a spark of hope. I might be part of her life again. I left my grandmother with a letter I wrote to my mom. A few days later, I wrote to my grandmother, expressing my desire to sit down and talk. I hoped she might accept me as her grandson.

I anxiously anticipated her response and when it appeared, her words contained a hard truth. She said it would be difficult for her to open her life to me and suggested I cherish the family I had. “Please don’t write again,” she concluded. Her rejection cut deep. By then, I already knew my mother’s older brother was my father. 

Throughout this time, I began reaching out to my mother through Facebook. I sent several messages and mailed her a letter, but she never responded. At first, every social media notification I got sparked a rush of hope. “Could this be from her,” I wondered, but the hope never materialized.

Giving back to others who discover incest origins

The only tangible connection I have with my mother today is a delivery verification she signed, confirming she received the letter I sent. Her hands touched that piece of paper. To this day, I continue to send her messages on her birthday and Mother’s Day. Although she never replies, she has not blocked me. Meanwhile, my mom’s first cousin welcomed me into her life with open arms. 

She invited me and my wife to Thanksgiving dinner and that evening, she placed little name tags beside each plate. To others, it seemed like a small gesture, but to me, it meant the world. I felt like I found a piece of home at that table.

At her daughter’s wedding last year, no one from my immediate biological family attended, yet my aunt helped me overcome feelings of being unwanted. She filled a void, healing my heart and giving me a sense of belonging. Now, I help others like me.

When I first learned about my background, no support groups existed for me; I felt completely isolated.  As time passed, I noticed more people discovering similar truths about their conception involving incest, and I began connecting with them. Helping others navigate their situations allows me to heal and extract something positive from the adversities I faced.

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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