' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: How much do genes count in who we become?

Friday, September 5, 2014

How much do genes count in who we become?

Lorraine and Jane, 1983
The full answer to the question posed in the title is still being debated and studied, because of course environment plays an enormous part in who we become. But consider:

When I found my daughter, she was writing poetry for the high school magazine and wanted to be a writer--as were both her father and I. He was also a major jazz buff with a huge collection of jazz recordings, and he helped me learn to appreciate it. Her adoptive parents were an insurance adjuster and a nurse.

My daughter had two daughters. One (who was relinquished and adopted) is a poet who performs spoken word with a jazz group. The other is an art major, choosing between teaching or art history. One of my uncles went to art school in California, but was never able to make a career in art. However, my brother was only ever interested in such a career, and began pursing it in high school. He went to art school, and became an art director before he graduated. One of his daughters, my
niece, is in art school in New York, pursuing a career in graphic design.

Genes will out.--lorraine


Born That Way: Genes, Behavior, Personality
by William Wright
"William Wright does a terrific job of making a complex subject readable and readily understandable. The crux of the story revolves around Thomas Bouchard's now famous, twin studies in Minnesota. As Wright tells the story of the remarkable similarities found between identical twins separated at birth and reunited after 20-30-40 years, one becomes stunned by the heritable clarity of traits, temperaments, abilities, intelligence, and metabolic rates and so on and so on. It's just breathtaking; so much so that's it's worth reading a second time just to make sure you didn't miss anything.

"As the book progresses, Wright names the players on either side of the nature-nurture debate and what becomes clear from the outset is the astonishingly blinkered mindset of the environmentalists. Theirs is hardly a search for truth, but one of obstructing progress in order to further a socialist political agenda. Wright recounts the debates and the duels through the press, and the periodicals of the scientific community, until you're flustered with rage at the audacity of these obstructionists. Medical progress means less to these left wing scientists than the protection of their political agenda. Just amazing! It's reminiscent of the Catholic Church versus Galileo in the early 16th century. And, Wright makes it into a compelling story so easy to read, and to understand, as to make its perusal a delight."--Amazon Reviewer


  1. Before I say another word I must comment on the resemblance between you and your daughter! It is uncanny! I have seen you post this photo before, and I always thought how amazing it must have been to see how much Jane looked like you.

    Genes are of the utmost importance, for many reasons. Why, back in the day, people thought that genes and heritage didn't matter is beyond me. They said babies to be adopted were "blank slates" but really nothing could be further from the truth.

    My adoptive parents tried to make me into "their" daughter. But there were certain things for which they could never take credit, the biggest one being my artistic abilities. The art world was completely foreign to them. When I discovered my first mother was an art teacher I exploded with happiness! My younger daughter has inherited this trait. At least now I know where it came from.

  2. For me, it's my natural father. We are so much alike that he often jokes that someone cloned him. Personality, viewpoints, religion, the way we think -- it's all the same. He finishes my sentences. We even have the same viewpoints about things like tattoos and that people should vote. It's bizarre.

    There's an article going around my Facebook adoption pages at the moment asking if adoptees feel like outsiders. Several adoptees are saying they didn't feel like outsiders in their adoptive family because they were told they were adopted early on. I'm not sure it has anything to do with that.

    When you think about what makes up a person there's: (1) Personality; (2) Viewpoints; (3) Interests; etc. It's completely up to chance how similar the placement is between the adoptee and the adoptive family. Sometimes everything will match. Or (1), (3) and (5) will match. And so forth. But sometimes, in cases like mine, nothing will match. I had nothing in common with my adoptive mother. I think these are the adoptees who most feel like they are outsiders, no matter when they were told of their adoption, because there is absolutely no common ground.

    In situations like this, where the starting chasm is simply too great, I'm really not sure that "environment plays an enormous part in who we become". How else to explain how I can be so identical -- still -- to a man I haven't known in four decades. And the only thing I picked up from my adoptive mother was good manners.

    1. That's amazing about your natural father. I can see the same with one of my daughters and my husband. They are clones.

      I agree with you that sometimes in adoption the chasm is just too great. I always felt like a guest at home. I simply did not belong. My adoptive mother and I get along, for the most part, but we do not agree on anything. We are just so different from one another, it really is amazing that we get along at all.

      I was told I was adopted at a pretty early age. As you say, it did nothing to make me fit in better with my AP's. One has nothing to do with the other.

      Lorraine is right. Genes win. It's a very strong connection, and adoptees were supposed to forget about it and become like their adoptive families. Now we know that it really can't happen that way. It just can't work.

  3. Eighty per cent (80 %) of who we are is genetic. Check it out. You can tell my three sons are brothers...they all favor me. My daughter favors her father and his mother and sisters.

  4. Genetics are very important. I inherited some of my physical features from my first mother. I never had a chance to meet her in person so don't know if we share anything else. Would love to find out if my biological father and I have anything in common. I don't know his identity so I can only speculate. Though my adoptive parents were decent people, I never really felt like I belonged to them. The book, "Identical Strangers," speaks to the issue of genetics. It's a memoir about identical twins who were separated at birth. When they meet for the first time as adults, they discover they have many things in common. It's almost spooky.

  5. My nanna once described my father - who I didn't grow up with - as 'exacting'. Everything in his house is just so, and he can't abide things being out of place.

    When I was a teenager, all the posters on my wall had to be exactly level, with the blobs of blutack perfectly rounded and perfectly hidden. This and other precise behaviours fell apart after I lost my son, but re-emerged when I started to make things decades later, all of which are very precisely shaped. (I've actually had to introduce the possibility of a deliberate spontaneous aberration, to keep this perfectionist tendency in check).

    My son, I learned recently, arranges the tins of food in his cupboard in a very particular way. He also has exacting tendencies and - before he had children - arranged his rooms minimally and precisely, like my dad's.

    These similarities are just one superficial set in many I see.

    Positioned between my dad and my son - neither of whom know each other beyond being acquainted, and have never visited each other's house - I see so much that they both share, and so many ways they resemble each other.

    But my son can't see it because he hasn't had an overview of my life, or my father's/his grandfather's. He doesn't know what I know - that it seems we are part of an ancestral river.

    These are just the most superficial ways that my father, my son and I resemble each other.

    1. (Sorry about that slightly garbled post - was trying, and failing, to multitask...)

    2. My son's young son also has some of these tendencies I described too.

  6. My son is definitely a healthy mix. And also a little young for real character traits and interest show. One funny thing is that he is incredibly loud. Both his parents are mild mannered, quiet, and generally reserved. Every week when we Skype all we can hear is our son yelling at the top lungs. Not upset, as a matter of fact, enjoying himself. Maybe he likes the sound of his own voice. The funny part is that I talk loudly. In my professional environment I have to consciously control my volume. We joke that I may have deafened him a little in the womb. Oddly, his first word was "Mama", during a Skype session. Its funny because both his parents are men. The kid is amazing.

  7. Wow, Lorraine, I've read here a lot, but somehow missed that your daughter surrendered a baby to adoption--heartbreaking.

    The reason it gives me a jolt is because I was terrified of this happening to me. I was a virgin waay past everyone I've ever known (early 20s) because I knew deep down that if I were to ever get in *trouble* my APs would NOT support or help me in any way. I would have been forced to surrender.

    My amother thought of "women" like my mother as bad girls (couldn't be further from the truth) who didn't deserve to keep their kids. It scared me to bits, and affected the way I lived my life as a young woman. There's some "environment' for you, and certainly not "nurture."

    I'm just so sad that happened to Jane.

    1. Yes, it was heart-breaking and I could not convince her to have an open adoption. But I did find my other granddaughter after my daughter died.

  8. My twin and I have had a kind of telepathy over the years which has come to our rescue several times when we knew instinctively to reach out to the other. I can not imagine being separated as children. I hope the twins who reunite later in life will regain the bond they shared at the beginning. Because I've always enjoyed researching and characterizations in literature, I've always kept a memory of our family ancestry. When I had to find my first son 8 years ago, it was more of a need to finally get to see him and hold him since I was not allowed to after his birth. I had to free myself of the emotional baggage I had been carrying around for far too long. I had to know him so I could know myself finally also. It seem instinctive to me. My first son felt the same way but was not supported in searching for me since he still lives with his adoptive mother. His adoptive mother pooh poohed the case for genetics playing a large role in an individuals development when we first talked. But the similarities between my first son and I spoke volumes words could never have replaced. Our gestures, facial expressions, glances, our soft spoken manner...I could go on and on about our closeness. I'm just hoping his newest relationship/engagement will finally free him to living away from his adoptive mother so he can finally feel free to express his feelings without fearing he may hurt his adoptive mother. It's a delicate balance for the biological family for sure.

  9. I have to wonder who in my first family had synesthesia. When I finally discovered what it was and did research, I learned that it is definitely hereditary. One of my daughters has aspects of it, but not as full-blown as mine.

    Growing up with this crazy but delightful "condition" in a household of people who did not share it was difficult to say the least. Most of the time I was accused of making it up. A few years ago there were various TV documentaries about it, and I recorded them for my AP's to watch. A-mom was as understanding as she could be about it. A-dad still thinks it's nonsense.

    Genetics are amazing, indeed. Somebody gave me this...it did not fall from the sky. Since I did the DNA testing there is still a slight chance I might find out something. I hope so.

  10. My daughter had a very heavy step, as I have written several times before. One day when she was here and came up the stairs--my husband's office is at the top--he said: you step just like Lorraine. Jane later said: That's when I knew I was home. One of her cousins has an ever heavier step than I do. We Duskys can sound like a herd of elephants.

    Jane said that in her adoptive home she always heard: Jane, can't you walk softer? What was natural to her was seen as an annoyance to her adoptive family. Hearing that broke my heart.

    Jenny: I hope you can explain all this to the people raising your son, and they will let him be himself. I have heard other people say--they are pushing the kid into therapy when there is nothing wrong with him--he's just different.

    On another note: are readers seeing the picture of the mother cat and kitten picture--they are obviously related--that is inserted in this post? I can see it, Jane can't. What about the rest of you?

  11. I do not see any picture of cats in this post, Lorraine

  12. Today we know that nature VS nurture isn't the way we look at behavior. Its now nature plus nurture. There are genetic predispositions but there are also environmental triggers that activate those genes. Adoptees experience a relational trauma created by the loss of the primal mother. That is going to have an effect on future behavior. We cant predict the specific behavior or manor of adjustment. It could be sexual acting out or the exact opposite. The experience can work to the benefit of the adoptee by increasing resilience, insight, and advanced thinking. In the end we are all individually responsible fro our life choices.

  13. Sorry about the cats. It is a very funny photo of a white/black and tan cat with a white, black and tan kitten--no question they belong together--and the tag line is: What makes you think....the kid is mine?

    1. Yep, very funny!

      Once, when I found my son's whereabouts and that he was playing in a band, my sister and I talked about how lovely it would be to buy a ticket and just mingle in with the crowd so we could see him. Then we realised he'd notice us 'because we would be the only two in the crowd just standing there crying our eyes out'!.

      It never crossed our minds that he would actually look like us (why on earth didn't we understand this? Talk about denial...) or that, as we found out later, he and my sister look so similar they could almost be twins.

  14. Cat/Kitten pic


  15. That's it, Robin, but I can't figure out to copy it in a different way so that everybody can see it.

  16. My birth mom and I do enjoy the same things as well. We both enjoy fabric, sewing, crocheting and even gardening. We both love to cook, and I made up a recipe before I even met her, which she had also made up the exact recipe. We would go shopping, turn around and show each other the same exact thing. However our morals and ideals are drastically different. Many other things drastically different as well.

    1. Catherine, you sound like my daughter and I. My theory on why her and I have such different morals and ideals are that they are nurture based, not nature based. Those are things that are learned through watching the adults around us. My daughter despises me, uses me and seems to be very "THING" oriented.... where I am very giving, she is a taker; where I am closed off and private, she announces to the world.... I see that as part of how she was raised more than anything else. We both love all the things you do, but we have completely different ideas about so many fundamental things.... Yes, I totally get that.

  17. I see so much of my daughter's mom and dad in her, and I appreciate the person that she is because of them. Our ancestry, each person in hundreds of years of lineage, blends all together to create the person we are today. That is equally true of adopted people. They are not a blank slate, born without genetic imprinting. Her innate sense of rhythm, her natural expressiveness, her ability to make people laugh, her fiery temper, her deep devotion and naturally loving temperament- they are all gifts from her family of birth. Each of her ancestors has given her something of themselves, and it's combined into the miraculous and amazing little girl I love. She is randomly very much like me in many ways, which I love, but I will always recognize and acknowledge that her traits come from her mom and dad. i don't understand why any adoptive parent would have a problem with that unless it comes from a deep insecurity within themselves, in which case, it is for them to fix and not for the child to bear.

    There are many things I mourn for my daughter. Among them is the in-depth connection to her extended family and her heritage. It's a deep loss, and one I will never, ever get over for her. I do hope that she is able to find a peace with it and find contentment in the connections she will have in her mom and dad, but I will always understand if she grieves over it and finds it to be a loss. It most certainly is a loss to grow up without that connection to your past and your roots.

  18. The only way I've seen this mirroring is in temperament. My first mother and I share the same even-keel, very slow to anger (and very slow to let it go) temperament. We think in the same patterns. I see it more in writing than in person, in part because of a difference in accent. We don't look alike, which disappointed us both, and we share just a few things.

    But the things we can see we share are incredibly important.

  19. Lorraine... Your story told here gives me goosebumps. I haveno doubt genetics plays a huge role.

    My husband, adoptee, is recently reunited with his birth family, and the connections are so profound and true. He is close to his adoptive family, good hearted people with whom he has nothing in common.

    He, both parents, and his (full) sister are all interested in the arts, cooking, travel, higher education. (Adoptive family are decidedly not.) of everything in the world they could have done, my husband is a college professor in the visual arts. His father, retired from 30 years as a college professor in the performing arts. It has been an intense and amazing thing finding his roots, and finding out that far from being the maverick he is actually not that far fallen from the tree.

    Every adoptee deserves to know their truth, whatever it may be.



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