Growing up as an only child in Belvedere, S.C., Cynthia O’Brien had no idea about her six siblings living hundreds of miles away.
“I didn’t even know I was adopted for 56 years. People always said I looked like my father,” said O’Brien, 57.
But a few months ago, DNA matching through MyHeritage.com confirmed something she heard from a family friend, after the death of her adopted mother last year.
Adoption wasn’t unusual in her family. Her aunt adopted a child, who didn’t find out until he was 27 years old that he had a birth family. He urged the family to tell O’Brien she’d been adopted, but no one did, she said.
There were clues, such as why her mother said she gave birth in Virginia during a family trip to New Jersey. “What woman in their right mind who was nine months pregnant go out of town?” she said.
O’Brien said she had a good upbringing but lost her adopted father suddenly to a heart attack when he was 42.
“I did have a good childhood to a point. My dad loved me to death, my mom, she wasn’t a nurturing type. She didn’t say she loved me but bought me everything,” O’Brien said.
Her father’s early death prompted O’Brien to abandon plans to attend nursing school to stay closer to her mother, a choice she now regrets, O’Brien said.
When the truth finally came out, O’Brien learned she’d been born in Dumfries, Virginia, just outside Marine Corps Base Quantico.
Still missing was the reconnect with her birth family. “I finally decided, I think it was in March, to go ahead and do a DNA test,” she said.
She got the results, which said she was a partial match to a Virginia woman. O’Brien initially wasn’t sure what that meant, but eventually she contacted her.
“It turned out she was actually my niece,” O’Brien said. “She got me in touch with her mother, and her mom got me in touch with my mom.”
O'Brien soon found out she had six siblings: Missy, Bonnie, Ross and Denise Decatur, Annette Cahow and Wanda Harris. Over the years, her birth family would look for their missing sister, whom they knew about, but DNA matching kits like myheritage.com weren’t around.
O’Brien said she learned her mother, Brenda Decatur, gave her up for adoption after having her two older siblings at a very young age. An uncle, whom she lived with, said no more babies.
“They had a hard life, as I understood,” she said.
Today her mother lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia. On Friday, mother and daughter will meet for the first time.
They’ve already discovered things in common, such as a love of lighthouses, and bear a striking resemblance, O’Brien said. They haven’t talked about the circumstances around her adoption, but will when they meet in person, she said.
“It’s hard over the phone. I’d rather be in front of her,” O’Brien said. “I’m excited and nervous at the same time.”
O’Brien said she’s a firm believer in telling children at some point that they are adopted, rather than let it remain a secret.
“I think it’s important that when you’re adopted that you know, even if you don’t tell them when they’re 11 or whatever, tell them when they’re a grownup,” she said. “It really messed me up not knowing for that long. I felt that I was living a lie for 56 years.”
O’Brien said she’s still trying to determine the identify of her birth father. He might be the father of one of her older siblings or possibly a Marine.
“I always thought that with Quantico being right there. Maybe she got with a Marine trying to better her life and got pregnant with me,” she said.
Today O’Brien’s two adult children, Kaycee and Tyler Williams, are looking forward to meeting their grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins, she said. The family is even thinking about moving to be closer to them.
This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Adopted as a newborn, now 57, to meet birth family