nature vs nurture

Genetics, Adoption and First World Curiosities

I was enamored with this photo (this is the first time I met my birth father) for many reasons, but specifically I kept looking at our fingers. The placement on the knee, the spacing between our fingers.
I was enamored with this photo (this is the first time I met my birth father) for many reasons, but specifically I kept looking at our fingers. The placement on the knee, the spacing between our fingers.

For much of my life I've succumbed to the idea that many of my unanswerable questions fall under the umbrella of nature. I hoped that someday my genetic questions would be answered through a one-time meeting or a picture (thinking that was all the openness I'd ever get). I wanted to know if my birth mom is right handed or left handed or if my birth father had dimples. I assumed that everyone in my birth family had brown eyes, 4c hair texture and dark skin. But my curiosities didn't stop there, I was also curious about some of possibly genetically impacted markers like "Achoo Syndrome" (a dominant trait also called, photo sneeze reflex), or "hand clasping" (learning which thumb one automatically places on top of the other when clasping hands together). After reuniting with my birth family I learned some of these answers, bur remained curious about similarities between blood relatives that aren't necessarily within the genetic category, but actually may not have to do with nurture either...

For example, I've wondered; If a birthmother and her child reunite at a later age and find out that they both use hearts to dot their I's, if this a coincidence or explained by genetics? 

Another [recent] example that has me scratching my head;

While on the phone with my birth mother, Deborah, she said

"Your [adoptive] father sure is smart! Don'cha wish you could just crack his head open and take a look at his brain?"

Why yes! - I wanted to exclaim, but Deborah couldn't possibly have known about all of the time I spent time in undergrad researching brains, and that I'd you-tubed every TEDtalk having to do with brain science and the psychology of why we do the things we do, read many books on the neurobiology of our brain, and singlehandedly tried to learn about the key differences between the brains of those who've been abused in utero, and those who were born with healthy utero experiences. I have long dreamed of looking at the minds of people and learning how traumas have affected their amygdala, or what makes different neurotransmitters fire. Yes, Deborah. My answer is yes! Wait...does that mean she's done all of this, too?

Okay - I understand, that one was kinda a stretch, though titillating for sure. How about this one;

When I met my birthfather after being introduced to Bryan he replied; "It's good ta meet'cha Bryan. B-R-Y-A-N, Bryan" spelling his name out loud. At that moment my mom and I exchanged long glances silently flashing back to all of the times I spelled out words just for the sake of spelling out the word. Throughout my childhood we thought this habit was to help me to more clearly understand the word as my hearing loss made it difficult to hear the difference between the words "curb" and "curve." But now...now I wonder - could this be genetic?

Seems kinda goofy, I know, but these are the subtleties that matter after a couple of decades of deprivation. Example #3:

When my sister met her birth mom about two years ago, we all immediately noticed their similar sense of humor and their biting sarcasm (Example - I can guarantee they'll both laugh at this joke; "Two scientists walk into a bar. The first one hits his head. The second one does too, in order to verify his results."). Anyways, more interesting to me was how quickly they began discussing cats. I can't remember a time when our family did not have a pet cat that my sister took care of. She has received countless gifts, cards and shirts that have pictures of cats on them - she can never have too many. It won't surprise me if/when my sister and her birthmother both post a status update with the same pun about cats. Will I think it to be a coincidence? Probably not.

Not only does my brother and his twin look alike (obviously they are identical twins), but they even act alike after living their entire lives in different families. We've learned that they've made similar life choices throughout their lives at the same points in their lives.
Not only does my brother and his twin look alike (obviously they are identical twins), but they even act alike after living their entire lives in different families. We've learned that they've made similar life choices throughout their lives at the same points in their lives.

I'm no longer solely curious about hitchhikers thumb (the autosomal recessive trait of having a thumb curved back at nearly a 90 degree angle), diabetes or depression, but am continually curious about how to reason and understand the non-genetic similarities between biologically related peoples who haven't known each other. Of course, I'm well aware that these are First World Curiosities and that without the good fortune of early childhood nurture, it'd be a far cry that I'd even be positing these questions.

I greatly dislike the idea of using adoptees for scientific experiments, or my first world curiosities, but it'd sure be wonderful to learn whether of not there is a genetic mutation for spelling, hobbies, smiley faces, or...a love of cats.

Closure FAQ

   

Closure Facebook 3

Frequently Asked Question

Q: Who decided on Closure as the title of the movie?

A: Bryan chose the title of the movie. By and large, this documentary is Bryan's depiction of my journey. The documentary is edited, narrated, and shot entirely by Bryan - and by many of the movie-goers' accounts thus far, he did a marvelous job. Bryan interpreted each of the major characters in the film (birth mom, adoptee and adoptive mother) as having gained a sense of rounded understanding and finality from the outcome of this journey. I did not choose to impart my feelings or dissuade him in the movie title decision making process. Not only would I have been unable to share my story through the medium of film in such a linear, sensible and emotive way, I also simply would not have thought or wanted to create a documentary out of my story. Through my eyes, it's simply one of many search and reunion adoption stories. It is for this reason that Bryan's decision on the naming of the film was the only voice to be granted this right.

Followed up by another FAQ: Q: Have you, personally gotten closure now?

A: I do not feel that I have gained closure - in the sense that most are asking. I have gained an element of peace as the search for my birthparents has (thankfully) come to a close. However, within this successful outcome more questions and considerations have been unveiled: How do I navigate these new relationships? How will I maintain a cross country relationship with these new family members? Did I gain my athleticism from my genes, or from the opportunities I was afforded during childhood (nature vs nurture)? My questions never end.

If Bryan had asked me for input on the title, I may have suggested: "I still need more information," "I don't understand" or "Why?"

Clearly, "Closure" sounds much better. :)

No great and meaningful journey is ever completely closed. If we truly want to thrive and grow from any experience or journey we embark upon we will likely always be striving towards a greater understanding, occasional doubts, fears and a general ever increasing need to feel more whole and complete. "The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know."

Nature vs. Nurture

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 PHOTO: Black and White twins - Kian and Remee Hodgson

It is clear that our DNA plays crucial roles in making us who we are physically, but to what degree "are" we our genes?

The age old debate of nature versus nurture swirls around in my head often as I hear so many people refer to newborns being adopted as a "blank slate." Newborns - adopted or not - are certainly not "blank slates" (Tabula Rasa). Many behavioral geneticists have performed studies on adoptees and twins, and have learned that human development does not derive solely from environmental forces - wealth, social privilege and education cannot be assigned to a genetic code.

To what extent are we governed by external factors (nature), and how much is genetic? I think the answer lies in how we individually want to interpret it.  We can hear explanations for dwarfism, Parkinsons, and breast cancer, and try to ascertain that the reason we now have this condition is because of our genetics. However the reality is that our genes can only tell us if we have that mutation. Cancer, among other conditions, may in fact have more to do with our environment (nurture). However, people hear what they want to hear, think what they want to think, and assign blame to whom they'd like to assign the blame to.

I thought that finding my roots, and learning more about my genes and my background would give me answers, but it's actually left me with a lot more questions. I, along with countless others, would like to pinpoint reasons behind seemingly innate talents, distinct mannerisms, IQ, susceptibility to mental health issues, or alcoholism etc., down to either nature or nurture, however I'm learning that though genes play a large role in our creation, much of who we are is also quite random.

That randomness is hard to accept.