WARWICK, RI — This Mother’s Day, a Warwick woman is celebrating connecting with her birth mother thanks to a 23andMe genetic testing kit and a little perseverance.
“My adoptive mother actually purchased the kit for me,” said Amanda Harrison, 26, of Warwick. Amanda’s adoptive mom, Janice, gave it to her for her birthday in November 2017.
Amanda said her mom knew she had always been curious about her birth family, and that the fact of her adoption from a Mexican family in El Paso was never a secret.
“My adoptive family is very European-looking,” Amanda said.
Curiosity wasn’t the only reason for Amanda to seek out her biological mom, though.
“It’s always been something that comes up throughout my life,” she said, such as whenever she’s asked to enter family medical history on forms. “I always have to put an N/A,” Amanda said.
Amanda used the kit, which requires the subject to spit into a vial, to be mailed to the company for the genetic test, but when she got the results back in March 2018, the company was only able to show her connection to a few cousins. The identity of her birth mother and closer family members remained out of reach. Until her older sister, Prisilla, who had also used a 23andMe kit, saw a commercial for the company about using the information to find relatives Feb. 4, and found Amanda’s name in the company’s database.
“She saw my photo and said, ‘That’s her,’” Amanda said, because of their family resemblance.
Priscilla searched for Amanda on LinkedIn, found that she worked at Ocean State Job Lot in North Kingstown as a graphic designer and social media manager, then contacted her with a direct message through Amanda’s Instagram account.
When Priscilla travelled back to El Paso, where the family remains, she told Amanda’s birth mother, Julia Portman, that she’d found her half-sister.
But Julia let Priscilla do the talking between them for a few weeks before they talked directly, Amanda said.
“I think there were so many things going through her mind that she was nervous about that,” Amanda said.
Amanda had learned that her adoptive parents had shared photos of her from her first year with them with Julia. But she hadn’t had any new photos since.
She thought, “How cool would it be if she had a photo album of me through my whole life?”
So she put together an album fo 125 photos from throughout her life with her adoptive family, and sent it to Julia.
“Tough to fit 26 and a half years into a photo album, but I sure have tried,” Amanda said.
The photos eased Julia’s misgivings, and the two started talking directly, Amanda said.
Amanda learned that when she was born, it was unsafe for her birth mother to be raising a child.
“She made a decision that was in the best interests of me and she’s thought about me for many, many years,” Amanda said.
In April, Amanda and Julia met for the first time in 26 years when she visited her birth family in El Paso.
Last week, 23andMe hosted a meeting of members from four families the company has connected, including including Amanda, Janice, Julia and her sister, Laura, in New York City to celebrate their first upcoming Mother’s Day together.
“I said, ‘Do I look any different?’ ” Amanda said, “But she was just so happy to be able to have all four of her daughters together for the first time.”
“Meeting Amanda has been the most surreal experience. It’s so strange how we grew up separately in totally different environments but yet are so similar when it comes to a lot of things, especially our sense of humor,” Priscilla said.
In June, Amanda will visit her biological family in El Paso. She expects the visit to keep her busy learning about her biological family.
“There’s a lot of people,” Amanda said.