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Our Secrets, Ourselves

The explosion in mail-in genetic testing has busted so many secrets out of the proverbial closet, as people discover that the biggest secret in their life is their own origin story. This episode looks at the personal and societal costs of these biological secrets over generations — and the fallout, after those secrets are unraveled. It also considers why so many families of the past kept fertility treatment a secret.

Karen’s father Rex Brown found out as an adult that the man who raised him was not his biological father.
Karen Brown
Karen’s father Rex Brown found out as an adult that the man who raised him was not his biological father.

We meet:

Lisa, an Amherst, Massachusetts, grant writer, who discovers through 23 & Me that her parents used a sperm donor to conceive her 50-some years ago. She decides that, despite her parents’ pledge to never discuss it, she wants to talk about it all the time.

Dee Gish, one of Lisa’s newly discovered half sisters, who revels in the large extended family she now gets to claim.

Dani Shapiro, a well-known memoir writer who has become a social commentator on genetic revelations, after learning that her beloved father was not biologically related to her. It’s one in a long list of secrets that destabilized her life, which now inform the insights she brings to her own podcast on family secrets.

Michael Slepian, the social scientist from Columbia University whom we met back in the first episode. As one of the country’s premier researchers on secret-keeping, he found out that his own genetic origins were not what he thought. But he says it’s not the secret, so much as the secret keeping, that shook him the most.

Karen’s own father Rex (again), who, in addition to having a secret daughter, never knew his own biological dad. But he told Karen (in the year before he died) he was at peace with that.

oThe Secrets We Keep is written/produced/hosted by Karen Brown, edited by Sam Hudzik, with music by Katie Semro.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.