Our upcoming Activism in Adoption Speaker, Bethany Fraser, wears many hats: Adoptee, Advocate, Creative, Executive, Founder, Marketer, Speaker, and Writer. As a speaker, writer, and advocate, Bethany is leading the conversation on the intersection of ancestry and adoption, the lifelong search for identity and belonging, and the unique challenges of being mixed in America. With personal experience as an adoptee and a passion for connecting with others in the adoption community, she offers valuable insights on finding family, navigating complex emotions, and ultimately finding forgiveness and healing. Her expertise on the adoption experience has made her an emerging thought leader in the field, inspiring others to explore their own stories and embrace the power of connection and self-discovery.
We had the chance to sit down with Bethany and talk about her story, and how her life was altered after taking a DNA test. This is such a great interview that we couldn't bear to edit it down, so we are posting it in 2 parts: the second part will be posted next week.
Your story is really fascinating, and as DNA testing becomes more prevalent for adoptees, critical for everyone in the adoption constellation to hear. Can you give us the basics, to jump in with?
I always knew I was adopted, but I didn't know I was biracial, which was confirmed when I did the DNA test in 2020. And by the way I’m now 46 years old! So…it has been a long time of being kept in the dark. Growing up with my mom, dad, and older brother - who was also adopted - I never felt out of place. However, it wasn't until my father passed away recently that I found out my parents had known all along that I was biracial. They had told me I was Eastern European, but I now know that's only half true. It was a shock to learn this, and it's made me realize that my experience is layered and unique — I’ve lived so much life and yet I’m just discovering my true identity and finally have this deep cellular sense of who I am and where I belong. There is still some processing to do with the most recent information that my parents knew my ethnicity and balancing that I can still be thankful for my family and the love they've shown me throughout my life.
You grew up being handed ethnic and racial identities that you don’t embody. Did those identities feel like they fit? Did it feel like a fit to you?
As a child, I was already turning into a little people pleaser, always trying to fit in with my family and classmates. In second grade, I started to realize that I looked different from everyone else. The time sticks in my mind because there was one boy in my class, Billy, who was also adopted and biracial (Black and White). We were cast as husband and wife in the Ugly Duckling play which seemed fitting since we “matched”. He also happened to be my first kiss! We kind of stuck together and pretended to be siblings, and I have a strong memory of realizing how supportive and open his adoptive parents were of his culture. Seeing that made me envious because I didn't know my own ethnicity. It felt like a secret in my own home. Looking back, I have no idea what Billy was experiencing or what was going on in his home. This is just how I remember feeling about him and his situation. I didn't have any negative experiences that I can recall during this specific time. It wasn’t until I entered the world of public high school beyond my small Lutheran school that I became more aware of my differences. Throughout it all, I remained curious and inquisitive about my identity, always looking for anyone that looked like me in all the spaces I occupied. Only recently have I started to explore how these early experiences might have shaped me and influenced my decisions throughout my life.
Racial mirroring is so important for adoptees. Do you think that part of what was happening was that you were being drawn to someone who looked like you?
Totally. We were young and he was a boy, so naturally we weren't super close. I was in a small, predominantly white christian school from kindergarten through 8th grade. There was only one or maybe two Black families in the school – one of the kids was in my class. Memories with her family stick out to me in particular because I spent alot of time with them. I think being in their home and experiencing that feeling of I belong here was real for me. I vividly remember watching my friend’s mom closely. I loved the way she dressed, spoke, carried herself; I wanted her to do my hair. Because in my home we definitely struggled with managing my hair! I am sure I had issues with processing the experience at that time. Not like I went home to my parents and saying, do you think I’m Black, because I feel like I fit when I am with this particular family? I don't remember having a specific conversation about it. I just remember I know I was drawn to them and I believe it came from a deep yearning, or may even knowing without not yet knowing that what I was experiencing was belonging.
Race in general, as I remember it, was just always brushed off. I know I brought it up or tired at least in a way a kid was capable of approaching this conversation. I got bolder with my questions along the years and definitely by high school I was going there…
When did you meet your birthmother, and did she tell you anything about your ethnicity?
One of the greatest challenges I faced on my journey was when my birth mother contacted me in 2005. I had been seriously searching for about five years and utilizing the available options at that time – internet chat boards, the adoption agency, the New York state adoption registry...I'm not even sure to this day how she found me but it was always something I had wanted and I wasn’t questioning it in the moment. At first, I was excited to finally gain some meaningful information, but it quickly became clear that she had no intention of providing any information. It was frustrating and disappointing, especially because I had always dreamed of this moment. She had no thought out plan or professional support. In time, I would find out why, but in that moment she came without any disclosure.
It would be a long time before I would come to understand her hurt, admire her strength or hear her version of the story – she was harboring her secrets for her reasons. So, it was it was a rough reunion that has been a roller coaster of ups and downs.
You found your birthfather. How did you find him, and discover your racial and ethnic heritage?
Eventually, I decided to do the DNA testing. Just like for some many, 2020 was a trying and transformational year personally and professionally for me. A pandemic, a global racial reckoning – then there was Ahmaud Arbery, Breanna Taylor, George Floyd and far too many other lives lost at the hands of police brutality. I lost it. There was so much racial tension and confusion, I was having conversations with my two teenage sons – who identify as Black and I decided to send my birthmother a message. We had been part of each other’s lives by this point for fifteen years – at this point I was also close to her daughter, husband, extended family and her friends. I existed with the fact she’s withholding information from me all this time and on this particular summer it was time to have some uncomfortable conversations – I couldn’t hold it in anymore. So I sent her a text message explaining that I’ve experienced my life like a person of color, and a mother of two not white boys, and whether I'm Latina or Black or otherwise, I don't feel white and the events of the summer of 2020 and the preceding years was impacting me on a cellular level. I wanted, I needed to know my ethnicity for me and by that point for my children. That summer with support from my partner, I was able to find the courage to open the subject and it unlocked a series of events and conversations.
Ultimately, I ordered a DNA test so I could finally get some answers. I got my actual ethnicity results – which initially is what I told myself I wanted. That was the day I knew the beautiful mosaic that is my biracial ethnicity. I started to dig all the way in.
Since I knew my birthmother, I didn’t need to discover anything on that side, because I knew it already. But when I got my results that my birthfather’s side is very mixed racially, to include 30% African, I had the satisfaction of saying I am mixed and knowing exactly what with. The results made sense to me becuase I identify as a mixed (non-white) woman. I can’t explain it…I was so happy simply knowing. And then started to look at the matches.
I was open to matching with people on Ancestry and I started to look at profile pictures. Nobody really struck me as being my twin, or anything like that, so I reached out to some of the matches. Hi, my name is Bethany. I was born Angelina Marie in 1976. In Buffalo I know my mom's name but I don't know my father. Does this resonate with you? Do you know my mom, my dad, anybody in between? And out of many, many, many notes, one sweet soul sent a simple reply to my message – I don't recognize your mom's name, but… She went on to say we descend from the same family and she gave me that family name. I started on this total Google-sleuth search, researching every single name I could uncover on this huge family tree. I could go back four generations from the one surname she supplied. That pair had 10 kids, then those kids had so many kids and on and on. I was up for like 72 hours!
And then one day, about two weeks after I received my results, I receive a message on Facebook from somebody and he said you're my daughter. I’d seen so many photos of people I found during my search, but this one particular man’s photo was the one of two I showed my family. My fiancé immediately said, Honey, out of everybody you have showed me - that is your father. And it was!
What happened next?
We had a very long back and forth exchange - sort of validating the information. This is my birthdate. This was my birth name. This is my birth place. Do you know anything? Does this sound familiar to you? Do you know these? All of this because one person wrote me back on Ancestry. I still get goosebumps about it.
We got to know each other over Facebook and then we graduated to FaceTime. A few months later he introduced me to his family to include my two half siblings. Ultimately, he flew to meet me and my family in November 2020. It was so emotional! We spent the time together catching up. He had time to share his version of the circumstances surrounding my adoption. There were some holes and some inconsistencies with my birthmother's story. By this point, I had known her now for about 15 years and didn’t believe her fractured version and landed in a place of love and acceptance for all of her. Over time, she thawed out a little bit. Her story is from a traumatized place and she continued to either not remember or simple chose not to share the whole truth. Either way, I just had to let all that go. Much like with my adoptive parents. You just let these things go because what’s the alternative? To sit here and be angry and bitter? Once I started focusing on myself and my kids, I stopped being so sensitive to everybody else's feelings because, you know, all of this has the potential to open up such a can of generational worms.
Part II is now up, where Bethany unpacks what happens next, after finding out, in her 40s, that she is biracial, and that everyone she knew – birthmother, and adoptive family, and their friends and extended family – all kept this information from her. For tickets to her upcoming April 20th talk, please visit Activism in Adoption. Most adoption education ends before an adoption is finalized, but where other adoption education programs stop, we are just getting started.
For more information about Bethany, you can follow her on Instagram, or find her on LinkedIn. And don't forget to check out Otito, her jewelry company. "Otito" means "truth" in Yoruba, which is the primary language in her West African country and the piece of her ancestry that had been hidden from her. When she found it, she was inspired to start her company and use it as a portal to inspire truth, support, bridge cultures and communities.