An adopted man discovers what the true meaning of family is after he finds his biological siblings and his new sister becomes a surrogate for him and his wife.
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Dad and Mom hold babies born from surrogate sister
Credit: Amy MacDonald

Oxford Languages on Google defines the word family as "a group of one or more parents and their children living together as a unit." But ask anyone to tell you what they think family means, and you might get a whole lot of definitions that run down two streams; family is blood (nature) or family is a choice (nurture). But for Mark MacDonald and Rachel Elliott, two siblings who found each other after a family secret was finally revealed, the word family has a meaning that is richly layered between both complex worlds.

In the siblings' new memoir, Love and Genetics: A true story of adoption, surrogacy, and the meaning of family MacDonald and Elliott share their incredible story.

It all started when MacDonald was placed for adoption as a newborn. After he grew up and got married, he and his wife, Tina, tried to have children, but they ran into complications and soon realized that their dream of becoming parents would mean a journey through adoption or surrogacy.

"My closed adoption made me feel isolated from the world in an ineffable way—just sort of disconnected from humanity's family tree," MacDonald tells Parents. "I (selfishly?) wanted to have my own biological children to help me 'connect' myself to the rest of the world—to see my place."

MacDonald, who was born in Canada but now resides in Oregon, began searching for his birth mother. Working with the Canadian adoption process was slow but fruitful. He eventually received a life-changing call that not only had they found his birth mother, but that she was interested in meeting him. MacDonald soon learned that his biological mother had married his biological father, and together they had three more children; he had three siblings.

"I thought that knowing her (good or bad) might give me that feeling of connection that I was missing, especially if she had had other children (half-siblings that would carry a portion of my genes in future generations). I was not prepared to find three full-blooded siblings!"

Long lost brother and sister
Credit: Amy MacDonald

But of all the new family members in MacDonald's life, one, in particular, would open up a whole new chapter for MacDonald and his wife; his new sister, Rachel Elliott. After flurries of emails and a visit, MacDonald and Elliott became incredibly communicative, sharing a flurry of emails and a lifetime of stories. Eventually, MacDonald traveled to meet his biological family, and the connection grew tighter.

"As soon as I learned about Mark and Tina's struggle, I immediately wanted to offer to be a surrogate for them," Elliott tells Parents. "It probably sounds flippant, but my heart was just so open and full of love for him from the first time I saw his picture."

Elliott shared that she was nervous her brother would reject her offer. After all, she reasoned, they lived on opposites sides of the country, so there would be little opportunity to watch the pregnancy progress or to ensure that she was taking adequate care of herself and the baby. Still, Elliott was adamant that she would make the offer to be a surrogate.

"Five months after we met, I went to visit Mark and Tina in Oregon for the first time. I think it was a five-day trip, and I mentally set the last evening dinner as the time I would make the offer. I took a deep breath, my carefully prepared speech fell apart, and I just stumbled the words out of my mouth."

So, how did they respond to such a huge offer?

New dad holding twins
Credit: Amy MacDonald

"Reality was that it was an immediate YES from them, and I was so relieved!" Elliott tells Parents. "In that moment, I felt a huge weight fall from my shoulders, and that I felt more settled, and not less, was a sign to myself that it was meant to be. It was the best feeling, sitting around their dinner table, all of us grinning like idiots in the aftermath."

Love & Genetics dives deep into the remarkable story of how Elliott carried her brother's twin girls, Aly (Alaska) and Zoe, who are 13-years-old now. The family says that they are still a tight family, but because of COVID-19, they don't see each other in person as much as they would like.

MacDonald tells Parents that writing Love & Genetics with his biological sister was a long endeavor —more than a dozen years.

Mom, Dad, Twins

"I mostly wrote for my daughters, but I also wrote for other adoptees [who] are struggling with adoption reunion—and whether even to pursue it. I wanted to put a positive story of hope out there for those individuals. There is a lot to consider. What will you find? Will you be ready to deal with that? What new responsibilities might you be signing up for? What will your adoptive family think? Will their feelings be hurt by you even looking?"

None of these are easy questions to answer, but to MacDonald and his family, they were worth exploring. You can read more about this incredible story in Love and Genetics: A true story of adoption, surrogacy, and the meaning of family by Mark MacDonald and Rachel Elliott.