WHEN Antonia Picardi saw an ad for a DNA test online, she knew it might expose things about her family history.
But she never expected to discover she was an egg donor baby – who had a secret second mum.
Speaking exclusively to Fabulous Digital, the 24-year-old, from Napa, California, tells her story…
One minute I’m sitting in my car in California, happily scrolling through my phone. The next I’m frozen, struggling to breathe.
"What’s going on?" asks my boyfriend Thomas in a panic as my phone drops to the floor.
I can’t speak. All I can do is pick it up and show him the screen with my shaking hands. He reads the email I've just received.
"Melissa Rost, 49.9 per cent DNA match. We predict this is your mother."
Minutes later I’m tapping out a message with trembling fingers.
“Hi Melissa. My name is Antonia. I think you’re my egg donor.”
Such a simple message. Now all I can do is wait.
It all began just seven months earlier, in May 2017. I’d been scrolling online when I saw a special offer on a home DNA test.
I read about how it worked. The company would analyse my saliva to reveal my potential health risks and family history. I thought it would be fun.
I knew my dad – who died when I was five – was Italian and my mum’s Scandinavian, but I thought I might find something else about where I come from.
You have to spit into a test tube, which sounds weird, but it only took me a minute.
“Why don’t you do it too?” I asked my mum. I was living with her and my older brother Gianni at the time.
“I have a dry mouth,” she bluffed. “I don’t think I could spit that much.”
I didn’t think anything of it, too excited to see what the results would say.
Eight weeks later I found out.
Flopping onto my bed at 2am, exhausted after a shift at my restaurant job, I read the email with my results.
At first everything seemed fine. There was my Italian side. But where was the Scandinavian? The test listed British, Irish and German instead.
"How odd", I thought.
So I took a screenshot and texted it to my mum, who was asleep next door.
"Isn’t this weird?" I wrote. "Maybe you don’t know your genetic history after all."
I didn't think anything more of it, and went to sleep.
It suddenly all hit me. Mum wasn't my biological mother. I burst into tears
When I woke up, I had a text from my mum, asking me to come into her room.
Instantly I was worried. Mum had been ill with a cold for a while. What if something was really wrong?
Seeing her nervous face only increased my panic. She had tears in her eyes.
Mum said: “Antonia, there’s something I need to tell you. After your brother was born your father and I really wanted to get pregnant again.
“But it just wasn’t happening. So we decided to use an egg donor.”
As she talked about the long fertility treatment, all I felt was relief. Mum wasn’t sick. Everything was fine.
But when I left her bedroom it suddenly all hit me. Mum wasn't my biological mother. I burst into tears.
Back in my own room, I called Thomas and filled him in. He was almost as stunned as me. He just didn't know what to say.
Next, I called Gianni. He had no idea they’d used an egg donor either and was pretty mad.
"I have a different biological mum to you," he said. He kept asking, "Why didn’t she tell us sooner?"
The next few days were a blur. I had no idea how I was supposed to feel and Googled in vain for someone else who’d been through this.
There was confusion and some anger. I’d been lied to for 22 years.
All my life I’d told people I was Italian and Scandinavian. Now I didn’t know who I was.
I kept looking in the mirror. Who was I? My identity felt shattered.
Late at night came the worst worry – who was the egg donor?
You get paid to donate eggs here in America. What if she was a drug addict who just needed the money? What if I’m walking around with her bad genes?
I’d been lied to for 22 years – my identity felt shattered
I was a mess, but I tried to stay calm in front of mum. We never really talk about our feelings with each other.
But a few days later I overheard my brother confronting her, asking: "Why didn’t you just tell Antonia?"
"I didn’t want her to feel different," she said, "or like she wasn’t mine.
"And I made a promise to your dad that I wouldn’t tell her until the time was right."
I was still in turmoil but hearing that helped me understand.
A few months on, I finally felt like things were settling down. But then that email about Melissa arrived.
The company always tells you if someone who shares your DNA has also taken the test. That’s how they linked us together.
After messaging Melissa, I rang my mum to fill her in.
At first I was worried, what if she was angry? Luckily she understood.
I could barely concentrate at work that day. That night, I couldn't sleep.
When I wasn’t refreshing my inbox, I searched for any information I could find about Melissa.
I saw a photo of her on Facebook. She was in her twenties and looked so much like me. It was eerie to see myself in her face like that.
"What if she doesn’t reply to my message?" I thought, heart racing. "What if she does and she hates me?"
I saw a photo of her on Facebook. She was in her twenties and looked so much like me. It was eerie to see myself in her face like that
Thankfully I didn't have to wait for long and woke to a friendly message from Melissa the next day – "hi Antonia, how great to hear from you!"
I couldn't stop smiling. Over the next few weeks, we emailed and Melissa told me all about herself.
She had four children of her own, three daughters and a son. She also lived in California, although eight hours drive away.
I learnt she donated her eggs because she wanted to help others.
She seemed so warm and friendly, a world away from the scary image I’d feared.
Right away there were connections. We both liked happy hours and burritos. We enjoyed the same music. It quickly felt like I was emailing a really good friend.
My mum was surprised at how quickly we got close, but she was understanding and supportive.
DNA testing and donations: The facts
Home DNA tests have soared in popularity recently, with genealogist Debbie Kennet revealing a 10-fold increase in the last three years – around 30 million people signing up.
The kits promise to uncover genetic traits, map ethnicity going back generations, as well as connecting people with family members – all for a fee.
Kits cost £79 from 23andme and Ancesty.co.uk.
But there are warnings this technology can be used to uncover, and track down, donors – some of whom might not want to be found.
A recent paper by Guido Pennings argues donors should be able to remain anonymous.
"Searches through genetic databases jeopardize the privacy of people who did and did not register on them," he wrote.
A few months later, Thomas and I booked a week off work and I asked Melissa if we could drive down to meet her.
But as we parked at the Mexican restaurant we had arranged to meet in, I started panicking.
I desperately wanted to meet her, but I had no idea what to expect.
As I walked up to Melissa's table, the first thing I thought was "wow, she's tall like me".
We just hugged for two whole minutes without saying a word. It was surreal.
I just couldn’t stop staring at her. I saw so many things in her face that I saw in mine. It was strange, but wonderful.
I ordered food but I couldn't eat, I was so overwhelmed.
Instead we just talked. I found out she loved jigsaw puzzles and had terrible eyesight – just like me. We had the same sense of humour. So many coincidences.
A post shared byAntonia Picardi (@sippicardi) on
I was texting my mum all day. I wanted her to know how everything was going.
Melissa was very aware I already had a mum and careful not to overstep any boundaries.
Suddenly Melissa turned to me. "Antonia," she asked, "would you like to meet the rest of my family?"
Her children, husband and parents were all at her mum’s house nearby.
Meeting them was incredible. They were so kind and funny, hugging me and treating me like I belonged with them.
That night I could barely sleep – I was so happy and excited.
Hugging Melissa goodbye the next morning was hard. I was sad we lived so far away.
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But in November we met up again, this time in my hometown.
Melissa and her husband came to visit and would be meeting my mum first for the first time.
Walking into my mum’s house with her, I was terrified.
"Will they like each other? Will it be awkward?" I thought.
I didn’t need to worry. They immediately hugged and got on great.
I feel so lucky to have them both in my life. My mum who gave birth to me and raised me and my biological mum, who I call my hen.
After all, she’s the one who laid the egg that turned into me.
Back in May, this labourer, 31, moved into a £50 million estate he inherited – after a DNA test proved he was the lord's secret son.
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