Facebook group helps people cope with life-altering changes brought by DNA tests

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- There is a secret support group for a growing community whose members share life-altering surprises, revealed through home DNA kits.

Some would not have thought that secrets of generations past would be unearthed 50 or more years later, as more and more people opt to test their DNA. Sometimes, the results are shocking. Shocking, as in when someone discovers that the dad that raised them is actually not their biological father.

"My mother's boss is my biological father," said Beth Renfro.

"My dad's name is on the birth certificate. I don't think he ever knew that I wasn't his child," said Lynn Henderson.

Both Renfro and Henderson are members of DNA NPE Gateway. It's a national Facebook support group for those who share an unusual sense of loss and deep understanding of having a family tree uprooted.

"We call it 'Not Parent Expected'. NPE," said Henderson. "If you find that out, there is a place to go where other people understand the way you feel."

Last year, Henderson's life turned upside down after she and her cousins took home DNA kits. Henderson's results crushed her.

"Never in a million years did I dream I'd find out my dad was not my biological father," said Henderson. "It shook me to the core. My dad was my best friend, my rock, my foundation. He raised me from when I was 13."

For her entire life, Henderson thought she was an only child. Through one of the DNA kits, she found out she has a half-sister who had been adopted. Her sister tracked down the names of her birth parents, and found out they had one man in common.

"My biological father, his name is John, he was in the service," said Henderson. "My father was in the service at the same time."

She pieced some pieces of her parental mystery through anecdotes from cousins.

"They had some issues. They broke up. She was dating somebody else, and they got back together, and then they got married," said Henderson. "My mother was about two to six weeks when her and my dad married."

Both of Henderson's parents have passed, so she can never ask her mother why, or ask her what happened. She'll also never know if the person she always believed was her biological father knew of her real biological father.

"I don't know how they knew each other, honestly," said Henderson. "They're both in the Air Force in the same time, born in same time in the same year."

Renfro knows Henderson's unique pain. She is the oldest of four, and in 2017, the siblings discovered their dad didn't father any of them.

"Both my father and mother had been open about the fact they'd been trying to have children," said Renfro. "They went to a few doctors, and suddenly, she began getting pregnant. In my father's mind, they went to the doctor, the recommendations worked, and she started having children."

Her siblings all took home DNA tests, and the truth blindsided all four of them. Renfro and two of her siblings all have the same father, and her youngest brother's biological father is a different man. Their mother worked as a nurse, and Renfro's biological father was her mother's boss.

"He had a private practice with other doctors. She was a nurse in the practice," said Renfro. "He is 100% Italian, so we are, in fact, Italian. Question I was asked all my life is if I was Italian, and the answer was always no. It's weird, because I was Italian. Everyone knew it but me."

As for the man Renfro calls dad.

"He was unaware, and it didn't matter to him that he wasn't our dad, because he was our dad," said Renfro.

The shocking secret behind her paternity will never be explained by her biological parents.

"They both passed away. I have no frame of reference. What were you thinking?" said Renfro.

That leaves Renfro, Henderson, and others like them caught in a conundrum, struggling to reconcile the life, the family they've known all through their childhood and adult lives, with the family that they genetically belong to.

"It's interesting the nature vs nurture argument," said Renfro. "This someone I've never met but yet, I have personality quirks with this person. It's interesting to find out about them and recognize them in yourself."

"We welcome people that are going through this experience," said Henderson. "We want people to know there's a place you can go when you're hurting."

In part two of this story, FOX 10's Nicole Garcia explores how four women went from strangers to half-sisters during the past year, thanks to DNA results.

DNA NPE Gateway