News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Finding truth of genetic identity

Wendi Babst was staying at her soon-to-be home in Sisters in March 2018 when she made a discovery that changed her life.

Retired from law enforcement and now teaching criminal justice at Clackamas Community College, Babst and her husband, Greg, were on the cusp of moving permanently to the Sisters home they had purchased in 2012. Wendi wasn’t feeling well, and was looking to pass some time by delving into a commercial DNA test.

“I bought a Black Friday gift to myself, and then I didn’t do it for months,” she recalled.

When she looked at her results, there was an anomaly: She had a whole lot of half-sibling matches that shouldn’t be there. It didn’t take her detective’s intuition long to grasp what was going on.

“It immediately started to click,” she told The Nugget.

She knew that her mother had seen a fertility doctor — and she knew that that doctor had delivered her; his name was on her birth certificate. And she knew what her DNA test implied. And as she investigated her findings, she realized a shocking truth: Her biological father was Dr. Quincy Fortier.

Babst’s remarkable journey is recounted in the new HBO documentary film “Baby God,” which premiered on HBO on December 2 and is available for streaming on HBO MAX.

As the film recounts, Dr. Quincy Fortier opened Women’s Hospital in Las Vegas in the 1960s and practiced obstetrics, gynecology, and fertility medicine for decades. He became known as something of a miracle worker for his ability to help women struggling with fertility to conceive and carry babies to term, and was named the 1991 Nevada Doctor of the Year.

“It didn’t sink in at first,” Babst told The Nugget. “At first I thought, ‘This doesn’t change anything.’”

She had an adopted sibling, and never felt anything short of full kinship. Blood and DNA don’t matter so much, really. Do they?

Her initial reaction came out of her law enforcement background. She realized that her mother had been victimized.

“I really wanted to interview him; I wanted to go investigate him,” Babst said. “Why did you do this to my mother without her permission? I felt like there should be some justice.”

But justice was out of reach. Dr. Fortier was long dead.

And, perhaps inevitably, an unsettled feeling crept in, raising questions of identity.

“I definitely had that every time I looked in the mirror for months after this happened,” Babst said. “Who am I?”

She never let the question derail her.

“I didn’t get to that point,” she said. “But I did feel like an alien in my own skin for a while.”

Though there could be no reckoning with Dr. Fortier, Babst continued to investigate.

“I’m someone who believes in the truth,” she said. “People who have had this happen to them deserve the truth.”

Perhaps the toughest aspect of the matter was broaching the truth with her mother.

“I’m very protective of my mother,” she said.

Her mother, Cathy Holm, had sought help getting pregnant at the age of 22. She, of course, believed that she would share a baby with her husband. She had no inkling that her child was conceived with the sperm of a doctor in his 50s.

“She said, ‘Oh my gosh — he was older than my dad,’” Babst recalled. “I think she was pretty devastated at first.”

But, ultimately, love for her daughter overcame shock and anger. She told Wendi:

“I wanted you so bad and you were so loved. I can’t be angry at this overall — because I got you.”

Babst has, over the past couple of years, contacted and developed relationships with many of her siblings through Dr. Fortier. She feels a strong connection to some of them — which, under the circumstances, raises questions of genetic coding versus environment.

“I’m not sure if our connection is genetic as much as it is having gone through a shared experience,” she mused.

Either way, she says, “I’m looking at my half siblings as a gift. I’m closer to some than others and they really are a gift.”

Through interviews with Dr. Fortier’s patients, family and newfound offspring, “Baby God” turns to questions of identity and genetic imprint. According to HBO, “one of the doctor’s biological sons, Brad Gulko, who inherited his father’s medical mind and established a career as a geneticist asserts that, ’50 percent of a person’s traits are determined by DNA.’ This leaves Babst to wonder, ‘Do you want to say your father was a monster? And what does that say about you?’”

In addition to airing the truth, Babst hopes the HBO film will serve as “a cautionary tale.”

She hopes people who delve into their background through commercial DNA tests recognize that in unlocking their genetic background, they might be opening a door into unexpected and life-changing territory.

“Take that to heart,” she said. “Be ready and prepared to find out things you might not want to know about it.”

Babst has five adult children and recognizes that she has propagated a genetic legacy that she knew nothing of until 2018. The enormous reality of that truth has “faded back a bit” over the past two years, but reminders are always there.

Now living full-time in Sisters and teaching at both Clackamas Community College and Central Oregon Community College, Babst has adjusted to a reality forever altered by delving into her genetic history and her subsequent investigations. She knows the truth and she has told it.

And, she says, “I’ve definitely come to terms with it.”

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

Author photo

Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit www.frontierpartisans.com.

 

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