There is so much in the news of politicians, celebrities, and public figures with secret children born out of affairs. When I first heard Arnold Schwarzenegger interviewed on 60 Minutes last fall, and he referred to fathering a love child during his affair by saying: “It was the stupidest thing I have ever done” -- I cringed. Those words, perhaps uttered unconsciously, nevertheless confirmed for me the stigma of being illegitimate. I know, because I am a secret love child.

I was raised in an upper middle class family in Upstate New York. As the middle child of three, I always knew something was “off” in my family. Intuitively, I felt I was the problem -- that things would be better between my parents if I wasn’t there. My father did not treat me with the love he had for my brother and sister. Sometimes the awareness that I didn’t fit in made me feel like I was in the wrong house with the wrong family.

Having remarkable survival instincts and a strong work ethic, I moved out on my own at a very young age and became self-supporting. I put myself through college, and fell into a lucrative career. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being an outcast despite my continually seeking a sense of belonging. By this point, I was well into using food and alcohol to fill the void I was born with.

I found myself in a 12-step recovery program at the age of twenty-three. Finally, I’d found my place amongst strangers who understood me, and I belonged. However, the recovery process stresses that self-centeredness was the nature of our dilemma. Again, I must be the problem. There had to be a solution.

At twenty-five I entered into a marriage that was doomed from the start. I was choosing from a wounded place, and just didn’t know it. By thirty-one, I found myself alone with two babies under the age of two. It was just before my thirty-second birthday when redemption came to me. Literally, it came to me.

My father had also found recovery by this time, and we had begun to mend our relationship. He agreed to DNA testing, which confirmed I was not his. Rather, I was the product of a four-year affair between my mother and his boss, who was also his good friend. He had confronted her while she was pregnant with me because he didn’t feel the same connection that he had with my mother’s previous pregnancy. Mom told him he must be crazy, and he carried guilt for not believing her. What an ah-ha moment-for both of us. Maybe now I could start to trust my instincts?

A short time later, the father of my children left the area and stayed away. I had created a parallel situation in life for my own two children who now had no father figure. I couldn’t help but wonder if being alone was my destiny.

I contacted my biological father, and he refused to take responsibility and admit the fact he was my parent. My own father, who was now “Dad-not”, stepped in to my life and the lives of my children as a grandparent extraordinaire -- and in this way made his living amends to me for not being the parent I needed when I was a scapegoat and misfit in my childhood and didn’t know why.

My Dad-not passed in 2010, after becoming my best friend and having been a remarkable role model to my son and daughter. Meanwhile, I had to forgive my mother for keeping my origin a secret. After intense therapy, I realized that in 1961, (the year I was born) she was in a lose-lose situation as a Catholic. Leaving her marriage to be with her lover was taboo, keeping the fact I was a love child a secret was practically a societal requirement.

Miraculously, I became the parent I never had, and the greatest blessings in my life are my 21-year-old son, Brit, and 22-year-old daughter, Jane. They are the fuel that drives the engine of my unstoppable commitment to break the dysfunctional family dynamics in which I was raised. My book, “Ellen Who? Story of a Secret Love Child,” tells the in-depth story of the varied experiential patterns and emotional cycles of a secret love child. With our instincts in conflict with the facts, anyone who shares this situation understands being inherently wired to be prevented from trusting themselves.

Everyone has secrets, but being the secret is much different. Being born as a result of an affair affects one’s entire identity and origin, with damage that is beyond explanation. In many situations, fear prevents people from facing up to their wrongs, and taking full responsibility. But in this case the biological parent has so much shame they unknowingly transfer that onto the love child. Which is precisely the reason this is a subject matter that is not talked about too much. My hope is that it will be now. I have created a forum on my site to support Children of Affairs and family members involved in similar secrets.

Author's Bio: 

E. O'Neill
Author, "Ellen Who? Story of a Secret Love Child"
Appearances as expert guest on Dr. Phil and Dr. Drew and featured on OWN's Shocking Family Secrets