It’s said life can turn on a dime. For Mike Otis, it changed on a $69 DNA test.
Otis, a retired technical writer, did what thousands of people do every year — he took a genetic test to find out more about his family heritage. The results led to a shocking discovery and a prominent role in the recent HBO documentary, “Baby God.”
Otis, 71, and his wife came to Maricopa in 2017, buying their retirement home in Homestead. That’s about the same time he found out about, as he puts it, “my nefarious beginnings.”
“A few years ago, I was trying to find out what tribe my grandmother on my dad’s side was from, because we suspected she was most likely Native American,” said Otis, who ordered a DNA test to delve into his genealogy. “When I got the information back, I looked at the chart and said, ‘Who are all these Fortier people?’”
He knew of no one named Fortier in his family history. That launched a quest to find out more about his history and to the earthshaking realization that those names were his half-siblings, or “the sibs” as they now call themselves. His biological father was a man he did not know.
The search for that man led Otis to a doctor working in a former Nevada mining town in the 1950s.
‘BRILLIANT’ AND ‘MORALLY BANKRUPT’
Dr. Quincy Fortier was a pioneer in the practice of fertility medicine in the United States, opening his practice in the tiny town of Pioche, Nevada in 1945 and eventually founding Women’s Hospital in Las Vegas in the 1960s. But the success of his practice may have had less to do with his medical skill than it did with his methods. He used his own sperm to impregnate an untold number of women.
“Fertility doctors at that time were very rare,” Otis said. “He was by all accounts a brilliant doctor and published papers at that time that are still used today. He was a genius on one hand and a morally bankrupt character on the other. I think there was just a little too much science and not enough morality in his life.”
Otis is the oldest in a group of at least two dozen half-siblings secretly fathered by Fortier. And the circumstances around Otis’s conception are startling.
“My mother went in to see Dr. Fortier because she wasn’t feeling well; she thought she had an infection,” he said. “Dr. Fortier did a gynecological exam and gave her some ‘medicine’ and I was the result of that ‘medicine.’” His mother was living in Pioche at the time.
In one of the most poignant moments of the HBO documentary on Fortier, Otis travels to the California home of his mother, Dorothy, now 94, to break the news to her.
“First thing you think of, ‘I didn’t have sex with him,’ she tells her son. Dorothy Otis noted her shock at becoming pregnant.
“I wasn’t even looking to have a baby. I wasn’t wanting a baby at that time,” she said in the film. “Doctors in those days, you took them as almost next to a priest, you know. Whatever they said, you’d think they were a good doctor and knew what they were talking about. You just took them at their word.”
‘MAYBE I’M A GIFT’
Finding out the man he thought his father for most of his life was not his biological father — he is now referred to as his “not father” — set off a series of emotions in Otis and many of the children fathered by Fortier.
“Well, I naturally assumed I was the product of the marriage between my mother and her first husband since they were married at the time I was conceived, so I always felt like something ‘other,’” Otis said about his feelings for the man he believed was his father. “As a child I often wondered if I was evil, or would be morally bankrupt, because he was. I was diminishing who I was because of who I thought my father was and that didn’t do anyone any good.”
As a child, those feelings were reinforced by some in his family, who were upset with his mother when he was born. After all, his father was olive-skinned, dark-haired and possibly of Native American descent, but Otis had blond hair and blue eyes. (Many of Fortier’s secret offspring shared his blue eyes).
Otis, a father of two and grandfather of three, mused that “perhaps the doctor saw she was married to an ‘imperfect specimen,’ shall we say. He saw that the father had olive skin and dark hair and he wanted to give her a gift. Maybe I’m a gift.”
Many of the children Fortier fathered have grappled with their beginnings. On one hand, they would not be alive if it weren’t for what Fortier did. On the other hand, there are moral questions about the way they came into the world. Others wonder if Fortier simply wasn’t concerned with being caught.
Wendi Babst, one of Otis’ half siblings, put it this way in the film: “I don’t know if he ever cared that he’d get caught. I don’t think he could foresee that for $69, you could send in a sample and connect yourself with people all over the world. I don’t think he could see that coming.”
Regardless of Fortier’s reasons for his actions, he left many of his offspring, including Otis, with haunting questions through their lives about why they felt different or fail to meet expectations.
Brad Gulko, one of the half siblings, said he knew early on he was vastly different from the man he thought was his father.
I was trying to find out what tribe my grandmother on my dad’s side was from … When I got the information back, I looked at the chart and said, ‘Who are all these Fortier people?’” – Mike Otis
“My father was quite socially adept, very comfortable socially, extroverted, and I was never like that,” he told the filmmakers. “From the time I was a kid I was interested in chemistry, physics, mathematics, and I’ve never been all that socially comfortable. I was always kind of closed, egg-headed; I always felt there was something wrong with me. People who don’t share DNA with their parents may feel that they’re not just different but somehow wrong.”
Otis echoed that sentiment.
“All of us wander into the blackened field of anger because of this,” he said. “I had certain abilities that were discounted because of who I was and who everyone thought I was based on who they thought my father was. I get angry sometimes that I wasn’t able to pursue those talents. It was wrong to stick my mom with a child that she wasn’t always able to understand. You can always in your mind wonder what could have, should have, might have been, but that’s a losing battle.”
‘MY FATHER WAS REAL BUSY’
Fortier, who was renowned in the Las Vegas area for his work, died in 2006 at 94 and was never charged with any crimes, nor did he ever admit to any wrongdoing. He never lost his medical license while delivering thousands of babies. Incredibly, there were no laws in Nevada that made what he did illegal. He was even named physician of the year by the state medical association in 1991. He even circumcised himself, two daughters adopted and raised by the doctor told filmmakers.
Fortier was later sued by at least two patients for using his own sperm to artificially inseminate them without their permission. Both cases were settled, and confidentiality agreements prevent anyone involved with the case from speaking about their case.
Quincy Fortier Jr., Otis’ half brother who was the product of Fortier’s marriage, speculates in “Baby God” that his “sibs” could number in the “hundreds. Lots and lots. My father was real busy.”
More half siblings have come forward since the movie was released.
Otis believes there is a lesson in this story.
“This is a good example to all parents,” he said. “We have preconceived notions and they’re mostly a product of our own perceptions and not reality. My mother’s and my relationship has improved since we found out because now, she can see me for who I actually am, not who she expected me to be.”
This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa magazine.