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Dominique Moceanu Reveals Mom Carries 'Shame, Fear' for Placing Sister Jen Bricker Up for Adoption (Exclusive)

Sharing their family's painful past in the new documentary 'She Looks Like Me' has "hit me in a way I just was not expecting," Jen Bricker tells PEOPLE

<p>Hubert Vestil/SXSW Conference & Festivals via Getty</p> Dominique Moceanu and Jen Bricker at the "She Looks Like Me" premiere as part of SXSW 2024

Hubert Vestil/SXSW Conference & Festivals via Getty

Dominique Moceanu and Jen Bricker at the "She Looks Like Me" premiere as part of SXSW 2024

Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu says the aftermath of finding her long-lost sister, Jen Bricker, makes for a heartbreaking family dynamic.

Still, Moceanu, 42, and Bricker, 36, found the strength to open up about their journey in their new documentary, She Looks Like Me.

"I became extremely vulnerable in this filming process and I couldn't hide it," Moceanu tells PEOPLE of the "emotional rollercoaster."

Their painful past dates back to Chicago, Illinios in 1987, when Moceanu's parents left Bricker — who was born without legs due to a uterine band cutting off the blood supply to her lower limbs in utero — as a newborn at the hospital. Bricker was then adopted by an Illinois family and grew up watching Moceanu's incredible rise as an Olympic gymnast. Unaware that Moceanu — her idol — was her sister, Bricker pursued her own accomplishments as an acrobat and aerialist, including touring as a featured act on Britney Spears' World Tour and a selection into the Gallery of Legends Hall of Fame by the World Acrobatic Society.

"There were times when I was reliving these scenes that were so hard for me," Moceanu says of the film, which they say 12 years after they initially shared their discovery with the world.

For Bricker, "hearing my mom talk about my biological mom, and then the adoption scene, or the scene when I was born and they left me at the hospital, I was like, 'Oh, I don't know,' " she says. "It hit me in a way I just was not expecting."

Although Moceanu cherishes her "evolving" relationship with her sister, talking about her mother, Camelia, 62, for the film was especially difficult because Camelia still holds guilt around placing Bricker up for adoption.

"When it came to the pain my mother has gone through — and she still goes through it because she still has shame, fear and guilt because of being judged — it's very difficult," she says. "And it's difficult to be the person all the time that has to filter those conversations or calls or trying to make someone not feel ashamed or keep someone from being upset with me for unveiling things like that."

<p>Hubert Vestil/SXSW Conference & Festivals via Getty</p> Jen Bricker and Dominique Moceanu at the 'She Looks Like Me' premiere as part of SXSW 2024 Conference and Festivals held at the ZACH Theatre on March 11, 2024

Hubert Vestil/SXSW Conference & Festivals via Getty

Jen Bricker and Dominique Moceanu at the 'She Looks Like Me' premiere as part of SXSW 2024 Conference and Festivals held at the ZACH Theatre on March 11, 2024

Related: How I Found Out Dominique Moceanu Was My Sister: 'I Felt Like I Was in the Princess Diaries'

Moceanu says she and Bricker are "a lot more open than my family was," which forced the sisters to be delicate with how they shared their story.

"In my family, you'd just need to bury it and never talk about again, and I said, 'Well, that's kind of what got us here in the first place,' " Moceanu explains.

Although Camelia has a "tough time dealing with this in a public manner," says Moceanu, "for me, it's been oftentimes therapeutic and healing."

"And yet I'm dealing on the other side with not wanting to harm my mother any more than... She's been through a lot, and she's set in her ways at this age, and I never want to hurt her," says Moceanu. "That was never the intent. But I'm dealing with that aftermath behind the scenes all the time, and that is very difficult for me to be in that position constantly."

Both Moceanu and Bricker say they found the screenings of She Looks Like Me to be more emotionally taxing than they anticipated.

"I was extremely emotional watching them," says Moceanu. "There are several times when I would really wear my heart on my sleeve and I just couldn't keep it in. And of course, it's dealing with the times that I felt that there was hurt to my family and hurt to me, and things that are just very difficult to talk about because I rarely bring them up anymore unless I need to."

<p>Hubert Vestil/SXSW Conference & Festivals via Getty</p> Dominique Moceanu and Jen Bricker at the "She Looks Like Me" premiere as part of SXSW 2024 Conference and Festivals held at the ZACH Theatre on March 11, 2024

Hubert Vestil/SXSW Conference & Festivals via Getty

Dominique Moceanu and Jen Bricker at the "She Looks Like Me" premiere as part of SXSW 2024 Conference and Festivals held at the ZACH Theatre on March 11, 2024

Related: Dominique Moceanu Posts Clip of 1996 Injury to Support Simone Biles: 'I NEVER' Had Say in My Health

Bricker adds, "I wasn't expecting any deep emotional reaction, and I don't really think any of us are really overly emotional in that way, but I was a lot more touched emotionally in certain areas and I was surprised by that. It's so funny, I know the story, I know my life."

"It's just a bit of an emotional roller coaster to be so vulnerable in front of so many people, but no family is perfect," Moceanu adds.

She Looks Like Me director Torquil Jones tells PEOPLE that Bricker and Moceanu's story “feels important as they’ve faced emotional, physical, mental challenges of an extreme nature, but have decided to pursue the truth, no matter what the cost."

Jones adds, "For me, their story is one of hope, and I believe it will really affect and motivate young viewers in particular — who are facing similar challenges.”

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Bricker recently moved out of Los Angeles to the midwest and with Moceanu based in Cleveland, Ohio, the sisters make time to see one another and their families, including children.

"So many things have changed, we now have kids that are only a year apart, and live much closer," says Bricker, who gave birth to her son Malachi in September 2023.

"I never thought we would both have children that are a year apart," says Moceanu, whose daughter Victoria was born in May 2022. "It's just kind of a wild time to be not only doing this film but also Jen and I are experiencing parenthood again."

Moceanu says she's even been sharing some of her children's baby clothes with Bricker: "I'm saving it for her and I'm like, 'Do you want clothes? I have boxes.' It's just kind of special to be able to give some hand-me-downs as well to cousin Malachi."

Moceanu continues, "I think there's so many layers to our story and it continues to evolve and grow. But we're in a place now where Jen moved back to the East Coast. She's so much closer and we want to be able to share birthdays with our kids together as much as we can given our distance, and it's much closer than it was. So we can hopefully see each other more often now as well."

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