Switched at Birth

by Jan Goodwin
DeeAnn Angell (left) and Kay Rene Reed in family photos from 1953
Photograph: Photos, from left: Courtesy of DeeAnn Shafer, Courtesy of Kay Rene Qualls

At their first luncheon, DeeAnn saw how much Kay Rene resembled not only Juanita but also the mother who raised her. “She looks at me in exactly the same way,” DeeAnn says. She learned that her biological mother, Donalda Reed, as well as her biological siblings, Dorothy and Carol, had had bad eczema, just as DeeAnn did when she was younger. She discovered that she and Dorothy both talk effusively, with the same dramatic hand gestures. “That was amazing to see,” DeeAnn says. “We laughed a lot at that meeting. Kay Rene brought out her birth certificate, and we didn’t know whether it was mine or hers. I’ve lost the one I had, which is typical of me. We joshed each other, ‘Who’s your Daddy? Who’s your Mama?’ We had to make a joke out of it. What else could we do?”

The two made plans to settle the question with DNA testing, but DeeAnn left the restaurant convinced she already knew what the tests would find. Kay Rene, however, still held out hope that she was a Reed. “Waiting for the results was like waiting after a cancer screening,” she says. “My emotions were raw. I’d be at work, and I’d have to go outside and have a crying jag. I’d try to compose myself and come back in, because you can’t do that at work.”
Finally, about three weeks later, the DNA report arrived. Kay Rene, who has her mail sent to the bank because delivery is easier there, was at her desk when she was handed the letter. She went out to her car to open it. “At the very bottom there was a brief summary I will never forget,” Kay Rene says. “Just a couple of lines that read: ‘Kay Rene Reed is zero percent related to the Reed siblings. And DeeAnn Angell is 99.9 percent related to the Reeds.’ I was stunned.” She stopped long enough to inform her manager that she needed to leave, then drove home through a torrent of tears. “It hurt so much,” she says. “I wasn’t even one tenth of one percent related to the Reeds. Absolutely nothing. I screamed at God, asking why He did this to us. Then I went out and washed all the vehicles on the ranch, which are always filthy and dusty. And got sunburned in the process.” Afterward, she was so wiped out that she fell asleep on the couch. Her husband found her there when he came home.

“If you’d grown up with the Angells in Portland, then I’d never have met you,” he told her. “We wouldn’t have had our children or our grandkids. Think of all the wonderful things that happened in our lives together.”

MEANWHILE, DeeAnn, who had initially taken the news in stride, started waking up during the night in tears. She felt as if she had lost her mother all over again. “I didn’t know who I was,” she says. “This was an emotional earthquake, as if I couldn’t trust the ground under my feet.” The women have grown extremely close, frequently calling and e-mailing each other. “Kay Rene and I counsel each other,” DeeAnn says. “I love Kay Rene. I feel like she’s my best friend in the whole wide world, which is not surprising, since we’ve lived each other’s lives.”
Kay Rene admits she was scared of DeeAnn at first. “She is beautiful. I’m not. I was afraid the men in my family would be slobbering over her. I feared she might displace me.” That didn’t happen. “There’s no point in being angry anymore,” Kay Rene says.

But Kay Rene’s 33-year-old son, John, took the news hard, she says. “I’m a Reed, we were raised Reeds, that’s all there is to it,” he insisted when the DNA results came back. “My grandma and grandpa may be dead, but they were my grandma and grandpa. Nothing can change that.” John, who is a loan officer in the same bank where his mother works, took his time before telling his three children about the switch.

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