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

Kay Rene sympathizes. “It is really hard to accept that the man and woman I hugged and kissed every night before I went to bed as a child were not my mom or my dad,” she says. “Am I now supposed to view them as strangers?” For a while, Kay Rene found it difficult to visit her parents’ graves. “I used to go all the time to change the flowers,” she says. After she learned about the switch, she stopped for a time. “Finally, I made myself go back. I loved them, they were wonderful parents, so how could I not?”

People constantly ask the pair of them how they feel about what happened. “I’m intrigued by the science of this, nature versus nurture,” Kay Rene says. “I now understand why I didn’t get any of the looks, and where my acne and glasses came from. I chew my fingernails; so did my biological mother. I’m also much blunter than my Reed sisters, just as my biological family is. And now I know where my son got his personality, the quick comebacks, the humor.” But her roots, she maintains, are where she was raised—with the Reeds. “We are still just picking our way through it all, trying to find a course that will work for us,” she says. “There’s nothing we can do to change what happened. We’re both lucky that our lives, even if they weren’t meant to be ours, have been good.”

Jan Goodwin is an award-winning journalist and author based in New York.

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