Real Life, Not the TV Version

Real Life, Not the TV Version

In honor of November being National Adoption Month, Portrait of an Adoption is running a special series called 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days.  Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, waiting adoptive parents, and foster parents-turned-adoptive parents.  Painful and beautiful, these stories will bring you a deeper understanding of what adoption looks like, allowing you to appreciate the many brushstrokes that comprise a family portrait.

Real Life, Not the TV Version

By Kat Szmit

My name is Kat. My other name is Dawn. I found THAT out nearly ten years ago when I reunited with my birth mother.

I was adopted at five weeks old. While not a decision I was part of, it was a decision that impacted nearly every facet of my life, adding even more depth and complexity to an already deep and complex existence.

In my twenties, I wrote for a newspaper in Ohio about how I always knew my “real” parents.  It was a column I refer to as “mostly true,” stemming from my powerful beliefs that the people who walk the floor with you on sleepless nights, who sit by your bed and rub your aching tummy, who fill the bathroom with steam while rocking you in their arms during a Croup attack, who fly more than 800 miles to cheer you up after a bad breakup — the people who are there are your true parents.

The fact remained, however, that as an adopted child, there were others out there connected to me.  There were people with whom I shared an incredibly complicated, profoundly unique bond.  This knowledge stirred a curiosity in me that began as a small pinpoint of wonder in my childhood, and expanded to a vast canyon as I entered adulthood.

Fueling that curiosity was the unmistakable fact that I am very different from my family. While they are people of logic, savvy business sense, and a secure grasp of mathematics, I am a daydreaming poet-writer-musician lost in a head full of deep and perplexing thoughts, coupled with a personality that requires me to feel every emotion in the spectrum in full, dramatic force. There were times my mother believed my picture was shown in the dictionary under “drama queen”.

While my Mom, Dad and brother (adopted separately when I was two) were content to sit for hours playing Monopoly, I struggled to understand the thrill they received at owning multiple hotels on various pieces of property.  Letting my fingers play across the worn ivory keys of our aging baby grand piano made much more sense to me.

But why?

Why did I derive such a thrill from singing, writing a stirring essay, or taking a photograph at just the right angle rather than from a long, straight drive off the tee like my family did?  Why was I drawn to certain musicians, fashions, and styles of decorating so vastly different from my mother’s?  Why, also, did I have long, impossibly straight, fine brown hair, full lips, and copper penny eyes?  Why were my fingers longer than those of most men, and why did my nose turn up that way?

These questions ultimately gave rise to the deeper question: Who am I?  I knew that to fully answer that question meant embarking on the difficult journey of finding my birth mother, my birth father, or both.

It wasn’t easy, this decision to delve so deeply into my past, into my truth.  It wasn’t made hastily, and even after I began the official process of searching, the decision inspired in me many sleepless nights caught in the crossfire of guilt and determination.

I know now that I was trying to decide whether it was worse to betray my mother, the woman who soothed my troubled tummy and stayed at my bedside after my emergency appendectomy when I was eleven, or to betray myself.

In some ways, I feel that God made the choice for me.  After searching for ten years through what I call legitimate sources – my adoption agency and the NH court system – I stumbled across a website that aimed to reunite birth parents with their biological children.  I entered in every piece of information I could, and waited.

Two weeks later, I had my answer.  I was mailed a photo that had been copied from my birth mother’s yearbook.  With shaking hands I opened it, and was literally stunned at the image staring back at me; like looking at myself at that age once again.  My eyes, my lips, my quirky, upturned nose, even my dark chestnut hair were all there, along with her name and contact information.

Gripped by fears too numerous to name at the time, not the least of which was rejection, I opted to contact a sister first, one who ironically lived in the same town as I.  The sister listened to my story, took down my information and hung up.  Five minutes later I was on the phone with the woman who’d given birth to me almost thirty-five years prior.  It was an interesting, emotional moment.

Days later, I cashed in several thousand frequent flier miles and flew to the midwest to meet my birth mother face to face.  While it was not like you see on television with all the hugging and sobbing, it was life-changing.  During a long weekend of late nights and long conversations, many of my deepest questions were finally answered, some much to the surprise of both of us.

I learned that my birth father, who was no longer with my birth mother, was a musician, and that my biological grandfather played a trumpet, one of my favorite instruments.  I learned that my birth mother loved to write, and that her mother adored decorating her kitchen in a country apple theme, as I did.

Some of what I learned was painful, particularly the circumstances surrounding my birth and adoption, as well as the stark differences between the life I led with my family and the life my birth mother led with the children who followed me.  Where my family was well off financially, my birth mother’s was desperately poor at times.

I would love to tell you that our bond was instant and unbreakable, but I can’t.  Issues on both sides of our uncommon relationship arose and brought about a rift, and after several months of communication, we parted ways for some time.  A shared health problem – high triglycerides – reunited us once again several years ago.  Since then we’ve forged a very different, very precious friendship largely unfolding through regular emails.

Right now, my birth mother has cancer.

I’m terrified for her, and also hopeful, and encourage her frequently across the wireless miles, reminding her that she’s got an amazing family to stick around for.  I’m not talking about me; I mean her four children and their children.

See, they are her family.  She was there for them, and that’s all right by me.  I’ve got my family, too.  What makes me grateful is that the combination of the Love of my family and the Love of my birth mother has helped me understand fully who I am.

I am Kat, and I am Dawn and that’s pretty cool.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” -Teilhard de Chardin

By Kat Szmit



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  • I think it is very cool, too - and so are you! My goodness, what a gripping writer, I absolutely love your style and sophistication. You are doing both your families proud.

    I admire the sensitivity, maturity and grace with which you have embraced the dual set of connections to you. I am curious, however, as to how you handled and (I assume) came to terms with the painful circumstances surrounding your birth and adoption. This is something I worry about very much for my adopted son. When he is old enough to understand the details of his birth story, he will hear it from us, his parents - and while I will do my best to be sensitive about it, it is not a pretty story.

    Did you try to meet your birth father as well? Best Wishes to you, please continue to share with the world your artistic gifts!

  • P.S. I also meant to add my heartfelt wishes to your birth mother for a successful and complete recovery

  • Thank you for the lovely comments.
    Coming to terms with the circumstances surrounding my birth took time as it meant developing a full understanding of the entire situation and all impacted.

    I have tried to contact my birth father, but so far with no real luck...

    For more, and I'm happy to chat with you, email me at

  • In reply to CapeKat:

    Kat, I treasure your offer to chat and will definitely write to you. I have had no opportunities to meet with / talk to an adopted child who has met his/her birth family, nor had much insight into the accompanying feelings and what I as an adoptive parent can do to help. Any advice will be so very appreciated!

  • Kat, this was a beautifully written piece and I thank you for sharing your story with us. I don't know how educated you are about the whole reuniting process, so I want to assure you that what you experienced as far as meeting, bonding, distancing and reconnecting is very normal and common. It's a highly emotional thing and it takes time for everyone to come to terms with it, no matter what part of the triad they are.

    I know it was hard for you to make this search, especially your fear of hurting your parents. I imagine they are happy for you to have this piece of your own puzzle in place. My hope it that everyone who reads your story realizes that you are still well aware of who your parents are and that there's plenty of love to go around. Thank you.

  • Kat, thank you for sharing your story. I was hoping someone would share something that mimicked/reminded me of my own. If you are ok with it would you mind sharing with me how you dealt with the connection with your birthmother and then non-communication for a while? I am turning 25 next month and 2 years ago finally got the courage to write a letter to my BM and we exchanged a few very positive and excited letters as well as some pictures and then out of the blue all communication stopped. It has been over a year now since I have heard from her and am not sure how to handle the situation. Any advice you have would be more than appreciated, and that goes to anyone else reading this as well. Thank you again so much for sharing your story with us.

  • Kayla, you are so welcome. I am honored to be a part of this series. Email me at and I'll be glad to answer your question. It's a little long and personal for this page, but I'm happy to share via email.

  • So beautiful and touching. Thank you for sharing!

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