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Feeling lost and found

Article Published: Jul. 22, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Feeling lost and found

Tommy and Kathy Burrow (left) are overjoyed to be united with Kathy's biological son, David Knight, who had been adopted in 1967. Knight's children, Benjamin, 16, Gabrielle, 12, and Stephen, 5, call her Grandma Kathy.

Photo by Melanie Marshall

After 21 years of Internet research and legal requests, one local man has been reunited with his biological mother.

"I had the best parents growing up, but I felt like a big chapter of my life was missing," said David Knight, a teacher at Hardin Park Elementary.

Knight has always known he was adopted. He was born in 1967 in New Mexico and moved with his adopted parents to Watauga County in the 1970s when his dad took a job teaching at Appalachian State University.

Knight says his mom had handmade a book to explain the adoption to him as a child. The book told the story of a couple who wanted a child, but were unable to have one of their own and eventually found him to create their family.

Knight said he tried to find connections to his New Mexico origins. As a child, his bedroom was done in a southwestern motif and he studied Spanish as a geographical connection.

At the age of 22, Knight took up the search for his biological mother. He traveled to Albuquerque, N.M., with his birth certificate in search of answers. The doctor who delivered him offered none, but Knight stayed in New Mexico, living, working and searching.

Eventually, after reaching only deadends in Albuquerque, Knight moved to Belen, N.M., to accept a teaching position.

Fifteen years ago, discouraged with the search, Knight returned to Watauga County and began teaching in the local school system.

Then along came the Internet and Knight's search resumed.

"I can't tell you how many key-word searches I attempted," he said.

A breakthrough came last fall. Knight had found an online group based in New Mexico of other adoptees in search of biological family. The group shared search tips and frustrations.

The name of a social worker based in Albuquerque, Mary Andrews, was posted as a helpful resource. Knight made the call and Andrews walked to another office to retrieve an information sheet from his adoption file. The sheet contained mainly health information, with only a few other family history pieces.

"I was so excited. There wasn't a name on the sheet, but I hadn't known anything before," Knight said. "Now, I had a genetic connection."

He called Andrews to thank her for the information, and she suggested Knight contact Ann House, an intervener for the state of New Mexico adoption services.

House serves as an intermediary between adoptees and birth mothers. She petitioned the court to release Knight's file to her, which she read to Knight while omitting names.

Knight was encouraged to send a handwritten letter to his biological mother through House.
"It was so intense and emotional, knowing I might get answers," Knight said.

It took several rough drafts to complete the letter, he said. Then he sealed it in the envelope with photos of his own children. The date of the letter was March 14.

"The letter was an invitation. I asked her to come into the room I'd kept for her in my heart," he said.

Kathy Burrow received the letter at her New Mexico home on March 23.

"I was shocked, having been told from day one the records would be sealed," Burrow said.
However, the shock was not negative. She showed the letter to her husband, Tommy, who had been aware of the adoption prior to their marriage.

"We were overjoyed. We just held each other and cried," Tommy Burrow said.

The letter had been sent through House's office with a release form for Burrow to sign if she agreed to release her contact information to Knight.

"I received the letter on a weekend and called on Monday, asking if I could fax back the release," she said. "Ann said, 'Mail it back for our records, but you word is good enough for me.'"
On March 30, Knight received a message on his cell phone, "David, your birth mother is overjoyed and wants to talk to you."

Before making the initial contact, Burrow called her other two adult children to tell them about the brother they didn't know they had.

"I was always going to tell them," Burrow said. "They were receptive and have now bonded with David."

Knight said the days before House's message were difficult.

"I knew my birth mother had received a letter from me and I knew she didn't have to respond. I had to just wait to see if she would," he said.

They made an initial contact and set aside one hour on a specific day to talk on the phone. The one-hour phone call turned into a two and one-half hour call. Knight said he asked what felt like a million questions and Burrow answered them all.

A face-to-face meeting was arranged and Knight flew out to New Mexico in April.

"When David got off the plane, I took him to the home for unwed mothers where I had lived awaiting his birth," Burrow said. "I took him through the process I went through there in Old Town Albuquerque."

The building is now a gift shop and other boutiques.

"They told me I was the fourth or fifth woman to return," Burrow said.

Then it was back to the Burrows' home, where Knight's mother had gathered all of his biological family. He met his brother and sister, along with about 25 other aunts, uncles and cousins.

"I went from not knowing anything to being surrounded by family," Knight said. "We compared noses, hands, hobbies and allergies."

The trip also brought many coincidences to light. The initial letter written by Knight was dated on Burrow's birthday. His biological grandparents and mother lived in the same neighborhood in Belen where he taught while living in New Mexico. His uncle now lives one half mile from the house he rented in Belen.

Knight had traveled to New Mexico with photos of his childhood growing up in Watauga County, at Burrow's request.

"I always thought about and prayed for him throughout the years," she said.

Knight said he had always wondered about his family history and asked Burrow about genealogy. She answered with a 16-foot-long scroll that maps the family history back hundreds of years.

"She rolled it out on the floor and I crawled around it looking at the thousands of names," Knight said. "I had envied people with family trees."

This week, Kathy and Tommy Burrow traveled to North Carolina to visit Knight. As a part of the visit, Kathy was introduced to Knight's adoptive parents.

"I got to tell his mom and dad, who raised him, thank you for what you've done for me," Burrow said. "They are his parents. They raised him."

"It was a dream come true to have both sets of my parents in the same room," Knight said.
To save any confusion, all agreed to "mom" for adoptive family and "mother" for Burrow.

"I feel such a kinship to David's mom," Burrow said. As they talked, they realized how many similarities they have.

Knight said his adoptive parents have been supportive of his search for his biological mother.

"I didn't talk to them much about it until it really came together. They are wonderful parents and I didn't want them to think anything negative about my search," he said. "They understand."
The next step for Knight and Burrow are plans in the making to introduce Knight's children, Benjamin, 16, Gabrielle, 12, and Stephen, 5, to their cousins in New Mexico.

"All of us involved have prayed for each all along the way, and now it feels like we are some of the few that get to see God's answers," Knight said.

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