Adopted man reconnects with birth family but doesn't have fairytale ending

When Neil Schwartzman unexpectedly reunited with his birth family, things were great - until the family secrets started spilling out.
(Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)
Listen12:43

When Neil Schwartzman turned 50, he decided to take a DNA test.

His whole life, Schwartzman knew he'd been adopted, but his goal wasn't to discover family. He'd tried to locate his birth parents before and always came up with nothing. He  took the test to find out if there might be something lurking in his DNA that he needed to be aware of.

Imagine his surprise when, a few years later, someone emailed claiming that Schwartzman was likely her missing half-brother.  

Schwartzman was elated and flew to Oakland, California where he met his sister, Jolie Pearl, and his biological mother.  Their reunion made them poster-children for the DNA testing company 23andMe.

"I always described it as being a picture puzzle, minus a couple pieces. That's a very common analogy the adoptee community uses. It's not exactly anxiety but a gnawing sense of who am I?"

Neil Schwartzman

As an adopted child, he had yearned for more information about his birth parents and why they gave him up. When he connected with sister and birth mother, he was finally given an explanation.

"It was poverty in the case of my mother. She was faced with having two kids ... and no means of support."

Their joyful reunion soon brought to light family secrets and unfinished business that revolved around Schwartzman. His father had been abusive and his mother suffered from mental illness. His sister was offended that she had never been told the truth about her sibling.

"I was an icon for everything that was wrong in that family. It was shocking."

The worst moment of their new relationship happened during a Thanksgiving dinner. Schwartzman's birth mother became aggressive and violent, and he threw her out. That did not sit well with the other family members.

Despite the tension that developed between Schwartzman and his birth family, he doesn't regret anything. He finally had answers to his unanswered questions about his provenance and the experience gave him a greater appreciation for his adoptive parents.

"I had been on a search for my 'real parents' — I mean, I dislike that phrase vehemently — but I discovered that the people who had raised me and put up with my crap over the years and basically acted like parents, were in fact my parents. And so ultimately, my adoptive parents were always right there in front of me and it took this episode to realize and understand fully who my parents were."

Click LISTEN above to hear the full interview.