A popular American television series on the ABC network Switched at Birth tells the story of two teenage girls who discover they were accidentally switched as newborns in the hospital.
Bay Kennish grew up in a wealthy family with two parents and a brother. Meanwhile, Daphne Vasquez, who contracted meningitis and became deaf at an early age, grew up with a single mother in a working-class neighborhood. Incredible isn’t it? Not really since there are many cases of children switched at birth.
In fact, it is estimated that about 28,000 babies get switched in US hospitals every year, temporarily or permanently, out of four million births. Globally it is believed that annually between 100,000 to 500,000 babies (or one in 12 babies per day) are given to the wrong parents.
A few days ago, the Trinidad Express reported a case of babies being switched at birth. According to the Express, it started six months ago when two women went to the Mt Hope Women’s Hospital to deliver their babies via Caesarean section.
The Tobago mother and her husband are of Afro-Trinidadian ethnicity while the Central mother and her husband are of Indian ethnicity.
After their surgeries, both mothers were placed on the same ward, in beds next to each other. They both had baby girls who were tagged and placed in cots next to the patients believed to be their biological mothers.
The two mothers were discharged from the hospital, each taking home a stranger’s baby. For some five months the two families took care of the babies as their own, including breast-feeding, but the parents were confused that their babies did not look like them and seemed to not be of the same race.
It is easy to imagine what the mothers and families went through during that time.
Imagine a father seeing his child is of a completely different ethnicity and his feelings and views made even worse by the family and community sniping. Only in jokes are women able to get away with it.
There is a story about the woman whose husband asked, “Darling, how come this baby is white and the two of us are black?” She replied, “That is because of all the Milk of Magnesia I had to drink during the pregnancy.” He was not to be deterred. “But darling, why the baby eyes blue and ours are both black?” She responded quickly, “That is from the Milk of Magnesia bottle.”
Life for those two mothers must have been hell. Fathers can be very, very angry and may say and do things that they later regret.
There is a story about a person of Chinese descent who was so happy that his wife was giving birth to a son that he was present at the delivery. When he saw to his horror that the baby boy was dark-skinned, he started to mumble angrily, “Something wong! Someting Wong.” The attending physician, on hearing this, said, “You know sir, in our culture it is customary to also give the child a middle name.” To which the not-so-proud daddy started shouting, “Something Effing Wong!”
Fortunately the Trinidad family decided that something was indeed wrong and got private DNA tests costing about US$3,000 which determined that the baby was not theirs. They went to the Minister of Health, Dr. Fuad Khan, who took charge of the matter and on August 10, the babies were returned to their biological parents.
However, all’s not well that ends well. The grandmother of the Tobago baby told the Express, the child’s mother was still not coping well with the entire situation and was in need of counselling and care as she was in a state of depression.
Both families sent legal letters to the Minister of Health asking for about US$1million each in compensation. The minister’s response was, “I am going to let the courts decide, the court will establish whether this was indeed a genuine mix-up or otherwise.”
Two cases, one recent, are also shockingly similar. On Wednesday, December 5, 2012, a baby from Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Apple Valley, Minnesota was sent to the wrong mother. Despite the woman insisting the blonde child was not hers, she was reassured that she was “just tired”.
By the time the baby’s ID bracelet was checked and the mix-up was revealed, the baby, named Cody, had already been breastfed by the wrong mother.
The mistake caused both mothers and child to require HIV and hepatitis testing. Two couples from the town of Trebic, Czech Republic brought home and raised a baby that was not theirs. One of the couples is experiencing huge problems and they are practically inches away from a divorce. This entire scandal started when pub-and-beer buddies of one of the fathers had made fun of him that his baby girl looked nothing like him and that he was not the father. And so he went and took a secret DNA test.
Minister Khan’s response leads to the question, “Is a ‘genuine mix-up’ in the case of babies being switched at birth less damaging to the parents and the children than an ‘otherwise’?”
So far there has been no word from the minister on what he has put in place to prevent other mix-ups and otherwise from happening and to deal with the hospital and staff who messed up the lives of the parents concerned. It continues to be a case of catch as catch Khan.
• Tony Deyal was last seen saying that
Dr Khan is a urologist and perhaps that explains the piss-poor attitude