Babies switched at birth
Babies switched at birth are babies who, because of either error or maleficence, are interchanged with each other at birth or very soon thereafter, leading to the babies being unknowingly raised by parents who are not their biological parents. The occurrence is rare in real life, but common as a plot device in novels and movies, like the TV series Switched at Birth.
As a literary plot device
The plot device of babies who are switched at birth, or in their cradles, has been a common one in American fiction since the 18th century. It is one of the several identifiable characteristics of melodrama that are plot devices dealing with situations that are highly improbable in real life.
The use of this common theme has continued ever since. The device was used a number of times by W. S. Gilbert, including in the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas H.M.S. Pinafore and The Gondoliers. In both cases, well-born babies were switched with commoners. Mark Twain later used this plot device in The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1893), where two babies, one white and one black, are switched at birth, resulting in both passing for races that they are not. It is one of the themes that made for TV movies regularly exploited in the 1970s and 1980s. It continues to be a popular theme in the 1990s and 21st century with (for examples) it being employed as a plot device in Veronica Mars (the characters Cindy "Mac" Mackenzie and Madison Sinclair), in Neighbours (the characters Bree Timmins and Anne Baxter), Night and Day (the characters Jane Harper and Della Wells) and in The Young and the Restless (children of Lauren Fenmore Baldwin and Sheila Carter). A non-human example occurs in the Planet of the Apes movie genre, when the son of intelligent apes Zira and Cornelius is swapped with a 20th-century circus ape's infant, in order to assure the survival of the offspring that can become sentient. In Desperate Housewives the characters Juanita Solis and Grace Sanchez were switched at birth by a nurse named Teresa Pruitt. In the Philippine television series, Mara Clara, the characters Mara Davis/David and Clara del Valle were switched at birth by Gary for revenge after his former lover was married to another man. On the ABC Family series Switched at Birth, the characters Bay and Daphne were switched at birth.
Baby switching storylines are a staple of daytime drama, as in the case of The Young and the Restless mentioned above. Other notable switched-at-birth storylines on American soaps include One Life to Live's story, begun in 1979, in which prostitute Katrina Karr, who had planned to put her child up for adoption as soon as it was born, and former nun Jenny Vernon both gave birth to girls at the same hospital, at the same time. Jenny's baby died in the maternity ward as Karen Wolek and Marco Dane (posing as a doctor) visited the child. As they knew Katrina had planned to give up her baby girl, Karen and Marco switched the newborns. It was not until 1982 that the truth came out and Jenny tearfully gave baby Mary back to Katrina.
In 2008, another One Life to Live storyline saw Starr Manning pregnant with Cole Thornhart's baby. Her cousin Jessica Brennan was also pregnant with her late husband's baby. Starr went into labor as her father Todd Manning (later revealed to be his twin brother Victor) planned to kidnap his grandchild and raise the baby secretly with Cole's amnesiac mother Marty Saybrooke. Tess, one of Jessica's alter personalities, had taken control of Jessica's life and went into premature labor. Starr, with the help of the baby's adoptive mother Marcie McBain and Starr's mother Blair Manning, gave birth to a healthy girl, whom she named Hope. Tess's child, named Chloe, was stillborn. The trauma of Chloe's death resulted in the emergence of another alter, Bess, who took Jessica's deceased baby to the hospital and switched her with Starr's healthy child. Seven months later, Jessica realized what had happened and told the truth to her cousin.
Possibly the most complex storyline involving the switched-at-birth plot device ran simultaneously on All My Children and One Life to Live. Involved were All My Children's Bianca Montgomery and Babe Chandler, and One Life to Live's Kelly Cramer Buchanan, as well as many other characters.
In George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, the baby Aegon Targaryen was switched with a commoner's baby at some point prior to the Sack of King's Landing in order to save him from being killed during the rebellion against the Targaryen dynasty. After the commoner's baby is killed, everyone believes that Aegon is dead when in fact he is preparing to take back his grandfather's throne.
In real life, such a switch occurs rarely. Since many cases of babies switched at birth are likely undocumented or unknown, the following is presumably not an exhaustive list.
- In 1931, at the Leiden University Medical Center, female babies Agnes van Vegten and Lenie van Duyn were switched. Suspicions did not rise until two decades later, when the girls met at a wedding and wondered at their mutual likeness to each other's family.
- In 1951, at a hospital in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, the babies of Mary Miller and Kay McDonald were accidentally switched. Mary Miller immediately suspected that a switch had occurred, as the baby she received weighed a full two pounds less than at the hospital. Mary Miller knew Kay McDonald, and assumed that it was their baby she had taken home. However, a series of circumstances kept Mary Miller from actively pursuing her suspicion for 43 years, when she revealed to the now grown girls, Sue McDonald and Martha Miller, what she suspected of their births. Genetic tests later confirmed that a switch did in fact occur. The story was featured on an episode of the radio show This American Life.
- In 1953, at Pioneer Memorial Hospital in Heppner, Oregon, two babies were switched. In May 2009, the women discovered they were switched. DeeAnn Angell of Fossil and Kay Rene Reed of Condon learned about the mistake from an 86-year-old woman who was a former neighbor. The former neighbor said that one of the girls' mothers, Marjorie Angell, insisted back in 1953 that she had been given the wrong baby after nurses returned from bathing them. But her concerns were ignored. With both sets of parents dead, the Reed and Angell siblings compared notes and family stories, learning that rumors of a mix-up had been around for years. Kay Rene Reed decided to get their DNA tested, and that confirmed the mistake. They both say they just have to move forward with their lives now, and they celebrated their latest birthday together.
- In March 1953, at San-Ikukai Hospital in Tokyo's Sumida Ward, hospital staff mistook a baby boy for another baby boy born 13 minutes later. This story was referred to as the tale of the Japanese "prince and pauper." Sixty years later, a 60-year-old Japanese truck driver discovered he was switched at birth after being born to a rich family. The man was raised by a single mother in a 100-square-foot apartment. The boy who was raised in his place by the rich family became the president of a real estate company.
- Kimberly Mays and Arlena Twigg were switched at birth as a result of a medical error in a hospital in Wauchula, Florida; the events surrounding their case were subsequently dramatized as the made-for-TV movie Switched at Birth.
- In 1975, at least two known cases occurred in Norway House, Manitoba of babies being switched at birth at the Norway House Hospital: Luke Monias and Norman Barkman, and Leon Swanson and David Tait Jr. Both pairs of boys were from the same small communities, and had been lifelong friends of their switch-mates before learning of the switches only in the mid-2010s.
- The Mixed-Up Brothers of Bogotá refers to two sets of identical twins that got separated at birth in 1988 and were raised as nonidentical twins. The twins reunited in 2015.
- The sons of two South African women, Margaret Clinton-Parker and Sandra Dawkins, were accidentally switched at birth in 1989; the women sued in the High Court of South Africa in Johannesburg in 1995, demanding damages of ZAR120,000 each from the government of the province of Gauteng for the error. They were later that year awarded damages to cover medical expenses and the future projected costs of visiting their biological children. Each family kept the child they had been living with, though, and raised them as their own even after learning of the switch. That was until one of the boys, Robin, at the age of 15, decided to leave Sandy Dawkins to go and live with his biological mother, Margaret Clinton-Parker. The boys spent the remainder of their childhood living as brothers.
- In 1992, it was discovered that Canadians Brent Tremblay and Marcus Holmes had been switched at birth 21 years earlier. The error was discovered when Brent and his twin, George Holmes, met each other at Carleton University in Ottawa. The Children's Aid Society of Ontario later settled with the families involved.
- In 1998, it was discovered that Callie Johnson and Rebecca Chittum had been switched at birth in 1995 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The switch was discovered when a DNA test of Callie Johnson to determine paternity for child support found that she was not biologically related to either her purported father, Carlton Conley, or her purported mother, Paula Johnson. In a tragic coincidence, Callie's biological parents Kevin Chittum and Whitney Rogers died in a car accident the day after Paula Johnson learned of the results of the DNA test. Five others also died in the car accident, but Rebecca Chittum, Johnson's three-year-old biological daughter whom the deceased couple had been raising as their child, was at home with her supposed grandparents at the time of the accident. Over the next decade, Paula Johnson repeatedly grappled with Rebecca's purported grandparents for custody and visitation rights, until a judge determined that the two girls were old enough to express their own wishes with regard to seeing their biological relatives. In 2001, Carlton Conley married the sister of his biological daughter Rebecca's deceased adoptive father Kevin Chittum. Rebecca Chittum lived with the couple as of 2008 but had limited contact with her biological mother, while Callie lived with Paula Johnson and occasionally visited her biological relatives.
- In 2001, it was reported that a 35-year-old woman from the Canary Islands had discovered that she was one of a set of identical twins and that she had been accidentally switched at birth with another girl. She grew up as an only child, until a friend of her twin mistook her for being that twin. But the person was shocked by the striking similarity in appearance and summoned them together. They took a DNA test, which proved they were identical twins. The twin who had grown up thinking that another girl was her twin said that the girl she thought was her twin looked nothing like her. Since the women were born in a state hospital, they sued the government for damages.
- On December 9, 2006, two newborn girls were switched in a hospital in the Czech town of Trebic. The families did not find out until September 2007, when a couple of friends of one of the fathers made fun of him for not being the biological father of the baby. DNA tests proved that the girl was indeed switched. After days of investigation, the other family was found. The babies were gradually introduced to their biological parents and returned to their birth homes.
- On October 10, 2011, it was discovered that two Russian newborn girls were switched 12 years beforehand in a town in the Ural Mountains. The truth emerged after the ex-husband of one of the mothers refused to pay alimony for the child on the basis that she looked nothing like him. DNA tests proved that the child was neither's biological daughter. The other family was discovered across town with the biological daughter. The children will stay with their adoptive parents, and both families are demanding 5 million rubles in damage.
- Moses Cushworth, the son of U.K. citizen Rich Cushworth and his Salvadoran wife Mercedes "Mercy" Casanalles, was switched with another baby at a Salvadoran hospital in May 2015. Getting Moses out of El Salvador became a nine-month process requiring the help of U.K. Ambassador Bernhard Garside in obtaining a passport for the boy, due to the problems with the birth certificate.
Some hospitals take fingerprints, foot prints, or palm prints of newborns to prevent babies from being mixed up. Nurses also double check with the mother, checking the identity of that person as well, in order to prevent errors. Many hospitals also have policies in which a medical record number is assigned to an infant at birth, and bands with this number as well as the last name of the mother of the infant, the sex of the infant, and the date and time of birth are placed on the infant and the mother immediately after parturition before the mother and child are separated. A band may also be placed on the father (or other person chosen by the mother) at the time of birth.
- Kaspar Hauser, whom some hypothesize to have been the real child of Karl, Grand Duke of Baden, switched at birth with a dead child
- Changeling, the offspring of a magical creature swapped with a human child and left in its place
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