Writers since the 18th century have been intrigued by a storyline where babies are accidentally switched at birth. This theme appears in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas “The Gondoliers” and “HMS Pinafore”, and Mark Twain also used this plot line in “The Tragedy of Puddin’nhead Wilson”
Dozens of television shows have also featured this now-classic conundrum, including soap operas “One Life to Live” and “The Young and the Restless, primetime’s “Desperate
Housewives”, now in reruns, and the current ABC TV Family network’s popular “Switched at Birth”.
But how often does baby switching occur in real life? More often than it should! Some medical experts say that one in eight children are mixed-up at birth, particularly in large urban hospitals in America.
This week a court in Johannesburg, South Africa, heard a case involving two four-year-olds, a boy and girl, who left the maternity ward with the wrong parents.
The mistake did not come to light until one of the parents requested a paternity test upon his separation from his child’s mother. He was faced with a claim for child support and wanted to ensure that he was the child’s father, because he said, the child looked nothing like him.
His suspicion proved correct. Neither he nor his wife were biologically related to their child. The court heard from a child development expert who testified that each child should remain with the family who raised the child, albeit with a suggestion that the child also have visits with his or her biological parents.The expert’s recommendation is in keeping with other “switched baby” cases in other parts of the world.
One of the most famous cases occurred in Ottawa in 1971 when Laura Cain gave birth to twin boys at Grace Hospital. She named them George and Marcus, but she was not in a position to raise the twins, so Ontario’s Children Aid’s Society found a foster home for the infants. Several months later Laura married the father of her fraternal twins and requested the return of her babies.
She and husband Randy Holmes raised George and Marcus, having no idea that Marcus was not their son, due to a mix-up at the foster home where the boys were living. The real “Marcus” was with Jim and Carroll Tremblay in a neighbouring community. They named him Brent after adopting him from Children’s Aid.
The switch may have remained undiscovered but fate intervened when both George and Brent registered at Carleton University in 1992. Mutual friends introduced them, remarking that they looked curiously similar. They became fast friends and eventually they met each other’s parents.
Once the two sets of parents realized the three boys were all in the care of Ontario’s Children’s Aid as new born babies, and after DNA testing, they discovered that Marcus was not George’s twin, but Brent was his identical match.
After learning the truth, Laura Cain noted how different George and Marcus were from one another, different interests and different friends, although they were very close and moved in together once they left the family home.
There were reports at the time of a lawsuit against Children’s Aid and the foster mother who cared for the three baby boys, as it was she who mixed up the twins when she returned the twins to social services.
By the time the mistake was identified the foster mother had alzheimers and so eventually the lawsuit was dismissed.
Now you can understand why “switched babies’ is an intriguing favourite of fiction writers, but in the Canadian case, truth is stranger than fiction.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang