Despite all the modern technology that’s meant to keep newborns from being given to the wrong parents in the hospital, there seems to be a rash of inadvertent baby swaps going on. The latest took place in New Hampshire, at the Portsmouth Regional Hospital, late last month. And the parents of the newborn in question — a baby girl who was handed to the wrong mother for either five minutes (according to the hospital) or significantly longer (according to her parents) — are hopping mad.
Calling it “every parent’s worst nightmare,” the father has taken to the media to publicize the mistake, because, he says, “the public has a right to know.” Also, I’m guessing, to lay the groundwork for a lawsuit. Because here’s the crux of the matter: when their baby, whom they had sent back to the nursery after the mother had (“reluctantly”!) taken a sleeping pill, was given to another mother, that mother did something truly horrific. She breastfed the baby. Now the parents are waiting for results of tests for HIV and Hepatitis C (despite the fact that doctors estimate a risk of HIV transmission at one thousandth of one percent per liter of breastmilk consumed). They are terrified the other mother took drugs during her pregnancy (although it’s not clear how this would affect their baby). They feel violated, assaulted, scared. The father says his wife is “physically sick” over it.
Could it be because they are both white, and the other couple is a white woman and a black man? I’m sensitive to making unwarranted charges of racism (it’s too easy, and not fair), but in this case it’s hard to escape the feeling that the parents’ overwrought horror of contagion may have something to do with their (all white! 100% caucasian!) baby’s having been sullied by the possibly unclean nipple of a race traitor, a nipple meant for another, darker baby. The racial difference has the white baby’s parents especially confused as to how the other mother (and the nurse) could have made this error. Why didn’t she notice, he asks, and “give our baby back?”
The thing is, biracial babies aren’t necessarily any darker at birth than white babies — believe me, I’ve given birth to both! My children, born 13 years apart and with different husbands, looked enough alike as newborns to be twins, and it’s a well-known fact that many black and biracial babies don’t come into their skin tone until they’re older. At any rate, newborns are newborns — the reason hospitals go to such trouble to set up systems to avoid baby-swapping is because they do tend to look so much alike.
Of course, now I guess I’ll have to believe something a little bit uglier: that hospital policies to avoid baby mix-ups exist to allay the fears of parents who think that another woman nursing their child for five minutes is their “worst nightmare” (I can think of worse, and have friends who have lived through worse, and I’m sure you all do, too). I genuinely hope this is the worst thing that ever happens to this family; if it is, they’ll have lived a blessed life.
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