In South Africa, there’s a case currently being heard in the family law courts that has got my head spinning. Here’s the short version: In 2010, two girls born the same day were accidentally sent home with the wrong families. Cut to four years later, the girls have been raised and (presumably?) nurtured by their non-biological parents. Until one day amidst a messy child support battle, one of the dads decides he wants a paternity test — he’s not sure the little girl he’s raised is his at all, but when the results come back an even more shocking reality is revealed: The child isn’t biologically his OR his ex-wife’s.
Well now the devastated estranged wife wants to find her biological daughter and switch back. Thing is, the other family who until now have been blissfully unaware of the mix up, are kind of attached to the kid they ended up bringing home. So now these two mothers are fighting for custody of the same girl, but I can’t help but ask — what about the other girl?
In all the news reports and postings I’ve read surrounding this impossible trial, the other girl, the girl whose parents ordered the DNA test in the first place, is spoken of as collateral, the consolation prize either for the only mother she’s ever known, or the woman who gave birth to her — both of whom have expressed a preference which proverbially leaves a very vulnerable 4-year-old out in the cold.
Yes, I’m sure it’s not that simple — according to The Independent, the girls and their mothers have been in joint therapy for several months set up by the hospital, but I can’t help but put myself and my own 4-year-old in the shoes of these mothers and daughters. FOUR YEARS. For four years, I’ve cared for her and loved her and taught her as much as her little brain could carry. What would I do if I found out she wasn’t the baby I carried? I can’t imagine loving her any less. I can’t imagine trading her out and bringing home another child to sleep in her bed and snuggle to sleep. A child who wouldn’t know me. A child who would cry in the night for a mother who wasn’t there. A mother who traded her back.
And then I wonder, how could I carry on while my biological child continues to be raised by parents who would give her up so easily? And if the court came out on the side of switching back, how could I watch as the girl I’d raised went home with the family that considered her too to be interchangeable? (Notably, in Russia several years ago when a similar discovery was made concerning two 12-year-old girls and the question was posed to the kids themselves, the older children unanimously chose to stay with the families that they’d come to know.)
Perhaps I’m judging too harshly. I can’t fathom the shock and incomprehension that must come with a revelation of that nature. It’s quite possible nobody is thinking straight. But at the center of this nightmare are two 4-year-old girls. Two young minds that like my own little girl, are soaking up information at every turn.
[Image courtesy of JLHopgood via Flickr.]