We’ve all heard the urban legend: two babies placed in the wrong cribs in the hospital by an idle-minded nurse followed by two mothers unknowingly going home with the wrong babies. A switch that changes lives irreparably. The idea that such a story could happen in this day and age, when babies are kept in cribs right next to their mom’s hospital beds with their little wrists and ankles wrapped with a name tag, is unthinkable.
Yet it did. In July 1994, a few days after their births, two girls were placed in the same incubator at a maternity clinic in Cannes, as both were suffering from jaundice. After they were treated, they were returned to the wrong moms. It wasn’t until they were 10 years old that the truth came out.
Manon Serrano’s “father” began to wonder about his daughter’s darker hair and accused his wife, Sophie, of having an affair. They split when Manon was 3. Seven years later he demanded a paternity test, and it proved his fears had merit: he wasn’t Manon’s biological dad. But it also proved Sophie was not Manon’s biological mother. The clinic in Cannes contacted the other family, and DNA tests proved the switch had taken place.
Last week Sophie, 38, and Manon, 20, walked into a court in Grasse demanding over €12 million: €2 million for each daughter, the rest for their families. They say that the maternity clinic and heath staff involved (or their insurance companies) should pay exemplary damages for their two decades of emotional suffering. Interestingly, neither mother wants her “real” daughter back. Apparently the families tried meeting up regularly for over a year when the error came to light, but both girls were settled with their foster mothers and were certain they didn’t want to return to their biological families.
Lawyers acting for the clinic have tried to place the blame on the mothers, asking why they didn’t recognize their own children. Sophie says she did complain at the time that her baby appeared darker-skinned and that her hair was longer. She said the nurses insisted that the ultra-violet treatment was responsible.
Regarding the whole fiasco, Manon has said, “It was disturbing and very bizarre. You are confronted with a woman who is your biological mother but who is a complete stranger.” Sophie meanwhile said that meeting her “real” daughter for the first time was “a moment of joy and a moment of great sadness.”
The horror of discovering that your daughter isn’t your own flesh and blood would be profoundly upsetting, precisely because you have spent 10 years loving someone else’s child. I can’t get my head around the whole idea. There must be a complete sense of loss at having never known your own biological child and not having the chance to bond with her. Then there is a sense of loss in discovering the child you have loved and raised for 10 years isn’t actually your own. What would you do?
Thinking as the child, I would have hated to have been torn away from the only person I had known as my mom and then been placed with complete strangers and expected to bond with them and love them in such an unnatural environment. It would have been frightening and disorientating. As the mother, I would have grieved for the child I never knew, but at the same time would have fought tooth and nail to not have to give up the child I spent so long loving and raising as my own daughter.
Sophie admitted: “I was delighted to see that my biological daughter was loved and thriving. And yet I knew that I could not take her away with me. The other mother had the same sense of being torn in two. … Of course, I would have loved to have had some kind of mother-daughter relationship with her but that is precisely what was stolen from me.”
You can’t magically form a relationship out of nowhere just because a piece of paper proves a child is yours. Yet, there must be a resounding sense of guilt that you don’t want your “real” child back. That she doesn’t mean the same to you. Yet how can she when you have spent 10 years loving someone else in her place?
As someone who was partially raised by non-blood relatives, I am not a fan of the argument that blood is thicker than water. I don’t believe it at all. I am incredibly close to my would-be step father, and he feels as much a father to me as my own blood dad. My mom lived with her then boyfriend for five years and when they split up, I carried on living with him on the weekends. He had a daughter from his first marriage living with him on weekends too, so she is like a sibling to me. We now call our children “cousins” and we see ourselves as aunts to each other’s kids. We aren’t blood relatives, but we have a close bond.
Because to me, that is what family is about: not who made you but who raised you. Who you bonded with, who was there for you, who you turn to in bad times, who you trust. I completely get why these daughters don’t want to swap parents and would rather stay with the moms they know and love. Wouldn’t you feel the same?
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