For three years, two couples had no idea that the babies they were raising weren’t their own. The children were born on the same day at the Tambo Memorial Hospital in Johannesburg – and were switched at birth.
“A mother always knows. I always knew at the back of my mind but hoped over the years that I was wrong,” MotherX, as she is called by the South African media, told the BBC. “My worst fears have come true.”
She says on August 4, 2010, she was separated from her baby girl for a few days to recover after giving birth by C-section. She thinks this is when the mix-up happened.
The baby swap
“When I went to check on my baby I was shown a baby boy. I told the nurses there was a mistake because I had given birth to a girl. I had held her in my arms. They simply laughed at me,” she said.
Despite her reservations, MotherX raised her child as normal – and the truth only came to light 18 months ago when she sued her ex-boyfriend for missed maintenance payments. He denied being the child’s dad and ordered a DNA test – that showed neither the man or MotherX were a biological parent of the child.
“On my way back from getting the results, I remember I almost got knocked by two cars. I was so devastated,” she said.
“They didn’t just say that he wasn’t the father but I wasn’t the mother too. It was like a bad dream.”
The legal battle
A legal battle ensued over now 5-year-old ‘Girl M’ and ‘Boy Z’, with MotherX suggesting she’d like the children “to be swapped back”.
But this week, after 2 years of uncertainty, a judge in Pretoria ruled that the 2 kids will stay with the families who raised them – living with their “psychological” – not “biological” – parents.
Her lawyer now says MotherX is “comfortable” with the decision.
“During the course of interacting with the other family, my client realised how bonded her daughter was with the caregiver and accepted that it would be best if they continued to raise the children they’ve always known as theirs,” Henk Strydom, MotherX’s lawyer, said.
The children are now considered to have been adopted by the parents who brought them up, says Anne Skelton, director at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Child Law.
“Now it is as if they are the children of the parents with which they are living,” she told Reuters. “Nobody is fighting it. Three of the parents totally agree with the decision. One father is uncertain, but he said through his lawyers that he would abide by the decision of the court.”
It’s still unclear how the children were ever mixed up at the hospital – especially as they are of different sexes.
“It is not a matter where anyone can say they’ve won. It is a matter which must, at the end of the day, benefit the children,” Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba said.
Both mums now have access to their biological children.
“She looks so much like me. I see myself when I look at her. She has my eyes; she looks like my other child. It makes me so happy to see her. The boy I’m caring for also looks like the other family,” said MotherX.
“I have to keep reminding myself that the children are innocent here, that the boy I’m caring for deserves all my love,” she says.
“I want to protect him from everything that is happening. We are so close and I love him so much. It is all so painful.”