Can you even imagine? A mother gives birth to a baby boy and takes him home. She breastfeeds him, takes care of him, loves him. And then one day she learns that baby is not her own.
That’s exactly what happened to South Africa’s Sandy Dawkins and Megs Clinton Parker.
It was 23 years ago when the error occurred. Sandy and Megs both gave birth at the Nigel Hospital. They were the only women who had babies that day. And somehow, accidentally, the babies were given to the wrong mother.
Robyn went home with Sandy – a poor, single mother “struggling to make ends meet”. Gavin went home with Megs, who lived a wealthier, more secure lifestyle.
The mistake wasn’t realised until the boys were 18 months old and a paternity test showed Gavin wasn’t Megs’ son.
At that point, the mothers could have swapped their sons. But they didn’t.
Last night the story of Sandy, Megs, Robyn and Gavin featured on Channel 9′s 60 Minutes. Journalists Peter Overton told the story of the impossible decision Sandy and Megs were forced to make. Do you take the child you love or the one your gave birth to?
PETER OVERTON: So, the mothers were confronted by the impossible choice between the little boys they loved, or the babies they had given birth to. They decided not to swap the boys back – a heartbreaking decision that troubles them to this day.
PETER OVERTON: Should you have swapped the boys back, as you look back?
SANDY: In retrospect, yes. Because in time to avoid them getting hurt – in time to avoid a lot of people getting hurt. We’ve actually – I personally feel we’ve done a lot more damage.
PETER OVERTON: It would have been easier to say Megs, here’s Robyn.
PETER OVERTON: I’ll take Gavin.
SANDY: The heartbreak would have been unbelievable, but I think there would have been a lot less damage done.
The damage Sandy is referring to is everything that happened since. After the mistake was first discovered, the mothers decided to hold onto the sons they took home from the hospital. Everything seemed to work. The boys spent time together like brothers. Megs and Sandy took to each other like “sisters in arms”.
But as the time went by, and the reality of what could have been for each of the families began to take effect.
PETER OVERTON: But by the time Robyn was 15, when I first met him, the grim realities of his meagre life with Sandy were hitting home.
ROBYN: It is difficult. If I’ve ever wanted anything, I’ve had to work towards it. I’ve never just had it come towards me. I’m not saying I’ve never had anything. What I’m saying was, I’ve – Gavin gets things easy.
PETER OVERTON: The year was 2004. Gavin, living Robyn’s life, was very comfortable with his lot. Would you ever want to go and live with Sandy?
GAVIN: Not really. I’m happy down here.
PETER OVERTON: You are happy with the life you accidentally were given?
PETER OVERTON: Do you feel sorry for Robyn?
GAVIN: Not really.
PETER OVERTON: But Megs felt her biological son was becoming a lost boy – failing hopelessly at school, isolated from his peers, needing to be rescued from his life of disadvantage. So you do see the day that you will get your son back?
MEGS: I have to see that day, for that day is not there, then – it has to be there. It’s not negotiable.
PETER OVERTON: You really do miss your boy, don’t you?
MEGS: I do.
PETER OVERTON: And so, at the age of 15, encouraged by Megs, Robyn made the life-changing decision – moving across the country to live with Megs and Gavin.
ROBYN: I mean, I love Sandy, I mean she’s my mum for 15 years. And sort of leaving your mum after 15 years is like, not the easiest thing or decision you are going to make.
PETER OVERTON: She’s been left with nothing.
ROBYN: Yes, got no son.
Today, Sandy has no contact with either of her sons. Robyn and Megs’ relationship has been turbulent at times, but they reconnected recently after Robyn had his own baby.
So should they have swapped? In hindsight, Sandy says yes. But Megs says no.
PETER OVERTON: Should you have swapped the boys back?
MEGS: No. I got – I still think I got the best of both worlds, even with all the drama.
PETER OVERTON: So you still regard yourself as a winner?
MEGS: I don’t think anyone wins.
SANDY: Nobody’s won anything at the end of the day. It’s – we both sitting with absolute chaos on our hands. It’s something that – it’s irreparable. You can never fix it up.
It’s an impossible decision. Do you keep with the baby you know, the one you’ve raised. Or do you take back the baby you should have had all along?
When a similar thing happened in the Czech Republic in 2007, the parents of two baby girls did decide to switch their children. Nikola and Veronika were born at the same hospital in December 2006 and staff now think the switch was accidentally made because their mums had the same name - Jaroslava.
UK press reported:
Since finding out the truth three weeks ago, the couples feel they have no choice but to swap back. The agony is that after 10 months bonding no one can bear to part with the children they have raised as their own.
All four parents are spending as much time as possible together with the girls. On this, their sixth meeting, the children are already at ease with one another, while the parents – respectful of one another’s raw feelings – are still treading on eggshells.
“It is impossible to tell you how it feels,” says 29-year-old Libor Broza, cradling Nikola who he has brought up for almost a year, in his arms. “It is so terrible that I wouldn’t wish it even on my worst enemy.”
What would you do?