What Children Switched at Birth Teach Us About Gender Inequality

February 19, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Switched at birth. The pregnant woman is rushed to the hospital, her anxious husband clutching her hand. It’s time; their child is on the way. Labor, childbirth and the joy of a healthy infant! Mom is exhausted, Dad is relieved and both anticipate the coming years with elation and anxiety. They leave the hospital with their child in their arms and slowly, time passes. The child grows and begins to take on his/her own special look and identity.

And that’s when things take a turn for the worse, much worse. Little Andy or Jenny looks like neither parent. They’re blond and fair, but their child has olive skin and dark hair. Did Mom have an affair? She denies it, but there’s no doubting the lack of a family resemblance on the part of the child. What gives? On a crazy hunch, they get a DNA testing kit, swab everyone’s cheeks and send off the samples to the testing company. The result? The child is biologically unrelated to either parent. Where is their child? And whose child is this?

Somehow, despite the most elaborate methods used by hospitals to prevent handing newborns over to the wrong parents, occasionally, that very mistake happens. As this article shows, it happened in France about 20 years ago (NBC News, 2/11/15).

A nurse’s assistant had accidentally given baby Manon Serrano, who was in an incubator, to another mother after her birth in July 1994, and given the infant next to her to Sophie Serrano.

Three years later, Manon’s hair grew curly and her skin olive-toned — unlike either parent. Her father separated from Sophie Serrano after village rumors spread about the young girl being "the postman’s daughter." In 2004, DNA tests showed that Manon was the daughter of neither of them. An investigation was launched and their biological child was located — less than 20 miles away.

The parents and their now-adult children sued the clinic, the doctors and various others and a court has ruled in their favor.

A court on Tuesday ordered a private clinic in the Riviera city of Cannes to pay out 400,000 euros ($450,000) each to two 20-year-olds accidentally switched at birth and given to the wrong parents — part of a 1.88-million euro payment to members of the two families. The clinic’s lawyer, Sophie Chas, said she wasn’t immediately certain whether an appeal would be lodged against Tuesday’s decision by the court in Grasse.

Imagine the anguish of finding out, long after the fact, that the child you’ve been raising isn’t yours. A Japanese film was released about a year ago that dealt with that very issue. It raises the obvious question “what would you do?” You’ve raised a child for years and come to love it deeply, only to find it’s not yours. Somewhere your flesh and blood is being raised by someone else. What do you do? Keep the child you’ve raised and loved or switch the children with the couple who has your child? It’s hard to imagine the pain those people must suffer.

But fortunately, as I mentioned, hospitals have developed protocols to ensure that “switched at birth” essentially never happens. After all, we want kids to be raised by their actual parents. We’re so serious about that that, a French court has awarded heavy damages against the clinic for failing in its duty.

Bunk. Stuff and nonsense. We do nothing of the kind. Oh, it’s true that we’re serious about preventing children from being switched at birth. There’s no doubt about that. But when it comes to biological parents raising their own kids, no, we don’t much care.

What I’m referring to of course is paternity fraud. When Mom has sex with more than one man around the time of conception and then doesn’t take the trouble to say the simple words, “it could be yours or it could be his,” so that genetic testing can be performed, it really doesn’t bother us. Yes, many people acknowledge that that’s a morally wrong thing for her to have done, but the legal system truly couldn’t care less.

I know this because what the Serrano family in France did — sue for damages — is virtually unavailable to victims of paternity fraud in this country. Only six states allow a man who’s a victim of paternity fraud to sue the mother for her fraud, and even then his causes of action and the damages he can receive are few. That’s true despite the fact that, if he learns of her deception, he’s faced with exactly the same anguish families face when they discover “their child” is not actually theirs. He’s cared for and formed deep bonds with the child he was told was his, only to learn it’s not. Worse, he has to deal with his partner’s deception, something parents with switched children often don’t have to. Worse still, his partner’s deception was intentional. She knew there was at least a chance he wasn’t the father, but she went ahead and allowed him to believe he was. In the case of children switched at birth, the hospital simply made a mistake.

And yet we punish the hospital, but not the woman.

A similar thing happens when an unmarried woman has a child and receives federal welfare benefits. Then the state child support enforcement authority will require her to “establish paternity,” i.e. tell who the father is. That way the state will know from whom to seek reimbursement for benefits paid to the mother.

Now it’s well enough known that, in those situations, Mom doesn’t always tell the truth, even if she knows who the dad is. Currently, a Michigan man is facing prison for refusing to pay the state $30,000 in child support for a daughter everyone acknowledges isn’t his. Why? In part because the mother was required to name a father and so she named him. She knew he wasn’t the father, but fingered him anyway and now he faces prison or paying $30,000.

Again, does anyone except him care that the child isn’t his? Apparently not.

At some point, the concept of gender equality will start to occur to family courts and state legislators. And when it does, there’ll be a sea-change in how we treat fathers, mothers and children. One good place to start would be giving the right to sue to victims of paternity fraud, including the children who were brought up to believe the wrong man to be their father.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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