Switched At Birth

Here in Montana, Ira Glass’ This American Life airs on our local NPR station at noon on Saturdays.

The routine Andrew and I have set up for me, to ensure that I get some significant, uninterrupted writing time AT LEAST once a week is for me to take off on Saturday mornings, head into town, plant myself at a coffee shop, and write.  Sometimes for two hours straight.  I have to say, it really is quite heavenly in a small sort of way.

Often, when I’m on my way back home, feeling satisfied and ready to re-join the fray of family life, I catch part of This American Life in the car.  I usually arrive home, caught up in what NPR calls “a driveway moment”–where I just can’t get myself to pull the key out of the ignition and turn off the story that’s only half way done.

Yesterday was no exception.

This week’s story was about two families in small town Wisconsin.  Back in 1951, two mothers from these families both gave birth to baby girls in the same hospital, on the same day and, yep–you guessed it–they were inadvertently switched in the nursery.  The babies went home with the wrong families.

One of the women knew right away, and spent the next 40 years trying to convince her husband of that reality.  The other mother had no idea.


As a mother, it is so unbelievable to me to think of a woman, knowing that she was raising the wrong child, and that, her own child was out there somewhere..being raised by another family.  And the most amazing part of the story:  she knew her real daughter.  The two families lived in the same community…and eventually went to the same church.  The knowing mother knew who her real daughter was, and made a variety of efforts to stay in touch with her over the years so she could keep tabs on how her real daughter was doing.

This mother–the knowing mother–kept trying to drop hints over the years to anyone who would listen.  But people in that little town just thought she was crazy, and dismissed her suggestions.

The interviewer goes on to question the knowing mother as to why she didn’t push things harder with her husband.  Why she didn’t talk to the hospital staff about the suspected switch.  At 96, she answers the interview questions from a 1950’s woman’s perspective.  She didn’t want to make waves.  She didn’t want to wreck her marriage.

Can you imagine being imprisoned in a society in which you couldn’t rectify the switch of your own baby to another family???  (Of course, world-over, there are plenty of societies TODAY in which this could easily happen, and the mother would have no recourse.)  Can you imagine having to stifle that motherly instinct that tells you, for FOUR DECADES, that you’ve raised the wrong child?

Follow the link above.  Listen to the story.  Tell me what you think.



Filed under From One Mother to Another, Living

36 responses to “Switched At Birth

  1. I hate to admit it, but I can understand where she might have been coming from. She said she didn’t want to upset anyone, and I think that might reflect something I often feel, which is that I think I know something, but since everyone around me is telling me I’m wrong, I don’t have the backbone to stand up for myself.

    It is sad, I agree, but I can unfortunately totally relate. Hopefully most women are better able to follow through on their “knowledge.”

    And can you imagine being the woman who didn’t know? I wonder if she felt a bit silly, not realizing all that time (although I don’t know if I would have… since the babies were whisked away immediately in those days.)

  2. Kevin Colwell

    Hi there,

    I happen to be the oldest child of Marti, one of the daughters featured in the program. Thank you for your interest in the story.

    I first learned of my grandmother’s suspicions in the mid 1980s. At the time, I was told the McDonalds knew of the suspicions but chose not to do anything since nothing could be proven. Before hearing from the McDonalds in 1994, I thought that my grandmother’s case was not substantial – kids are different. When you have 7 kids, it is just not surprising that one stands out a little from the others. Play a game with your own kids: pick one and find reasons why that kid has qualities different from everyone else in the family; I think you’ll find it is not difficult.

    The things she brings up, like hair color, non-nearsightedness, extroversion were not excluded by genetics. Seeing pictures of Sue and her (actually my mother’s) brother Bob made everything a lot more convincing, but there was still some suspense while waiting for the results of the blood tests.

    Apparently, years of seeing Sue with the Millers and Marti with the McDonalds has made some people think it should have been obvious all along. It was a lot less obvious than it seems now.

  3. Kevin,

    It is so lovely to hear from you, and learn a bit more of the perspective from this fascinating and heart-breaking story.

    As I sat in my car–parked in the garage–listening to your grandmother describe her awareness of the situation, and yet lack of empowerment to do anything about it, my heart absolutely sank for her. But the whole thing occurred at such a very different time in our history (the social factors, I imagine, must have played a much bigger role than lack of medical technology).

    And, yes, I can certainly see your point about how easy it could be to explain away differences in one child out of a family. Of my own three children, I recognize both strong familial traits, and unique characteristics that can be pin-pointed to no one relative in particular.

    Certainly, your family is not alone in this complicated scenario. Kudos to your grandmother, Mrs. McDonald, your mother and Sue for their courage in sharing this story with a national audience. This is the type of thing that provides a sense of healing and encouragement to others who may have been touched by a similar situation, but have yet to achieve resolution.


  4. Hi, I arrived at your blog via your husband, who is a reader of my blog. Love your writing.

    Anyway, I can understand a bit about how the unknowing mom could have no idea. We adopted our child, and so often I forget he is not biologically ours. I see him immitating the facial expressions of my husband and my hideous laugh. He is exceedingly stubborn, just like me and and my husband. I see all these similarities without even thinking about it that part of me assumes are “genetics” even though I consciously know better.

  5. CPM,

    I totally see your point…I guess I’d like to think that we, as mothers, would be so darned stinkin’ full of intuition all the time that something like a switched baby in the nursery wouldn’t pass under our noses, un-noticed. But you know, the more I think about this story and this blog post, I realized how frighteningly possible it really is!

    At the end of the day, we love and nurture the children in our homes all the same–regardless of whose tummy they first grew in. And while my heart still goes out to those families that discovered this switch fourty years later, I assume that any child; adopted, switched or biological, is a blessing to their parents all the same.

  6. Mary Mullen

    I am the oldest child of the Millers and sister to Marti and Sue, the daughters who were switched at birth. I consider them both my sisters.

    I have a fierce loyalty to Marti although she is not my biological sister, and I resented the narrator’s and/or reporter’s comments that suggested we Miller children should have questioned our parents about her even though we knew the possibility of the switch. It had not been proven – couldn’t have been proven – and might have resulted in more grief for my family such as a divorce if my mother had acted alone, or perhaps the label as a lunatic. After years had passed, had the situation been proven when they were young children and the switch “remedied,” think of the loss each of my sisters and both families would have experienced.

    Even if both my mother and my father had gone together to return Marti shortly after the birth, there’s no telling what the result would have been. An attending nurse, confronted with the facts over 40 years later, claimed the switch couldn’t have happened.

    We will never know what might have happened, and I feel it is irresponsible to assume that all would have gone well for my family or Marti or Sue if my mother had just insisted on piling all 6 of us kids in the car and driving to the hospital or to the McDonalds’ to demand an exchange.

    For everyone’s information, I think our Miller family looks at the outcome at my sisters’ age of 43 as a widening of our family circle. We gained our biological sister and everyone who came with her. We also “kept” Marti as our legitimate sister. She is no less our sister than she was, and her children and their children are our nieces and nephews. You could say that blood is thicker than water, but I’m here to say that you don’t need a blood relationship to claim a sister.

    I’m glad to see that you, Kimmelin, softened your views after hearing from my nephew Kevin. Still, I’d like to set a few facts straight for both you and your readers.

    #1 – My parents and the McDonalds did NOT live in the same community, nor did they go to the same church. We lived in Wauzeka while the McDonalds lived in Prairie du Chien, 17 miles away. My father was the minister of the Wauzeka and Eastman Evangelical United Brethren churches. The McDonalds attended the Methodist Church in Prairie. In 1968 the 2 denominations merged to become United Methodist Churches, but the churches in each town continued to be separate entities, i.e. they each continued to have their own ministers. By then, the girls were 17 years old.

    While the 2 towns were fairly close by today’s standards, they were NOT even in the same high school athletic league so there was no chance for us – kids or parents – to meet or see any of the McDonalds in that kind of setting either.

    My mother told me today that the first time she set eyes on the McDonalds was when she invited them to a graduation lunch after Sue and Marti graduated from high school.

    #2 – Yes, my mother did drop hints to her church acquaintances about her belief that the babies had been exchanged. These people, from Eastman, had seen both girls and knew what our family’s kids looked like. I don’t think they considered my Mom to be crazy since their own eyes told them that Marti looked somewhat different from the rest of the Millers while Sue looked more like we did. It was Kay McDonald who thought my mother was “odd” later on when my mother finally talked to her.

    The mutual acquaintance didn’t mention the possible baby-switch to the McDonalds, and with good reason. In a smallish town or within a church, you don’t want to create grief and pain in your friends. It’s the same reason that we Miller children didn’t bring up the subject to Marti. She was our sister. Why would we want to hurt our sister by saying she wasn’t part of our family? This is what neither the TAL folks nor my sister Ruth’s husband don’t understand. “Truth” should NOT trump consideration for people’s feelings.

    I was dismayed, and I might even say angry, when the narrator said that the reason we didn’t just go to our parents and ask about the switch was because “That’s not how their family worked,” and then concludes that that’s “why when Rudy blurted it out, Ruth was so shocked.” Wrong, wrong, wrong on both points.

    First of all, there was nothing to ask. We already knew the story. Secondly, we did feel free to express our feelings and opinions to our parents. At the table, three meals a day, we talked about all kinds of things. We were encouraged to express our own opinions by both parents. We often disagreed with them, and we were not shushed up or punished for our opinions. We were children who were both seen and heard. I thank my parents to this day to have grown up in a home like that. I’ve seen how stunted adults are when they have grown up in a home where they can’t question their parents. That wasn’t us.

    Thirdly, I want to suggest that the reason my sister was so shocked at Rudy’s remarks to Marti is that they were so patently CRUEL. In our family we did not tell people they didn’t belong. We were inclusive to people. When hoboes came to our home, for example, my parents invited them in, gave them a meal, heard their story, and talked with them as equals. My mother started a Bible hour for kids once a week. She invited the poorest of the poor in our little town to be a part of it right along with us. We were taught that every person was equal in God’s sight and should be in ours regardless of their material means, their parentage, their looks, their race or color, religion, or any other characteristic. It would NEVER occur to us to say to anyone the kind of thing that Rudy said: “As far as I’m concerned, you will never be Ruth’s sister.”

    Kimmelin, I’m glad you could see that my mother’s choice was a choice many women would have made in the 1950s. I don’t think “This American Life” even acknowledged that times have changed. They – Ira Glass, Jake Halpern, and the producer Sarah Koenig – seemed to be coming at the story from a 2008 perspective where couples’ relationships are very different from the 1950s, where jobs are much more available to women, where both husband and wife work outside the home, where both men and women do household chores and childcare, where women feel much more empowered to defy their husbands’ wishes, where doctors, teachers and many others are constantly questioned, and where it is thought to be almost abusive for kids do chores or not to have their own individual beds and rooms.

    I could add reams more, but I want to say just two more things. I feel that my siblings and I had a very rich life with my parents: Sue did not necessarily “luck out” by growing up with McDonalds nor did Marti lose out by being in ours. I agree with my nephew Kevin that differing appearance or other characteristics of siblings can be very normal. In my school teaching career, I came across families where you would never guess from their appearance that the children were siblings with identical parentage. Even some twins didn’t look like they had the same parents. On the other hand, people often ask me if I am a twin or sister to my partner, and I’ve had people mistake me for other unrelated women. Appearance isn’t necessarily genetics.

    Having had the experience of knowing how much my biological sister Sue is like our family, I now give much more credence to genetics than I did earlier, but I still hold to the belief that my sister Marti is also a true Miller. We are all members of the human race, and whoever wants to be part of my family IS a member.

  7. Mary,

    Thank you so much for the clarification of many points in your family’s history that were apparently poorly represented on the radio program. The story is fascinating and at the same time not so surprising the more I recall other stories that have flashed onto the media scene now and again.

    I appreciate the point you make, that blood is not necessarily thicker than water. To read the Cranky Product Manager’s comments above, and in knowing many families raising both adopted and biological children…a child “belongs to” a family because they are loved and cared for…not neccesarily because they were borne of that particular set of parents’ genes.

    I am grateful for both Mary and Kevin’s comments within this dialog, for surely–there is ALWAYS another side to the story.

    Thanks to you both~

  8. ste3021878

    It’s great to hear from Mary Miller’s daughter and grandson and to learn that things were more ambiguous and complicated than the producers portrayed in the segment. However, the most difficult part of this story is what Rev. Miller did after he learned the truth and the pain this must have caused his wife. It’s wonderful to hear about the love the Miller children have for one and other and the special kind of family their parents created. It’s easy for outsiders to make judgments and rewrite history and play the Monday morning quarterback role. But do the Miller children believe that what their parents did was wrong?

    My older sister, with clearer memories of what it was like to grow up in the 1950s, also heard the segment. She told me that several women in our family would have done the same thing as Mrs. Miller and obeyed their husbands. Simply put, it was a male-dominated society, especially in conservative Christian families (like ours).

    Which raises an interesting point: would the Rev. Miller would have made the same decision if Martha Miller had been born Martin Miller?

  9. Delbert Farr

    One thing the American Life segment did not expand on was the change that Mrs. Miller must have gone through, that at such an advanced age, she finally felt the strength or independence to write to her daughters. I imagine the experience must have been somewhat liberating, but at the same time excruciatingly painful.

  10. Delbert Farr,

    You bring up an excellent point and one that I too thought about while listening to the piece. It is so difficult for me to fathom living in an era during which I could not speak out on such an issue. I am thankful that women of my present generation live in a time and place in which we CAN make certain wrongs right.

    Thank you for your lovely perspective.

  11. tds

    I remember thinking many of these thoughts that others have expressed here. The main one that I walked away with was that it is interesting how biology didn’t affect the families’ love and acceptance for someone.
    I am thankful that Mary and Kevin were able to clear up some questions and set the record straight!

  12. Jenn

    First, I want to thank this blog for clarifying and sharing. I grew up in a unusual family too as both my dad and aunt are also adopted but only my aunt found her birth parents. I believe they were given away because of financial situation.

    I like to point out because I am not a mother myself, it is quite hard for me to understand and sympathize Mrs. Millers strong impulse of reconnecting with her daughter. I apologize for that, but what troubles me is the beginning of the segment of the show where Marti was expressing her feelings of how Mrs Miller asking for her name to be changed to Sue or things that she would suggest such as “make things right”

    I guess, I don’t understand. I mean after all these years, why Mrs Miller would has such a strong impulse to make Marti a part of the other family to make sure she knew she didn’t belong to her. At the beginning of the segment, I felt so very sad for Marti as it seems like Mrs Millers didn’t consider Marti to be her daughter because she felt the truth. I understand her urge to find her biological daughter, but to push another Marti out when she made a choice not to pursue the truth, I can’t understand or forgive that. It is like she rob Marti of a chance of being with her own family, and yet she refuse to let her belong to hers.

    I can understand her action of not speaking up due to social and other circumstances, but when I heard Marti’s narration, I felt that was beyond cruel. It is like Marti never had a chance to belong anywhere.

    From reading above, I understand that maybe Ira Glass didn’t portrait the whole story correctly and I know my comment comes many months too late, but in case the family is still reading, I would love to be corrected on that. I need to believe that family is beyond biology.

    I write to you all because of my own family history. My grandmother adopted my dad and aunt. She made every effort to conceal the fact that they weren’t her own and sunken into depression doing so. My grandfather had died when they were very young, and my grandmother had raised my father and aunt on her own. She is by no mean a perfect mother or grandmother. In fact, very much the opposite, as she at times was self destructive and impossible to reason because to her, truth is ugly and mean. We could never talked to her without her bursting into tears as she had so much secret and anger in her that she was burning in her own mind.

    She covered up all trace of the adoption due to fear and went close insanity. I can’t imagine that emptiness of knowing that you love and depend on someone so much and having that constant fear of them may not loving you back because of biology.

    I like to point out, my aunt didn’t go looking for her birth parents; they found her, and turn all of our lives completely upside down. Since I think for my dad, it was hard for him to realize that the “truth” was not real and more importantly sadden that family never came looking for him.

    I am sorry my comments are long. Thank you

  13. Susan

    This story, the comments about it, and the people involved all fascinate me. I have been doing family research for many years, and one of the “rules” of genealogy that seems (or used to seem) so logical to me is that TRUTH is inescapable and it is so important that a genealogist never lie. That is why it was so amazing to me that what made this story so compelling was the continuing lie about the true parentage of these two girls.

    Of course, I so admire the loving relationships expressed by another of the Miller’s daughters, who made it clear that hurting a family member by revealing an unproven suspicion would have been foreign to both families. However, the words and actions of Mrs. Miller, her comments to friends, and her repeated reminders to Marti about her true blood relatives and name, seem to indicate a deep concern that the truth needed to be told….regardless of the hurt it might cause. Mrs. Miller never chose love over truth….she just waited to make her choice.

    The story made me sad, happy, angry, and finally just amazed. I agree that kindness and acceptance seem to be the overriding rules that governed the keeping of the secret or non-pursuance of the suspicion. But it surprises me that a religious family, particularly the minister himself, felt truth was something unimportant enough that it could be eclipsed by the desire to preserve reputations or embarrassment. That seems weak or misguided to me….but of course I didn’t live it.

    Thanks to all who have contributed….first to Ira Glass for doing the story and to all its participants; to Kimmelin, and to all those who commented here. I have not changed my mind about TRUTH being vital to research and genealogical history, but I do have a new understanding of how and why some people skirt the truth….try to avoid it….work to obscure it….and eventually, it seems, MUST reveal it.

    I too wonder if the story would be different if the babies had been BOYS. Times were indeed different then, and we can only guess.

    • Joyce DeWeese

      The story as told by TAL is fascinating. The follow up on this blog is, also. All the people and emotions and opinions involved are facets of a huge diamond I can’t stop gazing at!
      I think the truth is still a little hurtful with respect to the question of it being possibly much different if boys had been switched. That can’t be answered with a lab test.

  14. Thank you for your lovely and well-communicated points here, Susan. It’s no wonder that both love and issues relating to truth (true truths, or efforts to conceal truths) have likely been THE most prominent driving forces for humankind.

  15. Susan M

    Like others here, I thought this was a fascinating story. I just want to pipe in in defense of Mrs. Miller. Perhaps I just heard what I wanted to hear, but my sense was that she absolutely loved Marti as a daughter. She talked about the joy and laughter Marti brought into the house. I totally understand how it was hurtful to Marti when her mother suggested she change her name and such, but I took it as her mother’s attempt to put things right – for Marti’s sake, not as a way of trying to push Marti away.

    I also thought the explanation for why the Millers didn’t address the issue early on made total sense. In the first few months Mrs. Miller didn’t have the strength to deal with it, and I can imagine why her husband didn’t think the suspicion was realistic enough to jeopardize their relationship with a doctor they depended on – how many people would believe such a theory!? And then by the time Mrs. Miller’s health returned, she and Mary (above) are so right that a switch could have been devastating to both children and families at that point.

    I feel for the pain that so many in these two families experienced, but I was mostly struck by how much love there was to go around. It was a difficult situation and my sense was that most involved sought to protect and stay connected to others as much as possible.

    I think blood/genetics can be a tremendously important part of the bonds we feel with family, but they are SO not the only, or most important, factor. This story also illustrates that.

    Thanks to the family for being open about sharing your story with the world!

  16. Linda

    I grew up in the town of Eastman, WI and remember Rev. and Mrs. Miller and family. This was a town of 349 people: two stores, 3 taverns, 1 bank, a creamery that made cheese from local farmers’ milk, a second-hand store, a brick schoolhouse for grades 1-4, and three churches. There was a 12 mile bus ride one way to Prairie du Chien, a river town of nearly 5,000, for grades 5-12. One grocery was known as the protestant store and the other as the Catholic one. The Miller family was loved and respected in the community. Mrs. Miller taught bible school, sang duets at church with her husband, and was known for speaking her mind. There was no way to prove or disprove Mrs. Miller’s suspicion. The only outcome would have been hurt, confusion, and lots of talking…. If there was too much controversy, this could adversely affect public opinion and Rev. Miller’s credibility as a spiritual leader, ultimately deciding whether he continued to pastor in this small, rural farming community. With a large family, a stable income was required. Small towns tend to keep unproven information to themselves and share with only close trusted friends. To do otherwise and upset neighbors in a small community, makes life more unpleasant than necessary. Unfortunately unfounded rumors continue to adversely affect reputations, employment, and financial stability. Mrs. Miller did what was noble: she loved her children, respected her husband’s opinion, and when DNA was available, her extraordinary courage allowed the truth to be known. Now both Sue and Marti know their medical histories and their biological families.

  17. Molly B.

    I grew up, generations later, in a family VERY similar to the Miller’s. More conservative, as we were home-schooled, not allowed to have boyfriends (where from?), had strict dress code etc. The burden on children involved in maintaining gratis medical benefits was painfully similar. Neither my father nor Rev Miller were man enough to provide honorably for such worldly concerns as healthcare — Jesus came first, and huge compromises in quality of care were to be taken with cowing thanks.

    Switching at birth wasn’t possible because we were born at home. Thus, I can’t identify entirely. But the vehement antagonism of Mary and Esther (on Josh Harris’ blog) who’ve responded reminds me of my own siblings who’re terrified the faith&family construct might not hold. They really get hung up on small things that only come across as blahblah set-up to the average listener, e.g. that the Millers and McDonalds lived within driving distance. The producers were comparing this situation to other switched-at-birth scenarios; it’s not ALL about the Millers! Kevin Colwell does seem very rational and generous about it all.

    Perhaps the producers were kind in not explorng the psychosomatic component of Mrs Miller’s postpartum illness, nor the loud allusions to defending against sexual inappropriateness (doesn’t mean overt abuse, just sensed threat) in the Miller teen girls’ need to blockade their bedroom door in order to sleep at night, nor the fact that Mrs Miller waited for a positive response from Sue before contacting Marti. “Wanted to call but couldn’t reach her,” my patootie.

    I see clearly the advantages of the way I was raised, the contact with missionaries, the freedom from cut-and-dried acceptable topics at meals. But reading Mary’s and Esther’s views, well, the ladies protest much too much, methinks. It would be interesting to hear Faith’s take …

    On the McDonald side, how utterly tasteless and hurtful of their so-called friends to make comments about having known, after the facts had surfaced. (With exception of Bob Jr’s wife — they were married, after all.)

    As it is, I’ve listened to the podcast about 30 times. Sure, I’m critical of the producers’ work — I’d love to hear what landed on the cutting room floor. My own family was interviewed over the years by various secular publications/broadcasters, and while I often felt they featured the least-nuanced things I’d said, the result as a whole was never that far off.

    • Kelly

      I too noticed that the teenage daughters were blocking the bedroom door with heavy furniture. I found this disturbing also. I’ve tried to think of other scenarios and I can stretch to come up with a couple, but what was told as a silly story of a crowded bedroom, came across as very sinister.

      This was one of the most fascinating stories I’ve heard on the radio.

  18. Sven

    I just heard the story last night on NPR and did a search to see what else was written about the situation on the web.

    I feel so sorry that the selfish actions of such a weak, evil woman affected so many different people. If you listen carefully to her quotes, it’s quite clear that she blames others for HER decision to not make things right. It was her husbands fault, no wait, it was Mrs. McDonald’s fault, no wait, I know, it’s God’s fault. She alone knew that the babies went to the wrong families but did so little to fix it that it should be criminal.

    The daughters did their best to protect this woman who thought so little of her family and another family. It stuns me that anyone can talk to someone so vile.

    The daughter here can post all the red herrings she wants but the fact remains: her mother stole another families baby and gave up her own daughter. Those actions are so vile she deserves something so horrific that it’s unprintable.

    I just wish Mrs. Miller had the dignity to take responsibility for her disgusting act.

    • James

      This seems like trolling, with the extreme language and the fact that Sven pasted this exact comment on a different blog. Nice job ignoring this, readers!
      Very interesting blog and story.

  19. Pretty interesting blog you’ve got here. Thanx for it. I like such themes and anything connected to them. I would like to read more on that blog soon.

    Best regards

  20. Thanks for visiting, NothingToLose. Check out the post I just entered for today–about the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, motherhood, the publishing industry and more…


  21. Janice

    Thank you for this great blog. I head promos for this story before it played. It caught my interest. I had heard pieces of the story before. I knew the family, had visited their home for a church event and started college with Marti. But what it recalled for me, was the day in 1969 when my mother said “There are some who say Marti is not their daughter, she was switched at birth.” I was heading out the door for a ride back to school with Marti and her boyfriend. I ignored the comment, thinking my mom was mistaken. Now almost 40 years later, the comment came back to me.

    The story evoked the culture of rural Wisconsin in the 50’s and 60’s, the church culture of the time and how you don’t make waves. I could even recall the drive to their house, pets in the yard, etc. The voice of Mrs. Miller reminded me of my own mother’s voice with the Wisconsin accent. Most of all I was grateful to hear that despite the heartache, the families are moving on. The tribute to the resilience of spirit was terrific.

    I have enjoyed reading all of the comments, especially those from the family.

  22. Janice and all,

    This has been such a widely visited post on this blog –now almost two years old and over 6,700 views later. And still, the story is as riveting as ever (clearly NPR feels the same way as the story seems to air over and over again). My thanks goes out to all commentators: family members, friends, associates and strangers alike. But mostly to the family members who shared this very difficult story which, I imagine, may have given someone, somewhere out there the courage to delve into their own similar story that may have needed its own telling.

  23. Linda Lou

    Secrets are never completely hidden, even if you think they are. In my family, my cousin does not know she was adopted. She is my blood cousin because she was born out of wedlock to my aunt. My aunt’s brother and his wife adopted her baby girl since this was the 50s and my aunt could not keep her. What a travesty it was for everyone. When my cousin’s bio mom was dying, she could not be told. Her adopted mom kept an iron control on any possibility that my cousin would discover the truth. My grandmother was not even allowed to discuss the dying woman in their presence, who was my grandmother’s sister. I recall many awkward pauses in conversation and odd looks among certain adults when I was growing up when my cousin’s name and that of my aunt (her bio mom) was mentioned in the same conversation. In my own child’s analysis, I knew the adults had a secret. And if I knew it, so did everyone else. This was not a rural community, but a small, tightly woven group of people who were like a rural community in that they feared change would inflict too much hurt such that our family would never again be the same. That generation already had been upended with WWII and exodus from their hometown in the South and were sensitive to anything further disruptive. They had survived all these big upheavals, but smaller upheavals felt bad too. Post war families just wanted peace and hope and no more nonsense. The possibility of having the wrong baby probably seemed less important than making the world a better place for all babies, which seems the Millers attempted to do. Today’s women would question doctors, but back then, you did not do this. It was a different mindset, attitude, culture even. Both ladies had good upbringings and if the adoptions had not been the result of a mistake, but real adoptions — wouldn’t the result be the same?

  24. Amat

    Thank you for this wonderful blog. I’ve listened to TAL’s Switched at Birth many, many times since it first aired. I’m sorry that Mary Mullen felt that the producer’s implied that they were afraid to confront their parents about the possibility of the switch. I thought they did an excellent job of portraying the complexities of this story. I can understand why you just would not introduce this type of speculation without scientific fact, especially in the 50’s and 60’s.
    My youngest brother was born in North Carolina in 1967 and looks and sounds nothing like his three elder brothers. Our parents are from Asia. He looks more Caucasian than Asian. His three children have no trace of any Asian heritage. Two of his kids are blonds, while my two kids are are a true
    Eurasian blend. All through my childhood, my friends asked if he was adopted. My other two brothers and I have never discussed it, yet we somehow know it’s crossed our minds. Our parents are in their 80’s now and we just don’t have the heart to broach this topic with them.

  25. I too remember this story, i remember this story coming on the air only days before my own twin girls were going to turn 4. I thought to myself how i would feel or cope if this had happened to my babies. I found it so difficult to imagine the position of the “knowing” mother, and then I realized that I was looking at this issue from a modern perspective and not one from the 1950’s, I still dont know how she did it, I would have felt compelled to run down the road in the middle of the night to fetch my own child back knowing where she lived! It is a story that still amazes me and compels me!
    It is truly spellbounding…

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  30. Larry

    Mrs Miller seemed to legitimately love Marti. She may not have been sure and didn’t know what to do. It is a fascinating story.

  31. So, the Millers kept Marti to affect a better financial situation via cheap or free healthcarefor their family, at night the daughters blocked their doors with furniture, and one daughter says Sue got the better end of the deal. Poor Mrs. Miller…blah blah blah. To not tell the truth was selfish of her and to tell was selfish of her. Sue McDonald, you did luck out. Mrs. McDonald was so careful about your feelings, so thoughtful and compassionate. Marti was not afforded any of that sort of motherly love from the woman who raised her.

    That’s my take, raw and unadorned with what people MAY have been feeling or thinking. Just the facts.

  32. lalouli

    I am so happy that I found a follow up conversation to this fascinating family story. It is a relief to read the family member responses to the interview that describe feeling that this experience enriched and enlarged their family.

    I turned on the program during Marti’s interview and still feel that she was the most hurt by this mistake. Her own mother’s love was given to another child, and the mother she had couldn’t love her as a biological child. This exchange is quite different from an adoption where the parents wait and long for the non-biological child. Here she was the result of their mistake or a consolation prize for losing their baby in error. Susan, on the other hand, was a child assumed biological, adored by one mother and pined for by the other. It’s a blessing that Marti has such a great sense of humor… living out this situation, one would need it. I’m happy to hear that the siblings didn’t feel differently about her in learning her blood history, and she seemed to fit so well into her biological family also.

    I also can’t imagine what Mrs. Miller went through losing her child to another family by such a simple error. Being at the mercy of her husband’s authority, the relationship with the doctor and the judgement of the community must have made it all the more heart-breaking. I can’t imagine how she must have suffered losing that baby and having no power to retrieve her. I agree with alanzi@earthlink.net that attempting to steal her back in the middle of the night would have definitely come to mind! If done while they were babies, they would have eventually adjusted, right?

    I was briefly switched at birth myself in 1968. My mother told the story of how she and her roommate got each other’s baby from the nurse at the hospital. She had no question that it was a mistake and called the nurse back right away to correct it, and they all laughed it off with a few funny remarks. If it wasn’t caught then, I’m sure they would have figured it out soon when I quickly started to look different from my new African American family. I am very fair. 🙂

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