Switched at Birth

On a summer day in 1951, two baby girls were born in a hospital in small-town Wisconsin. The infants were accidentally switched, and went home with the wrong families. One of the mothers realized the mistake but chose to keep quiet until the day, more than 40 years later, when she decided to tell both daughters what happened. The current episode of NPR’s This American Life tells the story of how the truth changed two families’ lives-and how it didn’t.

the miller family by you.

I listen to This American Life faithfully because it never fails to deliver fascinating looks into the lives of ordinary, and not-so-ordinary Americans. “Switched at Birth” is no exception, but it is one of the most compelling episodes I’ve heard in the past year of listening. Although the episode isn’t really about adoption, it is about what happens when people discover they have two families–which is exactly what adoption is all about. Because both families affected by the switched babies are Christian, it is also about faith and about how these particular believers worked out their pain. It’s about how one misguided religious person–in this case, one of the fathers who was also a minister–can make a terrible mistake and yet believe himself to be completely right, even to the point of invoking “the will of God.”

I hope any of you with iPods or who have computer work to do but who want to multi-task and listen to this broadcast will listen to it. I was so deeply moved by the comments of both mothers, in particular, but also by the daughters who grew up in the ‘wrong’ families.

If you listen to it, please come back and comment. I’ll comment, myself, later when I have more time; but I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, either.

27 responses

  1. 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.

  2. This story for me definitely made my stomach hurt. I understand Mrs. Miller being afraid, but i completely disagree with the way she decided to react….or not in her case. This was the greatest definition of absolute selfishness. And i would rather lose everything than live my life in a lie and in fear.

  3. Hi! Heard the story today on the radio and was “googling” to see if I could find pictures of the Sue and Marty. It’s always fun to find out you’re not alone and other people find the same things you do interesting!

    One more thing!
    If you liked this story, you would be riveted with a story (that just happend a few years ago) about. . . (oh, I hate to spoil the story but I have to tell you so you can find it. Darn!) It came on Datline (is that the show with Matt Lauer?) and it was about two college girls that went to a Christian college and there was a terrible accident. Both girls were in the accident – one was a commatose and the other one died. Do you get where I’m going with this? This was so incredible! And I couldn’t believe a mistake this primitive could happen in our progressive society. I remember the name of one girl was “Whitney” and the other girl was “Laura.” You could try searching it based on those keywords. Maybe it’s on Youtube. They aired it twice (last time I saw it was the day after Thanksgiving ’08) and maybe they’ll air it again. This is even more amazing than This American Life’s story!

  4. I thought this was one of the most extraordinary episodes of TAL that I’ve ever heard and – like one of your other posters – I’ve listened to it several times. I also appreciated reading Mary Mulllen’s comments about her family life and believe she has every right to set the record straight about their childhood. Perhaps the interviewers were overly aggressive when they spoke to Mary’s mother (and I would like to hear their response to that accusation), but at the end of the story, I felt enormous sympathy and compassion for Mrs. Miller. Could it be that the interviewers were simply trying to grapple with the central moral issue of the story? I realize that everything in life isn’t black and white, particularlly decisions made over fifty years ago in a different culture and time. But Rev. Miller knew that Martha was not his biological daughter and his stubborn refusal to take action was wrong. But Mrs. Miller used every means at her disposal to rectify the situation, even at the risk of being dismissed as being “strange.” The letter she sent Sue McDonald was astonishing and some of her actions were hard to explain (such as the suggestion that one of the girls should change her last name). But, at the end, Mrs. Miller emerges as the most compelling and extraordinary figure in the story. I lost my mother last year; as time goes by, I remain grateful that I was raised by a compassionate and devoted parent. I’m sure that Mary Mullen and her siblings (including Martha) feel the same way about their own mother.

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