Is blood thicker than nurture…..?
I almost got swapped at birth.
It’s amusing when I look back on it although it was also a sign of the times. My father wanted his first child to be a boy. Marginally, but it was quite a traditional viewpoint so I don’t take exception. In my culture, in those times even here in the UK and in many areas of India today, boys were and are seen as a source of income and pride. Boys could earn, take over the family business and make decisions. Girls would grow up to become wives, requiring marriage dowries to complete their usefulness to another family. Otherwise they were a burden. At the hospital just after my birth, my father unexpectedly — even to himself — started to collude with a man who was lamenting the fact he was father to a baby boy. On tentatively broaching my mother the idea of a swap, she sharply put him in his place and the deal was scuppered.
I was reminded of this story on listening to the mighty This American Life which ran a podcast about two women of families which were known to each other, who were swapped at birth. One set of parents understood the truth and the others were unsuspecting. 43 years passed when finally one mother confessed her secret to both daughters. It was incredibly agonising listening to the tale unfold because it questioned the depths of being a parent and whether blood is thicker than nurture. Is my child more mine if he or she has my genetics? It is something I have wondered about cost centre 3 who was born via IVF is not of my descent as we needed to have a female donor. Husband gently corrects me that as I carried her, something other than my genetics transmitted absolutely making her a sub-set of me. And deep down I believe that. It’s not I interrogate how I feel. I am completely and desperately in love with her. But I question as she gets older and understands her origins, will she view me as less of her mother than a lifetime together should convey because technically she does not have my DNA.
In the podcast, the two daughters and mothers were emotionally riven. The parents of both daughters for whom religion was important (and hence the idea of traditional relationships) were portrayed as torn and confused until eventually they made peace with the situation. Admittedly the parents who knew of the swap were more adept in enclosing the two daughters in the family circle whereas it felt there was now a distance between the parents in ignorance and the girls. The dis-array in the minds of the oblivious parents materialised due to a belief a deception of the heart had occurred as the natural order of the pre-eminence of blood had been overturned. The two women eventually had relationships with both sets of parents and an uneasy attachment to each other.
In another true tale which you can appreciate caused me to pause, a Japanese man sued a hospital in which he was swapped at birth. Genetically the son of rich parents he instead had spent 60 years living in poverty having been brought up by impoverished parents. Stating he was unable to escape the cards dealt to him the case was won and he was awarded a low level of damages. In passing judgement, Judge Masatoshi Miyasaka told the court that it was ‘impossible to assess the scale of the pain and disappointment both the parents and the man had to suffer, as they were deprived of opportunities to enjoy their parent-child relationship forever’. The verdict is much more about the affection that was lost on the basis of genetics, seemingly not replicable or replaceable by parents who are not ‘true’.
I’m not sure how I feel about these accounts. I believe that genetics does rank supreme in familial relationships as science proposes. Although science goes further and intimates that although we matter in our children’s lives, the composition of their DNA is highly significant their traits and outlook on life; what experience and nurture we offer our children matters little in how they turn out. Brutal, but science seems to answer my question that a child is more yours if they have your DNA. It suggests that if I had been swapped at birth I would still have turned out as me. (The scientists in you will correctly say but where is the control experiment on which this is based?)
But even if true, what it doesn’t answer is if genetics are the basis of your indomitable emotions for your baby. Because when I stop to consider my tenderness towards my daughter and her warmth for me, something more mighty is at work than genetics. It has never waned and perhaps is stronger than ever the more time we have spent together which seems less about friendship than the ‘je ne sais quoi’. What this intangible is I have no idea. Maybe I shouldn’t analyse because where is the elegance or satisfaction in knowing. It is what it is. I should be grateful that blood and DNA isn’t the only answer to my question.