The secret I keep isn’t shameful but it’s one of those weird facts about a person you would never know unless I told you. I have been selective about who I’ve shared the secret with after being met with such skepticism at times. Some people I’ve told, including a good friend, accused me of lying about it. That hurt a lot to hear. But I know my own truths and there is no need to lie or hide.
I was switched with another baby at birth.
I know how bizarre that sounds to some people. With the fast pace of genetic technology, we often forget that DNA testing has only been around since the early nineties. I was born May 16, 1969, in a large university hospital in the foothills of Salt Lake City. I wasn’t the only child born that day. A little boy, whose first name I’ll never know but whose last name is Olson, was born then, too. For nearly one week, we slept in the arms of each other’s mothers and almost went home to different families. I often wonder what might have happened if I’d been raised an Olson and not a Hudson.
Most of the time, I don’t wonder. For many years, I have successfully sublimated fearful thoughts of being placed with the wrong family. If you saw pictures of my beautiful mother, you’d have no doubts I was her daughter. We share the same eyebrows, similar faces and even the same hands. I didn’t realize that we shared the same hands until I held hers in mine every day in the hospital—the same one where I was born—as she lay dying. Squeezing her hand in mine, I noticed how perfectly we matched and it was comforting. It also made me sad to think I might have missed out on this wonderful woman, who always made me feel special, wanted and loved.
Tell me about the day I was born, Mom
Watching one of my favorite sitcoms tonight, “The Middle,” ushered in a flood of unexpected emotions. The youngest child, Brick, begs to learn the story about the day he was born. After many unsuccessful attempts to find out the truth, he realizes his parents are hiding something. They lie to him at first, but his older brother slips and he demands the truth. Much to his horror, he learns he wasn’t just switched at birth, but he lived with the other family for an entire month before the mistake was discovered. It was done with humor, but I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pain over this storyline. Not just for me, but also for my mother.
It was this same woman, who just a week before I was born, packed up my sister, just 13 months old at the time, to hitchhike her way back to Salt Lake City from Nevada. My father, a musician, was on tour in southern California. I wasn’t due until mid-June, but something told my mother I’d be arriving sooner. My father wouldn’t have the money to be with my mother for a few days and my mother didn’t want to give birth alone or in a town called Winnemucca. So she packed her bags and caught a ride with a truck driver heading to Salt Lake.
A few days later, I insisted on being born. My mother had no time to waste. Her best friend took my sister back to her place and my mother was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. Despite her best efforts to the contrary, my mother was alone when I was born. She was also highly medicated. It was the custom back then. She had no idea that the tiny little boy they’d placed in her arms wasn’t hers.
The day I learned about my strange start in life, I was stunned. My mother didn’t want to tell me, but my grandmother let it slip one day as I was in the hospital for medical tests. It was shortly after my 17th birthday. I had just learned I had cancer. They caught it early, but I had more tests to endure. My grandmother, who always had a sense of humor, tried to make light of the situation. She said something about the baby I’d been switched with and the stricken look on my mother’s face shocked her. “I thought you told her about the day she was born,” my mother’s mother gasped.
Holding my hand, my mother fought back tears as she told me how everything had happened so fast. In the middle of labor, it was discovered that the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck. I was in serious distress and the doctors made the immediate decision to delivery me surgically. My mother was sedated. My father, still in California, couldn’t get to Utah in fast enough to be with her. My grandparents had been visiting my great-grandmother after the death of my great-grandfather a few days earlier. My mother was completely on her own and completely out of it.
Waking up from the sedatives, it was around 3 a.m. and my mother wanted to see her baby. She and my father had been arguing over names just a few weeks earlier. My father wanted a boy and said he’d get to name me if I was a boy. My mother was convinced she was having yet another girl. She wanted a girl so she could name me and so my sister, Tracie, would have a baby sister. She wasn’t sad to have a baby boy, but she didn’t like the name my father had chosen: Bruce Lee Hudson. But she had agreed. Bruce Lee it was.
I couldn’t make this stuff up if I wanted to
Somehow, in the five days she was in the hospital, nobody had mentioned her delivering a baby girl. As luck would have it, her doctor was off for a few days after I was born. She saw a roster of student doctors and the occasional attending. Since she was doing so well, she would only see the doctors once a day and only briefly. Every day she looked forward to seeing her baby, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that he didn’t feel like hers. “I could have sworn I heard ‘it’s a girl’ but I was so drugged up, I thought I was hearing things,” my mother told me.
My father finally arrived the day before she was set to go home with her son. One of the nurses who had been in the operating room when I was born saw my father standing in the nursery window looking for his baby. She had been off for a few days, too. It was evening and the beginning of her shift. When she asked him his last name, she said, “Oh, Hudson. Right. You’re the proud father of a little girl.”
At first my father argued, but she insisted. A glimpse at the hospital records proved her right. In a few hours, my mother and Mrs. Olson would learn the truth; they were given the wrong babies. They were both within hours of leaving with the wrong babies. A blood test was given to both babies and fathers. I was A-positive like my father; little “Bruce” was O-Negative like his dad. A major disaster had been averted, but the emotional one was just beginning.
Had something like this happened nowadays, lawsuits would be filed and media would be called. Not so in the late 60s. My mother and father decided not to speak of the matter—ever. They never wanted me to wonder about another family that wasn’t mine but might have been. They just wanted to go forward with our lives. And until that day at the hospital, they had their wish.
The good ol’ days are gone, thank goodness
It took me a few days to process the whole thing. I was a little angry with my parents at first, but most of it was residual pain left over from the way they’d handled my cancer diagnosis. They had planned to keep that a secret, too. Thanks to thin walls at one doctor’s office, I overheard what was going on when my parents and doctor were certain I was out of earshot. I confronted my parents and doctor afraid to know everything but also feeling more scared not to know. “Am I going to die?” I remember screaming at the three of them like they were co-conspirators in some deadly plot.
Understandably, my mother was still feeling the guilt over that moment which was still fresh enough to still sting for both of us. “I never wanted to cause you anymore pain,” she said as I buried my wet face into her shoulder and hugged her.
“Its okay, Mom,” I sniffed, “but you can’t protect me from everything. I can handle it.”
I miss my parents terribly these days. They’ve both been gone for years. My mother passed away in 1997 and my father died in 2002. In my more selfish moments, I’ve wondered about the Olson family and how life with them might have been. Were they hippies like my parents or well-to-do people with more stability and affluence? Would I have fit in with their family had our mix-up never been caught? Are they both still alive today? What would it be like to have a family home to visit for the holidays instead of wondering where I’ll end up at Thanksgiving and other big days?
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Good Mood Gig from SAM-e