Parents of baby girls prepare to swap their children

Nicole and Veronica with their mothers, photo: MFDnes, 10.10.07

The parents of the two baby girls who were accidentally swapped at birth ten months ago are slowly coming to terms with the situation. Following the shock of the revelation that the child they'd loved and cared for was not their own they now face the daunting task of preparing to swap their children.

It has not been an easy week for the parents of little Nicole and Veronica. So far they have only spent a few odd hours with their biological children - coming to visit, hugging them, bouncing them on their knees and tentatively trying to establish a closer relationship. The mothers -who both have the same first names and are the exact same age - are taking it very hard. One of them had a nervous break down shortly after the first face-to-face meeting between the two families. She says the thought of giving up the child she had breast-fed and loved as her own was agonizing. As far as she was concerned Nicole was still her baby. The other mum is four months pregnant and struggling to bear up for the sake of both her children. Right now the two sets of parents are getting to know each other and catching up on the first year of their biological child's life. They are planning to swap their baby girls just before December 9th - the day of their first birthday. I asked dr. Alena Cerna, a prominent child psychologist, to tell us what hurdles may lie in store for them.

"The attachment between mother and child in the first year of its life is very strong and very important for the development of the child but if the parents cooperate closely with a psychologist this exchange can be handled without the children coming to serious harm."

Jan and Jaroslava Cermak with Veronica shows the photo of their own daughter Nicole,  photo: CTK
What possible problems do you foresee in the first weeks following the exchange?

"Well, the children could be a little bit confused but I would say that it is the parents who are likely to have the most problems because it is the parents who will have to cope with the situation, with the new baby and I would recommend that the families tell each other all about the children's habits, their daily routine and small rituals so that they can adopt them and enable the child to feel safe in its new surroundings. Even the smallest details matter - a child's bed, its nightwear and the way it is dressed, its cuddly toys. I would certainly advise that each little girl take something along from her old home so that they do not feel they are in a completely foreign environment."

Is there a danger of the child losing its sense of security -because in a few weeks time these babies will be put to bed by people who are almost strangers?

"Yes, there might be some danger but again such a little child draws its feeling of security from the behaviour of its parents. This means that if the baby's mother is emotionally in a good state that can help a lot."

But don't they say that a mother's smell is important - the perfume she uses - and the sound of her voice? Would those things not be foreign to the child?

Libor Broza and Jaroslava Trojanova with Nicole,  photo: CTK
"That is so. All these things are very important but again if you adopt a child the child will get used to you eventually. But it takes time and there is always a risk. And moreover this is not a natural situation -this exchange of babies - and the adults must do everything in their power to make it easier for them."

What about the name swap? The parents have said they want to swap the babies names as well. Is this advisable?

"In my opinion it would be nice if they left the babies names as they are, but again the children are so young - they are not even talking yet - and they will get used to it. It all depends on the loving care of the parents."

So what will the parents be up against? You said it would be particularly hard on them.

"I think there is a serious danger of depression and I think it would help if the case did not draw so much media attention. This is a very private affair and it would be very useful if everything went as quietly as possible."