Wednesday, December 29, 2010

No-Body's Children

So why is it so surprising that we, the offspring of commercial conception, find it so appalling that we have been separated on purpose from our (dare I say it?) real parents?

Kapten Nemo’s Barn
ALANA S. 12.29.2010, 12:42 AM

Captain Nemo is a fictional character created by Jules Verne and featured in his stories Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Mysterious Island. Nemo is Latin for “no one”. Barn, in Swedish, means “children”. Kapten Nemo’s Barn then, means, good job, Captain No One’s Children.

A recent documentary came out and aired on Swedish television just two nights ago by filmmaker Agneta Bernárdzon. The story is of two children, who in the 1940′s were swapped at birth and brought home to be raised by the wrong families. In the 40′s in Sweden there was no tagging system at hospitals and clinics. A note was placed under the child’s pillow with the mother’s name, and newborns were picked up and manually carried into their mother’s quarters where nurses, if they had forgotten the mother’s names at the end of the walk down the hall, had a 50-50 chance of getting the right baby into the right mother’s arms. When new mother Vilma Enqvist reached for what she thought was her newborn son, the nurse said to her “I’m not sure if this is the right one, but you are the mother, you should be able to tell or not.” When Enqvist responded with confusion and insecurity saying “Actually ma’am, I’m not sure if this is my son or not…” the nurse replied, “Are you saying this child isn’t beautiful enough for you?”

That successfully shut Vilma up and she went home with the newborn boy she was given. Three years later, it became very clear that it was indeed not her biological son, and she and her husband grew the courage to engage the law in possibly swapping sons with Dagny Smith, the mother she shared quarters with that day at the hospital- so they both may have their true biological children.

This became a huge deal in Sweden. It revealed the inefficient systems in hospitals where more than a comfortable number of children were going home with the wrong families. The pride of medical staff conflicted with justice and many families didn’t dare to question the veracity of their town doctors, who were almost by definition the most educated and respected citizens in their respective communities. But Vilma Enqvist did dare to question- and the moral dilemma she faced grew fiercer as each year passed.

It became clear that a swap had truly been made when the boys were 3-years-old. But it took another 4 years before the fate of the children was determined and the courts made their final decision. Vilma Enqvist wanted her son, Bo, back at home, with his biological family. But she was morally torn because she had grown to love her non-biological son, Walter. It would be tough giving up Walter, but surely he would have a loving family with his biological parents. The only catch was that Mr. Smith, the non-biological father of Bo, was himself a foster child and spent the majority of his childhood swapping back and forth from one family to the next.

When Mr. Smith was born, his mother didn’t want him, so he was sent north to live with a foster family while his mother got her life together in Stockholm. Then as a young boy, his mother decided she wanted him, and he moved south to Stockholm. Then, after only a couple of years, she decided she didn’t want him for the second time, and he again was sent north. He had decided definitively that Bo was his son, and there would be no swapping. He would love this boy fiercely, and indeed they were close. He appealed continuously for 4 years to keep Bo and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. But when the boys were 7, Mr. & Mrs. Smith were forced to give up Bo to Mr. & Mrs. Enqvist.

But the Smiths didn’t want Walter. Because of Mr. Smith’s history as a foster child, he gave up one son, and decided it was already horrible enough that one child had to upset its life completely to live with a new family. He wasn’t going to make this a double tragedy. And so the Smiths grieved fiercely, but moved on. When the boys grew up, they began spending a lot of time with The Smiths and when Walter married at age 25, both the Enqvists and Smiths were invited to the wedding.

But I must relate to you how this affected Swedish society. It wasn’t just an annoying and deeply frustrating moral dilemma for the family and their legal advisers. This story shook the whole of Sweden because, all of a sudden, families and children everywhere were deeply insecure about whether or not they had their “real mother and father” or their “real children”. What does itmean to be a real family member anyways? Biology obviously was important to most everyone, and it became an intense topic of debate. If it wasn’t important to Vilma Enqvist, she wouldn’t have spent so many years in court, or so many tears and time as she read hate mail from people telling her she would go to hell for demanding her son back. If it wasn’t important for Bo, her biological son, he wouldn’t have delivered the documentaries closing quote responding to his mother’s question about whether or not she did the right thing. “Yes, I think you did the right thing,” he tells his mother. And even Mr. Smith demonstrated a need for connection when Walter, his biological son, came over for the first time and delivered Mrs. Smith flowers on her 50th birthday. “This is the happiest day of my life,” he said, and embraced Walter for the first time.

My point is biological connection is important and always has been. Adults have proven to be very upset when they realize they have been deceived as to the truth in their biological connection to their children and families. Questions in biology, maternity and paternity have gone to the Supreme Court. Whole countries have made it major debate topics when one family gets someone else’s child. So why is it so surprising that we, the offspring of commercial conception, find it so appalling that we have been separated on purpose from our (dare I say it?) real parents?

I might also add that it is completely illegal to buy and sell human eggs and sperm in Sweden today.

Retrieved December 28, 2010 from

Alana S., a young adult conceived through sperm donation, writes for the Family Scholars blog.

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