Sunday 19 November 2017

Baby swap boys muse on what might have been

The lads mixed-up at birth talk for first time

Two boys who were involved in a dramatic baby switch blunder and were sent home with the wrong families have spoken for the first time about how the events of 21 years ago have shaped their lives.

As they celebrated their 21st birthdays, the two men live only a few miles apart in a small rural area outside Portlaoise, Co Laois.

One of them, Michael McHugh revealed that he knew very little about the dramatic events surrounding his birth and only discovered the identity of the baby who was originally given to his mother in the last few weeks.

Michael McHugh and Blain Broomfield were born within ten minutes of each other in Portlaoise hospital, Co Laois on August 8, 1986. The new mothers Maureen McHugh and Assumpta Broomfield were given an infant to cradle in their arms before the process of bonding began. But during the night in the busy Labour Ward of Portlaoise Hospital the name tags of the babies were accidentally switched.

For nearly a week no one realised that the switch had been made until it was noticed that the weights of the two babies were compared and facts didn't seem to add up.

But things got even worse when the McHughs left the hospital with Blain Broomfield, resulting in the Broomfields going to the High Court in Dublin to seek an injunction to prevent the child leaving the country.

Baby Blain was returned to the hospital when he developed a mild jaundice condition -- and both sets of parents agreed to take tests to establish the correct identity of each newborn and its true parents.

After detailed medical tests both children were given to their rightful parents.

Now, 21 years later, they have talked candidly about how the mix-up has affected them and they have revealed that they have never been told the full story of the saga that surrounded their births.

Michael McHugh (21), one of three boys, now works on the farm at his parents' home in a small rural area several miles outside Portlaoise town. His family are Roman Catholic and he has been reared accordingly. He enjoys football and hurling and his brother John Joe plays for the Laois senior county team.

Blain Broomfield (21), lives just a few miles down the road. He is one of four sons of Arthur Bloomfield, a writer and Presbyterian. He enjoys rugby and cricket and is currently entering his second year of Arts in University College Dublin (UCD).

Their common bond are the events surrounding their birth -- events they have never publically spoken about. "It's surreal," explains Michael, "even talking about it is surreal because it's just something that you never think would happen to you. It's the stuff that Spielberg and Jerry Bruckheimer make movies about. You wouldn't really think it could happen.

"I think if no one found out about it and I was with the other family, would I fit in there as much as I fit into this family? Would I feel like an outcast in their family because I wouldn't be the same bloodline as them or maybe I'd fit into that family more than I think I would. It kind of [goes from] one scale to the other ... it's very strange."

Michael learned of the accidental swap when he was only eleven years old. "I don't really think my father wanted to tell me, I think he had to ... I think it was one of those things where he was caught between a rock and a hard place. He didn't want to hurt me; he just had to tell me, [to] let me know.

"Maybe he thought I was big enough and old enough to handle it on my own at the time." But he is still angry about what happened.

"Wouldn't you be angry? It's kind of like all these surveys come out [saying] the first few hours, the first few days is when the parents bond with their child.

"The first few words, the first noises, talking, everything, everything you communicate with your child from the moment it's born is very, very important.

"And for that to be taken away from my parents, it's wrong. It's as simple as that, there's no excuse for that ... It might be a human error, it might be a miscommunication or something like that, but it shouldn't happen."

What bothers him most is the idea that the mistake could have gone undetected.

"What if no one found out about it?" he asks. "I wouldn't be living here and we wouldn't be talking and no one would know. That's my main fear. How did someone find out about it or how did someone catch on about it? And what was done after?"

But he shies away from asking his parents about the missing pieces of the puzzle. "I just think it's too hard. It's too hard for them to bring up the past again after telling me and for me to go and ask them more questions and I just don't really want to worry them too much about it."

A close friend of Blain Broomfield says the 21-year-old student hasn't spoken to his mother about the dramatic mix-up in a long time because she might find it too upsetting.

"He told me that his mother doesn't talk about it much so he can't say how she felt. He doesn't think that his mother wants him talking about it because it would bring back a lot of trauma for her.

He feels that it was much more traumatic for her than it ever was for him. Blain, says a friend, only found out about the events surrounding his birth when he was 19. He was standing in the smoking section of a hospital when a man blurted out the fact that he had been mixed up with another child.

"This guy he knew just landed him with this out of the blue. He didn't have a clue what the man was talking about." Even after different people mentioned it to him he thought they were confusing him with someone else.

"So then his mother told him what happened [and said] they didn't want to tell him [before that] in case it messed him up mentally. But there are a lot worse things than that."

As Michael says: "I'll more or less want to talk to [Blain] about what he thinks ... so it'll be interesting. I'm sure we will talk about it over a pint some night and we'll have a few laughs."

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