One of my fears leading up to my daughter's birth was that she would accidentally be switched in the hospital and I would only realize it after months or years, when I'd have to decide whether to continue raising the baby I knew or to trade her for my biological baby who grew in my womb. That sounds like a terrifying sort of Sophie's Choice to me, and people like to make TV shows and movies about it, so I worried about it. As far as I can tell, newborn babies look more like each other than they resemble their parents, so I spent the first few weeks of Eliza's life staring into her tiny alien face, looking for someone familiar. Thankfully, after a few weeks, she started to resemble both my husband and myself, and my worries abated. Sometimes people say, "She looks exactly like Michael," but people most often say, "She looks like a perfect blend of her mom and dad!"
No one says that about Juliana.
Juliana was born the same year as Eliza. She is the daughter of my college friends Julio and Isabella. Julio and Isabella look a lot alike, with the same medium pink complexion and dark brown eyes and dark brown hair, so it came as a surprise to their Facebook friends (and probably their families, but I only see their exchanges on Facebook) when they started posting photos of the startlingly pale Juliana. "She's beautiful, Julio! Whose eyes are those?" people asked, referring to the bright blue color that never faded to brown. "Love those golden curls! Where did she get that hair?" they continue to post. Julio doesn't acknowledge the questions except to occasionally post links to articles explaining how two brown-eyed people can have a blue-eyed child.
He is right, of course. Genetics is far more complex than our seventh grade science classes led us to believe. It is entirely possible for two brown-eyed people to have a blue-eyed child. Still, if there is one thing I've learned from being donor conceived, it's that children inherit features from their parents. When they look nothing like one or both parents, there tends to be a reason. And Juliana looks nothing like her parents.
Here are all the possibilities that went through my head:
1) Maybe they used a sperm donor. After all, Isabella has curly hair too, and Juliana smiles sort of like her. They don't look particularly related, but that doesn't mean they aren't.
2) An affair? I don't believe this though. I include it in the list because it's possible in the most literal sense of the word, but I give it a 0.5% likelihood tops.
3) Maybe Julio and Isabella used IVF and used gamete donors or "embryo adoption," or one of their gametes or the entire embryo got switched with someone else's. I would put more weight behind this possibility if it had taken longer after their wedding for them to get pregnant. I currently have no reason to believe they used IVF at all.
4) Maybe Juliana was switched with another baby at the hospital. ::shudder::
5) Maybe a variety of mutations and long dormant traits have caused Juliana to look different from her parents, despite being their biological daughter. She doesn't appear to have any sort of albinism, but something like that might at least explain the difference in coloring, though not the difference in her other features.
About a year and a half ago, Julio and Isabella announced that they were expecting their second child. I waited anxiously to see what she would look like in a way I wouldn't admit to people I know in real life. I wonder if anyone else was doing the same. If she resembled Juliana, I felt I could rule out the "switched at birth" scenario, which I personally think is the most scary and upsetting. If she looked like Juliana, either they were using a donor who was passing on a lot of physical characteristics, or they were somehow passing their long dormant traits along themselves. Though I admit "long dormant traits" are something I stopped believing in when I found photos of my biological father.
Emilia was born a few months ago. She is beautiful. She has both her parents' dark brown hair and eyes. Her face looks so much like a tiny, fat version of Julio's that it makes me laugh. There is no question of who her parents are or where she inherited her features. Juliana stands out more than ever now.
As much as I wonder what the truth is behind how Juliana came to be Juliana, I hope she doesn't take a DNA test before she is eighteen because I feel 86% certain Julio and Isabella are not her biological parents, and I feel 75% sure they believe they are, in spite of any nagging thoughts that might linger at the backs of their minds, and nagging questions from oblivious and sometimes tactless friends on Facebook. I am afraid there is another little girl who was born on or around the same day at that same hospital in Queens, who has beautiful dark brown eyes and hair and doesn't blend in with any of the strawberry blond, Irish-looking people in her family. And I hope none of those parents have to come to terms with the realization that their biological daughter -- the one who inherited their looks and some of their personality and some of their mannerisms and intelligence -- is living in someone else's home and calling someone else "Mommy." If there were such another little girl and they found out she existed, then all the parents involved would have to figure out what to do about that. At eighteen, I feel like the girls will be grown and probably in college and able to associate with whomever they choose -- ideally all four of their parents. It wouldn't make coming to terms with the truth any easier for them -- harder probably, based on every person I know who has found out hidden truths about their parentage -- but at least it would be more an existential problem than a logistical one at that point.
Of course, if she is DC and they are simply hiding it from everyone, I hope she finds out sooner rather than later. Because if there isn't another little girl in another house, there won't be the question of where Juliana will live or who her "real" parents are, even if Julio and Isabella aren't biologically related to her. If she is donor conceived, Juliana will have to deal with the brunt of that reality alone because she is the only one who will have lost family in that equation.
Unless of course the IVF accidental embryo switch scenario is the one that happened, in which case Julio and Isabella's biological child might exist somewhere else, born sometime else to someone else, and they will never find her or even know if she exists unless she takes a mass market DNA test. Now I can't decide which scenario sounds worse.