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This American Life Story

The 360th episode, originally broadcast on the 25th of July, 2008, is entitled Switched at Birth. The host, Ira Glass, introduces the characters of the story: Kay Mcdonald; Sue, the daughter Kay raised; Mary Miller, Sue’s real mother; and Marti (Martha), the daughter Mary raised but is really Kay’s biological child. As the title suggests, the story is about two girls who had been switched at birth and the consequences when they all found out about it.

What sets this particular story apart from many other switched-at-birth stories is that one of the mothers, Mary, had already known that the daughters were switched from the day she brought Marti home from the hospital, but chose to keep quiet about it for 43 years. Thus, with this underlying secret that had been boiling underneath the surface for so many years, the heartaches and issues that would typically result from such a situation became even more complex. The story begins with the reading of the letter Mrs.

Miller had sent both Sue and Marti that explained the consequences of their birth in 1951, 43 years after it had happened. Mrs. Miller explained that she had been under heavy anesthesia after she gave birth, and the nurses must have made the mistake then. She knew that she had the wrong baby because other than the difference in appearance from her other children and the fact that this child was 2 pounds lighter than the one she gave birth to, the baby (Marti) sneezed 5 times in a row, and Mrs. Miller had never seen that before.

The McDonald’s were happy, easy-going people with just two kids, Sue and Bob, and were a distinct contrast from the Millers who were serious, ran a disciplined household, and had 6 children in all. Sue, dark, tall, skinny, and serious was very different from her cheerful, blonde parents and gone through much insecurity in her life. Once she learned of her true family, she did not tell her parents right away for fear of being rejected for the blonde and cheerful Marti, and of Mrs. McDonald thinking of her as one of those “odd Millers,” knowing as she did that her mother had always disliked her birth family and thought them strange.

Sue insecurities come back in full force even though her parents assured her of their love, and her birth family welcomed her with open arms, when she noticed that Marti was very close to her brother Bob, who she had never really gotten along with extremely well. Marti, on the other hand had lived in the stifling, too-serious household of the Millers who she felt never really appreciated her cheerful nature or athletic endeavors. Mrs. Miller, especially was a little tactless, said things like “I did not expect much from you”, and gave a copy of the letter to Sue 2 weeks before giving one to her.

Marti had her own doubts and asked a genetic counselor for a blood test, but thought better of the idea when the counselor said that she might lose the family has now and her birth family might not want anything to do with her. When everything was revealed, she felt like the counselor’s caution came true because both families welcomed Sue and wanted her to be a part of their lives, which left her a feeling quite left out. As her mother pushed her away, doing things like putting McDonald in her name in letters to her, it was her father that she grew close to, as he reassured her of his love.

Kay McDonald had not noticed anything wrong at all with her new baby, despite the fact that it did not look like her. What seemed very strange to her though was how Mrs. Miller seemed so interested in her daughter, tried to push their families together, and even went so far as to call the girls “sisters” even though they were never really friends. Despite the odd “hints” that Mrs. Miller said she dropped, Mrs. McDonald was completely shocked when she learned the truth and eventually, angry. She was angry at Mrs.

Miller for depriving her of the child she had wanted so much and was now taking away the child she had raised, and angry at all the people who suddenly came up to her telling her that they had known all along. She became so upset by the whole situation that she eventually had high blood pressure. Mrs. Miller, on the other hand, had defended not telling anyone right away of her suspicions because of a sudden brain hemorrhage she had suffered of for months sometime after giving birth. One thing that also held her back was the admonition and disbelief of her husband, Rev. Miller.

She was not afraid of her husband exactly, but she said that she knew something like that could destroy their marriage, and that she could not raise 6 kids on her own. Rev. Miller not only disbelieved her wife’s story but also did not want to make a fuss so as not to “disgrace the doctor. ” It turns out that they had owed the doctor much, as they were given service for free and Rev. Miller saw bringing up such a matter as some sort of betrayal to the good doctor. It was only when Rev. Miller saw Sue for the first time at Mr. and Mrs. McDonald’s 50th anniversary party in 1994 that he believed his wife as he could see the resemblance clearly.

Finally knowing that her husband believed her, this was what prompted Mrs. Miller to finally write the girls about the secret she had been keeping for so very long. What was odd about the story was that Mrs. Miller had said that she tried putting the family together a few times, but had failed. She also said that one day when the girls were just teenagers she set up a big gathering of both families at their house that did not so much as enlighten anyone as confuse everyone. And yet, despite all these stories of knowing each other and getting pushed together, it is said that Rev.

Miller did not believe his wife’s claims until he saw his real daughter for the first time 43 years later. How had he never had the never had the chance to see her for 43 whole years? It does seem a little sad though, that the Millers are portrayed in such a bad light in this story, as these serious, insensitive, no-fun people; especially given the assertion that Sue “lucked out” by getting switched into a family that actually know how to laugh and have fun. Now that Mrs. Miller’s reasons for doing what she did, or did not, was explained, what would have been doubly interesting would have been to hear Rev.

Miller’s side of the story. He actually had quite a part in the entire story: he was the one who decided not to pursue the matter because he did not want to cause trouble for the doctor, even though that meant he was bringing home someone else’s child; he was the one who reassured Marti; he had called Mrs. McDonald over and over again to ask for forgiveness and share that the whole thing was God’s plan; and he was also the one whose realization that the girl he saw was her daughter opened the gates for the 43 years late revelation.

It is really too bad that he had died before he got to tie all those loose ends of the story together. It is so interesting how each girl reacted with insecurity when they finally learned the truth about themselves. What is more interesting still is that both their insecurities were unfounded to some extent like how Sue was so insecure abut being replaced by the fun and sunnier Marti but was embraced by both families. Also, Marti had always felt like her mother never approved of her, a feeling that was only strengthened when she learned that her “mother” always knew she was not her real daughter, but when Mrs.

Miller was asked why she thought the whole ordeal was “God’s plan,” her reason was that Marti had brought happiness into their serious home. It really just shows how families are such a strange unit with such a strange way of working. It does not really matter whether one grows up with them or are related by blood, there are ties of loyalty and love that one is born with; and no matter if those ties get stretched or, in this case, all tangled up together, those ties are will always be solid and will always hold people together, even if they do not even know it.

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