When 25-year-old Ramsi and 29-year-old Jaseera gave birth to boy children at Medicity Hospital in Kerala’s Kollam district on August 22, 2016, they knew nothing of each other’s existence, except for sharing a labour ward.
Little could they have expected that five months later, they would be standing together in the office of the district Child Welfare Committee, handing over to each other the infants they had breastfed, cleaned and cared for since that August evening.
Now both women’s families are determined that they should get justice from the hospital that they allege put them through this traumatic experience. The hospital, they allege, negligently switched their two infants at birth, and tried to cover up the matter afterwards.
Narrating the ordeal, Ramsi's husband, Aneesh, and mother, Subaida, assert that both the families are ready to go to whatever extent necessary to expose the negligence of the hospital.
How it all began
Ramsi and Jaseera both gave birth to boy children on the evening of August 22. A little while later, the nurse on duty took the babies to their mothers to be breastfed for the first time. While Ramsi's family had given the authorities a green towel for the baby to be swaddled in, the nurse handed over a baby swaddled in a yellow towel.
The identifying name tag that was supposed to be on the baby's wrist was also missing. Ramsi's husband Aneesh and her family questioned the nurse on the discrepancy, but the nurse assured them that only the towels had been swapped and not the infants.
Meanwhile, Jaseera was given a baby swaddled in a green towel. The name tag on the infant’s wrist also bore a different name. When Jaseera's family raised alarm, the nurse took away the baby and later brought him back, rubbishing the family's concern that they had been given the wrong baby. At the time of the delivery, Jaseera's husband Nowshad was away in Dubai for work.
Both the mothers were discharged from the hospital four days after their deliveries. Though Jaseera's family did not suspect anything amiss, Ramsi's family was not convinced by the reply they had received from the hospital staff. The rude possibility of a baby swap lingered their minds.
In mid-October, when Ramsi's baby was taken to a doctor for vaccination, the infant was administered a blood test. To the family’s horror, the blood group turned out to be A+ve. At the time of discharge, the hospital staff had told them that the baby's blood group was O+ve. Their suspicions strengthened, the family went back to Medicity.
According to Aneesh, the hospital rudely dismissed their concerns and denied any possibility of a mistake.
"They showed us the hospital entries of the day and maintained that they could never commit such a grave error. We pleaded with them to summon the nurse who was on duty and question her. But neither did the authorities do so, nor did they give us the contact details of Jaseera's family," says Aneesh.
The month that followed saw Ramsi's family making innumerable visits to the hospital, demanding that the hospital conduct a DNA test to prove their claim. The family then approached the Child Welfare Committee and went ahead with the DNA test.
"We sent the samples twice to a Hyderabad lab, and both times, the results came back negative. First, the test was done on the mother and baby, then on the parents and the baby. We were then certain that the hospital authorities had taken us for a ride, and clearly knew that there was negligence on their part," Subaida told TNM.
The reason Subaida says the hospital has to be aware of the mistake is the explanation they received for the discrepancy in blood group. "When we approached the hospital with records of the blood test, a doctor told us that there was nothing to worry. The doctor said that, though the baby's blood group is A+ve, it will gradually change to O+ve. How can all the doctors, the staff and the management lie to us like that?" Subaida asks.
Jaseera’s family get involved
With the results of the DNA tests back, the Child Welfare Committee sent a notice to Jaseera and Nowshad, as well as to the hospital. The hospital did not respond to the notice. Nowshad flew down from the Gulf to undergo the DNA test.
"Imagine, one fine day, you get a call from the hospital asking you to be present for a DNA test of your child. It was earth-shattering. I did not know what was going on. I left my job and immediately flew down to Kollam," Nowshad told TNM.
After the second set of DNA tests, it was proven that the babies were indeed swapped at birth.
Fight with the hospital
From the very beginning, the hospital has been in denial mode, allege both families. They say that the hospital would not speak to them after a point.
"They told us that they didn't have to sit and answer our queries and stopped responding one day. When we approached them with the DNA test results, they threatened us saying that we couldn't do any harm to the hospital's reputation. They dared us to approach the media or the police, claiming that media attention will die down after 2 days," Ramsi's mother Subaida alleges.
Nowshad, Jaseera's husband alleges that the hospital authorities tried to lull him into changing his statement.
"After we exchanged the babies on January 30, the hospital authorities summoned me in the last week of February. They asked me to put my signature on a paper. The hospital manager and a lawyer were present at the time. When I read the paper, I realised that it was their last trick to save themselves from legal trouble. It said that my family and Aneesh's were family friends and that we had swapped the babies at a private function we attended. This meant that the hospital authorities were washing their hands off the matter. I refused to sign the paper and left," Nowshad said.
As far as Aneesh's family is concerned, they say that the hospital never approached them for "peace talks." Aneesh suspects that this is because they were the people who initiated inquiries into the matter and insisted on getting to the bottom of it.
A traumatic experience
Although both the infants have now been with their biological parents for the past month, both Jaseera and Ramsi have been experiencing a hard time.
"It is hard on us...how would you console a mother's heart? Both of us missed the first six months of our babies' childhood and who can give it back to us?" asks Ramsi.
However, both the families insists that they are together in their fight against the hospital and in the days to follow.
"After all, we took care of the other baby for five months... gave him the same love we are now giving our own son," says Nowshad.
Both the families have now approached the State Human Rights Commission and Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, on the matter. They have not yet filed a police complaint on the issue, however. Despite repeated attempts to contact the hospital authorities, they were unavailable for comment.