Girls Switched at Birth Are Happy Where They Are

Paula Johnson, left, with her lawyer and a photo of Callie, in 1998. Photo: Associated PressIt was a story that captivated the nation in 1995 — two babies accidentally switched at birth, then, after three years, forced by a judge's decision to stay with the families that had been raising them. Today those famous babies, Callie Johnson and Rebecca Chittum, are 18-year-old young women, and each says she is happy to have remained with the caregivers she knew. 

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“I would not go back and change it,” Chittum, living in Virginia, tells the Daily Mail. “I am very happy I was switched at birth because I love the family I am with and if that didn’t happen then I wouldn’t know them.”

Similarly, Johnson tells WTVR in Virginia (where she also lives) in a recent interview that she adores the mom who raised her. “She’s my best friend. She always has been,” she says. “And I can honestly say that.”

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It’s not all that surprising, according to psychologists familiar with the case. “I think what this highlights is how much attachment really matters,” Dr. Nadine Kaslow, president elect of the American Psychological Association and professor of psychiatry at Emory University, tells Yahoo Shine.

Additionally, notes Nancy Segal, author of “Someone Else’s Twin: The True Story of Babies Switched at Birth” and professor of psychology at California State University, Fullerton, “Both girls had very loving families and that is the most important thing. They felt loved and wanted. Had the families been rejecting and/or focused on the daughter they lost, then their situations might have been different.”

The story was big news in 1995. Photo: People Weekly The mix-up at University of Virginia Medical Center kicked off what was to become an incredibly complicated, painful and drawn-out drama for everyone involved. It began with parents Paula Johnson and Carlton Conley, who had brought home baby Callie from the hospital three years earlier. They had a rocky relationship, and at one point Conley demanded a paternity test; the outcome shocked them both, as it revealed that neither was Callie’s biological parent.

The hospital helped figure out that Callie had been accidentally switched with another baby, Rebecca Chittum, who had gone home with Callie’s biological parents, Whitney Rogers and Kevin Chittum. However, in a tragic twist, Rogers and Chittum were killed in a car accident just a day after the discovery, leaving baby Rebecca in the care of her grandparents and her aunt, Pam Miskovsky.

Initially, the two families worked well together toward a solution, sticking to frequent visitations, though their alliance eventually broke down, with a bitter custody battle after Paula petitioned to keep both Rebecca, her biological daughter, and Callie, the child she already loved. A judge ruled that everyone would stay right where they were, with continuing visitations. Paula sued the hospital for $31 million but eventually settled for $1.25 million.

To this day, the judge's decision has remained difficult for Paula to deal with, she tells WTVR. “I’m angry because I don’t have a relationship with my biological child. I’m angry at the hospital because the only thing I ever asked was [for] them to apologize,” she says. “I’m angry that Kevin and Whitney aren’t here to see what a beautiful child [Callie] is and how much she’s grown.” She adds, “I’ve always taught her from day one they are her parents, you know. She was born in Whitney’s belly and she was born in my heart.”

(L-R) Callie and Paula Johnson. Photo: Facebook
But even now, a legal adult, Rebecca says she intends to stay by her aunt’s side. On her Facebook page, along with a photo of the two of them, she writes, “I love my mom to death. You eventually find out that it’s the people who love and who take care of you, not necessarily the ones who give birth to you. Love you mom.”

In an odd twist, Rebecca wound up being raised by her biological father, too, as he fell in love with Miskovsky during frequent visitations with the kids. The two wound up marrying and having three more children.

“The big question everyone always asks me is ‘Would you prefer your parents still be alive or passed?” Callie says today. “I don’t know what I’m missing so in a sense, I do feel more sorry for Rebecca, because she doesn’t know her biological mom.”

In any event, such stories, however rare, continue to mesmerize — including the recent report of two Argentine babies switched at birth and switched back, three weeks later, after a chance encounter between the moms. “Most people would find it shocking to learn suddenly that they were part of a family that was unrelated, due to a mistake at the hospital,” Segal notes. “Watching the story of these two girls lets us imagine our own circumstances in the safety of knowing we are with our biological kin.”

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