Christian and Muslim families share their daughters switched at birth
A nightmare of any parent is to be raising a daughter for 12 years and one day learn that she is not yours because of a mistake in a maternity ward. Exactly that happened in the Urals, and now two families - Christian and Muslim - are trying to deal with the consequences.
32-year-old resident of Kopeisk city Julia Belyaeva married her husband Alexei when she was eighteen. In the first year of marriage the young family decided to have a child, and on December 16, 1998 Julia was in a maternity ward. On December 17 she became a mother, just 15 minutes after another lady in her ward gave birth. Julia's little girl was taken away, and the young mother finally fell asleep. She believes that this was when their children were switched.
The next morning, when she saw her daughter, Julia was surprised and asked: "Why is she so swollen? Her eyes are barely visible". The nurse snapped back: "What do you expect after nine months in the amniotic fluid?" Six days later, when Julia and her daughter were home, she and her husband noticed that the child had very dark hair. Julia thought it was because her in-laws had dark hair.
When little Ira was three years old, Alexei got drunk, got into a fight and was sentenced to several years in prison. Julia was left alone with Ira. A few times she visited her husband in prison, but he seemed to have always been dissatisfied with something, and once said: "I do not believe that Ira is my daughter, you cheated on me! Her hair is too dark! "
In 2007, the couple filed for a divorce. The court ordered Alexei to pay child support, but he refused, saying that he would not pay until it was clear that the child was his. The judge ruled that DNA tests had to be made, and in early May Julia, Alexei and Ira had the test. A few days later there was another test. On June 14, 2010 the judge asked Julia and Alexei to come to court without Ira. The judge's statement shocked the former spouses.
"Neither you nor your husband are a biological parent of Ira," said the judge and advised Julia to look for her real daughter. When Julia came to her senses, she immediately thought of her neighbor in the hospital ward. Julia went to the prosecutor's office and demanded an investigation. "Technically, I can deny your request because it has been too long. But as a woman and a mother, I understand your pain, and I'll help," promised the investigator.
In early September, Svetlana, the investigator, called Julia with good news: her daughter was found. She lived with her father, he refused to meet, but took her phone number. Three days later, Julia got a call from a friend of the girl's father who said that his friend wanted to see her. Julia came to a cafe in the downtown where a man with flowers and family albums was waiting for her.
"This is for you," he said, handing Julia flowers. "I thank you heartily for your care about my daughter. Can I see her baby pictures?" For the next half hour Julia and Naimat exchanged photo albums, looking at the pictures of the girls and crying. When they both calmed down, Julia invited Naimat to visit so that he could look at his daughter. The following day, Julia went to see her daughter at Naimat's place: "Anya came out into the hallway and said "hi." She was like a miniature copy of me when I was twelve. She could be nothing but my daughter. I spent three hours with her."
Julia shared her feelings with her husband. He said that they had to tell Ira before "well-wishers" do. This was the most difficult conversation in Julia's life. Naimat Iskander, an ethnic Tajik who came to Russia in 1986 was brought up by his Russian grandmother, Anna. At 21 Naimat met Lena who was only 16 years old. They got married, and exactly nine months after the wedding, on December 17, 1998, Anna was born.
"Six days later, Lena and our daughter returned home," said 36-year-old Naimat. "We were very young, and lived with Lena's mother. When we finally had a chance to look at our daughter, I noticed that she was white as sugar, but I did not have the slightest suspicion that my wife cheated on me. Eighteen months later, our second daughter was born. She was dark as coal - and I thought again how lucky we were. Our first daughter was a copy of the mother, with blue eyes, and the other was my reflection. I never discussed it with my wife. We just did not think that it was strange. Only later, when Anya started going to kindergarten, she began complaining that her teacher and other children were asking her why her father was dark, and she was so white. I explained to her that she took after her mom. "
Later Naimat divorced his wife and returned to Tajikistan where he married Sonia, who became Anna and Kate's step mother. His other three daughters were born. One day Naimat met his friend who said he was wanted by the police because his daughter was switched at birth. Later a police officer came to his house and asked if he ever wondered why his eldest daughter was so different from the rest. Naimat asked him to leave his house.
Later Naimat visited the investigator and asked her to tell him the truth. Svetlana showed him a picture of Ira. She was a replica of Naimat's second daughter. Naimat wept bitterly. When Svetlana asked him what he intended to do, he imagined the reaction of Anna to the news that she was not his own. He did not want to make her suffer and wrote a statement that he refused to see his biological daughter and her family. The investigator said that Julia was desperate to see her own daughter, and eventually Naimat agreed to take her number.
When Naimat first saw his daughter he went numb. Ira was already told by Julia what happened when she was born.
Julia explained to her that a mistake was made, and that an investigator helped her to find Ira's family. She assured the girl that she was still loved and nothing would change, she will just have two fathers, another mother and four sisters.
Ira was silent for a while. However, when her mother asked her to meet her father and sisters, she readily agreed. When Naimat asked her if she was glad that he found her, she simply replied, "Yes, Daddy." She then said that although she would come to visit, Julia was her real mom.
Ira and Anna get along very well and call each other every day. But both families have no clear idea of what will happen in the future. Cultural differences between the families make it impossible to even think to swap their daughters.
"We are very different, it is obvious. The girls were brought up differently. Sometimes I do not understand some things, for example, the fact that girls in Tajik families cannot enter a room if there are male guests there," explained Julia. "Sometimes I notice how Naimat is trying to come to terms with Ira's behavior because she's very open, is not hesitant to talk to the boys and ask her mom and dad for a kiss. She behaves like a typical Russian girl from a Christian family. Anna is different. I see Naimat loves his daughters more than anything else, but I also see that he is very busy, as is his wife, and they do not hug or kiss their children often or say that they love them. Every time I want to hug Anna, I notice that she is surprised. She is not used to that. "
After the New Year holiday in 2012 Julia and Naimat almost stopped to communicate. Julia invited Anna to her place, the girl looked down and whispered that to celebrate holidays was a sin for Muslims. "He wants to continue to raise my daughter according to strict religious rules and limited our communication. I understand that you cannot throw 12 years away. But we have to compromise. She needs to study, read good books. She is very naive, as if she is five and not 12." Julia is concerned that Naimat's family would move to Tajikistan and that there is a tradition in this culture to marry young.
"I don't want Anna to marry at 16, have a bunch of kids and cook for her husband. I was told that in Tajikistan a girl was a good investment. They are not asked if they want to get married, they are just married off. I do not want to lose my child and will not give up."
Now, a year later, the situation has improved. Julia and Naimat learned to compromise and celebrate the girls' birthdays together and call each other often. Julia tries to respect the Muslim tradition but does not like to think of the future.