Mum would tell the story of how I was born quickly and easily on April 30, 1997, while Dad was at work. I once asked why there were no photos of me in hospital. ‘Nobody was there to take pictures,’ Mum said.
It made me sad to think she was all alone, but she said my birth was so textbook she was taking me home to Dad before she knew it.
Then, in January 2015, I started my last year of high school. I was in class when my friend
came over. ‘There’s a girl here that looks just like you,’ she said. ‘You must see her!’
Cassidy Nurse was new at the school and four years younger than me – but she was almost identical to me. Feeling an instant connection, we became friends.
It was strange, but I felt like somehow I knew her. I would brush her hair and fix her lip gloss.
When anyone asked if we were sisters we would joke, ‘We don’t know – maybe in another life!’
I did ask if she had an older sister, but Cassidy told me a story about how her older sister Zephany was kidnapped from the hospital at birth.
It sounded so far-fetched I wondered if she was making it up. That night, I told my parents about Cassidy’s story and showed them a picture of the two of us together so they could see how much we looked alike.
‘I know the father, Morné Nurse,’ Dad said. ‘We used to do work together.’
Mum said she felt sorry for Cassidy and her family and suggested I invite her over one day. Then one afternoon, Cassidy and I grabbed food after school, before Morné came to pick her up.
He’d also seen our picture, and he began asking me a lot of questions, like what was my birth date, where did I live and who were my parents.
He told me I looked like Cassidy’s mum Celeste, something Cassidy had also mentioned once before.
Soon after, I was called into the principal’s office. Two social workers informed me that in 1997 Cassidy’s sister Zephany had been stolen from the hospital when she was three days old and they needed to rule out the possibility that I was her.
I also found out there was no record of my birth at the hospital where my mum said she’d had me, and detectives were at my home speaking to my parents.
They took me to have a DNA test that same day and I was shocked to find out I’d be placed in a safe house until the results were confirmed.
A safe house? I thought. What could be safer than my own house with my own parents?
I was 17 and scared. I just wanted my mum and dad. When detectives brought Dad to see me, he was as shocked as I was.
‘Miché is my child and I didn’t steal her, nobody stole her,’ he explained. ‘I was there the day she came home from hospital. I saw her!’
I cried the whole night. The next day, a social worker sat me down. ‘You are the Zephany Nurse baby,’ she said.
Mum was arrested and I was taken to meet my birth parents, Celeste and Morné. They cried when they saw me and hugged me.
I hugged them back because a terrible thing had happened to them and they deserved my affection, but
I felt nothing. I felt like I had to be polite because my mother had caused them so much pain.
I also wanted to show them she’d raised me right, because that would show the type of person she really is. Later that day, the reality hit – my mother stole me… The family I loved weren’t actually mine.
In court, Mum pleaded not guilty to kidnapping, fraud and violating the Children’s Act. Found guilty, she was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
I didn’t know how I’d cope without her. Seeing her in prison behind glass broke my heart.
‘By knowing that I actually belong to someone else, and that you’ve robbed them of possibilities and changed my whole destiny hurts me,’ I told her. ‘You are going to have to come clean if you want to have a relationship with me.’
‘One day, I will tell you,’ she replied.
I still visit and I forgive her.
Lavona will always be my mum and Michael my dad, just as I’ll always be Miché, not Zephany. And as much as I love and respect them, Celeste and Morné will never be my mum and dad.
‘Zephany: Two Mothers. One Daughter,’ by Joanne Jowell (NB Publishers), is available to buy online.
For more, see this week’s that's life! – out now!