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Unhappily ever after

At a small hospital in Cannes, in 1994, two newborn girls were put in the same cradle, and somehow the usual wristbands were forgotten.

Switched at birth: it's the stuff of fairy tales, or comic opera. But for two French families, it's all too real, and all too painful.

At a small hospital in Cannes, in 1994, two newborn girls were put in the same cradle, and somehow the usual wristbands were forgotten. Sophie Serrano, then 18, went home with the baby she was given, whom she had named Manon. Sophie's own baby went home with another family, not identified in recent news stories about the case. And that might have been the end of it, except for a heartwarming conclusion about the tenderness of family and about how bonding can mean more than blood.

But then race reared its ugly head. Manon's biological parents, from Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean, are dark-skinned, and so is Manon. In the village where Sophie lived with her husband, rumours flew, and when a 2002 paternity test showed another father, Sophie's husband left, never suspecting there might also be another mother. The truth came out in 2004, when Manon was 10.

Now the case is in court; both Sophie and Manon, telling of enormous emotional distress, want a big settlement. Real life is often much less elegant than fairy tales, and happy endings are not guaranteed.

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