Connect to share and comment
Docs and nuns took thousands of infants at birth and sold them to childless couples. The painful truth is now emerging.
The biological mothers are usually too emotionally devastated to address what happened. For decades, these mothers maintained that their newborn babies had been stolen after birth. No one believed them. It was not until the first cases popped up in the media two years ago and the Spanish Parliament took notice that family members began to listen.
“The midwife told my mother she would have a horrible image that would stay with her for the rest of her life,” says Sandra Mateo, who is searching for her brother. (Mateo, like the other victims in this article, was referred to GlobalPost by ANADIR.)
Her mother held her baby for more than six hours before he was taken away, she says. “Doctors told her he died from suffocation because the umbilical cord had wound around his neck during delivery three times,” says Mateo. “That is ridiculous. If that had been the case, he would have not been put into my mother's arms.” Her mother never saw her brother's corpse.
Most of these mothers, already traumatized like Mateo’s, would resign themselves to what they were told. Others, though, insisted on seeing their lifeless babies. In certain hospitals, they would be shown a dead baby, “always the same one,” explained Barroso, who has heard these almost-identical stories many times. “It is terrible to hear some mothers say that all they remember is a cold kiss: The baby they were shown had long died and was frozen.”
The story of 31-year-old Gemma Ríos, of Montcada i Reixac, near Barcelona, took a particularly eerie turn several years ago.
Ríos mother always maintained that she gave birth to twins in Barcelona on April 25, 1980. “I never believed her,” said Ríos, who is now looking for her sibling.
Ríos's mother told her that three gynecologists had confirmed that she was pregnant with twins “because they could clearly hear three hearts,” Ríos said. But to her mother's surprise, during labor, the doctor told her there was only one baby and what followed Ríos' birth was the placenta. Ríos says her mother recalls a midwife quickly turning around and leaving with the organ “in her arms, which is strange because a placenta is like a liver, you cannot carry it like that.”
Rios says that in the medical records from her delivery, much of the details are blacked out.
She is convinced that the answer lies in a painful scar the size of a fingertip she’s had on the crown of her head since birth. "After years of asking physicians and not getting a good answer, a doctor told me a few months ago that it resulted from having being slightly attached to another baby in my mother’s womb,” she said. “This tallies with my mom’s version that while she was pushing me out, doctors were using a lot of utensils. I think they were separating us.”
Several years ago, when she was out with her mother, Ríos ran into a friend on the street. “Why you didn’t say hello to me the other day in L’Hospitalet?" he asked, referring to a town near Barcelona. "I was calling out to you from my car.” Ríos told him she had never been in L’Hospitalet, and that it must have been someone who resembled her. The friend insisted, “She was just like you, Gemma, just like you.” Ríos’ mother immediately grew emotional. Had the friend seen Rios’ missing twin?
Government steps in
In 1987, the law was changed in Spain and the government began regulating adoptions, taking over the job from hospitals. Until then, the death of a baby had to be noted in medical documents but many of the official papers at ANADIR’s headquarters obtained from medical facilities lack data or have incorrect data filled in. Also, according to Spanish law, babies dying in the first 24 hours are considered fetuses, so they are buried in coffins in mass graves. This makes it difficult for relatives to exhume the corpses and test DNA.
Some families, though, have pushed to exhume the bodies of their children. Many have found empty coffins, says Barroso. This comes as no shock to Antonio Jiménez, who drove hearses for a Granada funeral homes between 1979 and 1988, and often served Mothers and Children Hospital there.
“There were at least 20 times in which they gave me packages that were the size of a newborn but very light, like feathers, [a half pound] at the most,” he said. “I used to think they were only putting the placenta there because the shape of the bundle wrapped with bandages made no sense: There was no head, no legs, no nothing.”
These cases are difficult to investigate because they happened decades ago. Still, prosecutors say they are currently gathering enough evidence to bring charges against those responsible, a list that includes doctors, nuns, midwives and officials.
Adoptive parents are also coming under scrutiny.
Some adoptive mothers were directed to fake pregnancies by putting pillows under their clothes, Barroso, said, adding that most were lied to as well. The nun told his mother that his biological mother was a drug addict who did not want to keep him. “My adoptive parents thought they were doing something legal, and that the money went for the documents, doctors, and so on,” he said.
He says he believes his mother when she told him that. But in his eyes, it is easy to see that he needs to. His entire past is a lie, he says, one that began with his birth certificate. Now he is hoping it might end with the truth and maybe even a newly discovered sibling.
“I just want to know who I really am," he said. “The first time my DNA was crossed with someone who I thought could be my sister, my hopes shot up. It was the closest I’ve ever been to having a real sister.”