Family law is my speciality, and I never tire of it. That's because there is always something new, something I could not have imagined, people making choices that confound my thinking. When those people wind up in court cases, well that's where the law steps in. But the stories can be astonishing even when there is no legal conflict.
The episode aired on This American Life this week (it originally aired last year) makes my point. In 1951, two women gave birth to daughters in the same hospital. The babies were switched at birth. One mother knew when she got home (even without DNA testing), but her husband (a minister!) did not want to embarrass the doctor, and the mother did not go against him. Then that mother needed some emergency medical treatment which the doctor provided without charge, and, well, one thing led to another, and it was 43 years (and after her husband died) before she told the two women -- and the other mother -- the truth. (The families lived in the same small Wisconsin town).
The story is mesmorizing. In part it's about the power of genes (neither switched child felt she fit in with her family) and about what those genes mean to all concerned when the truth comes out (like who is a mother? who is a daughter? who is a sister?). It's also the story of a domineering husband who was willing to allow his daughter to be raised by someone else, and to raise someone else's child, and whose wife acquiesced. The motives of each of them haunt me.
There's no lawsuit here, just a tale that is so compelling and unlikely (not the switched-at-birth part; we know that happens; but the knowing and not telling, and then telling 43 years later) that if I made it up on a law school exam my students would think I had an overactive imagination.