A 37 year-old South African woman who miraculously stumbled upon the child who was stolen from her arms in a hospital bed 17 years ago says she forgives the woman who kidnapped her and thanks her for giving the child “a good life”.
The Daily Mail is reporting on the story of Celeste Nurse which began 17 years ago just after she delivered a baby daughter named Zephany by Caesarean section. Drowsy from painkillers, Celeste was holding the baby in her arms when she dozed off.
“I remember that as I was drifting off to sleep, there was a woman dressed as a nurse nearby,” Celeste told the Mail. “I was woken up a while later by another nurse who said, 'Mum, where's your baby?'”
She looked into the bassinet next to the bed and saw that it was empty.
“I ran from the bed, we went up and down the corridors, I had a drip with me, I was frantic, panicking’.”
But by then, little Zephany was long gone. She was taken to live in a run-down neighborhood full of the unemployed, drugs and gangs and was not all that far from where the Nurse family lived. Her kidnapper had just lost a baby to stillbirth and so was able to breast feed Zephany and pass her off as her own child.
Not even her own husband knew the truth until a short while ago when the Nurse’s 13 year-old daughter, Cassidy, came home from school one day and started talking about a new friend “who looks like us”. The two became very close and one day Cassidy introduced her new friend to her father, Morne.
“I saw this girl and immediately had a burning sensation in my chest,” Morne told the Mail. He knew it was his child. “It was my daughter there and I fell in love with her when I saw her – it was 'wow, what is this feeling?'. It was a feeling of confusion, connection, love, attraction, everything in one.”
He began his own secret investigation of Cassidy’s new friend, unable to squelch the thought that she might be his long lost Zephany. When he showed Celeste her picture, she recognized the girl at once.
From there, he began to scan her Facebook page to check her date of birth and the pictures of her growing up. He also copied a photo of the mother who was raising the girl and sent it to a witness from the hospital who could still remember the “nurse” who had carried Zephany out of the room while Celeste slept.
“My witness came back straight away and said 'this is the lady',” Morne said.
Morne then went to the police and ten days ago, DNA tests confirmed what the family suspected – Cassidy’s new friend was indeed Zephany.
Her kidnapper has since been arrested and Zephany has been reunited several times with her biological family, which consists of her mother, father, and three siblings. Even though she’s still very attached to the woman who raised her, she has begun to call Celeste and Morne “mummy” and “daddy”. But she has also confronted the reality of what happened to her, telling Celeste, “the last 17 years have been a lie”.
In spite of the fact that the woman who kidnapped Zephany, whose name has not been released, denied the Nurse family the joy of raising their child, Celeste says she has forgiven her.
“What she did was very wrong, they've been living a lie for the last 17 years, but I forgave her some time ago. “Undoubtedly we will meet, and I will thank her for taking care of my daughter. Zephany has had a good life with her - my daughter is beautiful, inside and out, she's kind and clever - they did a great job.”
Morne feels the same about the couple who raised his daughter, but says “The forgiveness is there from me, but I have nothing to say to them.”
Zephany will soon turn 18 and will be permitted to choose where she wants to live.
“I want what she wants – whatever she thinks is best for her, will be fine by us,” Celeste said. “We don't want to put any pressure on her. She is a very clever girl, asks a lot of very adult questions about our family values and why things have turned out the way they have.”
Morne agrees. “I feel she belongs to us, with us, but it's whatever she decides. All we can offer her is love, love and more love.”
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