Switched at birth leads to life of trauma and faith

Carol Walker
Shirley Munoz Newson has a story to tell that she believes could help other people in similar situations. She has already seen that happen.
“I think God has two missions for me, to help other people and to heal,” said Newson at the Hill City Public Library last Tuesday evening. A friend of Hill City library aide Connie Anderson, Newson came to Hill City to talk about her book, “The Little Dark One,” to a packed annex room.
On April 8, 1958, Shirley and another baby, Debbie, were born about 20 minutes apart in the same hospital in Gillette, Wyo. Two nurses were on duty in the 31-bed hospital built just two years before. While the mothers recovered from the effects of Demerol, the nurses cleaned up the babies, checked them over and made beaded bracelets to fit around their tiny wrists. Somehow, in the midst of that, the babies were switched and returned to the waiting arms of the wrong mothers.
In a few days, Shirley went home with Jean Morgan and a couple days later, Debbie left with Polly Munoz. It might seem odd that no one noticed the fact that the dark-haired, brown-eyed baby left the hospital with a blonde, blue-eyed mother and the fair-skinned bald child went home with a Hispanic woman. Munoz explained it in her own mind that the father of her child had been a man with light skin and blue eyes. Morgan told others that Shirley looked just like her paternal French-Canadian great-grandmother. 
Many years later, James Morgan told Shirl, “I knew the first time I laid eyes on you that you weren’t my baby. Like at the ranch, if we had a black-faced bum lamb, we gave it to an ewe. Even though it wasn’t hers she raised it. Well. that is what I did with you.” 
From Munoz Newsome’s perspective, she never fit into the Morgan family, where she was one of eight children, although she was very close to her younger brother, Bill. She had a baby at age 18 out of wedlock, and she was grateful the Morgans allowed her to continue to live with them and help her raise her child. A move out of the home, a failed marriage and two more children added single motherhood to her challenging life. 
Shirley met and later married Scott Newson, who became a tremendous help to her as she continued the pursuit of her identity. The pivotal day came April 7, 2001, when she received the DNA test results confirming that James Morgan was not her father.
When Jean Morgan received the news, her comment was, “If he is not your father, I am not your mother. I will take a DNA test to prove it.”
Her test proved her words were true.
For Munoz Newsome, this new information propelled her to focus on finding her biological mother.  She embarked on extensive research through old phone books, high school yearbooks and hospital records. She went to the assessor’s office to seek out old houses where her biological mother might have lived and had conversations with longtime Gillette residents who might be able to help. 
She did not seek publicity as she spent hours and days following leads and roadblocks to find the identity of her parents and possible siblings. but publicity came to her anyway. She declined numerous interviews. However, not only was she looking for her biological family, but members of the Morgan family decided to go public in their quest to find their long-lost daughter and sister.
The search for both was successful. The Morgans were reunited with Debbie, the girl who belonged where Munoz Newsome grew up, and Munoz Newsome met with her Hispanic mother, Polly. But the reunions were not all roses as the shock of finding the truth rocked everyone’s world.
Munoz Newsome hired an attorney to sue Banner Health, the hospital where she began her life decades earlier. After numerous meetings with the attorney and all the unwanted publicity, her son T.J. was ready for it to be over.
“He told me he wanted this to all end and asked me not to go to trial.” said Shirley.
She complied with her son’s request. Her attorney told her that once she completed her deposition there was no way Banner Health attorneys would put her on the stand. They settled out of court.
When the ordeal was over, it was not over for Munoz Newsome. Counseling was part of the healing process but also writing her book was helpful as she relived the trauma of searching for her identity. Without her faith in God, she doesn’t believe she could have made it on this journey. She began to put down on paper what she had endured for a lifetime at the request of her son Austin.
“He wanted me to write a book and tell my story. He told me, ‘What if it helps one person,’” said Munoz Newsome.
She has now gone public with her book, with selected interviews and public speaking engagements. Every time she speaks, someone comes up to talk to her about their related story. This has opened doors for healing for her and others.
When asked at the Hill City Library last week, “What was it about your faith that helped you?” she responded with the way God led her and spoke to her.
“I had my church and Bible Study. I knew He loved me. I am God’s child. I am not fatherless. As I look back, I see where He was in this process and what He did for me,” said SMunoz Newsome.
For the ups and downs of her life story, the book, “The Little Dark One,” can be checked out at the Hill City Public Library.

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