When Marinella Alagna (51) and Gisella Fodera (47), discovered their daughters had been swapped at birth, the decided to raise the girls as sisters, under the same roof, to spare them the pain of separation.
Caterina Alagna and Melissa Fodera were born 15 minutes apart on December 31, 1998 at the Mazara del Vallo in Sicily.
The first inclination the mothers had something might be wrong was hours after the girls were born when each mother was handed a baby wearing an outfit they didn’t recognise.
Nurses informed the mothers they each had the right baby, it was just the outfits that were mixed.
Thinking nothing of it, Caterina and Melissa left the hospital and carried on with their lives.
It was only three years later Marinella saw Caterina at their nursery and noticed how closely she resembled Melissa.
“I recognised Caterina's mother, Gisella, from the maternity ward and got suspicious — 15 days later we did DNA tests and my mind went blank.
'It was too surreal, too impossible,” said Marinella.
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Marinella and Gisella were unwilling to separate the girls having grown to love them over the three years.
“I challenge anyone to raise a daughter for three years then give her up over a simple mistake," said Gisella.
On the advice of experts they had tried raising each girl separately for six months with their biological mothers, but were miserable.
There was only one acceptable solution to the families: move in together and raise the girls as sisters and gradually swap them.
“We two mothers cried on the phone to each other each day and after three months decided we couldn't resist, and we met and promised never to separate.
“After that I saw Melissa every day — how could I not? I breastfed her, I taught her first words. We had to share everything,” Marinella explained.
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Over time, the girls became inseparable and had joint birthdays.
"We are a phenomenon. “We have eight grandparents, two fathers, and two mothers," said Caterina.
The girls were eventually the truth when they were eight years old.
"It seemed like a game and today neither of us have any memory of life before we were three.
"Growing up I had Marinella as a second mother, as she still is," said Melissa.
Gisella struggled a bit with the change at the beginning and said loving Melissa, her biological daughter felt like she was betraying Caterina, but today her and Melissa feel like mother and daughter.
The girls story has been turned into a film, titles Sisters Forever, for Italy’s RAI TV by Mauro Caporiccio.
Caporiccio thinks the mothers’ experiment was successful and says the girls spent every spare moment they had together, chose to live together during the weekends and were girls were classmates until university.
"They are considered twins.
“When they were little they always wanted to be together and this helped the adults a lot.
“Today they are more like twins than sisters and there is a kind of love which binds the two families,” added Caporiccio.
Sources: dailymail.co.uk, thesun.co.uk, thetimes.co.uk