'It was brutal, and it was love': how an aunt became a loving mother

Christine and her nephew, now her son.
Christine and her nephew, now her son.  

For as long as she lives, Mike Baird will be Christine Blaine's brother, soul mate and sorrow.

But with the stroke of a judge's pen, Mike's son Payton also became her legally adopted joy.

It was National Adoption Day in November 2016 when Christine Blaine showed up, along with more than 60 other families, to watch judges sign adoption papers that these families had worked so hard on for months.

She had fought hard to adopt Payton.

It was brutal, she said, "and it was love."

How it all began

On the morning of February 5 in 2015, Mike Baird asked his sister for a hug as she left their home for work.

Christine worried about the hug, even as they embraced. As she said, "This was not his usual."

He loved her; she knew that. She'd taken him into her home, her 42-year-old brother, after this schizophrenic disorder surfaced.


She spent the day at a car yard where she was a funding clerk, supporting herself as a single mum of two.

And when she came home, Mike was gone. He'd taken his wallet, and his cigarettes, but not his keys. Or his phone.

She began to call friends immediately.

She called and texted: "Have you seen Mike?"

She called police the next day; within days, she formed a search party, 50 people walking through neighbourhoods, past nearby ponds and lakes, past the river.


She called people and detectives every day for weeks. And six weeks later, on March 24, 2015, two men found his body in a lake.

She knew now: The hug, on the day he disappeared: "That was him saying goodbye."

A Facebook surprise

Three months later, on her dead brother's Facebook page, someone posted a photograph: a black-and-white sonogram image.

It showed a baby in a womb.

Christine posted a question: "What is this? Why am I just now finding out?"

She got no reply.

That's when she started getting mad.

She barely knew the child's mother, except that she had been Mike's girlfriend. And if there was a baby, was it even his?

"So at first, I didn't get too concerned or upset," she said.

But she called hospitals, the Department for Children and Families, and more.

She got bad news: the baby was born in June - three months early.

Payton Baird, as he was named, weighed only 1.9 pounds (869g). He would spend three months in the neonatal intensive care unit. He would stay hooked to oxygen for the first year of his life.

State officials shut Christine Blaine out; so did the hospitals. They wouldn't tell her anything. She was not close enough family - if she was family - to have any rights.

"I was told no, no, no, no, no, no," she remembers.

In one call with a state social worker, she got a tantalising hint when the social worker said cryptically, for no real reason: "Be patient."

That was not a "no."

Those two words encouraged Christine to stay alert, to make more calls.

And so she heard there was a court hearing set, in September, to determine what to do with a child in need of care: Payton.

'Part of my brother back'

What followed was week after week of paperwork. Forms. DNA tests. Emails. Phone calls.

Was Payton really her dead brother's son?

The one dream her brother had hung on to for 42 years was that one day he'd be a father. He had died with no knowledge that his girlfriend was pregnant.

When the call came, a voice said, "Hello, Aunt Christine!"

The baby's DNA matched that of her brother, obtained from his autopsy after his death.

"I started bawling," Christine said. "He was Mike's son. And I am his aunt."

And so that Saturday, after his father died, after three months in intensive care, after court hearings, after legal questions were asked and answered, Payton Baird, 1 year and 5 months old, came home to Christine Blaine, his aunt, his adoptive mother and, in a way, his saviour.

That Saturday, while people around them celebrated their own adoptions, Christine and her daughter, Kylie, 15, and son Taylor, 10, sat together and fed him a bottle.

He lay in the arms of his loved ones, beside his cousin and now brother, Taylor, who looks much like him: the same shock of dark blond hair, the same eyes and face.

"He and Taylor both look like him," Christine said.

"It's the face of my brother."