Adoption: Whose Child Is This?
In recent years, there have been several highly publicized cases in which an adopted child has been wrenched from the family in which he/she was placed and returned to the "natural" parents. The most famous of these were the Jessica DeBoer and Baby Richard cases. Unfortunately, there are many more and in an effort to combat this terrible trend of wrenching children from the families in which they have bonded, an organization called Hear My Voice was formed in Ann Arbor, MI. This organization offers pro bono help for adoptive/custodial parents/guardians who are fighting the removal of children from their care in order to simply place the child with the father and/or mother who supplied either the egg or sperm for the child's conception. This organization has been instrumental in helping to save many children from being wrenched away from the people they call Mom and Dad.
There is an ongoing case here in southwestern PA in which a very similar situation has occured. A baby boy was placed with out of state parents. When the child was nine months old, the father, who had until that point in time never even been aware that he had fathered a child, decided he wanted to claim his parental rights had been violated and sued for custody of the child. So far the child has remained in the custody of the adoptive parents and hopefully, they will be awarded final custody of the child. But if the precedence is followed, the poor child will be ripped away from his parents and given to two strangers-- his young sense of trust forever shattered because of the perceived abandonment by those he considers to be his mother and father.
In many of these cases, the father of the child is unaware that he has fathered this child, either because the birth mother doesn't inform him (and he never asks) or because she lies or isn't sure who the father is. In any of these scenarios, it is the child who suffers because of the irresponsibility and/or deception of one or both of the birth parents. The child then becomes a pawn in a cruel battle, where the ego of the birth parent is pitted against the desire of the adoptive parents to provide a loving home for the child. Unfortunately, the courts in this country have in many instances ruled in favor of the ego of the birth parents.
In the case in PA, the birth father never made any effort to determine if the woman he was having an intimate relationship with had become pregnant. He made no effort to contact her and was shocked to discover the existence of this child nine months after he was born. This man has a violent history, being found guilty of assaulting a police officer and, nine months before the child was born, charged with assaulting the birth mother. He claims to have a "right" to this child because his sperm was involved. SO WHAT????
In my humble opinion, he gave up his "right" to that child when he failed, for 18 months, to determine if the woman was pregnant. (She didn't move and was in fact living in the same place they'd shared.) He had given up that right by his failure to be there during the times that child (and the birth mother) really needed him to be there. He gave up that right when he wasn't there to feed and nurture that baby the first nine months of his life. He didn't know? Tough. He had every opportunity to find out and never even tried.
Well, it's awkward to ask someone a few months later if they're pregnant, you might say. Who cares???? That is simply a matter of the ego and pride. If a birth father does not file for custody of a child upon birth, then the father should be seen as giving up all rights to that child. What if the birth mother has been actively seeking to hide the pregnancy? It shouldn't matter. The father is an adult and can learn how to handle the emotional pain much better than a newborn child. There is no emotional bond between the child and the birth father as far as that child is concerned, especially if the birth mother has been hiding the pregnancy from the birth father. Most experts now agree that there is a lot of bonding that occurs during the actual pregnancy. If the birth father is absent the entire time, no bonding occurs. And most experts also agree that the first six weeks after birth are the most crucial in terms of bonding with the parents. In most of these adoption cases, such bonding has been with the adoptive parents.
What about the birth mother changing her mind? In the case in PA, the birth mother, at 21, already had two other children. She was completely aware of the emotional feelings that would affect her at the birth of this child. Yet she chose to go through with it anyway. That should be considered the final decision. There should be NO waiting period. No chance to change her mind. Again, the mother, as the adult, can better deal with the emotional scars than a newborn child. In my own family, I have seen the effects of not having that all important first bonding time after birth. The ability to trust and to develop intimate, close relationships is severely hampered and even non-existent.
In any legal case involving children, but ESPECIALLY in adoption cases, the best interests of the child MUST BE PARAMOUNT!!!!! Many states have enacted adoption laws with just such an aim. But many, like PA, have archaic laws in which the child is considered a piece of property. Where the fact that someone has been an egg or sperm donor is more important than the long-term physical, mental and emotional well-being of the child. Organizations like "Hear My Voice" are working to change the laws and to set a federal standard for adoption to avoid the question of which state has legal jurisdiction. Such a move is long overdue and much too slow in coming.
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