If It Weren't True, No One Would Believe It
As an attorney practicing adoption law for better than 15 years and being involved in over 1500 successfully completed adoptions
, I experienced the most frustrating day of my practice on May 15, 1997.
On May 13, 1997, a 14-year-old girl gave birth to a baby with a severe cleft palate and lip. As adoption attorneys
, my brother, Joel, and I have always prided ourselves on finding a home for every baby that came along, in spite of any medical problems which the child might have. We have successfully found homes for babies with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, hemophilia, severe respiratory problems, among many other ailments.
When this baby was born, we proceeded to search
out a home where the baby would be loved and nurtured by a family who had the resources, emotional, financial, and otherwise, to provide for the child's needs.
Finding a home for this baby was particularly difficult, not only because of the significant medical problem
, but also because the child was biracial (black and white mixed).
Miraculously enough, we found what seemed to be the perfect home for the baby. A couple, both of whom physicians, were anxious to become of the parents of this child. They spoke with the attending physician and were fully informed of the baby's condition and the surgeries and other procedures which would be necessary over the first several years of the child's life to help the child recover from the significant accident at birth.
All the paperwork was prepared, court scheduled, and the signing of the consent was arranged for 8:00 a.m., on Friday, May 16, 1997. At approximately 9:00 p.m., the evening of May 15, 1997, the birth mother's mother called saying that her daughter was having some difficulty with the decision, that her daughter had no way of taking care of this child, and that she could not believe that a 14-year-old would be allowed to make this kind of decision.
I informed her that under Indiana law, we could not force her daughter to sign the consent to adoption; however, it is likely that the Welfare Department would consider this child a child at risk and would assume custody of the child rather than allowing the child to be released to the custody of the 14-year-old birth mother. The birth mother's mother believed that given some time, her daughter would come around.
A few minutes later, I received a telephone call from the birth mother herself asking if her mother could consent to the adoption without the birth mother herself agreeing to the adoption. I said that was not going to happen. However, I explained that I thought the Welfare Department would probably become involved to take custody of the child because there was no way the hospital was going to release a child with such significant medical problems to a 14-year-old who did not have the support of her mother in parenting the child.
I asked the birth mother what she was thinking in terms of deciding not to proceed with an adoption. Her only response was that it was "my baby". I asked her what that meant and she was unable to explain other than to repeat what she had just said. I asked her how she was going to care for the baby. She said she would do the best that she could. I explained that I did not believe that the Welfare Department was going to release the baby to her given the child's significant medical problems and the child would probably end up being in a foster home. She was not persuaded.
When the adoptive couple learned of the birth mother's reluctance to sign a consent, they became unwilling to pursue the adoption for fear that even if she signed a consent to the adoption, she may try to withdraw her consent.
That night I experienced a full range of emotions from anger to disgust to complete and total disbelief that a mother, even a 14-year-old mother, could make such a selfish decision.
Over the years I have met with hundreds, probably thousands, of women who have considered adoption plans for their babies. All of them were motivated by the love of their child and the desire to provide more for the child than they could provide at that moment in their lives. However, never have I witnessed a woman make such a selfish decision.
I am sure that at least some of the people reading this will criticize me for not accepting the mother's decision to parent her own child.
© Steven Kirsh