Monday, April 26, 2010

Who Gets Baby Emma: Her Single Daddy or Her Married Adoptive Parents?

Guest Post by Laura Deurmyer for Adopt-a-tude

I bring two distinct and sometimes warring perspectives to bear on media accounts of adoptions. I am an adoptee—adopted at birth during what is known as the Baby Scoop Era. I have also been a foster parent who tried unsuccessfully to adopt a baby I loved.

If women are to have a real adoption option when confronting an unplanned pregnancy, we must take adoption questions and issues seriously as a society. We must stop treating adoption as the next human-interest story or as a tear-jerker movie of the week. 

The baby Emma Wyatt story featured in the Washington Post and the New York Times recently interested me as much for what it didn’t say as for its unmistakably fascinating facts. What set it apart and got it featured in the Post and in the Times and ultimately on Good Morning America rather than simply in a few obscure adoption blog sites, was its play on the Dr. Phil show.

The basic story—birth father who wants to raise his own child is denied that opportunity by birth mom who places the baby for adoption against his wishes—has been played out numerous times in recent years. It’s a common enough problem that there are whole websites devoted to helping unwed birth fathers retain custody of their children. Several of the players in the baby Emma story—the adoption agency, the lawyer, the state of Utah—feature in more than one of these tales.

(Note: One website that does catalog and discuss problems with adoption is Although I don’t agree with much of that site’s seemingly anti-adoption bent, I have linked to it in this story because it clearly lists and explores problematic cases like baby Emma’s.)

Even in major media coverage of the story, a rational discussion of adoption policy or a thorough examination of states’ roles in voluntary placement adoption is mostly lacking. Instead, the story has devolved into the heart-wrenching tale of a father’s loss with class-warfare overtones.

Emma was born in Virginia and spirited away to Utah—a state that makes it notoriously difficult for unwed dads to asset their rights—for adoption immediately after her birth. Virginia courts have sided with the father, John Wyatt, and have ordered the little girl to be returned to him. Utah courts have thus far maintained that John Wyatt did not comply with their regulations for asserting parental rights and that the adoption should stand. 

There has been no intimation that the child would be unsafe either with her adoptive parents or with her natural father. John Wyatt works at a nightclub; he is twenty-one. The adoptive parents are established, successful college-educated mid-career professionals who are very economically stable, married, and no doubt desperately in love with this little girl after raising her for almost a year. 

Much of the news coverage of the story sides openly with John Wyatt, and I would have to agree with that. However, the idea that Emma might be better off with the more economically advantaged and martially stable adoptive parents—the state of Utah’s underlying basic argument—is implied in Lisa Belkin’s New York Times piece on her Motherlode blog, in which she asks:
Who do you think should have custody of “Baby Emma”? The stable married couple who are, as their lawyer says, “the only parents this child has ever known,” or the single 21-year-old nightclub worker who has never seen her, though he certainly has tried?
My heart goes out to John Wyatt. He has been trying, since his daughter’s birth, to be a responsible father. Had he been married to Emma’s mom, Emma would likely be with him now. 
My heart also goes out to the adoptive parents. They put their trust in the adoption agency, the lawyers and the birth mom. After having Emma in their homes and in their hearts for a year, they stand to lose a daughter. I know what that feels like—it’s like a death in the family.

Most of all, however, my heart goes out to Emma Wyatt. She deserves to know her Daddy. She deserves the chance to be Emma Wyatt. Perhaps her material future would be brighter in a home with higher net worth and two parents. But she has a birth parent who loves her, who wants her.  Ask any adoptee—that’s all most of us ever wanted—to know that our “other” parents did love us.

For the families involved in this situation, it is no-win deal. Someone will end up devastated. Baby Emma will deal with emotional issues for the rest of her life.

Adoption can be a wonderful thing; it is a gift of the heart. A choice to love. So many children need desperately for someone to choose them. Their birth parents either don’t want them, or can’t get their lives in order enough to parent them safely. 

You will never convince me that an adoptive parent can’t love an adopted child just as fiercely as a “real” parent. Having been both the child and the parent in an adoptive relationship, I know better. 

Though I have wanted to know my birth background most of my life, I have never doubted that my parents—and they are my parents—love me.  Though I knew that raising our baby girl would have had its problems—crack babies can have behavioral issues well past infancy, and we would have had to address racial identify questions sensitively and honestly—I loved her, and love her, with all my heart.

Love aside, adoption is not always the best choice. We should be talking about cases like this in order to shape our adoption expectations as a society. If states like Utah, with its majority Mormon population and overwhelming prejudice against single parenthood are allowed to compromise the rights of parents in other states, that is unacceptable. We need to talk about that.

If as a society, we believe a two-career, multi-degreed, financially successful married couple should trump a blue-collar daddy or a single mom for parental rights, in the best interest of the child, despite that single parent’s desire and ability to raise the child, that is unacceptable. We need to talk about that. 

Adoption should be easy, when the circumstances call for it. It should be virtually impossible when we are taking children away from biological parents against their will absent abuse or neglect. 

Some states are toying with the idea that they can choose not to follow federal law in selected matters; now is the time to codify exactly what we can and can’t stomach in the adoption process as a society. Otherwise, states with a hard-right theological bent might move even farther in the direction Utah has taken, with disastrous results for children and families.


Anonymous said...

Great article but one thing you should know to make your story factual is the adoptive parents have been aware of John Wyatt from day 1.
They didnt care. As John Wyatt is not a Mormon therefore he doesnt in there opinion deserve the child that they would like to evangelise from birth to Mormonhood.
So I understand your life is very unique but please be aware for yourself that this is not a fair system here. John Wyatt and most importantly baby Emma Wyatt rights have been attacked by Mormons.
Hope you can contact the press to inform them of this when you see the stories anywhere
Have a great day.
Have no sympathy for the adoptive parents except that there religion has not quite taught them right from wrong.

Anonymous said... emmas parents are not mormons. I think there is a strong change that Anon is just trying to promote their own antimormon agenda, without knowing the real facts of this case. Which isn't too surprising, since much of what is stated in the post is not factual.

Anonymous said...

Here we go again,,stop ignoring what Utah has done to real families. They shove that mormon religion down people's throats and yet on the other side of their mouths they spew that a father has no legal rights to his own biological child.
Utah is screwing itself. I am sick of all of the biased judges, courts and attorneys who just all happen to hold on to children who do not belong in that state just long enough to cry out "it is in the best interest of the child to remain living with these people,,who all just happen to be mormons by the way,", regardless if they have abusive and criminal history. It is Utah collecting kids at it's very worse for the sake of religion. Take from the gentile to build up the mormon faith. John Wyatt, brace yourself, look how long your case has been in the Utah higher courts,,they are so corrupt and they will hang their decison on how long your daughter was stuck in a house not a home in UTAH. Case after case after case,,all with the same turnout

Anonymous said...

Baby Emma Wyatt was kidnapped by the adoption agency, the state of Utah and Thomas and Chandra Zarembinski. In other cases the child has been returned to the bio dad and the SCOTUS is reviewing this case too. Adoption use to give a needy child a home, but now it gives a needy family a child.