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 poundpuplegacy.org. 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?
(Belkin later used comments to clarify that she too believes John Wyatt should have custody.)
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.