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Which Side to Take in the Adoption Triangle? : A BIRTH MOTHER : 'It's Never in the Best Interest of Children to Be Bought'

August 11, 1993|Lynn Smith | Times Staff Writer

Ever since 2 1/2-year-old Jessica DeBoer was removed from the Michigan home of Jan and Roberta DeBoer and returned to Iowa, to her biological parents, Cara and Daniel Schmidt, an impassioned public has taken sides.

In the complex, highly publicized case, sentiment has favored the DeBoers over the Schmidts. Cara Schmidt, single when the baby was born, signed adoption consent forms naming another man as father. But within two months, she identified Dan Schmidt as the true father and he was awarded custody of the child by Iowa courts. The appeal process ended recently when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

While only a small percentage of birth parents change their minds after giving up a child for adoption, there are hundreds of cases similar to Jessica's in the United States. Experts say the controversy points up the inherent gamble involved in adoption, as well as the anger and pain when it falls apart. It also illuminates society's split on what is best for the children.

Here, two women, one an adoptive mother and one a birth mother who gave up her child up 29 years ago, talk to Times Staff Writer Lynn Smith about their lives and what they think went wrong in the DeBoer/Schmidt adoption case.

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Marty Smith, 45, a birth mother from Laguna Beach, gave up her baby for adoption 29 years ago. Anxious and remorseful, she initiated a successful search for her daughter four years ago. A self-described feminist and founder of Full Circle, a politically oriented support group for birth parents, she encourages ambivalent women to keep their children and speaks in favor of biological families.

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For the first five years (after the birth), I would eye small children, especially little girls and try to do this mental calculation and compare. As I got older, it got harder. When (my daughter) was 7 or 8, I began to have little girl dreams. I had really bad nightmares later, around 1978. I would wake up in the middle of the night sweating after dreams. If I read in the newspapers that 25 Girl Scouts were killed going over the side of a mountain, I'd think, 'How will I ever know if one of those could have been my daughter?'

When the dreams turned into young, faceless girls reaching out, I knew I had to do something about it. It was too much.

As soon as I found her, I began to think about myself a lot differently. I have much more self-esteem now. I'm going to school full time. I think I would have been a good mom. I think I would have gone to night school and been a professional. I was real diminished.

People have learned birth mothers have gone through this for years. But it's not what's in the media right now. People think birth mothers want to come and reclaim their children all the time. It's not the case in very many cases. They want to know their children are alive and well and want to be available to the child for medical and any social problems they may need them for. . . .

To me, the tragedy of this case is that in 1991, at age 27, society did not consider Cara (Schmidt) good enough to parent her own child. She still felt she was bringing shame to her family. Turning over her precious child to the care of absolute strangers was better for the child than to be raised by Cara.

With all the statistics released in the past 10 years showing that whenever possible children should be raised with their genetic family, society still attempts to punish unmarried pregnant woman and coerce them into taking their children to the marketplace called adoption. That is not necessarily acting in the best interest of the children.

If the DeBoers truly believe in the best interest of the child, they should have, number one, returned her right away, or two, when court decisions were coming in one after the other not in their favor, begun to let Jessica know the Schmidts. If courts ultimately found in their favor, the worst would be that Jessica got to know her birth family. And Cara could have spent some time with her.

I think there will be some separation anxiety (for Jessica) because of familiarity. I also believe very firmly, she'll have a sense of being home when she's with her mother. Roberta DeBoer was quoted as saying Jessica is losing the only mother she's ever known. That hurts me. I feel quivery. It's absolutely not true. It just isn't. . . .

The word mother is a noun or a verb. You may choose not to mother your child, but the noun is a given. A law or a piece of paper cannot change that fact. A birth mother will always remain the mother of her children.

Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary situation.

The reason teen mothers are under such pressure is that society doesn't perceive them as a family. The people who advise young women (to give their children up) want to say a family is a dad and mom, hopefully married with offspring. The truth is, that doesn't define very many families in this country today.

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