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Which Side to Take in the Adoption Triangle? : AN ADOPTIVE MOTHER : 'You Have to Make a Decision and Stick With It'

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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Leslie Dawson, 34, an adoptive mother from Los Angeles, successfully fought a lawsuit six years ago filed by her son's birth mother in order to reclaim the infant. As vice president of a now-dormant group, Families for Adoption Reform and Children's Rights , Dawson worked to pass legislation that last year created a 120-day limit to the adoption-consent period in California, and founded a support group for adoptive parents in crisis.

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I have very strong feelings about bonding. I really think all the people in the triangle of adoption are adults, to some degree. You have to make a decision and stick with it. Ultimately, it's the best choice for the child. Giving a child continuity and commitment and the opportunity to be nurtured and flourish should be the most important consideration.

There are a lot of kids being treated like little pawns in a chess game. (People say,) 'You can have her, no you can't.' It's very sad. . . .

The problem that's been publicized lately is the problem of the birth father. So many mothers are lying about the actuality of the birth father. In my opinion, the whole (Baby Jessica) case wouldn't have existed if they had known the truth--that Dan Schmidt was the father and he was not going to consent to any adoption. Therefore, there would have been no placement.

In my case, the birth mother lied and said she did not know who the father was. She signed under law of perjury that the father was unknown and there was no one to name. In court, it turns out there were three specific people who could have been fathers. We had to find each one. If any of them wanted to come forward and try to prove paternity, he could have sought out parental rights. The same thing could have happened to us as to little Jessica. My baby could have been 2 or 3. Is that fair to the child? That this child is suffering because somebody lied? . . .

I get sick to my stomach how this kid must feel right now, to be taken off to strangers, never to see (the DeBoers) again, and have her name changed.

Before my son was adopted, we had two (prematurely born babies) who died. It was the most acute pain. I try to picture a 2 1/2-year-old coping with that pain. I sit down and cry. How anyone who says they love this child could inflict this kind of pain on them is absolutely beyond understanding. . . .

One of my main concerns is, are we going to continue to allow these lies and deceptions to determine the fate of another person's life? What Cara Schmidt did was against the law. (Society can) put her in jail. Fine her. Make legislation that every man named as birth father have a paternity test before a child is placed in adoption.

It's just not fair. You can't be allowed to do that to other people. Not just Jessica. The DeBoers trusted Cara Schmidt. They trusted she was telling the truth about who the father was and that she did want them to have this baby and would be honest with them.

A lot of what adoption is has to do with trust. You can't have a successful adoption ever if you're all not being honest with each other. . . .

Some people are angry with Cara Schmidt. Others are angry at the DeBoers. I'm angry at our system that allowed this to go on for 2 1/2 years.

The problem is existing law. I did have a consent. (The birth mother) did petition the court for a custody hearing to remove the consent. It was a three-day trial that was extremely costly and trying emotionally. We did win. But sometimes you don't. It depends on the judge. A lot of what judges do, within the law, is what they want to do.

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