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Baby Jessica Takes to New Life, New Name : Adoption: Family says 3-year-old Anna Schmidt is adjusting well a year after her birth parents regained custody from her adoptive parents.

August 07, 1994|GREG SMITH | ASSOCIATED PRESS

BLAIRSTOWN, Iowa — When the public knew her as Baby Jessica, she was a terrified little girl, screaming and crying as she was carried away from the only home she had ever known after a bitter custody fight.

Now the dark-eyed, dark-haired youngster says she's Anna, not Jessica. She has a new home with a sister and swings and a watchful dog.

And she has new interests.

"I can tell you, she does like to shop. She likes to shop and so does her Aunt Rob. Whenever we are together we go shopping--McDonald's and shopping. Anna loves chicken nuggets with French fries and lots of ketchup," said Robbie Schmidt, the girl's aunt.

"I can guarantee you she's doing fine. She's wonderful. As far as Anna is concerned, she is Anna Jacqueline Schmidt and she will tell you that. That is her identity. If we've ever been out in public and maybe someone has come up and called her Jessica, she has informed them, 'My name is Anna Jacqueline Schmidt,' and she often wonders why they call her that."

On Aug. 2, 1993, Baby Jessica was transferred under court order from the home of Jan and Roberta DeBoer of Ann Arbor, Mich., to birth parents Dan and Cara Schmidt, who renamed her Anna Jacqueline Schmidt.

The couples had battled over the little girl for more than two years in Iowa and Michigan courts--a fight that polarized the country over the issues of children's rights, birth parents' rights and adoptive parents' rights.

Cara Schmidt, then unmarried, gave birth to the little girl in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Feb. 8, 1991, and gave her daughter up for adoption. But she named the wrong man as father.

The DeBoers were granted custody, but on March 8 they learned Cara had gone to court to get her baby back. Then Dan Schmidt identified himself as the baby's father and sued to win custody. He and Cara married on April 11, 1992. The DeBoers fought for custody through courts in Iowa and Michigan. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected their pleas.

Then, in the frenzy of her transfer from the DeBoers to the Schmidts, scores of reporters and cameramen crowded around 29-month-old Jessica, catching her screams and tears.

"Coming out of that house and with all the turmoil in the house and all the camera people outside, that's what sent her crying," Robbie Schmidt said.

Since then, other than appearances on ABC-TV's "PrimeTime Live" program in March and again last month, the Schmidts have avoided the media.

Roberta DeBoer, however, has written a book about the custody battle and is promoting it through interviews.

"Dan and Cara will not respond," said Robbie Schmidt, Dan's sister. "They feel it is not to Anna's best interest to exploit her in the media. They feel the only chance for Anna to have a normal life is for the press to just leave her and them alone."

That sentiment is echoed around Blairstown, a community of 695 people in eastern Iowa.

"Why don't you just get out of their faces and leave them alone?" a woman at Opie's Other Place tavern asked a reporter.

"Last year, you couldn't walk outside without having a reporter in your face. The reporters were reporting on the reporters," said Ann Morrow, who operates an ice cream parlor.

The Schmidts have moved from a tiny house on the edge of town to a bigger, more secluded home a few miles south of Blairstown. A big, black dog guards the house. A "No Trespassing" sign is posted.

A swing set and small jungle gym sit in the front yard for Anna and her 13-month-old sister, Chloe.

"She adores Chloe. She adores her mom and dad, her grandmas, her grandpas, her aunts, her uncles," Robbie Schmidt said. "She puts her hands on my face and she'll tell me, 'Aunt Rob, you know you're my favorite aunt, don't you?' And I'll say, 'You bet, Anna Banana, and you're my favorite niece.' "

Anna and her parents are adjusting to their new life, she said.

"Our lives are going to go on. The media attention is not important for us at this time. What's important to us is the fact that she is home and it's wonderful."

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