Of all the people saddened by the news that the little girl named Veronica was forced to leave her biological father and return to her adoptive parents, it had not occurred to me that adult adoptees might be among those hardest hit.
“You left out one important group in your article," wrote Tracy Hammond in an email that arrived shortly after I expressed sympathy for Dusten Brown, who relinquished his 4-year-old daughter to the South Carolina couple who'd been trying to adopt her since she was born. "You left out the 2% of the population that make up Veronica's fellow adoptees,” Hammond said.
It stood to reason that many Native Americans were devastated by the turn of events; Brown, who lives in Oklahoma, is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation and had unsuccessfully invoked the Indian Children Welfare Act to prevent the adoption from going forward.
But fellow adoptees?
“In general we are in shock, we are upset, we are mad,” wrote Hammond, 43, a Cincinnati-area business analyst who grew up with adoptive parents and feels she has suffered lasting effects from not knowing anyone to whom she was genetically related. “We feel we have failed her. We didn't fight hard enough for her.”
The case has dragged on virtually since Veronica was born in September 2009, and pinged from South Carolina courts to the U.S. Supreme Court to Oklahoma courts.
Facing criminal charges in South Carolina for failing to turn over Veronica to her adoptive parents, Brown surrendered the girl to Matt and Melanie Capobianco, who were present at her birth and had cared for her the first two years of her life. Brown had gained custody of Veronica in 2011. The Capobiancos continued their legal fight, and ultimately prevailed.
In an interview Wednesday, Hammond said she was part of a community that advocates for adoption reform -- including removing any financial incentives from the process, ensuring access to original birth certificates and making sure that "open adoptions" really are open. (Some of those issues were explored in a recent New Republic article, “Meet the New Anti-Adoption Movement.”)
“I don’t have a problem with adoption when it is done ethically,” Hammond said. “But it should be the option of last resort. Adoption is about finding homes for children who need one. It's not about children who already have a home. It’s the moral and ethical obligation of any prospective adoptive couple to stop if the natural family is going to fight you for that child. You are doing a disservice to that child if you try to keep them away from their family.”
Of course, the Capobiancos have many supporters who believe that they are Veronica’s true family. The couple are not baby thieves, and their emotional connection to Veronica should not be slighted. They have been adept at rallying support, with a Facebook page, a petition and a website devoted to their side of the story, which is compelling.
"While we are overjoyed to bring Veronica home, we sympathize with the Brown family during this difficult time," the Capobiancos wrote on the website. "Despite our differences, and everything that has happened over the last several months, we all love Veronica and want what is best for her."
They have posted a letter of support from Veronica's biological mother, Christy Maldonado, that was published in the Washington Post last July. It says, in part, "I handpicked this couple to raise my baby in an open adoption with me. We are a family. They were there for me -- and more importantly, for Veronica -- when Veronica's biological father was not ... I may not be her mama, but I will not stop fighting for what is best for her."
On CNN on Tuesday evening, the Capobiancos' spokeswoman told Anderson Cooper that the family was thrilled to have Veronica back. “It’s just been a very beautiful reunion,” Jessica Munday said. “The bond that they had as a family would make any parent envious. They were a very, very close family and there is no doubt, yes, she remembered them.”
But Hammond believes the circumstances of Veronica’s adoption could eventually have terrible consequences for the girl and her relationship to her adoptive parents.
“What will they tell her? ‘Oh, look – we fought so hard for you, we tried to have your dad thrown in jail?’” said Hammond. “If I were to find out that my father had fought for me and my adoptive parents had fought him back, I would turn on them in a heartbeat. There is no way to whitewash this one. As soon as the kid can Google, it’s over.”