Luck Stopped Adoption that Didn’t Need to Happen

On the surface, this is a feel-good story (Standard Examiner, 4/6/11).  It’s story about the loss and recovery of a child.  It’s a story about a mother in terrible mental distress whose actions could have scarred her for life, but ended up for the better.

It is also a story of good old fashioned dumb luck.

But scratch the surface and there are other facts and suggestions of facts that are less cheering.

Back in 2004, Carmen McDonald gave birth to a little girl she named Tamia.  At age 20, McDonald suffered from bi-polar disorder; the arrival of Tamia added postpartum depression to her woes.  So she decided to place her newborn for adoption.

Telling her parents who lived nearby that she was going to Ohio to give the baby to its father, McDonald instead travelled from her native Illinois to Utah and placed Tamia for adoption with an agency whose name she’d found in the newspaper.

She returned with a check for $600 and no baby.  Tamia had been placed with a couple named Lenna Habbeshaw and Steven Kusaba.  They were infertile and had long wanted to adopt a child.

But Carmen McDonald’s mother and father had other ideas about who their granddaughter should be raised by.  John and Maria Dorden never let up in their quest to gain custody of Tamia, and that is where the dumb luck came in.

In the middle of the fight the adoptive parents were arrested on drug charges.  That was more than enough for the Utah courts to back off on the adoption.  Tamia went back to Illinois to live with her grandparent which she does happily to this day. 

End of story?  Yes and no.

We’ve seen plenty of stories about Utah adoptions that look like little more than court-sanctioned child theft.  The Kevin O’Dea case is one; so is the John Wyatt case.  In both instances, mothers were able to avoid the fathers of their newborns long enough to get the babies into the hands of adoption agencies and their attorneys.

Those stood ready with adoptive parents and Utah courts stood ready to look the other way on the issue of fathers’ rights.

Now, in this case, we don’t know a thing about Tamia’s father.  McDonald obviously knows him and knew where he was at the time of Tamia’s birth.  But whether he ever claimed his parental rights remains unknown, at least to us.

But apart from the adoption agency’s payment to McDonald that may or may not have violated the laws prohibiting trafficking in children, McDonald reports another interesting detail about the “transaction.”

It seems that, when faced with actually giving Tamia up, she balked.

McDonald flew to Salt Lake City with infant Tamia in December 2004, her ticket paid for by A Cherished Child, a for-profit agency in Utah that advertised in Illinois. McDonald found herself in a motel room, relinquishment agreement in hand. When she tried to back out, she said, she was threatened, including being stranded without airfare home, according to court records.

The handover in the motel room along with termination of rights forms is eerily reminiscent of what happened in John Wyatt’s case in which his partner checked herself out of the hospital, newborn in hand and went to a hotel room with Utah adoption agency representatives, the Utah adoptive parents and their Utah attorney.

The threats issued to a mentally-unstable mother along with the promise of money if she complied paint a less than pretty picture of the adoption as it’s practiced in the State of Utah.

And that raises an obvious question.  Why would McDonald or anyone else travel from Illinois to Utah just to place their child for adoption?  After all, healthy newborns (and there’s no evidence Tamia wasn’t healthy) aren’t hard to place, in Illinois, Utah or anywhere else.

It’s not too unusual that A Cherished Child advertised in an Illinois newspaper.  But why did McDonald choose an agency in a state so far away?  I’d say ‘money’ was one possible answer.  ‘They won’t ask too many questions,’ for example about the father, might have been another.

Whatever the case, but for Habbeshaw and Kusaba’s drug bust, it’s all but certain that the adoption would have gone through and Tamia would be living with them instead of with her grandparents.

Whatever her situation with her father, Tamia is another child who didn’t need to be adopted.  The Dordens seem to be fine parents and, once McDonald gets over her own drug dependency, the child may develop a fuller relationship with her.

So there was never a need for her to be adopted and fortunately for all concerned, she wasn’t.  But it was a near thing; it was a case that turned, not on reasonable adoption law but on dumb luck.  And luck isn’t good enough.  We shouldn’t have to depend on that to save a child who doesn’t need it from adoption.

Across the country, we force adoption on children who have fit parents.  That’s wrong for everyone – the adopted child who has a parent to care for it, the father whose child is taken from him often without his knowing about it and of course all those children throughout the world who don’t have parents and who cry for them every night.

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