Why couldn't I see through my anger and be realistic and reasonable? It was time to start thinking about the child.
It didn't work that way. Why? Because my trust in everyone associated with this adoption was gone. I had respected the birthmother's privacy and refrained from interfering with her life, only to be taken advantage of. I had been dumb in public, but I was not an abandoner. The other parties were wrongly telling my son that the man who brought him into this world had not cared about him. The only one I trusted now was me. If that meant prolonging my torment, then so be it.
But I wasn't the only one tormented. The adoptive parents were devastated. When we met privately to talk things through no more than a few minutes went by before they started crying. He's the center of our lives--it would kill him to take him away. Due apparently to rage, the adoptive mother did not want to see or communicate with the birth mother. But at hearing recesses, the adoptive father, dabbing at tears, would approach her. We love this child very much, and he's such a happy little boy. We're just trying to do what's best for him. The birthmother would stand there feeling guilty and helpless.
At the trial, the adoptive mother arrived clutching a large photograph of my son, apparently a plea for us and the court to consider who really mattered. I appreciated seeing my son's picture. But what I, and likely everyone else, mostly saw were the signs of an impending breakdown on the face of the woman holding it.
The legal expenses were staggering. By the hearing on the motion for new trial, with my son almost a year old, the adoptive parents' attorney fees were a rumored seventy thousand dollars. By trial, they testified to over a hundred thousand dollars. They also had to make expensive plane trips for the hearings, while leaving the child with others. The adoptive father exhausted his vacation benefits. The couple took a second mortgage out on their house. Their court briefs continually mentioned the emotional impact the litigation was having on their home life--their dreams were dashed, they were living in prolonged, constant fear for the child's future, which was complicating their relationship with him. They had waited for years to adopt a child, and finally their dream had come true. Their love for this human being was equal to that of any biological parent. They wanted to end this nightmare as soon as possible.
Attempts at mediation were futile. The adoptive parents and I were brick walls, our self-serving echoes drowning out reason:Can't you see ours is the only home this child has ever known?
It's not your home I'm worried about. He's my child.
Biology isn't what's important.
It was important before you had two miscarriages.
We're not trying to keep you out of your son's life.
That's not what your court documents say--why didn't the agency investigate more?
Why didn't you come forward, you knew more than we did? You sat around during the whole pregnancy doing nothing.
He's my son, you know I did not abandon him, now give him back.
That wouldn't be in his best interests, he's our son too, can't you see we just want to do what' best for him?
And on and on.
On the day of trial, completely out of finances, seeing no end in sight, my son going on two years old, I offered to enter a legal custody agreement with the adoptive parents. The adoption would be set aside and the agency would pay my attorney fees and expenses. The adoptive parents would retain custody, while I got liberal visitation. Anything less and we would go to trial. Everyone accepted the offer. It remains unchanged today.
But why did it have to go that way, when a simple showing of respect and understanding would have given all an informed choice at the outset, a chance to avoid the destructive litigation, abusive investigations, a quarter of a million dollars in legal expenses, and eighteen months of deep grief for fear of losing a child we loved?Footnotes
1. From: Carney, E. Birth Fathers: The Forgotten Half of the Story, Adoptive Families 2001. www.adoptivefamilies.com/articles.
2. Id., quoting adoption attorney Mark McDermott.
3. In the Interest of Baby Boy C_____. 93-PA-00361, consolidated into 93-PA-01108, Bexar County, Texas. Note: Since this case, Texas, and many other states, enacted putative father registries to prevent natural fathers from disrupting adoptions. The effects of the registries are debatable. Ohio, for instance, has seen a case a year in its appellate courts since its putative father registry was enacted. In almost half of those cases, the natural father, despite not signing the registry, succeeded in overturning the adoption after extended litigation.