Julie at Rarely Home Mom recently posted her thoughts about an adoption case heard in Utah Supreme Court. Julie's post about the case involving birth father John Wyatt generated a lot of discussion (that's an understatement), and I was one commenter among many. This case strikes me deeply, so I'm re-posting Julie's post and my response here.
Julie is an adoptive mother, and I'm grateful to her for taking the time to explore this case on her blog. Honest, heartfelt discussion and debate are prerequisites for any adoption reform, and I appreciate Julie's passion and compassion. The issues raised by this case transcend John Wyatt, his daughter, and her adoptive parents, and I hope you will share your thoughts.
The case involving John Wyatt (a brth father)
If you live in Utah, you’ve probably heard this news story about an adoption contested by the birth father. I get really angry every time I see this birth father, John Wyatt, speak, or see his story in written form. Really angry.
Here’s the thing: Utah has really strict laws about rights of birth fathers, and their rights are pretty minimal here. Here’s a basic run down for those not involved in adoption:
Utah law says that any man in the country who has sex with a woman anywhere in the United States has the responsibility to follow up with that woman and determine if a pregnancy resulted from their little rendezvous. If the man does not do that, he automatically has no rights to the child after birth. If the man does find out that he fathered a child, it is then his responsibility to show interest in that child before it is born. Some ways he can do that are by financially supporting the mother (rent, groceries, medical bills, etc.), driving her to doctors appointments, and so on. If a man knows he impregnated a woman and shows no interest in the baby before it is born, Utah law gives him absolutely no rights to the baby after it is born and the mother signs paperwork terminating her own rights (which can be done as early as 24 hours after birth if she is not on narcotics). If a man knows he impregnated a woman, supported her during her pregnancy and wants to retain rights to the child after birth, he MUST file certain papers in court in a very specific manner of time.
The case I’m talking about here is all wavering on that birth father saying he submitted papers to the court in time, and the adoptive family attorney proving that he did not have the papers filed until something like 2 days after the deadline.
I do see how in very few percentage of cases, this law might be a bit difficult for birth fathers. But I’m talking 0.01% of all cases might have a birthfather with issues with Utah law, from everything we’ve seen and researched. From all the family situations and birth family situations I’ve seen over the past few years, the laws in Utah work. They have been a lifesaver to countless birthmothers, and I sure appreciate them as an adoptive mom.
Here’s a very tricky thing about adoption law: each state has their own adoption laws, and they are incredibly different. When we were pursuing our failed adoption in 2005 we lived in CA and the babies were born in PA. We could have chosen to use CA or PA law, and because the laws in PA were difficult to work with for our situation, we chose to use CA law. When Joshua was born in Utah we still lived in California, but because Utah adoption law kicks the pants off of any other state in the country, we chose to use Utah law. Generally speaking, the adoptive family can choose to use the laws of either the state they reside in, or the state the baby is born in. There are times when an adoptive family does not get to choose, but I believe this is pretty rare.
The problem with this current case: Virginia – where the baby was born -has awarded custody to the birth father, but the adoption of the baby was by a family who are Utah residents and worked under Utah law, who has given custody to the adoptive family.
Nathan thinks there is no where for this case to go but the US Supreme Court, and I’m starting to agree with him; although I’m hoping and praying the birth father’s family runs out of money before they can go that far.
Why does seeing this birth father make me angry?
I can’t understand what it would be like to lose a baby when you think you have full legal rights to that baby. I would be tempted to fight and scream and kick for my baby, too.
BUT at what point do you just STOP fighting and admit that even if you were wronged (which I do not believe he was, but play along – what IF he was wronged) – this is a human. This is an 18 month old human being who has a FAMILY. A sweet little girl, who might be ripped out of the arms of the only family she has EVER known (and by that time it happens (please, don’t let it happen) will she be 2? 3? 5 years old?) and given to strangers when she already has a safe and loving home. Can you start to imagine the trauma? This isn’t an orphan, a kid in foster care, an abused or neglected child. This is a girl – a daughter – who has a loving mom and dad and safe home.
This girl is not a lost dog who was taken in and loved by a new family until hey! her first owner was found and now we can reunite them! NO. She is not a lump of goods, trade-able property.
This is a HUMAN. A delicate, innocent baby girl and if she is removed from the only home she has ever known I can not imagine how it will impact her life.
An upstanding birth father, who actually cared about his daughter would never want her to go through that. In my opinion, his is the highest form of selfishness, bordering on evil. He is treating this little girl like property. A lost dog. John Wyatt is showing the world he cares not about his daughter, but himself. A real parent places the BEST INTERESTS of the child above theirs at all times. He is showing he cares about himself, not about what would be best for his birth daughter.
What do I wish he would do? What do I hope I would be strong enough to do if I were in his shoes? John Wyatt needs to say “I still think I was wronged, but instead of ruining the life of my daughter forever, I will fight and work tirelessly forever to change the laws of each state, and the way that states coordinate interstate adoptions, so this never happens to another birth father again.”
Anything less than that will show him to be only cruel, evil, and selfish.
This story pushes all kinds of buttons, and like Christine, I’m challenged to put my thoughts into words that will not offend. (Deep breath) I am an adoptive mother. I could never live with myself knowing that either of my children’s first fathers was in this situation, especially over a paperwork deadline. I don’t know this guy from Adam, but I do know this: it’s not as easy as “If he really loved his daughter he would let her go and spare her this mess.” Yes, on paper it may seem clear that it is far better to leave her with her adoptive family… bonding, etc. But this is his child. This is his life. She is of his BODY!
Rational or irrational, I would fight to the death for my children, and I think he truly believes that she should be with him. Why should he be denied that right? Because he missed a deadline? For crying out loud, it’s not a term paper. This is a child he CREATED!
I may be slipping into deletion territory here, but this brings up a lot of emotions. I’m disappointed with the way people use child development to justify separating child and first family. (Not just here; the argument is used all over the place.) For example, many people say that a child this age has already bonded with her adoptive family, and separation at this point would be traumatic, etc. Yes, I’m sure it would. Not life-threatening, though. Not insurmountable or irreparable. No. Children this age lose parents to death, divorce, work-a-holism, addiction, and incarceration, and with the right support, the kids grow up emotionally and psychologically healthy. To say that returning the child to her father would ruin her for life is overly dramatic. It would be sad and difficult and confusing for a while, but it’s doubtful that she would suffer lifelong repercussions from it.
As I said, I would fight to the death to protect my children, and I REALLY sympathize with the adoptive parents in this case. But that doesn’t make the first father less important. He is not less than they; his motivation and rights and feelings are no less important or relevant than theirs; he should not be dismissed simply because he makes other people uncomfortable or uneasy or self-conscious. This isn’t merely a transaction for him. This is a horrific personal nightmare. It’s easy for us to devour the headlines with breakfast. He is living this.
My last thought is that I really, truly understand the adoptive parent position. I’ve had my breath knocked out of me by disappointment, “failed matches”, etc. I know the agony of wanting to parent, of feeling sure that you are meant to be a mom, the all-consuming ache of infertility… but dang! No one owes you their child. No state should make it easier for people to adopt a child than for the first parents to parent. That’s morally wrong, and it makes me sick to hear that some adoptive families seek finalization in Utah because it’s faster/easier/safer. It’s an uncivilized concept.
Thanks for letting me chime in.
What do you think?
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