Adopting a Child in America: What “Baby Veronica” Teaches Us About the Adoption Process -The Toast

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Previously: Veronica Brown and the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Though she is now a walking, talking preschooler, the headline read, “Baby Veronica Handed Over to Adoptive Parents.”

On the night of Monday September 23, 2013, Veronica Brown was removed from the care of her biological father and transferred to the custody of the couple who wanted her. The case that started in South Carolina Family Court as “Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl,” went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States and back to Oklahoma, seems to be fading from the media spotlight for now. Left behind in its wake are supporters and protesters on both sides, and perhaps an insight into some of the costs of the adoption process in America.

Adoption is supposed to be about providing a home for a child that needs one. All children have the right to be cared for someone who loves and wants them.  It’s generally understood that there are times when being cared for by his or her genetic parents is not in a child’s best interests; in some of these cases, an adoptive family can be a wonderful source of permanency and support. However, it was quite clear that Veronica did have a home where she was loved and cared for by her father. It was obvious by his actions as he fought for the right to care for her. Veronica did not need an adoptive home. So what went wrong? How did this story of two families fighting over one little girl even happen?

The story of Veronica Rose Brown has put a sweet little face on the forefront of questions about the ethics involved in the domestic adoption industry. To understand just what went wrong, we have to start at the very beginning.

Adopting a Child Through Private Domestic Adoption

Whatever the reasons that led Veronica’s mother Christy Maldonado to call an adoption agency, this is when machine first started rolling.

It’s not that hard for a pregnant woman to find her way to an adoption agency in America. Any Google search on pregnancy will bring up about 50% adoption agency ads, while “pregnancy help” will yield even more. Many adoption agencies hire recruiters, and conduct massive marketing and informational campaigns in order to target “at-risk” pregnant women. Even nonprofit adoption agencies spend thousands of dollars on internet campaigns and remarketing ads that follow a targeted woman as she browses, continually reminding her of “the adoption option.”

There has been market research conducted on pregnant women and mothers to determine what would make adoption more appealing as a choice for an unplanned or crisis pregnancy, the results of which were published by the National Council for Adoption (essentially the political lobby arm of America’s adoption agencies and adoption attorneys) and used to justify a federally funded adoption awareness program. The Infant Adoption Awareness Training program has even made its way into public high schools, targeting the social and health care workers who come into contact with at-risk pregnant mothers at deemed vulnerable to the adoption message.

So what is that message, exactly? Adoption is promoted as a “loving option” for mothers who love their babies enough to desire a “better” life for them than what they are capable of providing. What they often fail to mention that adoption is a 13-billion-dollar industry in this country. Babies are desperately needed to fulfill the demand of the potential adoptive parents who are willing and able to pay the often-requisite $30 to $50 thousand dollars. Adoption requires the presence of a pregnant woman (who’s generally facing a host of difficult situations), a (usually wealthier) party who desires her child, and the adoption middlemen: lawyers, agencies, and facilitators, all of whom benefit from a successful transfer of parental rights.

Somewhere along the line, Christy made a call or answered an ad in Oklahoma, while in South Carolina, Matt and Melanie Capobianco hired Roger Godwin to act as their adoption attorney and used Nightlight Christian Adoptions (Godwin’s wife was the director of the South Carolina branch at the time) to approve their adoption home study. By all accounts and the court transcripts, as of June 2009, Christy had been matched with Matt and Melanie Capobianco. By that point, she had cut off all contact with Dusten Brown, Veronica’s father.

Adoption Options; Legal, Putative and Thwarted Fathers

Now, it’s generally agreed upon that adoption should be a viable option for pregnant women, and that it is their right to choose adoption if they so desire. The issue is that in adoption, it is common and acceptable practice to purposely keep a father out of the equation. It is not only legal in many cases, as a father’s rights are often not even a given if he is not married to the child’s mother, but all too easy to do. The difference between a “legal” father and a “putative” father is what many adoption professionals use in the adoption process.  A married man is the legal father of a child born to his wife, but, if unmarried, the biological father is considered the “putative father.” A putative father is not considered the child’s father based on biology, but on his actions; which under most state laws translates into the level of monetary support he provides during the pregnancy.

With an understanding of how adoption is generally practiced, it’s highly likely that Christy was directed to cut off contact with Dusten and refuse any attempts at support. Under South Carolina adoption law, since Dusten did not live with Christy, but had to live four hours away on his Army base, if she refused support, then his consent to the adoption was not legally necessary. In other states, a father’s rights can be terminated by the posting of an advertisement, often unseen, in a newspaper. It doesn’t matter that this is not ethical, or right, or fair. It is legal.

In most articles about the case, the comments will bear endless arguments claiming that Dusten either wanted to support the pregnancy or abandoned Christy, but the judge in the original court case found that the key players in the adoption proceedings willfully conspired to keep him away. There is even a legal term for that: thwarted fathers.

The irony of this aspect of adoption is that if an unmarried mother should decide to parent her child, she will have the full force of law to go after the father for financial support. Yet, she chooses adoption, she is instructed not to go after the father, and not even to inform him what she has chosen to do. Then she can claim he never supported her. If he had tried to force his presence in her life, Dusten could have been labeled as “controlling” or “abusive,” even “dangerous;” again, this practice is all too common in adoption.

Even the question of whether or not Dusten said he wanted to relinquish his custodial rights via text message pre-birth cannot be considered paternal termination. It is not legal in any state to relinquish the rights of a child via text message; an issue that even SCOTUS failed to understand. The question should be why were images of said texts even taken ahead of time to be submitted as proof? That is a clear case of an adoption attorney directing a mother to document a lack of intent to support.

Supporting the Adoption Process

Of course, once adoption is in the picture, the mother is provided with other means of support throughout her pregnancy. The monetary support provided through the adoption agencies are all listed as “birthmother expenses.” While in this case, the state of Oklahoma has a $1000 cap on contributions; some accounts claim that the Capobiancos paid for past debts, living expenses and even contributed to or furnished Christy a new SUV up to, and perhaps, more than $10,000.00. State laws are often ignored and not often enforced when adoptive couples are seeking the cooperation, and the child of a woman who needs the money.

The accepted process of early matching with prospective adoptive parents also serves to remove the the expectant mother from anyone else who would not support the adoption of her child. Along with being encouraged to distance themselves from the fathers, extended family members, grandparents, and friends are counseled and then often “cut off” if they do not toe the adoption party line. In this case, Christy was not allowed to receive visitors during her hospital stay. At other times, the parents of the biological parents, or the fathers themselves, have found restraining orders placed against them and have been physically removed from the hospitals by police.

Dusten did not know when Veronica was born.

While Christy stayed home in Oklahoma, the separation of the mothers, fathers, and their families is often encouraged by adoption professionals and is employed in part by supplying “birthmother housing” in the adoption process. Many agencies will happily move a mother out of state to a more “adoption-friendly state” where the relinquishment consent laws move the adoption timeline along more quickly. Also, during the relationship created by the early connection of mother and adoptive parents, the mother is encouraged to emotionally disconnect from her own pregnancy and find satisfaction from the joy of the intended parents.

Even the use of the word “birthmother” on most adoption agencies websites, including Nightlight, is even considered a form of subtle coercion by inducing a mother to think of herself only as a facilitator of birth before her child enters the world. The TV show “I’m Having Their Baby” is a wonderful example of that subtle use of adoption language.

Hospital Ethics with Babies for Adoption

Having the adoptive parents present at doctor’s visits and in the delivery room is seen as “bonding” or “relationship building” by adoption standards, but are also means of making a mother emotionally dependant on the adopters’ emotions and feeling responsible for their happiness. Many media stories have joyfully reported how Matt Capobianco “cut the cord” at Veronica’s birth. The fact that the Capobiancos were even present during labor is highly unethical. Labor and delivery is a highly charged emotional time where any woman can feel extremely vulnerable. Even most adoption experts agree that the actual choice to relinquish must be made after the birth of the child, when the baby is more than just a concept, but a living, breathing identity.

Many mothers have found that they had serious second thoughts about relinquishing after the birth, but felt obligated to continue on with the plan in order to avoid hurting the feelings of the adoptive couple. Whether that would have happened to Christy or not isn’t  the point; the fact is she didn’t have the opportunity or chance.

The first relinquishment of Veronica occurred the day after she was born. While still recovering from birth in her hospital bed, her child not even 24 hours old, Christy relinquished her rights to her daughter. This is legal in the state of Oklahoma and in many other states in the country. While she had 15 days to legally revoke her consent, after that she could not change her mind and cite duress. In many states, such as Florida, Massachusetts, or South Carolina, there is no revocation period at all.

One might wonder how it is ethical to ask someone to sign legal paperwork while in the hospital, without legal representation, and possibly under the influence of pain medication, but the relinquishment consent form is not considered a contract and therefore does not fall under contract laws. Adoption consent has it own set of standards. A minor cannot legally sign a contract, yet a minor child can relinquish her own child without parental consent or legal representation.

Also, in adoption practices, a mother can waive her right to have legal representation; this is often encouraged by adoption professionals, as it is presented as just another expense that the adoptive parents must pay for, rather than the biological parent’s right. Meanwhile, having a lawyer representing a birthmother who is paid for by the adoptive parents itself is actually unethical, but again, accepted adoption practices. The Capobiancos paid for Christy’s lawyers.

Most adoption agencies also offer to pay all medical expenses incurred through birth that results in an adoption for their clients. This can be a very appealing aspect to an impoverished mother, and prospective adoptive parents are often all too willing to ensure that their potential child receives the best in medical care. However, many agencies will extract the fees for medical care, and then enroll the expectant mother in the state-provided services, essentially having taxpayers unwillingly subsidize the adoption and help contribute to the agency’s profit. By time the original case went to court, Melanie Capobianco testified that the adoption had cost somewhere from $30 to $40 thousand.

The state of Oklahoma paid for Veronica’s birth, though if Christy had married Dusten, they would have been covered under both the military and Cherokee Nation medical plans.

This was how a little girl named Veronica came into the world. Before she even left the hospital, before she crossed state lines, before she was declared Cherokee, years before her father would be able see her face, before her story was heard by the highest court of the land, before the families involved were followed by the media and discussed on TV shows; Veronica was born into a very questionable set of circumstances.

Baby Veronica’s story is not that unusual. The current state of adoption practices are characterized by a lack of ethical oversight, which leads to an environment ripe for profit, corruption, and exploitation. The lack of public understanding of these issues, coupled with a desire to see adoption in a kind light, prevent a more objective view from receiving equal attention.

This a story that repeats itself day after day, all across the country. These practices are considered common and acceptable in the adoption process. If we are outraged by what happened to Veronica or Dusten or the Capobiancos, then we should be outraged that these adoption situations are considered legal. We should be outraged that this is what our laws and courts allow. We should hold adoption agencies and professionals accountable for their actions and demand better for all our children so they cannot be used as commodities, so that parents cannot outbid each other for possession. We must admit that just because something is legal does not make it ethical. We must be willing to see the truth about adoption, discuss its real problems, and find solutions that make sense.

Since 2005, Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy has been blogging about life as a birthmother. Her writing on adoption issues has been published in The New York Times, What to Expect, Adoption Today, Adoption Voices, Gazillion Voices, and many others. She is dedicated to Adoptee Rights legislation and changing the unethical adoption industry.

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