Parents of internationally adopted children have been watching this story unfold and discussing it on forums all over the web. It is the story of two families connected by one daughter standing at an impossible crossroads. In an unprecedented ruling, a judge in Guatemala has ordered the return of an 7-year old girl, adopted by a family in the United States to her birth parents. I felt compelled to write about this story…. because it makes me think “What if this happened to me… to my family? What would I do?”
The birth mother's search
This girl's birth mother has been searching for her since the day she was kidnapped from her own arms, but local police were indifferent to her case and offered no real help in locating the child or the kidnappers. The birth mother had a very difficult time getting anyone to listen to her plight… and at one point resorted to a 10-day hunger strike in front of Guatemala's Supreme Court of Justice to call attention to her case. Boosted by support from the Guatemalan human rights organization, Survivor's Foundation, the birth mother was finally granted a DNA test in August 2009, which positively matched her DNA with that of the child ultimately placed for adoption. Survivor's Foundation assisted her in beginning the long legal process to fight the adoption, which resulted in the recent judge's order to return the child to her birth family. For a country whose adoption process that has long been rife with corruption… this is a huge victory for birth parents rights.
DNA testing and the adoptive mother's sin
According to www.internationaladoptionhelp.com, “Since 1998 the US Embassy has required DNA testing for all relinquishment adoptions of Guatemalan children adopted by US citizens. After reviewing an adoption case file, the US Embassy authorizes DNA testing of the birth mother and child to confirm their biological relationship. The DNA testing is carried out by authorized medical personnel of an approved laboratory under strict procedures.”
According to www.findingfernanda.com, seven months into the process of adopting this young girl, the US adoptive family found out that the DNA did not match between the child and the woman who claimed to be the birth Mom.
“When (the adoptive mother) asked (the director of the adoption agency) what could be done after the child’s failed DNA test, aparently seeking alternative ways to push the adoption through, (the director) responded that (an agency “contact”) might bring the child to an orphanage, where she might eventually become declared abandoned. Or, (the director) said, (the agency “contact”) might dump the girl “somewhere where nobody could find her.” In subsequent emails, (the adoptive Mom) said she was “terrified.” (A well-known) Guatemalan adoption attorney became involved in the case, and the (adoptive parents) ultimately were able to adopt (the child) through an abandonment process, meaning that the DNA test results- which were meant to prevent fraud in adoption- could be conveniently ignored. (The child) left Guatemala with the adoptive family in December 2007.”
Doing the “right thing”…
It is so easy to condemn the adoptive family for making the decision to push ahead with the adoption and circumvent the protections in place to insure that the child they were planning on adopting was not kidnapped and was relinquished willingly by her biological mother. And at face value- it is deplorable… and unethical….possibly even criminal….. and I don't know how this hasn't haunted them every day that their daughter has been in their family.
However, if I were emotionally invested in a particular child (and I do not know if the adoptive parents had traveled to Guatemala to meet the child prior to receiving the DNA results), and I was told that putting the brakes on the adoption due to the lack of a DNA match might result in her living in an orphanage for the rest of her life or worse- being left somewhere in the countryside where she might never be found… I might have been able to convince myself that I was doing “the right thing” for the child. But hopefully my moral compass would have prevailed and I would have found another way to do what is right by this child…. support her…. advocate for her…. but it would not have included becoming her mother. To read about a courageous person who did exactly this… read Jennifer Hemsley's story.
So where does this leave things… legally?
It is unclear whether or not the United States government will uphold the Guatemalan court order, and compel the US adoptive family to return the child to her birth family. And while the court order does outline that Interpol will be contacted to intercede should the adoptive family not comply within a specified time frame, it sounds as if that would have little affect on any legal proceedings here in the US. Unless the adoptive family decides to on their own to reunite the child with her birth mother, this case may progress slowly, if at all, in our own legal system.
But more importantly, where does this leave the child?
Well, in a horrible situation, honestly. She is currently 6 years old, was removed from her own home as a baby, lived somewhere (orphanage, foster care?) for nearly two years before she was adopted. Joined a new family where she was surely told that she was loved by her new “forever family”. Speaking from experience, it is quite likely that she has no memory of her native country, and no native language. Now due to this court order, her entire community likely knows who she is and the story of her adoption and the fact that she has a birth mother that wants her back, desperately. She cannot be shielded from this truth.
We can all stand on our own moral high ground and state that without a doubt, the right thing to do for this child would be to reunite her with her birth family… as soon as humanly possible. But I doubt that this 6 year old sees it that way. And while we can say that is too young to have a “say” in this decision, she is one that is going to be uprooted again, for the third time in her young life, and asked to begin her life anew. The emotional consequences of her situation are staggering to me.
As I said…. this is now at an impossible crossroads….. but one that must somehow be navigated. My heart breaks for this birth mother who never stopped searching and for this child…. and aches for this child.
*A note: although multiple media organizations have reported the adoptive family's name as well as their city and state of residence, I have decided not to include that information in this post…. not in support of the parents, but in protection of the child.