Splitting the Baby: Veronica

I’m an adoptive mother of four now-young adults, sons adopted from the US as babies and twin daughters adopted at age 6 from Ethiopia. I believe in adoption, and I believe that adoption must be done with integrity if it’s going to work.

I feel strongly that Baby Veronica should have stayed with her birth father. I wonder how the Capobiancos, the adoptive parents, will look that child in the eye when she’s older, and say, “We fought hard to take you from your father, who wanted to keep you.”


By the time Baby Veronica turns 4, on September 15, she will have been moved from her birth mother’s arms to her adoptive parents (from Oklahoma to South Carolina), then from her adoptive parents to her birth father (South Carolina to Oklahoma), and soon, apparently, from her birth father back to her adoptive parents (Oklahoma to South Carolina).

That’s some 3,000 miles in highway distance. It’s also, and this is far more significant, three  traumatic changes for a young child: the loss of her birth mother, the loss of her adoptive parents, and now the loss of her birth father. Trauma is the right word. Lots of research exists around the devastating impact that separation from the birth mother can have on children.  Some adopted children have experienced more than that initial loss, and have endured abuse and neglect, or have witnessed horrific events.  As adoptive parents, we cannot change the past, but we can do our best to avoid exposing our children to additional traumas.

Baby Veronica has (as best I know) not experienced abuse, neglect, or worse. She has experienced the trauma of loss, at least twice, and it looks like she will endure it a third time, now at almost 4 years of age. My heart aches for her.

This is not what adoption should be. Adoption should be a last resort for a child without other options. Adoption does not exist to meet the needs or wants of adoptive parents. Adoption should be done with transparency and integrity by both birth parents and adoptive parents.

For adoptive parents, one of the hardest parts and the gravest responsibilities is to build trust with their adopted child. It’s a process that takes place over and over as a child grow up and process the realities of adoption: loss of the first family, difference, grief, and trauma.

Once trust is broken, it’s hard to re-build.  Of course it is possible. But for adopted people–those cute children grow up to be teenagers, adults, and senior citizens–trust is often at the heart of difficulties in establishing emotional connections with others. The journey can be painful.

So I wonder how many adoptees, not lawyers, the Capobiancos have consulted. The insights of adult adoptees, and their struggles and triumphs, are invaluable to adoptive parents, and have certainly expanded my understanding of adoption. My guess is that most adult adoptees would say: If the child has a biological parent who wants to raise her, and who is a fit parent, then the child should stay with him.

I don’t know either if the Capobiancos been working closely with social workers or therapists who have an extensive background in adoption. There aren’t that many of them–adoption is rarely even part of many graduate school curriculums in the mental health arena. I hope they’ve found several good ones to support the enormous task of re-building trust in Baby Veronica over the next decades. It’s a lifelong task for many adoptees, even those adopted as newborns.

It is time, in any case, to move beyond the legal rulings, and see what is possible now. The plan for Baby Veronica at birth cannot be the same one for her now at almost 4 years of age. Too much has changed.

This does not have to be an either/or situation for Veronica.

After all this pain and heartache, wouldn’t it be great if these families could create a new model of open adoption? (Open adoption is an arrangement that allows/encourages/sustains contact between a child’s biological family and adoptive family.)  I’m increasingly convinced that open adoption is the direction that adoption practice and policy are inevitably headed, and that includes international adoption. It will require a lot of work on each parent’s part–huge work, candor, transparency, dependability.

Here’s the thing: There’s no privacy for anyone in this collective family anymore, and Baby Veronica will be able to uncover tons of information about her past when she’s old enough to scour the Internet, as most adopted children do, to search about herself. So the door has been opened wide for this possibility. (My recent post about adoptive parents accompanying their children on their Internet search journeys is here.)

Despite all that’s gone wrong in terms of adoption policy and practice in this case, if the people who say they love Veronica can pull themselves together, perhaps some good can result–for the child. It would be wonderful if the Capobiancos, Dusten Brown (Veronica’s first father), and Christy Maldonado (Veronica’s first mother) lived near each other geographically. Moving toward each other emotionally, psychologically, will be far more challenging, I realize.

In fact, while I’m not a fan of the legal outcome here, I’d argue that there is even more work for lawyers here. Dusten Brown, who fought so hard for her, could have regular visitation rights. Veronica could spend summers or holidays with him.  They could Skype every week. He could be at her kindergarten, middle school, high school, and college graduation. The Capobiancos could send regular updates with photos and video to him, and to Veronica’s first mother as well. (That may well be in the works, since Christy made the adoption plan with the Capobiancos.) Veronica could grow up knowing that there are many people in her life who love her.

The fear, secrets, and lies that have poisoned so much of adoption practice over the years need to stop. I love my children beyond words. I’ve accompanied them on their journeys, and my children are mine forever. They also belong to others, who have loved them and still love them. We are all better off for not drawing lines in the sand or establishing legal precedents, but instead working together as best we can, stumbling along sometimes, making mistakes, and keeping our eyes on what our children truly deserve: the truth about who they are, and the truth about who loves them.