Birth mother speaks out for the rights of the child

June 26, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

In 1940, fewer than 4 percent of all the births in America were to unmarried mothers.

Today, the figure stands at 30.1 percent.

And the highest rate is not among teens, but among women in their early 20s.

Terry was in college, unmarried and just entering her 20s when she had her baby a few years ago.

She decided against marriage, abortion or raising the baby on her own.

Terry gave up her daughter for adoption without ever seeing her. Yet on every birthday, she writes her daughter a letter in the hopes her daughter will someday read them.

Terry has read all about Baby Richard and Baby Jessica, two children whose birth mothers gave them up for adoption and then sued successfully to get them back.

And you might think Terry would identify with those mothers, with their pain and with their desire to raise their own children.

But she does not.

"Would, in my heart, I want my child back?" Terry said. "Yes. But also in my heart I know that it would be wrong to take that child away.

"What has happened with Baby Richard and Baby Jessica is brutal and barbaric and I cannot believe it is happening in the 1990s, in our culture. I feel very strongly about this."

Many people feel very strongly about this. Hillary Rodham Clinton was so moved that she went on "Oprah" to say of the Baby Richard case: "It's an outrage. That child has bonded. That child was not just the child of the adoptive parents. That child was the child of an entire extended family and neighborhood."

As a result of the two cases and others, the American Bar Association and the Joint Commission on Uniform State Laws have created model legislation for passage in the 50 states.

Among the reforms are speedy hearings, a 30-day time limit on a father's parental rights if he knows about the pregnancy and a 180-day limit if he does not.

Also, under certain circumstances, the ABA suggests children be placed in foster care until a final verdict is made as to which set of parents they will live with.

Terry could have kept her baby and raised it on her own. But she thinks that is not a good idea for many women, even though it has become much more socially acceptable.

"I think it's a tremendous problem," Terry said. "Things are no better for single mothers today than when I was pregnant. And, socially, there is a lot more support to have an abortion than to have a child and give it up for adoption. I had a hard time finding support. I'm not opposed to abortion, but it's not the choice I made.

"But where are these young women supposed to turn today? Who is talking in positive tones to them about the options, about having the child and having it adopted?"

Terry said one of the reasons she called me was to give young women the message that "you can take off time from your life and have a baby and go back to your life. You can resume it."

"Going through that experience made me grow up more," Terry said. "That time was not wasted. I was a better person. I knew more about what I wanted from life and a life partner."

After Terry had her baby, she went back to college and graduated. She worked at a restaurant and then as a secretary and then went to graduate school, which is where she met her husband.

Today, they have one child and are expecting another in December.

And does your husband know about the baby you gave away? I asked.

"Of course," she said. "He was very supportive and loving and he is looking forward to meeting her some day."

So you do want to see your daughter again?

"I don't want to see her until she is 18," Terry said. "I know how difficult my own teen-age years were. I don't want there to be any confusion. If she wants to see me, fine. And if not, fine. Her parents said they'd let her know about me. And they seem like such open and caring people."

You call them "her parents." Is that because you believe the adoptive parents are the real parents? I asked.

"As a birth parent I gave my child life," Terry said. "But her parents, her adoptive parents, they are giving her a life. The parent is the person who is constantly caring for the child."

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