In the summer of 2009, I made the most difficult decision of my life: to place my baby, Veronica Rose, with adoptive parents. Many know her as “Baby Girl” or “Baby Veronica” because her adoptive parents and I fought all the way to the Supreme Court for Veronica’s right to be treated like a human being — not property owned by a Native American tribe.
I am Latina and not a member of any tribe. When I became pregnant, I was already a single mother with two children, in a relationship that was on the rocks. I thought hard about my options and decided I could not have an abortion. I was briefly engaged to Veronica’s biological father, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, but our relationship was over by my third trimester. When I asked my ex whether he wanted to be involved, he told me, by text message, that he wanted to give up all parental rights. And that was the last I heard from him. It was clear that my pregnancy and my baby were my responsibility.
I wasn’t sure I could go through with an adoption. I reviewed dozens of files before I found Matt and Melanie Capobianco. They lived in South Carolina, farther away than some couples I considered, but I immediately felt a connection. I could tell they were people of strong faith, like me. They had a great support system of family and friends and had tried for years to have children. From our first conversation, Melanie treated me with such warmth, respect and kindness. She also welcomed an open adoption that would allow me to be a part of my child’s life.
Matt and Melanie were with me in the delivery room, where I otherwise would have been alone. Matt cut the umbilical cord and was the first to hold Veronica. After a few days, Veronica went home with them.
Veronica’s biological father was out of the picture. He did not ask after her or even whether she had been born healthy. But after he got the adoption papers, he objected. His lawyers said that I could not choose my baby’s parents because he was a Cherokee and that either he would take custody or my baby would go to another member of the tribe. I could not believe that, after disappearing on us, he was trying to derail the family I had worked hard to give to my daughter. Why should a man who said he wanted no responsibility for his baby have more rights than I did just because he belonged to a tribe?
For 27 months, I watched Veronica grow and thrive with Matt and Melanie. I got regular updates, talked to her on the phone and watched her open presents at Christmas. They are wonderful parents, and I felt proud of the decision I had made for my child. But after more than two years in her happy home, a court ruled that my choice meant nothing.
I will never forget the night Matt and Melanie had to turn Veronica over to her biological father: He put Veronica in his truck, drove her to Oklahoma and never looked back. The next day, he let her have one brief phone call with her parents. Then nothing. Matt, Melanie and I have not seen or talked to our daughter in 18 months. My heart aches for her every day.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that this never should have happened. Some people have asked whether I think Veronica should still be raised by the adoptive parents I chose or, at this point, stay with her biological father. This question surprises me. I handpicked this couple to raise my baby in an open adoption with me. We are a family. They were there for me — and, more importantly, for Veronica — when Veronica’s biological father was not. I saw how deeply they cared for Veronica and how happy she was with them.
Veronica’s biological father abruptly cut her off from the only family she had ever known. It pains me to think of how many times she must have cried out for her Mama and Daddy — Melanie and Matt. No parent could possibly think it was okay to rip her away from them or to shut us all out of her life. If my baby had been kidnapped by a stranger, no one would suggest that she should be left with the kidnapper just because time had passed, even if she seemed to be doing all right in her new home.
Veronica should be returned to the parents I chose for her. Young children are resilient — as I was told when lawyers were arguing that her 27 months with Matt and Melanie, and my decision, were irrelevant. Veronica is bright and opinionated and was already talking a mile a minute at age 2. She surely remembers Matt and Melanie as her parents, and I know they will respect the time that she has spent with her biological father. Veronica, Matt and Melanie have been apart for too long. I may not be her Mama, but I will not stop fighting for what is best for her.
Christy Maldonado, who lives in Oklahoma, this month filed a brief urging the Supreme Court of South Carolina to finalize her birth daughter’s adoption by Matt and Melanie Capobianco. She wrote this for The Washington Post.
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