Thursday, January 25, 1996
Let's take baby's side this time

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Baby Jessica. Baby Richard. Now Baby Simone. Are we stupid or just heartless?

Simone Isabella was born Oct. 20 to Doreen Wilkinson, a 35-year-old Middletown woman who surrendered all rights to this child Nov. 6. She changed her mind 11 days later. A suit has been filed.

Ms. Wilkinson says signing the papers was a ruse to buy time. She thought she could renege on her promise before caseworkers found Simone's father, a married man who signed over custody 10 days after the baby's birth. ''I thought it would take them time to track him down, and by then I would be in a better situation.''

Her situation is this: She has a 5-year-old daughter. She has asthma. She has a lawyer. She has a grandmother, almost 90, and an aunt in her 70s, who say they'll help. What she doesn't have is diapers, formula or a job.

Time is precious

Now it's up to the courts to decide what will happen to this baby. I think today would be good. Tomorrow at the very latest. Docket a little full, your honors? Then let this kid cut in line in front of disgruntled stockholders and people who have been burned by coffee.

When the Supreme Court finally wrestled Baby Richard away from his adoptive parents, he was 4 years old. First hint of a problem was when he was 82 days old, when a suit was filed.

Baby Jessica was 2 years old when she was taken from Jan and Roberta DeBoer, her parents since shortly after her birth, and given to her birth parents. A month after Jessica was born, the DeBoers learned their baby's birth mother wanted Jessica back. Some have said the DeBoers should have cut their losses earlier, as though this child was a puppy whose registration papers hadn't come through.

These babies are not in escrow while the adults duke it out. They are becoming part of a family, if they're lucky.

Think back, all of you parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents out there. How long did it take for you to love your babies? ''When they came driving up the driveway and put her in my arms, I thought my heart would explode,'' Marnie Black, a North Avondale woman, says of her adopted daughter.

But this is not simply about love. It's not about money. It's about responsibility.

Ms. Wilkinson told The Enquirer that she felt pressured by Lutheran Social Services to give the child up. ''There's never any pressure applied,'' responds David Lamb, the agency's spokesman. ''We deal strictly with voluntary surrender,'' and that only after considerable counseling. He says the agency provided free counseling to 82 pregnant women last year, with 16 mothers deciding on adoption and ''the rest we assisted toward parenting.''

Mr. Lamb says the agency helps point indigent moms toward financial aid and housing. ''At any sign of wavering or indecision, the birth parent is encouraged to take her time.''

Hold mom to her word

How about if we do not waver on this one? How about if we insist that the courts and the social workers move quickly to take this child out of judicial limbo? Make Ms. Wilkinson live up to her promise.

Doreen Wilkinson is 35 years old, and this baby was not a surprise package. The last time I checked, the gestation period is still nine months. She had time to think before she made this commitment.

And where is this child, this 3-month-old baby girl right now? Is her life on hold? Bound by confidentiality laws, Mr. Young can't tell me. Is there a brave family willing to risk becoming the next DeBoers?

Help is on the way in the form of a bill now in Ohio's Senate. This proposed legislation would shorten court deadlines and limit challenges, decreasing the time a child waits for an adoptive home. Rep. Cheryl Winkler, who was primary sponsor, says the bill focuses on the child.

Goody, let's hurry up and get it passed. You've been working on it for four years.

Meanwhile, if we let Doreen Wilkinson have this baby, we are ignoring laws that already exist. And we are telling all the parents who have opened their hearts - their exploding hearts - to children not of their flesh that nothing is safe.

Let's take sides on this one, ladies and gentlemen. Simone's side. If we don't, we are both stupid and heartless.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax to 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU-FM (91.7 MHz), and as a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.