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Adoption battles catch children in the cross-fire


Terry got pregnant. She was not married. She gave up her baby for adoption.

Terry knows she had a daughter, but she does not know the name of her daughter. She does not know the name of her daughter's adoptive parents.

I do.

But I have promised not to tell anyone.

A few days ago, Terry called and left a message, asking me to call her back.

And I got very, very worried.

Even though Terry gave up her daughter years ago, the names Baby Richard and Baby Jessica immediately came to my mind.

And I wondered: Could Terry possibly want her daughter back?

Fewer than 1 percent of the 50,000 adoptions carried out each year in this country are contested. But 1 percent represents 500 babies and 1,000 warring families.

Baby Jessica was born in 1991 to Cara Clausen of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Within days, the baby was put up for adoption and Jan and Roberta DeBoer of Ann Arbor, Mich., took temporary custody of her.

As it turned out, however, Cara Clausen had lied about the identity of the father, her ex-boyfriend.

And he didn't know he had a daughter until Clausen changed her mind a few days after the birth and wanted Baby Jessica back.

The biological father, Dan Schmidt, and Clausen began seeking custody. (They married in 1992.)

The DeBoers fought them in order to keep Baby Jessica.

As in almost all these cases, if justice (or at least a decision) had been swift, the pain would have been reduced for everybody, especially the child.

If the case had been settled in, say, 2 1/2 months instead of 2 1/2 years, how much easier it would have been on those involved, especially Baby Jessica.

But on Aug. 2, 1993, Baby Jessica, now a toddler, was taken away from her adoptive parents, and her screams of terror were broadcast around the world.

The Schmidts, who renamed the child Anna, now have a second daughter and report that everyone is doing fine.

The DeBoers adopted a baby boy in June 1994. But they say they will never forget Baby Jessica.

The Baby Richard case was different legally from the Baby Jessica case, and it dragged on even longer, but the result was the same:

Baby Richard was born to Daniela Janikova of Chicago in March 1991.

Janikova was not married, and the baby's father, Otakar Kirchner, had returned to his native Czechoslovakia.

Janikova put Baby Richard up for adoption because she had been told, incorrectly, that Otakar had married someone else.

She later told Otto that the baby had died.

Baby Richard (a pseudonym assigned by the courts) was placed in the custody of Bob and Kim Washburton.

When Daniela told Otakar the truth, Baby Richard was just 57 days old, and Otakar quickly sued for custody of his son. (Otakar and Daniela later married.)

On April 30 of this year, four years after the case began, terrified cries once again were broadcast around the world as Baby Richard (now named Daniel) was taken from his adoptive parents and given to his birth parents.

This Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an attempt by the adoptive parents to regain custody of the boy.

A psychologist visits the Kirchners daily and has reported that the child is adapting well.

But Bennett Leventhal, who chairs the child and adolescent psychiatry department at the University of Chicago, has said: "The kid is going to be scarred for life. Anybody who pretends this will all go away and he'll live happily ever after is wrong."

I called Terry back. It had been years since I had spoken to her.

She lives in the Chicago area, and the Baby Richard case has dominated the news there week after week, month after month.

"I have been very upset by that case and by the Baby Jessica case," Terry said. "And I want to talk to you."

I told Terry I would be glad to listen to her.

But there was no way I was going to tell her where her child was.

SUNDAY: Terry and Baby Cindy.

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