Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Doubly Damned by Adoption turns Victim into a Fighter


Janette Barcenas has been doubly damned by adoption, first when she was taken from her mother in Guatemala and brought to the United States and then when she lost her son to the American adoption system. Her loses have turned her into a fighter for adoption reform.

Janette contacted me several years ago. I’m not sure how she got my name – perhaps through Concerned United Birthparents. We met at a hole-in-the wall pizza place near my home.

Over pepperoni pizza and soda, Janette told me that she had given up her son through PLAN (Plan Loving Adoptions Now) a McMinnville, Oregon based adoption agency which has since shut its doors. (According to PLAN, it ceased operations because the bulk of its business was foreign adoptions and fewer foreign children were available due to the unwillingness of other countries to let their children leave, stricter immigration laws, and concerns by humanitarian organizations.)


Jeanette had sued PLAN and the adoptive parents to recover her son and lost. She asked for my help in finding an attorney to appeal her case. I posted a request on the Oregon Family Lawyers list serve. The only response was a snotty message from the attorney who represented PLAN or the adoptive parents, telling me Jeanette’s case was hopeless.

Janette persisted and eventually found an experienced and sympathetic appellate attorney, Eli Stutsman. She lost her appeal on procedural grounds. Here are the facts from the Court decision:

The Court Case
Janette gave birth to a son, Gabriel, on June 3, 2005. Two days later, she signed an irrevocable surrender to PLAN which placed Gabriel with prospective adoptive parents the same day. Although Janette had a “continuing contact” agreement, the adoptive parents limited Janette’s contact with her son after two months. Janette contacted an attorney who tried to get the adoption records but was unsuccessful because of a fire at the Courthouse and, the Court suggested, his lack of diligence.

On May 1, 2006, 11 months after she signed the surrender, Janette’s attorney filed a lawsuit to set aside the adoption based on fraud and duress. The trial judge dismissed her case. The Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal, finding that the 11 month delay during which time the “adoptive parents bonded with Gabriel” was unreasonable even though an Oregon statute set a year as the outside limit for filing an action to contest an adoption. The delay had been caused by Janette’s difficulty in finding an attorney, the Courthouse fire, and her attorney’s slowness in filing the lawsuit. As often happens in contested adoption cases, the Court never reached the merits of Janette’s case – whether her surrender was obtained through fraud or duress.

After we posted a piece about Oregon’s unfair adoption laws, Janette’s attorney, Eli Stutsman, contacted me about working on legislation to reform these laws. Janette immediately jumped in to help.

I asked Janette to write her story, to tell our readers at FMF about the flesh-and-blood mother who lost her own mother and her son due to poverty, lack of information, and unjust laws. Here is her story, edited for clarity.

Adopted from Guatemala
There is in my life so much rage and anger at the wrong that is happening but mostly a great pain and sorrow that words cannot describe. A daily pain that never goes away. I and my brother -- I was over 7 -- were adopted from Guatemala (twice, the agency did not care who we went to or if the people buying us really knew what the hell they were doing, it was a sale for them!) It was not how it should have been, my mother never signed any papers, she desperately wanted us back, she fought for us, no one listened, no one helped. My heart breaks for my mother who lost two of her children.”

Pregnancy and Loss
When I got pregnant, I could not go to the people that raised me; they disowned me. Somehow I found this stupid mother’s home covered over with religion. I lived there; they brainwashed me and had me do all these work books. I look back and am so sick about how subtle they were in making me believe that I would be selfish to keep my baby Gabriel and what a bad person I would be to give up my own dreams and what a gift it would be to some pathetic family who couldn't have kids.

So I went with a different agency and the family lied to me, told me everything would be open and like a family and so on and so forth. I never wanted this; I asked about the option to have my son in foster care just for a week so I could figure out what to do, they said they don't do that. I just was so scared; I didn't know what to do. …After months of brainwashing, the damage was already done. …I was forced to sign the papers in the hospital; they said that is where it had to be done. You just felt so guilty if you changed your mind. I didn't know what I was doing. When my son was born was when I came to life. When … I left the hospital without my son I died.

I called PLAN the next day, hysterical saying I wanted him back. I begged and the lady at the agency said “get over it, stop calling here.” Then about a couple weeks later the family said that I could only see him certain times and the whole thing I was promised would not work. …If I knew that is how it would be then I never would have even followed through. (We've written about the open adoption scams before.) Again, this is not what I wanted in the first place. So after the family ended their agreement and the agency threw me to the curb I didn't know what to do. … I wrote the BBB, the state appointed attorneys, the attorney general, those pre-paid legal places. Then I called every attorney and firm in the phone book from A - Z, literally. I made hundreds of calls….

I lost my case in the trial court. There was an amazing, wonderful appellate attorney, Eli Stutsman, who took my case to the appeals phase, but again to no avail. People including my first attorney said I was crazy that I should give up that I was wasting my money and time and energy. I could not just sit back and do nothing.

A Mother’s Pain
One day I hope my son Gabriel Israel Barcenas will know how I tried to get him back and that this is not what I wanted in the first place. .... He is over 5 now and I miss him dreadfully. I think about it now and my heart hurts. I miss my Gabriel. I miss him every day. I wonder how much pain we must endure. An everyday pain, a daily death to a mother. I hope he feels I love him and one day knows I love him dearly. …

Turning Rage into Action
I try to remember a saying I repeat many times. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Things I cannot change is getting my son back, changing decisions made yesterday; what I can change is the anger and bitterness against people involved, I must choose daily to forget those people, somehow forgive them and myself and move forward. … I can change the future with people’s help like many of you on First Mother Forum, people that are giving their time and energy. … We can change the future so women don't have to endure what we have endured. I can share my story to educate people. … I know that all of us are on this earth for a purpose and I need to try to use the rage within for something positive in this world. I love my son Gabriel and miss him dearly, every single day.

4 comments:

Lori said...

It seems that the most vulnerable of us are the most victimized. I truly dispise adoption as it exists today.

Von said...

Sometimes there are things we cannot forgive nor should we feel we have to.I hope this precious boy is found.

Lorraine Dusky said...

I believe that is the same story (son taken from family in Nepal) that I read about at Slate,and that EJ Graff, whose expose about the corruption in international adoption we have posted at the blog, wrote the story. That was some months ago, and there was a picture of the father who had no idea where his son was. If anybody has any further information, please post it here.

Ex-in-the-City said...

Heartbreaking and tragic.