ANNAPOLIS – After nine years of unsuccessful attempts to have a baby, Jocelyn Denyer cradled a tiny 26-hour-old boy in her arms, examining for hours his dimples and light brown hair. Her trip from Rockville to Colorado to adopt had made her dreams come true.
But beneath the elation were feelings of fear: Denyer knew the baby could be taken back by its birth parents anytime in the next month.
“I had a knot in my stomach the whole time,” Jocelyn Denyer said. “As every day progressed we were getting closer (to finalizing the adoption) and it got scarier that maybe, just maybe, something would happen. I didn’t eat very well, I had an upset stomach.”
Taking a baby away from a family that’s bonded with the child could be emotionally harmful to both the adoptive family and the child, said Sen. Chris McCabe, R-Howard. That’s why he’s sponsoring legislation to reduce the time from 30 to seven days that birth parents have to reclaim their child.
“When a family is adopting a child they really have an interest in finishing the adoption,” McCabe said. “One of the top needs of our state is to try to create strong families and ensure that kids are not victims of disruptive family environments.”
Maryland’s adoption waiting period is the longest in the nation among states that specify one, according to statistics from the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. Thirty-four states give adoptive parents full custody as soon as papers are signed, forcing birth parents to go to court to reclaim their rights. Other states’ waiting periods vary from two to 21 days.
McCabe has been successful with legislation like this before. In 1992 he sponsored a bill that cut the time limit for birth parents to reclaim custody from 90 days to 30. His new bill could be heard by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee as early as next week. Adoption agencies say the bill will make Maryland an adoption-friendly state.
“Generally those that are placing for adoption don’t need 30 days to confirm their decision,” said Paul Garrett, director of Latter-day Saints Family Services, operated by the Mormon Church. “Thirty days is a long time for parents to be wondering. The seven days would let the baby move into a setting more securely.”
Officials at Adoptions Forever, a private adoption agency, said they also support the bill.
Denyer applauds McCabe’s bill. She was so worried about the waiting period that at first she and her husband asked the adoption agency to care for her baby, so they wouldn’t get too attached to him.
A conversation with the birth mother changed their minds.
“From the moment I held him he was mine,” Denyer said, choking back tears. “We were so overwhelmed that we actually had a baby. I sat crying and holding him.”
Six weeks later the adoption was complete. The couple rejoiced, but Jocelyn noticed the knot in her stomach never went away. She was still sick in the mornings and nervous during the day.
But it wasn’t stress from the adoption: she was two-months pregnant. The Denyers now have a baby boy and baby girl, nine months apart. They also plan to adopt again in the future.
“I’m glad I took the emotional risk of caring for our child that first month,” she said. “There is so much that happens in a child’s life in those 30 days. I would have been devastated if my son had been taken away.”