Conflict Induced Adoption

Illustration by Nat Castaneda)

An interesting custody battle is taking place. I am going to summarize. You can read a more detailed account at this ABC News LINK>Baby orphaned in military raid now at center of custody battle with her relatives and Marine.

In September 2019, a weeks-old baby girl was found badly hurt but — miraculously — alive in the rubble of a raid by U.S. special operations forces. Both of her parents were killed in the operation and she was placed under the temporary medical care of the U.S. military to recover from burns and physical trauma. The military had targeted a home in central Afghanistan, looking to capture or kill suspected foreign fighters associated with al-Qaida.

Today, the 3-1/2 year old girl (known as Baby Doe) is claimed by two families who are fighting a complex legal battle over the right to raise her. On one side are her paternal uncle and cousins in Afghanistan, with whom she was placed by the Afghan government in early 2020. Her uncle’s son and his wife, referred to in court as John and Jane Doe, cared for her for 18 months. Baby Doe and her Afghan family fled the Taliban and came to the US. John and Jane Doe have now resettled in Texas.

On the other side is a U.S. Marine lawyer who was in Afghanistan at the time of the raid and who successfully petitioned a local Virginia court to grant him an adoption order. An attorney for the Marine, Maj Joshua Mast, has contended in court filings that the girl had no surviving biological relatives (which the U.S. government says isn’t true). Mast’s attorney described her as an “orphan of war and a victim of terrorism” and Mast used the adoption order in Virginia to take custody of Baby Doe in September 2021. Baby Doe currently lives in North Carolina with Mast, his wife and their children. In September, John and Jane Doe filed a federal lawsuit suit against the Masts, claiming that the Masts unlawfully took Baby Doe.

The case is being reviewed in both Virginia and federal courts. Also involved are the Pentagon, the State Department and the Justice Department, who say the child should be returned to her Afghan relatives.

Following Afghan cultural traditions, Baby Doe should have then been taken to her next closest relatives. But who was she? Who were those relatives? Was she even Afghan? The US worked with the Afghan administration of then-President Ashraf Ghani and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to locate Afghan relatives who could raise her as their own, in line with local customs.

Mast was serving in Afghanistan at the time, as an attorney for the government’s Center for Law and Military Operations. In that role, he was involved in discussions about what to do with Baby Doe and took a keen interest in her welfare. He advocated for her transfer to the United States, so she could be placed for adoption far away from the dangers of “a country known for child abuse, neglect and sexual trafficking of children,” as an attorney for Mast once wrote. Mast’s court filings have also stated that Baby Doe’s parents were likely combatants, not collateral damage from the 2019 military raid. In late 2019, when Mast and his wife, Stephanie, sought an adoption order, they claimed Baby Doe was stateless and needed continuous medical care. John and Jane Doe claim that Mast abducted Baby Doe days after he had helped them arrive in the US in August 2021, as part of the chaotic US evacuation from Afghanistan.

The Justice Department filed a motion that argued the case should be moved to a federal court. The motion also stated that the Masts’ adoption should not have been granted, citing a U.S. government decision that Baby Doe should be returned to her Afghan family. The State Department likewise said in a recent statement to ABC News that the baby should have been brought back to her relatives. “Reuniting the child with the family members in Afghanistan was the right thing to do,” a department spokesperson said.

“We need a full investigation on this case and how this child could have been adopted away from her relatives,” Lisa Lawrence, a Defense Department spokesperson, said. “The investigation could lead to loopholes that need to be closed within our system. There shouldn’t be anyone from any rank of military that can push something as significant as an adoption through without following proper protocol and procedures.”

Surrogates – Mother Infant Separation

I have wondered about this myself. A women in my all things adoption group asks the question for me and gets lots of answers.

I was adopted and I have trauma from my biological mom as well as some from the foster care system and then after getting adopted as well. I have seen a lot of people in this group mention the trauma a newborn baby automatically has when taken from the mother to be placed with a different family. I am wondering about surrogates then? If a new born baby is instantly traumatized due to the mother putting the child up for adoption, would that not be the same for a woman that is being a surrogate for another – couple or single individual ? For women who are unable to conceive, the choice seems to be either to adopt or have a surrogate. For women who can’t conceive, should they not also be allowed to be mothers ?

First response – No one dies from remaining childless. It’s selfish to intentionally create a child born into trauma. It sometimes takes as many as 3 women to make a baby. 1. One to pay for that because a woman she cares about wants a baby. 2. The biological donors and 3. The surrogate. What a boggling circumstance for the resulting child to wrap their mind around. People should just accept their infertility. The reality is that most of these women only want babies. Truth is that babies aren’t “in need” of someone else to mother them. They are in high demand and sought after by many.

Next perspective – No one is “owed” a baby or parenthood. It’s not a fatal condition if one never becomes a parent. However, if people want to be parents, there are legally free children in the foster care system. Children who need parents – though the best outcome is that they are never adopted but cared for under permanent guardianship – people to act in the role that parents would. Truth is – no one “needs” an infant.

Finally, onto the actual question – “There’s also a lot that’s ethically wrong with surrogacy beyond the babies trauma, which I think is the biggest issue. Jennifer Lahl has written and speaks out against it.” So I went looking and have linked her name to an article. She writes – “Gestational surrogacy involves impregnating a surrogate mother by implanting embryos created from the eggs of the intended mother or egg donor, and the sperm of the intended father or sperm donor. Women and newborns often do not survive gestational pregnancies, and those who do are often affected physically and psychologically.” I’m not certain about the do not survive part but that is what she wrote. You can read the rest of her article at the link in her name here.

And then a counter argument and I’m not saying this one isn’t as biased as the one above. “Couple Speaks Out Against Jennifer Lahl” courtesy of The Surrogacy Law Center. “Lahl explores the issue of third-party reproduction, focusing on several women whose experiences point to what she sees as flaws in the surrogacy process. She argues that surrogacy has become a baby-buying operation that allows wealthy couples to exploit vulnerable women, often those of lesser means.” ~ Susan Donaldson James of ABC News

Jenn and Brad Nixon of Chesterfield County in VA did their best to defeat infertility for 7 years. The Nixon’s chose to use a surrogate, or gestational carrier, after they learned Jenn’s heart problems would make it dangerous for her to get pregnant. Infertility is a disease affecting more than 7 million Americans. While Lahl highlights how affluent couples are using and exploiting surrogate services, objections to her perspective are raised by couples who have experienced infertility and are not in a wealthy income bracket.

Yet while much has been said here and maybe the answer is buried in almost 170 comments and linked responses to them, my heart already knows. Separating an infant from a gestational carrier is no different than separating an infant any time from the mother in who’s womb that baby developed. The least damaging case I know of was of a mother carrying a baby for her daughter. There will still be separation but the grandmother can be expected to remain in the baby’s life throughout at least their childhood and that might mitigate the effects significantly.

That story (which I once wrote about in this blog) is about a 51-year-old grandmother from Illinois who gave birth to her own granddaughter through surrogacy, when her daughter couldn’t conceive. Julie Loving, 51, was the gestational carrier for her daughter, Breanna Lockwood, who delivered a baby girl named Briar Juliette Lockwood. This has inspired a few other instances of grandparent surrogacy, I see.

Julie Loving with Breanna Lockwood and baby

And just adding this perspective because I think it is realistic – I don’t think the whole world must outlaw something because it creates trauma. There are traumatic things happening everywhere. BUT we can help children grow to be happier people – IF we acknowledge that trauma, respect it, be open to talking about it and hopefully maybe healing it. (And being open to the fact that it may never heal). Not all people will eventually be in touch with their trauma. Some will be and some can heal. Some will be and CAN’T heal. Life is a gamble. You will set yourself up for trouble – if you can’t even talk about it or acknowledge it exists.