My fight for Baby Darling

November 24, 2011 by
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WHEN Benjamin Forbes discovered he was going to be a father on October 27 last year – ‘there was joy and happiness, a little relief that I wasn’t infertile, and some nerves and anxiety, too’.  But all that excitement was erased just five weeks later, on December 1st, when he learnt that he was not, however, going to be raising his first child. Benjamin’s girlfriend had decided that their infant would be handed over for adoption at birth. ‘She called me at 7.30am from her parents’ house to tell me. I told her: ‘‘I respect you for having the courage to make this decision but adoption is not the right choice for our child. If you won’t consult with me about this, I will have to get support elsewhere.’’

The father's tale: Ben Forbes

He sighs. ‘She thought I was threatening her; that I would demand to have the baby myself. And yes, I suppose, I was. She told me her reason was that she wanted this baby to grow up in an established family – where there was already a home, other children, a father with a good job. But you know, people will always make excuses won’t they? Because when we conceived our baby, we did so knowingly and intending to marry and be a family. She just changed her mind when our dreams became real.’ Since that December day, Benjamin and the mother of his baby have been caught up in a mess over who, why and how the child should be brought up. Looking for an outlet for his emotions Benjamin decided fairly quickly that he would explore his side of the story on a blog – bravely or rashly – inviting comment from friends and the wider world into his experience. Determined to be honest about his feelings as well as events, the blog (http://benjaminsbabydarling.blogspot.com/) has not shirked from moments of high drama or passion. It is heartbreaking and also hopeful, bitter and repenting, fierce and gentle. Benjamin admits mistakes and sometimes sings the praises of this child-to-be’s mother. ‘Mostly,’ he explains, now, ‘I wanted it to be a record for my Baby Darling, as I call my child, so that when she grows up it is all there in writing – how much I wanted her, and how much I fought to keep her myself, but also the reasons why – eventually – I too gave her up.’

Benjamin is a tall, gentle-looking 24-year-old from Salt Lake City in Utah. He works with high-functioning adolescents in a secure unit – children with violent tendencies who have broken the law and need intensive psychiatric support for mental illnesses – and hopes to be a qualified child psychologist some day. He is close to two elder sisters who live near him, and is very fond of his two younger siblings who are still at home with his mother, an entrepreneur. Dad lives 150 miles away on a US government campus working in computer systems administration. Like most families in Salt Lake City, the Forbes are members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, or Mormons; although Benjamin says, they are mostly lapsed. His own faith has developed only recently, perhaps in response to this past year, a time which would have troubled the patience of any saint, regardless of religion.

However, the influence of that Church is relevant to the beginning of his relationship. ‘Gosh, intercourse before marriage? That is a big no-no for people from our Church! But when I met my baby’s mother, and she was just 18, I knew I wanted to marry her and have babies, and although I don’t have the right to speak for her, I thought she felt the same. Members of my church do marry young, so although she had just left school, it didn’t seem strange to us. We were both serious, although with hindsight, I guess there was an age difference. I was more ready than her.

‘So the decision not to use contraception, it was very much a choice. And in the first week of October, our first time, we conceived.’

The couple began testing for a pregnancy as soon as possible, and on the 27th, there came the positive result. ‘I was with her and so excited. She seemed happy too for a couple of hours, and then she was scared. She woke her parents at midnight to confess. She was upset with herself. Her folks were disappointed I know, but they are good people and said they would support her whatever she wanted to do. None of us would have considered termination.’

Benjamin’s parents took the news well, and his older sisters were thrilled. Benjamin’s girlfriend seemed to relax and for two weeks, all went well.

Then, ‘I noticed our relationship was going downhill gradually, in hindsight, perhaps the week before Thanksgiving, as her morning sickness was kicking in. I remember keeping a pocket of mints so that I always had one to give her when the nausea was bad.

‘But there was no yelling or fighting like that; my own parents fought.’

And then came the devastating phone call. Benjamin was ready, but the young mother was not. ‘Neither of us had graduated yet or finished university, we had no savings, we hadn’t bought a home – adoption would give Baby Darling parents with all that.’

A trip to the Courthouse provided Benjamin with information and forms. He needed to register himself as the legitimate father first, but his now ex-girlfriend refused to help. ‘With her help, it would have cost about $200 and involved filling in a form. Without her, it meant filing a case, issuing her with a subpoena, court fees, possibly a paternity test – perhaps $2,500 worth of work which I couldn’t afford. Then to get custody after the birth would have been a bigger battle.

‘I began to pray a lot. I didn’t want to talk to family or friends as I knew they would urge me to fight and there was more to this decision than that. I talked to her parents a little. I tried to talk to her but she wouldn’t see or speak to me. I know I never bailed out on her; I kept trying to help, to do the right thing. And I didn’t want to take the mother of my child to court. That felt wrong.’

In February, by the time Benjamin had begun the blog, he received a text from the mother to be: Baby Darling was a little girl. ‘I would loved to have gone to a scan appointment, but she didn’t want me around. I can understand that.’

Benjamin was beginning to understand he was going to let his daughter go. ‘It took me two months of thought and prayer to accept it, and even then at times I changed my mind. It was such a difficult decision. In the end, I felt God told me it was the right thing to do. But there was more to it than faith. I knew that if I kept Darling, I would be able to choose her environment and control it, but we would struggle financially. I would console myself thinking that if we had to live off chicken and rice for the first four years, she wouldn’t remember it when she was older.

But what really decided it was my poor relationship with her mother. Our relationship was hopeless. So, reluctantly, I agreed to an open adoption.’

Adoption laws in the US are different to the UK. Open adoptions – where families not only stay in touch with the birth mother (and less often the birth father) but can become more interwoven are possible.  These relationships cannot be enforced by law, and hopeful adoptive families may promise more future contact before the birth than they actually offer post adoption.

But Benjamin and his ex-girlfriend felt confident that the couple they found through (separate) meetings with their Church agency would treat them fairly. ‘I was surprised how many conditions we could place on what we wanted for Darling’s parents. We demanded Utah-based parents who were highly educated, and who even looked like us. We wanted them to have children already and be able to afford a college education for her in time.’

Meeting them for the first time made him happy, says Benjamin. ‘I could tell they were good people. I won’t say I don’t gripe about them. But I am not angry with them. I am confident they are the right couple to bring Darling up.’

On July 11, Benjamin received an email telling him the baby was born. He was invited to the hospital the next day to spend an hour with Darling. ‘It was awesome,’ he says, his voice suddenly thick with choked back tears. ‘It was really hard to hold her knowing I’d have to leave her there. And Darling was such a nice little baby; quiet and peaceful. Was it love at first sight? You bet.’

Benjamin was allowed a second visit the following week with his family and a close friend who all wanted to meet Darling. By now, she was at the home of Ryan and Cyd, her adopted parents. ‘That was hard. We took more pics, but I couldn’t bear to be there. Yet, everything came back to her and her needs. Seeing her there, I knew she was in the right place.’ His relationship with the adoptive parents is not perfect. ‘They tell me I am too dramatic (and yes, I know I can be), and that they don’t want to think I am watching them and judging them on their parenting, and maybe I am a little, but you know, this is a big deal. And I am frustrated. You try to be OK with all this.’

Three months after the birth, he is still in turmoil. ‘I don’t want to miss any milestones, but I don’t want to be there either. There are no guides for birth fathers, no rules. I am just doing my best.’ He has long since forgiven his ex-girlfriend, aware that he didn’t want to hold on to the anger or to punish her. ‘I can’t replace her, but I am looking to get married and have more children.’

What will he do if Darling comes to him at 18 and says, ‘I’m pregnant and I’m scared’.  ‘I’d hope to be strong for her. I’d say, talk to your mother. I’ll support whatever choice you make. But if the father wants to support you or just be there, you have to let him.’ He admits: ‘For a few months back there, I thought I’d be a lot more involved than I now know I will be. But I will still be around as much as I am able or allowed. Yet, I also know it is now time for me to move on a little emotionally too.’

About the Author

Victoria Lambert has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and specialises in health and medical matters. She writes for the Telegraph, the Times, the Sunday Times, the Guardian, the Mail and the Mail on Sunday. She contributes to Saga, Geographical and First Eleven magazines – where she is the agony aunt.

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