“Did she or didn’t she?” was the raging question in San Antonio, as the city pondered the latest claim from the mother of missing child James Chairez. (Update: the child’s body was eventually found and his mother is in prison.) 

James was just a one-year-old last Thanksgiving, the last time his relatives recall seeing him. He and his mom were caught on store surveillance video in San Antonio in January. Last month, his great-aunt went for a drive with James’ mother, twenty-year-old D’Lanny Chairez to ask where her child was. D’Lanny was recorded saying she had placed her child for adoption with a yet-unnamed couple she’d known for two years.

She’d talked about wanting to do it before, the aunt told the media. Why? Because she had tried her best but “didn’t want James to live the kind of life that she would have been living.”

So did she, or didn’t she? Some fear, because of the mother’s reported mental health issues and blood found on a crib sheet, that little James may have met a far worse fate than adoption. D’Lanny is reportedly not saying, since she is now incarcerated and lawyered up. Despite her relatives’ voiced opposition to adoption outside the family, it’s obvious there are far worse possibilities.

Why lie about adoption?

The relevant question, right after “so where is the kid?” is this: “why lie about adoption?” Who would do that, and what would be the reason for concealing the truth?

We suspect that birthparents are more likely to lie about having not placed a child for adoption. In American culture, admitting that one is a birthparent is generally a confession that gets met with disapproval, resulting in shame or guilt or alienation. Telling someone you placed your child for adoption is often a big risk, exposing you to public disapproval or condemnation at worst, or awkward silence at best. It rarely wins you any public accolades or social approval (not in most circles, at least.)

Thus, birthparents, when confronted, may deny having ever made an adoption plan. (It probably says something about sad about American culture that it’s more commonly accepted to say you chose abortion.) It’s less about denying an adoptee’s existence than protecting one’s hardest decision. Some women claim to have chosen abortion instead of adoption in hopes of shielding their child &/or his or her adoptive family from interference from others who would oppose that choice. Others conceal the truth about placement in hopes of sparing their own family relationships, or to avoid admitting to relatives that they wanted their child outside the family for some reason.

But to lie about having placed a child for adoption, if you didn’t, is a horse of a whole different color. It isn’t common, and would typically be something attempted only by someone with something much bigger to hide– like infanticide, newborn abandonment, homicide, child-trafficking or human sacrifice.

Why “did she or didn’t she” is so hard to answer?

In Texas, the decision to relinquish a child for adoption can be made privately. Confidentiality laws protect placing parents and the court seals termination records. To share or not share evidence of placement of a child for adoption happens at a birthparents’ whim, in most cases. After the fact, adoption claims can typically only be proven or disproven at the discretion of the court(s).

Almost twelve years ago in San Antonio, an Arizona baby (“Baby Gabriel”) went missing. His mother, Elizabeth Johnson, told the child’s father by phone he could find his baby in a dumpster. She told authorities she’d “given him up for adoption” to two strangers at Raymond Rimkus Park. To this day, Baby Gabriel has never been found. The “did she or didn’t she” question in that case remains tragically unanswered, and his family is left to live in agony as a result.

We were surprised, back then, that while the media called adoption agencies to ask their opinion of the case, law enforcement did not. It seemed that contacting local adoption agencies would be the first place to go to determine if a mother being questioned that recently sought services? But it didn’t happen back then, and it still doesn’t, curiously enough. Still: nobody makes an intentional adoption plan merely by accident.

These days, it’s very uncommon for anyone to surrender a child without ever having known anything of where the child is being placed and with whom. It is not possible to do a legal adoption without a licensed agency or attorney being involved. And a parent cannot voluntarily surrender a child for adoption without being legally placed under oath and executing a multi-page relinquishment form before witnesses and a notary public.

Any birthmother who does do a legal relinquishment is provided a copy of the paperwork afterwards, whether or not she wishes to keep it. And most do know where the child is, and with whom, whether or not they wish to share this detail. Birthparents do not have a legal right, in agency adoptions in Texas, to revoke their consent, but they can certainly account for who handled the adoption on their child’s behalf, especially if law enforcement needed to know more.

(Even Casey Anthony knew this, which is why she presumably blamed it on the babysitter.)

Nobody places without having good reason for doing so.

The one thing about D’Lanny’s words that does ring true is what she told her aunt about her reasons for having placed. As she said in a recorded conversation ten days after her alleged placement decision: “I wasn’t just leaving him with anybody. I know the family and they love him, and I’ve known them for two years and it’s like a clean slate for him, and he doesn’t have to worry about who his dad is or whom I am. I was ‘that kid’ growing up and I didn’t want that for him.”

Those last words are haunting: I was that kid growing up and I didn’t want that for him. She was painfully aware of needing to get her baby into a “better family situation.” And she had good reason for this, apparently. Matthew Dempsey, the father of D’Lanny’s baby, is a twenty-year-old serving a 42 year prison sentence for killing his own mother during a robbery when he was a teenager. Patricia Flores, James’ maternal grandmother and D’Lanny’s mom, is also in prison for the murder of a two-year-old grandchild in her care.

Clearly, both D’Lanny and James were at risk from the day he was born. D’Lanny was a teen mom with precious little support, and James was a child without an adequate safety net… as are far too many kids in Bexar County (and beyond.) Had D’Lanny made an adoption plan through Abrazo, she’d know where her son was today, and her family could have assurance of his welfare, along with law enforcement. Instead, she is in a jail cell awaiting trial, and her future is now looking as uncertain as her son’s once did.

It certainly seems that adoption was the best possible choice for both D’Lanny and James… but did she, or didn’t she?

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