An Adoption Story Gone Wrong
This is an adoption story gone wrong. It goes like this…
Once upon a time, a mother made a wrenching decision to entrust her child to another family.
Her name was Sabrina Ramsey. She was an Oklahoma high school dropout when she gave birth to her firstborn in 2014. Sabrina’s mother reportedly had concerns about Sabrina’s ability to care for the child and called DHS on her.
As a result, Sabrina placed her baby boy with an adoptive couple named Wayne & Denise Russell, who already had another child.
Wayne and Denise, by all accounts, adored their new son and doted on his every need, but they made one tragic mistake, when they left their pool gate open. On July 27, 2016, little Keon, who loved the water, drowned in the Russell’s family swimming pool.
The hospital which tried to resuscitate the child still had his birth information on file, and news of Keon’s passing was reportedly shared by the hospital with his birthmom, Sabrina… by accident.
Sabrina was (understandably) devastated. She called the adoptive family, screaming in pain. The adoptive family asked how she’d found out, and she told them the hospital had called her.
The adoptive family dutifully mentioned the birthfamily by name in the child’s obituary.
Sabrina dutifully showed up at the visitation, and signed the guestbook, allegedly identifying herself as “bio-mom.”
But all the parents were grieving, obviously, and as is often the case, hurting people hurt people.
The birthmother reportedly blamed the adoptive parents for her child’s death.
The adoptive parents accused the birthmother of threatening the life of their other child.
The adoptive parents sued the hospital for a HIPPA violation for informing the birthmother of her child’s passing.
The 23-year-old birthmother then posted photos of her late son online, something the adoptive parents found upsetting.
So then the adoptive parents came after her in court in 2016, getting a restraining order against her that prevented her from contacting them and prohibited her from posting any pictures of her baby on social media.
But Sabrina did post pictures on her Facebook page again, and she subsequently got arrested, prosecuted and convicted for doing so.
Was Sabrina responding inappropriately to the news of her child’s death? That’s a matter of opinion.
Were the Russell’s privacy rights wrongfully invaded by the hospital’s actions? That’s a matter of law.
Were the Russells entitled to seek legal protection if they felt threatened? Absolutely so.
Was the court correct in restricting the birthmother’s social media posts? Apparently not.
According to UCLA law professors Eugene Volokh, the Oklahoma court ruling appears to have been in clear violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. In Dr. Volokh’s opinion:
“Posting a picture of a dead child whom you have good reason to mourn — or even when you think you have reason to fault someone for his death — is surely constitutionally protected. Whatever Stone may or may not have done to the Russells that warranted a restraining order generally, I can see no basis for a speech restriction like this.”
A Sad Summary
Keon’s accidental drowning was a tragedy for everyone concerned– there’s no doubt about this. Whether or not the adoptive family and the birthmother had a friendly, positive or open relationship prior to his loss is unclear. At the very least, though, let us agree on this point: birthparents should be able to expect that an adoptive family will find a way to inform them if their child dies.
The adoptive parents do not have a legal obligation to do this, of course, but they surely have a moral obligation to do so, and if they do not wish to do so directly, the very least they can do is to have their agency or attorney relay the news and offer counseling to help the bereaved birthparents process their emotions.
This is something with which our agency does have experience. In January of 2016, one of Abrazo’s forever families suffered a devastating loss when their infant son died of SIDS, just months after placement. The adoptive family notified the birthfamily and the agency immediately, and support was provided to both families. The birthmother and her family attended the out-of-state funeral with the adoptive family, and the adoptive family traveled to Texas afterwards to hold a private memorial with the birthfather, who had chosen not to attend the funeral. All four parents got matching tattoos of the baby’s handprint, as an indelible reminder of their bond.
This example stands out in striking contrast to what went on in Oklahoma, and we will forever adore our clients for what they did to get through their shared loss together. Not all people can grieve together appropriately, we know. Yet this serves as a reminder of the potential beauty of truly open adoption relationships, even in times of great sorrow.
Neither the Russells nor the Ramseys will ever forget the short, sweet comet of joy named Keon, who came into their lives unexpected, and left just as unexpectedly. May each continue to find peace in his memory and may they find the grace also to forgive each other, in his honor.
To do so might just help to put to rest an adoption story gone wrong– for everyone involved.