Adoption turns into nightmare

Relates to:
Date: 2007-12-07

Deseret News, The (Salt Lake City, UT)
Author: Amy K. Stewart Deseret Morning News

AMERICAN FORK -- Jed and Cally Nielson of American Fork thought they would be celebrating their first Christmas as a family with newly adopted baby Harvey this year.

But they haven't even begun purchasing any gifts for their 5 1/2-month-old boy. Besides spending their $25,000 savings on a custody battle, the Nielsons said, they may actually be facing the holiday alone if Harvey is sent back to his birth parents in Idaho.

"We don't want to just hand him back," Cally Nielson said. "How could anyone hand their baby back?"

What began as a dream-come-true for the couple has quickly turned into a never-ending nightmare of courtrooms and contention.

Since learning the birth father wants custody, the Nielsons have hired two attorneys, one in Idaho and one in Utah. The couple has traveled the 12-hour-long 700-mile trip four times to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, for court proceedings.

The nightmare began just two weeks after Jed, 26, and Cally, 24, brought Harvey home from Idaho in July. LDS Family Services informed the Nielsons that the birth father was contesting the adoption.

The Nielsons say Kootenai County District Court ruled the birth father still has parental rights, but they are continuing their court battle.

The birth mother, Cammie Knight, 19, of Coeur d'Alene, said she hasn't changed her mind about giving up her baby. A music major at North Idaho College, she was 18 when she gave birth.

Knight says she and the birth father, Matt Tennyson, 20, of Coeur d'Alene, dated off and on during her sophomore and junior years of high school but their relationship became strained by her senior year.

The teen said she hadn't been in regular contact with Tennyson since the last couple months of her pregnancy.

Tennyson's mother returned a phone call from the Deseret Morning News Thursday evening. She said the family declined to comment until they have spoken to their attorney.

Phone calls to LDS Family Services were not immediately returned.

Knight said the judge is now just taking testimony and gathering information. She believes it could end up in a joint custody arrangement between her and the birth father where one parent has the baby during the week and the other parent has him on the weekends.

Meanwhile, the Nielsons can only sit and wait.

"We have zero rights. We're just guardians of Harvey. That is all," said Jed Nielson.

The Nielsons spoke in an interview in their American Fork home, as Jed bounced a laughing baby Harvey on his lap. On the living room wall is a black-and-white golden-framed picture of Harvey taken when he was only a few weeks old. In the photo, both Jed's and Cally's hands hold the infant.

The situation is taking its toll on the couple. Jed, who owns a countertop business in American Fork, has had to take time away from work for the court proceedings. Cally quit her job as a medical transcriptionist when they adopted Harvey so she could stay home full time.

The couple married four years ago. They tried for three years to have a baby, then filed adoption papers a year ago. The adoption application process was grueling, including six reference letters, about 40 pages of forms, an interview with a social worker and six months of adoption classes, they said.

Knight chose the couple. The Nielsons visited the young woman and got to know her during a trip to Idaho in early June. They opted for an open adoption, allowing the birth mother to correspond with the adoptive parents and visit the child.

The Nielsons were contacted a few minutes after midnight on June 24 and told that Knight had gone into labor. Harvey was born at 9 a.m. Jed and Cally rushed to Coeur d'Alene and held their new baby in their arms by 11 a.m. that day.

Knight confirmed her decision. Papers were signed, and the Utah family settled into its new three-member status, the Nielsons said.

It should be a time for joy with their new baby, Cally Nielson said, but "it's a complete mess ... This is every adoptive parent's nightmare."

To help the Nielsons with their legal costs, a fund has been started at U.S. Bank under the Jed and Cally Nielson Charitable Donation Fund. E-mail: kstewart@desnews.com

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