Did Rosie O’Donnell “Steal” Deanna Schilling Micoley’s Baby?

The National Enquirer recently reported that the mother of Rosie O’Donnell’s oldest adopted daughter, 17-year-old Chelsea, claimed that O’Donnell “stole” her baby.

Chelsea Belle O’Donnell was born Kayla Rae Schilling in Michigan (according to the birth record published in The Enquirer) to parents from Wisconsin. The youth located and contacted first her grandfather and then her mother, Deanna Schilling Micoley. Mother and daughter communicated via phone calls, texts and Facebook as happens in many similar situations. Some of the text messages have been published.

O’Donnell’s rep is quoted in The Enquirer story saying everything regarding the mother-daughter reunion is going well, and the former Queen of Daytime TV is encouraging a relationship.

On Rosie O’Donnell’s blog, FormerlyRosie, an entry dated 4/15/2005, describes a conversation O’Donnell had with young Chelsea about the child’s “tummy lady” as O’Donnell calls her birth mother. Chelsea apparently began asking about her “tummy lady” when O’Donnell’s former wife Kelli was pregnant.

“when she was three,
she told me, she remembered,
when she was a tiny baby –
my skin was very brown

“no, i explained
my skin has always been doughy white
but the woman took care of you
the one who was there everyday
doing the things i chose to miss
she did have brown skin
work – sure
but in the end – ultimately
i chose not to participate
i did not mother my baby girl
busy – i was busy

“we met when she was almost two
having split open her mouth in the kitchen –
she was handed to me bloody
like all births –
there were tears and trauma,
terror and responsibility.
and then, there she was
an us

“well, hello
i think we are supposed to do this together.
sorry i am so late ‘

Micoley is 37, married, and raising her four other children. The published text messages at RadarOnline indicate that Chelsea knew about Micoley’s past, including an old criminal record, but chose not to see it and forgave her mother for the past.

Micoley claims she was  drugged when she signed papers relinquishing her parental rights and that O’Donnell (and Micoley’s former husband) was complicit in “stealing” her infant. In The National Enquirer’s exclusive video Micoley states that she never signed or if she signed she does not remember because she had been drugged by the man she was married to at the time.

Legal Does Not Always Mean Ethical

Micoley says her baby was stolen. O’Donnell says the adoption was legal. In all likelihood, as O’Donnell claims, everything was done legally. Legal does not, however, necessarily mean ethical and moral. An adoption can manage to fill the requirements of the letter of the law while utilizing questionable practices.  There are, in fact, few guidelines and even fewer regulations regarding obtaining a relinquishment of parental rights.  Slip-shod adoption practices can result in unfortunate situations like this.

Micoley is far from the first mother to state that she was duped or administered drugs and forced to sign relinquishment papers. Most documented cases involve international adoption.

Books, such as The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler, have been written about the experiences of American mothers who have relinquished children to adoption and many describe being pressured or deceived.

Baby Kayla was surrendered to Children of the World, Inc. of Verona, New Jersey.    According to David Archuletta, O’Donnell funded Children of the World, Inc. Archuletta’s book, entitled The Corporate Suicide of a Rosie O’Donnell Funded “Children of the World” Adoption Agency, claims that the adoption agency voluntarily relinquished its license to operate in New Jersey on May 21, 2007, 30 days prior to its scheduled license revocation. There is a Children of the World, Inc. adoption agency currently operating in Alabama, but it is unclear if it is in any way connected to the former NJ agency as no one answered the telephone there.

For- and not-for-profit adoption agencies are licensed to practice business in their respective states but there is no national oversight on practices. L. Anne Babb, author of Ethics of American Adoption, notes that nail salons are more regulated than adoption agencies. Adam Pertman, former Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute has often stated that anyone can hang a shingle and facilitate adoptions, and has called adoption “the wild west.”

Changes Are Needed

In 1997, as is the case today, there is no legal requirement that mothers considering relinquishment are given impartial option counseling. Generally, the “counseling” provided, if any, consists of pro-adoption pep talks by representatives of the adoption agency whose paycheck depends upon the adoption taking place. Mothers are given no hearing and no one will check to see if she was coerced or under the influence when her signature was obtained.

It is also common practice that any legal representation provided for relinquishing mothers is paid for by the prospective adopters, an obvious conflict of interest in any other legal matter, but allowable in adoption. No parental relinquishment should be legal without independent legal representation and certainly no relinquishment should be taken from a mother under the influence of drugs, especially if injected by others.

The published handwritten letter from Micoley to O’Donnell refers to a videotape made of her signing the relinquishment which Micoley believes (per the text messages to Chelsea) would prove that she was not in a clear state of mind to sign legal documents.

State laws vary regarding the time period after birth when papers relinquishing parental rights can be signed (as early as three days after childbirth), how much time a parent has to reconsider signing, and when it becomes irrevocable. In some states, such as New Jersey where Micoley signed, the mother’s decision is instantly irrevocable; once the pen hits the paper. After parental rights are terminated, if the child remains in foster care, or if the child dies before an adoption is finalized (or after) the original mother is never informed.  Without signing anything, the child’s right to his or her original birth certificate is terminated. Moreover the child’s right to the kinship of all their blood relations is terminated; they are all legal strangers with no right, for example, to visit each other in the hospital and no inheritance rights.

Lobbyists for the adoption industry push to shortcut the process and obtain relinquishments quickly, before a mother might have time to reconsider. Lawmakers willingly pen legislation written by industry insiders believing, like the general public, that getting children into adoptive homes is a good thing and the end justifies the means. Mothers are thus too often rushed into making critical decisions that will have a lifelong impact for them and their children.

A comprehensive study entitled “Time to Decide? The Laws Governing Mothers’ Consent to the Adoption of Their Newborn Infant” by Elizabeth Samuels, Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore Law School, concludes that overall U.S. states do not allow mothers sufficient time after childbirth to make an informed decision and enough time afterward to rescind their decision. Most states, finds Samuels, do not sufficiently promote mothers’ deliberate decision-making. Similar conclusions were reported by Susan Smith in ”Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents in the Adoption Process.’”

When mothers are given ample time to make an unpressured decision, after being informed of all their options, and time to rescind their decision, they are far less likely to feel their child was taken improperly. Expectant mothers in crisis, and without proper legal counsel, are all too often kept unaware of their rights.

The job of baby brokers, adoption agencies and practitioners is to procure children to meet an insatiable demand. The clients are the adopters who are paying to receive a child, and the original mothers are collateral damage. The tens of thousands of dollars paid per adoption greases the wheels and are very corrupting.

O’Donnell knows this well. A People Magazine (March 5, 2001) article entitled  “The Baby Chase” reported:

Rosie O’Donnell… between 1995 and 2000 adopted three infants…’Being a celebrity in America makes everything happen easier–except for going to the mall,’ she says. ‘But anybody who has the money to go to a variety of agencies has a better chance of adopting quickly than someone who has a limited budget.’ As an outspoken champion of adoption, O’Donnell speaks with unusual candor. To locate birth mothers, she says, ‘I retained five lawyers and paid them anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000 each.” Some had their own network of birth mothers; others worked closely with private agencies. ‘It was a broad spectrum of ways to go’.

Chelsea was fortunate to locate her family of birth despite the records being sealed. This is not always possible and was likely because papers pertaining to her adoption, such as the relinquishment, original birth certificate or hospital records with Micoley’s name on them were available to Chelsea via O’Donnell. That such papers are available to adoptive parents belies the theory records are sealed to protect the anonymity of birth mothers. Note too that Rosie’s brother Daniel O’Donnell is a New York State Assemblyman who has been a key block to restoring NY adoptee rights.

Mirah Riben has been researching and writing about adoption since 1980. She is former director of the American Adoption Congress and author of two internationally acclaimed books on adoption and dozens of published articles. C. Catherine Henderson Swett is an attorney licensed in New York and New Jersey. She is a member of the academic council, Board of Directors, International Children's Rights Institute and Founder and Downstate Contact, New York State Adoption Equality Read other articles by Mirah Riben.