Throughout the bitter dispute surrounding Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, there have been a pair of anxious eyes watching as events unfolded in the last year, helpless to do anything about it.
Kelsey Brown—Veronica's half-sister by Dusten Brown's ex-wife, Rachel Reichert—learned of her sister's fate the same way most people did: On television. Because of the unexpected timing of the decision, Kelsey's parents did not have the chance to sit down with her and break the news in an appropriate manner before it hit the media. Seeing the Capobiancos smiling faces and their celebratory photo op at the same time as the rest of the world, the 10-year-old girl immediately broke down crying for Veronica, with whom she has a close and loving relationship.
“She's completely devastated,” said Rachel Reichert, Kelsey's mother and Dusten Brown's ex-wife. “She's afraid she will be cut off and never see her sister again.”
Reichert has maintained a respectful and cordial relationship with Brown over the years, and they have coordinated Kelsey's visits so that the girls can visit each other as much as possible.
“They are inseparable,” said Reichert. “When the girls are together, they are literally arm-in-arm. They are like two peas in a pod. It's amazing to see how close they are.”
Reichert said Kelsey was visiting Reichert's sister when she saw the news on local television.
“She just lost it. She was beside herself,” said Reichert. “They're siblings in every sense of the word. That's her sister. I had to talk to her several times and leave work and go pick her up, because she was in hysterics.”
Reichert characterizes Brown as “a good father” who, in spite of their divorce, always makes time for Kelsey.
“Divorce happens; that's life,” she said. “We do what's best for the sake of the kids and he's a good father. He's engaged with Kelsey. When he has time off, she goes to her dad and he calls her every chance he gets. She is Veronica's sister and this is a girl who wants her sister. And she will probably need a lot of counseling to help her process through what's happening. It's sad.”
The human cost of sending Veronica back to live with people who are relative strangers at this point in her life is beginning to pile up. And it's staggering. Not only will Veronica be impacted by this week's court decision, but also her extended family in Oklahoma, including Tommy and Alice Brown, her paternal grandparents.
Today, according to family friends, Alice Brown is gathering all of the grandchildren in the family to discuss what's happening and to help them process the emotionally-wrenching decision and what has transpired in South Carolina.
It's a scenario with which many older American Indian adoptees are all too familiar, as it has brought many of their old wounds back to the surface.
“I was adopted out when I was 14-months-old to a non-native family,” said Janelle Blackowl, who is Mandan, Hidatsa, Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Lower Brule Sioux. “I feel badly for this precious child because when you are ripped away from your relatives, it leaves a deep emotional and psychological scar. I know this for a fact. She will never be the same.
Her father exercised his rights as a native man to take responsibility for his child. To the very core of her being, she will know this. No matter where she is, she will always wonder about and long for her birth family that she is connected to by DNA. There is just no way to make [the Capobiancos] understand this. My heart just aches for this family and child.”
Trace DeMeyer, another Cherokee adoptee, is the author of One Small Sacrifice: a Memoir, and Two Worlds: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Project.
“As I’ve watched the Baby Veronica case unfold, I felt as if this child was me,” said DeMeyer. “My own father told me he would have raised me, had he known I was being put up for adoption. An adoptee feels grief, like missing someone, an open wound in your heart. And later, when she finds out that her father wanted her, like my dad, she will feel great loss in missing the years apart. And anger can be strong enough to kill you.
Honestly, I am very concerned about Veronica. Her trauma will not be evident at first. Not as a young girl. But when she realizes what [happened] she will start to hurt and act out. How does adoption serve this child? It doesn't. It's about money and a billion dollar adoption industry that finds children for infertile couples to adopt.”
In the meantime, as tribal leaders, community members and legal teams gather from across the country to assess the situation and their response, a 10-year-old girl waits anxiously in Oklahoma, wondering if she will ever see her sister again.