May 28, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
In case you’re wondering about the zeitgeist when it comes to parents, children, parenting and the like, this story offers a few insights (Daily Mail, 5/26/14). Back about three years ago, Judith Roberts decided she wanted a sibling for her daughter, the youngest of four. So she and her husband tried for a baby and succeeded in conceiving, but Roberts miscarried at 21 weeks.
She was distraught about the loss, and so an older daughter, Leanne Stanford volunteered on the spur of the moment to serve as surrogate should Judith and her husband Mark want to try again. (Mark is Leanne’s stepfather.) They did, and Mr. Roberts donated semen which Judith used to inseminate Leanne right there in the Roberts’ home. They did so five times within a short period and sure enough, Leanne conceived a child.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the child’s birth. Leanne bonded with the child she was carrying and decided she didn’t want to give it up. So when she gave birth to Mollie in November, 2012, she’d already told her mother the deal was off. Leanne had consulted a solicitor who’d given her the low-down — birth mothers have parental rights; those who contribute nothing to the child have none. In short, Judith was out in the cold.
To add insult to injury, Leanne also decided she wanted Mark’s money to help support Mollie, so she went to court to get a child support order. Mark is now paying for a child he and his wife wanted and that he never would have fathered had it not been for Leanne’s offer of surrogacy.
And, just to top it all off, Leanne has refused to allow the pair to see Mollie. Needless to say, the relationship between mother and daughter is now dead.
Mollie is now 18 months old and the saga has taken another twist with Miss Stanford pursuing care worker Mr Roberts for maintenance through the Child Support Agency.
Miss Stanford said: ‘I have my daughter’s best interests at heart and I have to make sure she is being properly looked after.
Yesterday Mrs Roberts, a cleaner, refused to speak in detail, but said: ‘She doesn’t want anything to do with us. She doesn’t let us see the children.’
Mrs Roberts had no direct genetic connection to the baby as her egg was not used in a DIY process carried out at home.
Miss Stanford, of Wallsend, North Tyneside, appears to have infuriated her mother even further by going public and selling her story to a newspaper. She told The Mirror: ‘This has caused a split between myself and my mum that can never be healed.
‘But every time I look at my beautiful little girl and feel that surge of love for her I know I made the right decision.’
She said of the offer she made to her mother: ‘It was a spur of the moment offer made at a time of high emotion. But I meant it, I really wanted to help them.’
However, in time she began to bond with the unborn child and concluded that she ‘ just couldn’t hand over my baby to mum’.
Beyond the tawdry nature of the whole thing lie a few interesting observations. The first is that people continue to believe that agreements about who will raise a child have some weight in family courts. Generally speaking, they don’t and anyone who thinks they can just sign a piece of paper with another person and alter child custody or child support law is kidding themselves. The law is the law and individuals can’t decide on their own that it doesn’t apply to them. But amazingly, they keep trying.
Another is the power of the hormonal bond between parents and children. What Leanne did in reneging on her agreement - that she proposed — with her own mother is despicable. It’s also not surprising.
Mammals, particularly humans, are born extremely immature. They need many years of protection, nurturing and socialization before they become sexually mature. During our hunter-gatherer times, infants posed many dangers to adults. Lactating females require up to three times the caloric intake that other adult females do while at the same time being less able to provide food themselves. Helpless infants drew the interest of dangerous predators and of course ate, but didn’t themselves provide food.
In short, it was in the interests of the adults to ignore infants, but of course the species wouldn’t last long with that modus operandi. The way mammals, and again particularly humans, survived was via a set of hormones that bind parents to their offspring. Hormones like prolactin, cortisol and estradiol stimulate the protective, nurturing behavior we call parenting. Everyone knows not to approach a female dog, wolf, bear, etc. with offspring and that hormonal connection is why.
So, when Leanne Stanford says, “What it came down to was that the bond with my baby was stronger than the bond with my mum,” she’s talking about that hormonal connection that is so powerful it’s the very reason we’ve survived as a species.
(As an aside, humans are among the roughly 45% of mammal species that are bi-parental, meaning that infants receive the care of both mother and father. That means fathers have a hormonal connection to their kids the same as mothers do, but that connection has received much less scientific study than has the maternal bond. Still, interesting inquiries into the role of prolactin in the father-child bonding process are under way.)
Speaking of fathers, another interesting aspect of this case is the fact that Mark Roberts is one. Weird as it may be for him to be the father of his stepdaughter’s child, that’s the way it is and with the avid consent of his wife. So, he has parental rights, but you’d never know it from either his or Leanne’s behavior. If the article is any indication, it’s occurred to neither of them that he has every legal right to see his child. Indeed, if I were in his place, I’d be going for primary custody. After all, Leanne Stanford doesn’t look like the very model of a modern mother. She used her power as biological mother to take the child meant for her own mother and destroyed their relationship in the process. She then sold her story to a tabloid rag.
Worse than all that though is her refusal to allow Mollie’s father to be part of her life. Let’s see. Haven’t we been regaled by the British government that its recent amendments to family law were all about letting dads have more contact with their kids? Yes, I believe we were. So here’s a good opportunity to prove the point. Mark Roberts deserves a full, meaningful relationship with Mollie and she with him. And Leanne’s power plays against both Judith and him strongly suggest she’s not much of a mother. This case looks like a good test of the new law. Maybe we’ll see.
Finally there’s the fact that, when she miscarried, Judith was 50 years old. Generally speaking, a woman’s ability to conceive a child and carry it to term runs out in her mid-40s. So what was Judith Roberts doing having a baby — or trying to — at such an advanced age? She says she wanted a sibling for her seven-year-old daughter, but that’s hard to believe. After all, when would she stop using that logic to have yet more children? Every new birth would per se require another, ad infinitum.
No, when 50-year-old women want to become pregnant and have a child, it looks like there’s at least a fairly large streak of narcissism involved. Given Leanne’s behavior, I’d say it runs in the family.
There you have it; a lot of the craziness of family law, family courts and families themselves all neatly wrapped up in a single case. Put it in the time capsule. This is one future humans will want to read about and shake their heads at the way we’re grappling with one of the most important things in life — our children and how we care for them.
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