For gay couples who want to start their own family, they can either employ a surrogate mother or adopt a child. And that’s precisely what lesbian couple, Rachel and Heidi McFarland, decided to do. The pair, who live in Iowa, adopted baby boy Gabriel from one of Rachel’s co-workers. However, after no more than 2 months, the 16-year-old mother and colleague of Rachel, Markeya Atkins, decided to ask for the baby back.
The couple was under the expectation that the 16-year-old mother would sign over custody, however, she changed her mind at the last minute.
This ultimate reversal of decisions would lead to grave impacts on both the couple as well as the baby boy.
The couple had coached Markeya through her labor and was looking after little Gabriel for over two and a half months when Markeya asked for him back.
The couple said that their lawyer, Jason Rieper, had informed them that Markeya had signed over the release-of-custody forms when in reality she did not.
Because of this negligence, Markeya was able to lawfully gain custody of her baby and take Gabriel away from Rachel and Heidi.
And even worse, over a month after the baby was returned to their biological parents, Gabriel was shaken to death by the father, Drew James Weehler-Smith.
The 17-year-old father was convicted of second-degree murder and subsequently sentenced to 50 years in prison after confessing to the death.
Rachel and Heidi have since sued their lawyer for malpractice and were awarded a compensation of three and a quarter million dollars.
In an interview with People Magazine, Rachel said: ‘the release-of-custody never got signed by either birth parent. Obviously, our child and us weren’t a priority to [Mr. Rieper].’
She continued on by saying: ‘we are just happy he was found negligent. That was what our goal was. We will not see any money from this.’
The pair has since adopted a pair of girls and Heidi explains their decision: ‘adoption wasn’t ever our number one choice, but because it was private it seemed tailor-made for us and we thought this could be our chance to become parents.’
The lawyer who represents Rachel and Heidi said: ‘if the lawyer had done what he was supposed to do, the birth mother would have signed a document called a release of custody and four days after she signed it, it would have been almost impossible for her or the baby’s father to take Gabriel away from them.’
‘The lawyer just didn’t get around to it. The birth mom got mad at the McFarlands and ripped this baby away from the only parents and the only home he had known.’
However, David Brown, who represents Jason Rieper, said that he would challenge the decision because ‘you can’t control the emotions of a 16-year-old […] mom’ and that ‘the kid wasn’t going to [sign the papers] and the suggestion that Jason was to force her to do it, would be unethical for him.’