May 12, 2011 by Marc Hansen
It was a long time coming. Some would say decades.
Whatever, the highlight of the proceedings might have come at the end when District Court Judge Carla Schemmel, faithful to adoption-court tradition, jokingly asked the adoptee if she wanted to pick out a toy.
Though Bethards, 41, declined the invitation, her grandson, one-year-old Carson Jones, came away with a new stuffed turtle.
Carson was about the only person in the tiny courtroom who wasn’t crying. Judge Schemmel, however, said crying was allowed on this day because the tear ducts were operating “for happy reasons.”
Here’s the full, happy story of White and Bethards, birth mother and daughter. How they were separated shortly after Bethards was born. How they found each other 35 years later. Why they decided to become family again:
This was a different kind of adoption hearing. Though the great majority of adoptees in Iowa and beyond are children, a surprising number of adults are adopted, too.
In most cases, adult adoption comes without a home-trial period. Past parents (Bethards’ adoptive mother and father are deceased) don’t have to give up their parental rights. A child 14 and over must consent to the adoption. Both parties sign an agreement and tell the court why they’re taking this big step.
Today was the formal hearing, the culmination of a process that began a year ago when everyone agreed this was the way to go. Around 20 friends and family members showed up to offer support.
The supervising attorney was Drake University law professor Sally Frank, who told the gathering that this courtroom was usually reserved for more solemn occasions – divorces, drug abuse hearings, child support recovery. The families who walk through the door are more likely to be falling apart than coming together.
“That’s why we have this box of tissues,” Frank said. “Adoptions are just a small part of what we do on the family law docket.”
First to take the stand was White, who talked about how she and Bethards found each other in 2006 and how close they’ve grown.
“She’s my biological daughter,” White said, tearing up, “and I love her very, very much.”
Her husband was next. Fulmer isn’t Bethards’ biological father, but he said he’s wanted to be her adoptive father for a long time.
“We want to make her part of the family,” Fulmer told the court, “and we want her to know we’ve always wanted her to be part of the family.”
Then Bethards stepped to the plate. She said she’s been hoping for this reunion with with White “since the day we met.”
A little later, Schemmel said she would be happy to sign the papers, White and Bethards hugged and out came the tissues.
“We’re all a bunch of crybabies in this family,” said Tina Brooks, one of White’s four eye-dabbing sisters. “If Mom could hear what they were saying, she’d be the worst.”
Joan White, 84, could feel the joy and see the significance. Hearing was optional.