Salt Lake City, UT — Terry Achane, an Army drill instructor in South Carolina, was preparing a home for his wife and new baby girl. His wife, pregnant and with family in Texas, was supposed to let him know when she was ready to have the baby, and Achane was excited to be with her when she gave birth to their little girl. He had already picked out the name “Teleah” and had leave approved by his commanding officers.
But when Teleah was born on March 1, 2011, more than two weeks premature, Achane wasn’t there.
Teleah’s mother didn’t tell Achane that she was in labor. She also didn’t tell him that she had left Texas to have the baby in Utah.
And that she was giving Teleah up for adoption.
It has taken 21 months for Achane to get his daughter back. He has seen her twice.
The 4th District Court judge says he is “astonished and deeply troubled” by the entire situation, which involved a Utah adoption agency working with Teleah’s mother to put the baby up for adoption by deliberately circumventing the rights of a married father. The girl was put up for adoption completely without the father’s knowledge, but the Utah adoption agency did know that the married man had not signed his rights to the child away.
While the judge noted that the birth mother had deceived her husband, the adoption agency, and the prospective adoptive parents, he gave the adoptive parents 60 days to give the child back to her biological father.
Terry Achane has been trying to get his daughter back since he heard news of her birth. Achane and now-ex wife, Tira Bland, married in Texas in February of 2009. In late June 2010, he learned that Bland was pregnant with their fist child. Achane reportedly accompanied his wife to prenatal visits and learned via ultrasounds that their baby was a girl. Achane chose the name “Teleah.” They shared a joint bank account, and Bland was covered under Achane’s military insurance. When Achane was requested to report for duty in South Carolina on February 1, 2011, he received permission from his commanding officers to return to Texas for the birth of the baby. Though they were reportedly having marital problems, Achane refused to consider Bland’s suggestions of either an abortion or adoption. Bland was allegedly afraid that she would be left alone as a single mother. Bland then agreed that she would stay in Texas near family until the baby was born but then she and the baby would join Achane in South Carolina.
Ten days after Achane left Texas, she began the adoption process.
As the time came for Bland to deliver, she cut off contact with Achane. She moved to Utah, working with an adoption agency there to put their child up for adoption. Bland led the agency to believe that, while she was married, her husband was not supporting her and had no interest in being a father. The Adoption Center of Choice went ahead and set up the adoption.
When Teleah, re-named “Leah” by her adoptive parents, was born, Achane was not notified.
“I was like, ‘Utah? Where is Utah?’ I’d never been to Utah, she’s never been to Utah,” he said. “Adoption? Who does that? … I believe she felt guilty at that point because she just made a call out of the blue,” said Achane.
Immediately, Achane called the adoption agency, demanding to know where his daughter was. Although as a married father, he had complete legal rights to the information on his daughter, the agency refused to give him any information on Teleah’s whereabouts. She was 3 months old, and her father had never met her.
At this point, the adoption was in process, and Jared and Kristi Frei were contacted by an attorney who informed them that Teleah’s father wanted her back. They ignored the attorney, and proceeded to legally adopt Achane’s daughter.
The adoption agency told the couple that it was likely that, should the man find out about the adoption, he would contest the placement. The couple, the judge noted, “acknowledged this risk but decided they wanted to proceed forward with the adoptive placement anyway.”
Even now, after the ruling, the Frei’s believe that Teleah is rightfully theirs. “We have not lost our conviction that we are in the right!!!!!!” Kristi Frei wrote after the ruling. “We have only ever wanted to do right by Leah, and have always felt we have been acting in her best interest to keep her with our family and raise her as our own. Our hearts have demanded it — there has never been any question to us that she is OURS!!!”
The family’s website also states that Teleah’s birth father had left Bland alone and helpless: “She was trying to hold her marriage together, but in her seventh month of pregnancy, her husband left her without any money, a car, or details of his whereabouts.”
Reports confirm that Achane had made Bland a dependent of his military status, and the two shared a joint bank account. He had also made plans with Bland to meet him in South Carolina.
Achane, 31, still finds the position he is in hard to believe and just wants the baby girl he has met just twice and calls Teleah, the name he picked out before her birth, back.
“I am not a very religious person,” he said in an interview Friday, “but ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ If they prolong it, that is more time away from my daughter. There are precious moments I can’t get back. … It has been a year and a half now. There is no court order saying they have the right to my child. I just won the case. I want to get my daughter and raise my daughter.”
Achane intervened in the case, and, in October, more than a year later, a two-day hearing finally took place. Achane had still not seen his baby girl, who is now nearly 2 years old.
“Much of the pain and anguish in this case could have been avoided or at least substantially mitigated if the adoption agency had responded to Mr. Achane’s initial requests for information concerning his daughter, and [his] request to have her returned to him back in July or August 2011,” Judge Darold McDade said, adding that he hoped the case would “serve as a cautionary tale and prompt the Adoption Center to change its policies so situations like this never happen again.”
Do you think the adoptive parents should have to give Teleah back?