Teen battles adoption agency after giving birth in Michigan without knowing she was pregnant
17-year-old shares story of battle for custody of baby Maverick
MUSKEGON, Mich. – A 17-year-old girl who didn't even know she was pregnant gave birth to a baby boy in a Michigan hospital and quickly found herself in the middle of an adoption battle.
The Local 4 Defenders took a look at the intense custody battle for baby Maverick, who was born in the middle of the night to a scared teenager.
Within hours, the boy's mother had signed paperwork to relinquish her rights, and an adoption agency was ready to find Maverick new parents.
But days later, the 17-year-old girl changed her mind and wanted her son back.
Safe Surrender was created as a way for pregnant women to legally abandon their babies in safe locations. The organization saves unwanted newborns from being abandoned in dangerous environments.
But an Illinois family said Safe Surrender might be used as a way to take advantage of vulnerable mothers.
Maverick didn't have an ideal welcome to the world. He was delivered early, at 29 weeks, by a mother who had no idea she was pregnant. The baby weighed just 2 pounds and was delivered by doctors who rushed him to an incubator in the intensive care unit.
Maverick's mother didn't even get to hold her baby.
"I noticed a little bit of weight gain, but not enough to where I would've thought that I was pregnant," Alex Robinson said.
Robinson is a high school senior from Illinois. For a last blast of summer fun, she and her friends traveled to West Michigan for a day at the beach. In a matter of minutes, she went from the beach to the back of an ambulance.
"I was just, like, 'Oh my God,' and they were, like, 'What?' and I look down and there was just a huge puddle of blood," Robinson said. "Then I felt my whole body tense up, and I just couldn't move."
She found out her pain and bleeding were due to the fact that she was about to deliver a baby.
"They did an ultrasound and a woman told me, she was, like, 'You're going into labor,'" Robinson said. "I was, like, 'No I'm not. There's no way.' And she was, like, 'Yeah, you are. There's a baby in there.' And I was, like, 'No, there's not.'"
The 17-year-old said she couldn't believe it.
"I was at the beach yesterday in a bikini," Robinson said. "I'm not pregnant. I'm telling you guys, I'm not pregnant."
But it was true.
"I was, like, 'I can't be having a baby. Are you kidding me?'" Robinson said. "I didn't have to push very much at all, and then he was born."
Maverick was born, and Robinson was in a panic.
"I was, like, 'I can't tell my friends. I can't tell my mom. I can't go home with a baby,'" Robinson said.
She didn't want anybody to know. She said she just wanted to go back in time.
"I didn't care about anything more than what homecoming dress I was going to get, and what prom dress I was going to get," Robinson said.
A counselor at the hospital told her if she gave the baby up for adoption, nobody would have to know.
"They were, like, 'Well, you have options,'" Robinson said.
Robinson's mother was five hours away in Illinois. She said she got a call from a nurse who never told her her daughter had given birth.
"She's a 17-year-old girl," Leah McDonald, Robinson's mother, said. "They exploited her. You know, they took advantage of her because they wanted her baby."
Robinson was exhausted and scared. She agreed to talk to someone from an adoption agency, and just a few hours after delivering Maverick, a representative of Bethany Christian Adoption Services was on-site with papers for her to fill out.
"I just wanted somebody to help me," Robinson said. "I didn't know what to think."
"She's a kid," McDonald said. "She's in shock. She didn't even know she was pregnant."
In addition to adoption forms. Robinson was given a Safe Surrender form to sign, which revokes all her rights to Maverick after a 28-day waiting period.
"There was no reason why they would've thought I was mentally OK to make that decision," Robinson said.
Just 12 hours after Maverick was born, Robinson was sent out the door with a cab voucher.
"This needs to stop, because they just sent her out the back door, down the stairs, cab, gone," McDonald said. "She could've hemorrhaged. She could've died. This needs to stop."
When Robinson got back to Illinois, her mother found out about the baby.
"Then, I told her everything, and then she picked me up from work, and we were in the car, and she was, like, 'If you want your baby, like, you can have your baby,'" Robinson said. "'I'm not going to judge you for it.'"
McDonald wasn't mad. She was supportive, seeing that Robinson had changed her mind and wanted Maverick.
They called the adoption agency, making it clear they wanted to keep Maverick. When they showed up at the hospital where Maverick was still in the intensive care unit, they were turned away by officials who said Robinson had signed away her rights.
"She's the mom," McDonald said. "She should be doing skin-to-skin contact with the baby. You know, mom's scent, sound."
They scrambled for a lawyer. The first one failed to properly file paperwork, and they found themselves in court. Bethany Christian Adoption Services wanted to go forward with the adoption process, and Maverick's father filed paperwork saying he wanted custody.
"I'm all for adopting kids and giving them new homes, but not in a way like this," Lucas Zbinden said. "Not at all."
The judge ordered a two-week delay to find out what was going on. The hearing was to be held Aug. 31, but that would have been 29 days after Maverick's birth, so the 28-day Safe Surrender rule would have expired.
The hearing was moved up, and the judge ruled in favor of the birth mother and father.
"I broke down bawling because I was just so excited," Robinson said. "Up until he said I had custody of my son, I was, like, super scared and on the edge of my seat the entire time."
The representative from Bethany Christian Adoption Services in Muskegon wouldn't comment on camera. The corporate office in Grand Rapids didn't return Local 4's calls, and neither did representatives of Muskegon's Hackley Hospital, where Maverick was born.
Maverick's family feels fortunate to have him, but they're worried the system is stacked against vulnerable mothers. They hope sharing Maverick's story will educate others and encourage lawmakers to do more for the rights of birth mothers.
"You've got to think twice before you adopt a baby and do some research on an adoption agency that you're going through," Robinson said. "See how they get their babies."
Local 4 will follow Maverick's progress and keep viewers updated.
Click here to visit the website for Adoption & Birth Mothers.
Below is the state of Michigan's educator toolkit for people who work with adolescents and young adults:
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