On December 8, 2009, Berlyn Alfredsen, then five-years-old, was taken out of class by one of her adoptive mothers to attend her great grandmother's funeral in Norway. This wouldn't have been notable, except Berlyn's great grandmother was still alive. Wendy Alfredsen, Berlyn's other adoptive mother, knew this and was appropriately shocked when she arrived to pick up her daughter from school the following afternoon, only find she was 5,000 miles away.
Wendy's former partner had fled the country with their daughter -- not for a funeral, but to prevent Wendy from receiving parental rights for Berlyn.
Wendy and her former partner adopted Berlyn and her older sister, Liberty, in 2004. After serving as foster parents for two years, they became adoptive parents. At the time, Colorado did not allow second parent adoptions, so Wendy and her former partner each adopted one daughter and intended to serve as guardian for the other. The entire family took the Alfredsen last name, and after the adoption process was completed, the judge congratulated them as a family.
In the fall of 2009, a large crack grew in that family when Wendy and her partner ended their relationship and entered into a nesting agreement, with each parent taking turns living in the house and allowing the daughters to grow up together. Since Wendy was legally only the adoptive parent of Liberty, she filed for allocation of parental rights for Berlyn two months after she ended her relationship with her former partner. Wendy says her former partner admitted in court that she fled for Norway to avoid service of Wendy's parental rights.
"It was never, ever intended for us to raise these girls separately," Wendy said while holding back tears at a press conference held today at the State Capital. "No family, parents or siblings, grandparents, aunts or uncles, should be separated by a simple piece of paper."
But that's where the Alfredsen family stands. Had Wendy's partner swiped Berlyn eight months later, she would have violated a newly passed law prohibiting parents from leaving Colorado until permanent parental orders are in place. Colorado now allows second parent adoptions, but that process would need to be initiated by Wendy's former partner, as she is still the adoptive mother of Berlyn.
The state has named Wendy a psychological parent to Berlyn, which is defined as "an adult, who on a continuing, day-to-day basis, through interaction, companionship, interplay and mutuality, fulfills the child's psychological need for a parent, as well as the child's psycho-physical needs." This affords her limited parental access and rights, and she is allowed to see her daughter one week a month, and only in Norway.
"You can imagine the turmoil, the reality and the logistics of me taking off work and leaving my job and taking my daughter out of school one week every month to travel 5,000 miles," says Wendy.
A couple dozen supporters showed up at the State Capital, clad in yellow shirts that read "Bring Berlyn Home" and choked back tears as Wendy told her story. When Wendy's former partner heard of the press conference, her lawyer sent a letter to Wendy informing her she was not the legal parent of Berlyn, and asked Wendy not to show pictures of her daughter or share any of her personal information.
"I'm not sure how somebody can say you're not a parent when I sat with Berlyn when she was an infant and I held her and I fed her what little she ate," says Wendy. "I bathed her as an infant and a baby. I sat through many doctor's visits, hundreds of hospital visits, signed for treatment and signed for school. I watched her take her first steps, crack her first smile, say her first words. I watched her learn to count, to color, to play and sing silly songs. We laughed, we danced, just like any other parent does with their child."
Compounding the stress on Wendy is Berlyn's medical condition. The seven-year-old has received two intestine transplants and undergone countless surgeries and procedures.
"It's very difficult, because I do have court orders to access her medical information, but I'm still restricted, and dealing with international borders is a little difficult," Wendy says. "I am somehow blocked and not able to get all the information. It's a huge concern. I think any parent worries about their child, but when you sit day after day after day in a hospital, you really value the little good times she has. It adds a whole other depth to the emotion of it all. I still sit and worry about her right now like I did before. Now, I just have a lot less information to go on."
Wendy has been immersed in the legal system since her daughter was taken eighteen months ago. In addition to filing for allocation rights with the State of Colorado, she has done the same at the State Department's Office of Children's Affairs in Washington D.C. and in international courts in Norway through the Hague treaty, which sets policies and procedures for inter-country adoption. She has met all requirements of the treaty, yet there has been no resolution for her case.
Wendy has seen her daughter three times in the past year and a half. "I was able to visit her in April," Wendy says. "When I picked her up, I hadn't seen her in seven months. She jumped right into my arms and hugged me. She looked back, looked me in the face and hugged me again and said, 'I missed you, mommy.' The sad fact is right now, none of those experiences matter, because in 2006 the adoption laws did not allow me to be on her birth certificate even though we had the intent of being a family all together."
Wendy does not seek to cut her former partner out of their daughters' lives. Above all, she wants Berlyn re-united with her sixteen-year-old sister.
"These children are entitled to be with each other and be with both of their parents, not just one of us either way," Wendy says. "The kids are the ones who get hurt the most by something like this. It's very unfortunate and unfair. It's important for people to see how the inequality and the lack of equal protection within our system allows for these things to happen."
For now, Wendy and her family communicate with Berlyn through Skype and have set up a Facebook page to help raise money and awareness for the case. Wendy is fighting the battle for her and those in a similar position.
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"It starts with allowing parents to both be on the birth certificates," she says. "If two moms both have a child together, they should be able to be on the birth certificate right away and not have to file for a second parent adoption later on. The second parent adoption process is very lengthy and difficult and very expensive. For anyone who works for a living, it's very difficult to make those finances work. We're no different than any other parents. We shouldn't have to do more than any other parent just to have access to our children."
Wendy and her family are showing a surprising lack of animosity towards her former partner and her family, asking only that they return to the states.
"I love them and I mean that sincerely," says San Clay, Wendy's mother. "I have known them for many years and I know Berlyn loves them. I would never, never speak against them or take them out of Berlyn's life. I just want to be a grandmother like I have been. Bring Berlyn home, and we'll share her. We'll share."
Below, see more photos from today's event. More from our News archive: "Baby daddy unknown: Missing fathers can throw kinks into adoption plan."