Utah adoption scandal: Birth mom felt abandoned by husband
Legal fight • Texas woman said Utah agency, adoptive parents knew the situation.
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When her husband left Texas to take a new post with the U.S. Army, Tira Bland says she felt all alone and abandoned.

That's why Bland said she decided, days later, to come to Utah to place Terry Achane's child for adoption.

"He didn't leave me with an address or anything," said Bland. "He just said good-bye. It wasn't anything like 'I love you' or 'I will be back for you and the baby.' It was just like he didn't care."

Achane's version of what happened is decidedly different — the version backed by a Utah judge who found Achane had not abandoned his wife and child and that the adoption violated his rights and Utah law. In a Nov. 20 ruling, 4th District Judge Darold J. McDade dismissed the adoption petition and gave adoptive parents Jared and Kristi Frei 60 days to return Achane's daughter to him.

The Freis have asked the judge to stay his decision while they appeal, a process that could take up to two years based on timing of other cases.

Bland, 29, stepped forward earlier this week to give her side of the story — something she said she also tried to do back in October as the case went to trial and she felt maligned.

"The world needs to know I was left with nothing," Bland said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune Friday. "Nobody lived that dark time with me. ... I could only do what I could do at the time."

The couple married in 2009 and, with her daughter from a previous relationship, lived at Fort Hood, Texas, where Terry Achane was stationed. Bland learned in June 2010 she was expecting their first child.

But the marriage was fragile. They went to counseling, arranged by Achane's commanding officer, but "she couldn't help us," Bland said. At one point, Bland considered an abortion or adoption, but Achane objected and they continue to move forward together.

Achane successfully bid for a job as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson in South Carolina and was told to report for duty by Feb. 1, 2011. Achane said he left Texas on Jan. 17, 2011, to find a home for his family before starting the new assignment. Bland wanted to stay in Texas to give birth, and Achane said he planned to come back for the delivery. He expected Bland to then join him in South Carolina.

Achane continued to deposit funds in their joint bank account, which was set up to automatically pay mortgage and other household bills. Achane said his wife also had access to money to pay for groceries, as well as pregnancy and living expenses. But Bland said there was little money left over for her and she felt Achane had no interest in their baby.

"When I was left in the home, I had no vehicle or anything at the time, I didn't have any money," she said. Although she had a part-time job preparing taxes, it "wasn't a big-time job to support me, a dog, two kids and a home."

In fact, Bland's car, which she was responsible to make payments on, had been repossessed. Achane arranged to have a brother fix a spare vehicle so she could use it. In the meantime, she had access to her mother's car.

Bland said she spent days in bed crying about her situation. Within 10 days of her husband's departure, she decided to pursue an adoption for their child.

She had heard of the Adoption Center of Choice, then based in Orem, from a television program on MTV about pregnant teenagers. Bland found a telephone number for the agency online and contacted them on Feb. 9, 2011. The agency arranged for Bland to travel to Utah to give birth.

Before leaving Texas, Bland said she and family members tried to reach out to Achane, but were unsuccessful. At one point, his phone was cut off; at another point, her phone was cut off, she said.

"There was not talking back and forth between each other," she said, a silence that continued once she arrived in Utah in February.

Bland said she also contacted Achane's commanding officer in Texas and asked him to relay her plans to her husband.

"He reassured me he did," Bland said, "and told me that [Achane] was going to get a divorce from me and put our house up for sale. I was left to figure it all out on my own."

"When I met Terry, I was a single mother and I was a struggling single mother," Bland said. "I was living in a one-bedroom apartment and didn't have any money and knew the harshness for a child of being a single mother. All I could see was the best for my girls at the time. I knew if I was going to go through an adoption agency, I knew someone could help me. It was all of the sudden, but it was all I had at the time."

Bland arrived in Utah and was put up in an apartment complex in Orem, where she said about five other pregnant women working with the agency also lived.

She was given two profiles of prospective adoptive parents and was considering one of them when she was given the Frei's profile. Bland said she knew instantly they were the right family for her daughter — a feeling confirmed after she met with them.

"They were very nice and sweet people, very well educated," said Bland. She liked what they had to say about their other children five children, one adopted, and about their Christian beliefs.

And she held nothing back about her situation, Bland said, denying any effort to mislead the agency or the adoptive parents.

"I was truthful about how I was married, they knew all of that," she said. The Freis "were very compassionate about my story and wanted the best for me as well as the baby."

Bland said the agency "really didn't say much" about her marital situation. "They just followed their procedures to reach him. ... No one really talked about it. We were all thinking about the well-being of the baby."

Leah, also called Teleah by her father, was born March 1, 2011, about three weeks before her due date. Bland said she was not induced, but that the stress of the situation likely triggered the premature delivery.

As for the birth expenses, Bland said she is not sure if the Freis paid them or they were covered through TRICARE, the health insurance available to military members and their families. "It could have been through TRICARE," she said. After the birth, Bland returned to Texas and moved in with her parents.

Achane, 31, said he was unable to reach Bland during this period, either because she would not take his calls or, for a time, because her phone was not working. In March, concerned about the baby's imminent arrival, he asked a friend to drive by their home and learned it appeared vacant.

He then contacted Bland's sister and brother-in-law and found out his wife was no longer pregnant. The relatives said they did not know what had happened to the baby. Achane said he then called Bland's doctors, believing she either had an abortion or given birth, but was told health privacy laws barred sharing any information with him.

Achane said he tried but could not reach or locate his wife. Bland said months passed without any word from her husband.

"I still wasn't receiving anything from him," she said. "He wasn't calling [my parents] to see how I was doing. ... It seemed odd."

Bland also said that, despite still being married, she was no longer getting any financial support from him, such as housing pay.

Bland said she contacted Achane's new commanding officer in South Carolina to complain about the lack of support, a call that took place in June.

"I was trying to let them know that he had a wife out here he wasn't even supporting, and a child," Bland said, referring to Achane's stepdaughter.

The commanding officer put Achane on the line.

Bland said she doesn't remember all the details of the conversation, but recalls Achane telling her he had continued to put money in their joint account. He did not, she said, ask about their daughter. Bland informed him she had placed the child for adoption.

Achane said he was dumbfounded by the news and called the Adoption Center of Choice that same day seeking information about his child, which they declined to provide. An attorney for the agency subsequently contacted Achane and asked him to consent to the adoption. He refused and intervened in the adoption proceeding the Freis initiated in July 2011, which culminated in a two-day hearing in October.

Achane divorced Bland in March. Bland said she is offended that in those divorce documents Achane claimed they had no children together — something Achane said he did because of the adoption action a year earlier.

As for that adoption, Bland, who works as a hairstylist and for the Texas Department of Transportation, said she did "what was right for me at the time."

Achane deserves respect because as a soldier he "fights for our country," she said, but other aspects of his character also should be looked at.

"I felt if he would abandon me, he would abandon her," Bland said. "It was a trust issue. ... Why give a child to someone who abandoned her mother when she was seven months pregnant? I do believe in second chances but on this, I just don't understand it."

brooke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Brooke4Trib