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Jayni Anderson wants Utah law changed to require that birth parents be informed if a child they put up for adoption dies.
Since placing her newborn for adoption in June 1979, Jayni Anderson has wondered about the girl she called "my Sarah Marie."
Was she a fussy baby? Did she excel at school, make friends easily? How was her "sweet 16th" birthday?
Anderson conjured happy images of a healthy and loved child maturing into a young woman. But those hopes were crushed two weeks ago when a social worker at LDS Family Services, which handled the adoption, told Anderson that 28 years ago her baby died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The child was 6 months old.
"It was like someone took scissors to a movie reel in my head. Everything just went black," said Anderson of the initial shock, which gave way to feelings of betrayal and anger.
The 50-year-old Montana native wants to know whether the adoption was ever finalized. She wants to know where her baby was buried. And she wants to know why it took LDS Family Services so long to disclose the death.
Scott Trotter, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, declined to comment, citing a church policy against discussing litigation.
Anderson hasn't sued the church. But she does want Utah law changed to require adoption agencies to notify birth parents of deaths.
"I don't want this to happen to someone else," said Anderson on Thursday. "Adoption hurts, and it stays with you. But you take heart knowing your child is going to a good home, and you trust the adoption agency. That trust was violated."
Nothing in Utah law or licensing rules - then or now - requires adoption agencies to keep contact with birth parents after relinquishment, said Ken Stettler, director of the state Human Services division that oversees adoption agencies.
Contracts can be written to order continued contact, he said. But Anderson's was a closed adoption.
"If I could have opted for an open adoption, I would have, but it didn't really exist back then," she said.
As for changing the law, Stettler isn't sure how an agency could be expected to track children over the course of their lives.
Further complicating matters, for Anderson: the adoption may never have been finalized, which would mean that the agency had legal custody of her daughter at the time she died.
In such cases, there's still no disclosure requirement for a death, but "it's good practice," said Utah adoption attorney Larry Jenkins.
Legislators recently changed state law to allow for adoptions to be finalized posthumously, but the law applies only to adoptions after May 2006, said Jenkins.
Anderson may have remained oblivious to Sarah Marie's fate had she not recently reported an address change at the LDS Family Services.
That prompted a phone call from a social worker who asked Anderson to come into the office. There, she shared the news of the baby's death. Anderson recalls her explaining, "I didn't want you to go through the rest of your life thinking your daughter might come looking for you."
When Anderson asked, "Why didn't you tell me earlier?" she said she was simply told, "That's a good question."
Anderson said the social worker claimed to have no information on her daughter's place of burial. Nor would she say whether the girl was ever "sealed" to her adoptive family, an LDS practice to assure that family members meet again in the afterlife.
"She's my daughter, she's dead and I can't even place flowers on her grave," said Anderson, who is LDS and said she surrendered her baby at the urging of her ecclesiastical leader.
"I was a young, single mom with a toddler and pregnant. I didn't want to be on welfare," said Anderson. "I was adopted; it's something I believe in."
Anderson doesn't want to think there's something purposeful behind the church's silence, noting, "They're not above making mistakes." But, she said, "the agency had ample opportunities to fess up."
After relinquishing her rights to her daughter, Anderson surrendered two more children through LDS Family Services: her firstborn, a toddler son, in 1980 and another boy, a newborn, in 1981.
The same social worker handled all three adoptions, said Anderson, who believes the woman has since retired.
"I asked her if my boys could live with their sister, but she said, 'No, the parents moved back East,' " recalls Anderson. Queries about her daughter's well-being, Anderson said, were met with, "Oh, she's doing just fine."
Anderson said she has had second thoughts about the adoptions, but never any regrets. It provided her children with a brighter future, she always assumed, and gave her time to mature and later raise a son.
But now, she worries about her boys, who live together with a family about whom she knows very little. And she says she won't rest until she knows for certain what happened to her little girl.
"I'm not sure why, if the adoptive parents were so grateful to me, they never told me she died," said Anderson. "I need closure. I hope she wasn't hurt, but your mind thinks all these icky things."
For now, she holds onto the memory of those "tender" three days that she fed, held and sang to her daughter in the hospital before saying goodbye.
"Hardly a day has gone by that I haven't thought about her," said Anderson. "That's more than 10,000 days, and to what end?"