The attorney was running late. Tom and I waited in a cozy room filled with toys and baby pictures. There was a wooden rocking horse, some dolls, a collection of old-fashioned looking playthings. I noticed a picture of our friends' adopted son, Ricky, hanging in a few spots.
When Shelley finally appeared, she looked me in the eye, and said, "Oh my God. You look just like her. You really are the perfect family for this baby."
We sat down and waited for Shelley to give us more details about the adoption plan. The birth mother. Anything.
A small dog rested on the rug beside Shelley's desk. His breathing was labored.
"Is your dog alright?" Tom asked. "He doesn't sound very good."
Shelley nodded. "He'll be fine. Just his asthma again. He's my rescue dog."
The dog looked nearly dead. Shelley must have seen the confusion dart across my face:
"He's my adopted dog. I rescued him," she clarified.
I tried to find a polite way to move the conversation onto the adoption. Poor dog and all, but the attorney was charging $500 an hour.
"Did you ask Kendra if she's willing to meet us?"
"Yes, actually, yes, she is. We can set that up for tomorrow."
The dog rolled over. I could see saliva drooling off his jaw.
"You two must have done some real good in your lives," Shelley suggested. "Because this is a rare opportunity. The best sort of adoption situation." She paused. "But, I do need to mention the issue of the birth father."
Tom and I waited.
"Kendra is married, but not to the father of this baby. Her and Johnny, the husband, were separated for some time. She had a boyfriend, Bobby, and she's pretty certain this baby is his."
"Pretty certain?" Tom asked.
"Well, there's a slight chance the father is an Asian man. But she only slept with him once and it doesn't quite add up with her due date."
"Are you saying that we need to do paternity testing?" I asked.
"No," Shelley almost shouted. "Absolutely not. The letter of the law states that no one can challenge the paternity of a baby conceived in wedlock."
I wasn't following. The dog was breathing loudly and Shelley was talking rather fast.
"I don't understand."
"Look," Shelley explained. "The birth father doesn't matter. The state does not acknowledge any man as a father if he is not the lawful husband."
This was news to me.
"You mean, I could sleep with my neighbor, bear his kids, and Tom could claim them as his own? Even if the neighbor tried to get custody?"
"Exactly," Shelley stated. "The biological father, in this situation, has no rights. We don't even need his consent. But, the law is a little gray in some respects, and just to be careful, I served the alleged biological father the adoption plan. He has thirty days to contest it."
I struggled to make sense of this. If the birth father had no rights, why would an attorney serve him papers? If he could contest the adoption within a thirty day period, and if he did, wouldn't that be exercising his rights?