On the steps of the courthouse in Rutland, Vt., Janet Jenkins pleaded for help in finding her daughter, Isabella.
"Please help me find my daughter," Jenkins told reporters. "She's only 7 years old. She needs to be safe, and she needs to be in a stable, constant environment. ... Isabella has been missing for 22 days. Every day I wonder where she is and if she's OK. Every time the phone rings, I hope it is someone calling to tell me they found her."
Isabella wasn't abducted by a stranger. The girl with the blond hair and the big grin went missing along with her custodial parent at the end of last year. But this is not the typical mother-father divorce dispute: This is mother versus mother.
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"My goal has never been to separate Isabella from her other mother, Lisa," said Jenkins. "I just want what is best for our child, and that is to know both of her parents."
Isabella's parents are Jenkins, 45, and Lisa Miller, 41, who traveled from Virginia to Vermont to be joined when civil unions became legal there. They moved to Vermont in 2002 and opened an in-home day care center.
"We fell in love and wanted to have a family together, just like any other couple," said Jenkins.
Pictures from Jenkins and Miller's wedding show a happy couple. They shared a love of children, Jenkins says, so they went through the costly and difficult process of in vitro fertilization. Miller carried the baby.
"We chose a sperm donor, an anonymous donor, from a California cryobank that has all my traits -- eye color, hair color, skin tone, down to spicy foods, favorite foods, intelligence level," said Jenkins. "The one thing that we did give our child that neither one of us had was the donor was tall, and Lisa and I are both five-two, so we thought, 'We'll give her an edge.' But other than that, you know, we wanted our child to look like both of us, and she does."
Miller's pregnancy was happy news, Jenkins said.
"Oh my God, it's the best high in the world," she said.
Isabella was born in 2002. Pictures show a beaming Jenkins in the delivery room, assisting in the birth of her first child. Jenkins never adopted the child, however.
"I was told I never had to adopt her as long as she was born within our legal, civil union, just like a married couple," said Jenkins. "Why would you adopt your children? ... It's just like any couple that cannot have a child, it would be like if I was a man and I didn't have the sperm count to impregnate my wife, I would go to an anonymous donor as well. I wanted to have children."
Jenkins said she considered herself "absolutely" Isabella's mother, "100 percent."
But when Isabella was 17 months old, Jenkins and Miller separated and Miller filed to dissolve the union. Miller headed home to Virginia with the toddler. Jenkins, who still runs the day care center, said they worked out an amicable agreement.