Tennessee Girl Returned to Biological Parents After Six-Year Fight

Jan. 24, 2007 — -- From the age of 2, Anna Mae He has been at the center of an adoption tug of war.

Now, the Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled she must be returned to her biological parents.

"My family will be reunited. We feel excited and grateful," said Anna Mae's biological father, Jack He.

But the Bakers, foster parents who have cared for Anna Mae for six years, are crushed that they will lose the little girl. Anna Mae will turn 8 years old next week.

"Both parties verbally agreed that the arrangement would be continued until Anna Mae was an adult," said Louise Baker, Anna Mae's foster mother.

A Painful Six Years

How did this custody battle get so ugly?

After Anna Mae was born, her parents, newly immigrated from China, decided they could not afford to take care of her and gave her up temporarily.

The Bakers said they understood otherwise, and testified in a previous custody battle that they deserved sole custody, without visitation from the He family.

When Anna Mae's birth mother broke down on the stand, the Bakers won the first court battle, saying that the little girl would be better off with them and that the Hes would likely return to China with the girl if they got her back.

Child advocate lawyers found that argument racist and helped the Hes argue their case before the Tennessee Supreme Court.

"You don't judge a parent's fitness based on the country they come from or based on the amount of money they have," said Bruce Boyer of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

The court agreed and ruled that the Hes should get their daughter back in a reunion that would be gradual and careful, and that could take weeks.

It has been a painful six-year fight for the Hes, who now have two other children. They've celebrated Anna Mae's birthdays without her, and have seen her only once since losing custody.

"It has been difficult, but we always have the faith that she would come back because we know that we are good parents," Jack He said.

Transition to Biological Parents Could Be Tough

The Bakers and their attorney are worried about the pain Anna Mae will suffer during the transition back to her biological family.

"Everybody is committed to Anna Mae and her best interest, and so obviously they're concerned. If they weren't concerned, they would be callous people who wouldn't be deserving to have her in the first place," said Larry Parrish, the Bakers' lawyer.

Although Anna Mae's biological parents are practically strangers, He is certain that returning to them is the right move.

"When she wakes up every morning and sees all the faces surrounding her just like her own face, mom and dad, I think she will have a permanent, peaceful mind," he said.