Author fights for parental rights
By Robin Lord, Staff Writer, Cape Cod Times,
November 22, 2005
Author Jacquelyn Mitchard with
baby Atticus, born Nov. 1 at Cape Cod Hospital to a
Best-selling author Jacquelyn
Mitchard creates fictional stories. But the tale of
her own experience with a surrogate birth is stranger
than anything she could have made up, she says.
''What people will do for each other and to each
other, it's something I always knew as a writer, but
it never fails to amaze you,'' said Mitchard, who
gained fame with her first novel, ''The Deep End of
the Ocean'' and now lives in Madison, Wis., after
a short stint in Harwich.
Mitchard and her husband, Christopher Brent, are in a pitched
battle with the estranged husband of a woman who was the
surrogate mother of their 3-week-old baby. A judge in Barnstable
Probate Court could decide the outcome.
Arletta Bendschneider gave birth Nov. 1 at Cape Cod Hospital
in Hyannis. The baby, named Atticus Stuart Brent by Mitchard
and Brent, has been with the couple ever since.
But Jack Bendschneider of Kings Mountain, Ky., Arletta's
estranged husband, has refused to sign a paper releasing
his claim to the boy.
Kentucky law presumes that a child born to a married woman
is the legal child of that woman and her husband, said Mitchard's
lawyer, Melissa Brisman of Park Ridge, N.J.
The law, which also applies in Massachusetts, was written
before technology made it possible for women to carry surrogate
According to Barnstable Probate Court documents, Mitchard
and Brent have filed a motion to prevent Cape Cod Hospital
from filing a birth certificate with the state health department
until their names can be listed as the parents.
The couple has also filed suit demanding that Jack Bendschneider
waive his custody rights. If he has not signed by early
next month, a Barnstable judge will be asked to determine
the biological parents of the baby, Brisman said.
Mitchard and Brent moved to Harwich last summer but decided
to return this month to Madison, where they have family,
after the surrogacy issue arose, Mitchard said.
''It certainly cast a pall over what should have been
an entirely joyous time,'' she said.
In vitro fertilization
Atticus was conceived with in vitro fertilization using
Brent's sperm and a donor egg. Another of the couple's children,
Will, was born to a different surrogate mother two years
ago. Mitchard, 52, whose first husband died when he was
45, has seven children, ages 3 weeks to 22 years old.
''They're all mine,'' she said. ''Some came to us through
adoption, but I don't distinguish.''
Arletta Bendschneider, 33, is a building inspector in
Danville, Ky. A woman in the building department said Bendschneider
was out on leave. Repeated attempts to reach her were unsuccessful;
her cell phone was turned off and there was no voice mail.
On her Web site, wombofhope.com,
she says she believed being a surrogate was ''my life's
Jack Bendschneider, a factory worker in Danville, did
not return messages left with his supervisor or at his parents'
home. His lawyer, Theodore Lavit of Lebanon, Ky., said Bendschneider
has no interest in Mitchard's baby, but sees no reason why
he should sign a waiver.
''We've had calls from all over the United States. 'Dr.
Phil' has called and 'Inside Edition,' but we're not interested
in trying this case in the newspaper or on television,''
He said Bendschneider, who filed for divorce from his wife
when she was eight months pregnant with Mitchard's and Brent's
child, is only concerned with maintaining custody of his
two children, ages 2 and 7.
In September, a judge in Casey County, Ky., ordered Arletta
Bendschneider to leave the family home and granted temporary
full custody of the children to her husband. The couple
is now in the midst of divorce proceedings, Lavit said.
Mitchard said Arletta agreed to carry the baby because
of her desire to help couples who could not conceive on
their own. She said she accepted only $1,000 of the original
On her Web site, Arletta Bendschneider claims her husband
was at first ''very supportive'' of her pregnancy, and even
gave her twice-daily progesterone injections to help maintain
Mitchard said Arletta found the separation and the loss
of her two children ''extraordinarily devastating.''
''We were just made witness by her courage,'' Mitchard
said. ''Despite all she was going through, she still remained
steadfast and determined to make sure Atticus was born healthy
and this was a joyous experience for us.''
Jack Bendschneider is quoted in a Nov. 13 article in the
Lexington (Ky.) Herald Leader as saying he feared
his children would be ridiculed in their traditional farming
community because of his wife's decision to be a surrogate
''I was physically sick. I couldn't sleep at night, thinking
my children are going to have to discuss this with people
later in life,'' he is quoted as saying.
Mitchard, whose latest novel, ''Breakdown Lane,'' is set
to be made into a movie, said she has found solace at this
time through her writing. Her new book, ''Cage of Stars,''
is due to be released in May.
It was hard to leave Cape Cod, she said, since her children
had settled into Harwich schools.
''But this experience made us feel far less adventurous,''
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