Baby M’s Grandmother Recounts How Police Took Infant
HACKENSACK, N.J. (AP) _ A woman whose daughter became a surrogate mother fought back tears Thursday as she testified about how police came to her Florida home and took the child after her daughter refused to give up the baby.
Catherine Messer of Holiday, Fla., also said she would follow any visitation rules Superior Court Judge Harvey R. Sorkow might impose in ruling in the unprecedented custody battle.
Mrs. Messer and her husband, Joseph, have asked to be allowed to visit the child even if the judge denies their daughter, Mary Beth Whitehead, custody of the girl.
In other testimony, the third expert witness called by the child’s court- appointed guardian said the baby’s biological father should receive permanent custody and that Mrs. Whitehead should have no contact with the child for at least five years, and then only after she undergoes psychotherapy.
Mrs. Whitehead agreed to bear a child for William and Elizabeth Stern for $10,000 by being artificially inseminated with Stern’s sperm. But she changed her mind about the contract after the baby was born March 27 and fled to Florida when a court ordered her to return the child to the temporary custody of the couple.
After 87 days, authorities caught up with Mrs. Whitehead and returned the baby to the Sterns. The couple then sued for custody, and Sorkow is hearing the non-jury trial.
Mrs. Messer recounted how about six police officers came to her home July 31 and grabbed the child, known as Baby M.
″I bathed the baby and put her in the crib and went into the garage to do some wash,″ she said. ″The door was open about 18 inches and I was standing in my night clothes.″
She said a police officer grabbed her by the arm, threw her on the floor and asked her where Mrs. Whitehead was.
″I said in the hospital,″ Mrs. Messer said, referring to treatment Mrs. Whitehead received for a urinary tract infection. ″He didn’t believe me.″
Mrs. Messer said she then heard Mrs. Whitehead’s 11-year-old daughter, Tuesday, screaming, ″No 3/8 No 3/8″ Another police officer was holding the baby in the air so her son-in-law, Richard Whitehead, couldn’t reach her, she testified.
Police threw on the ground a court order to retrieve the child and ran to a car they had parked two blocks away, she said.
Mrs. Messer said she then called the St. Petersburg Times because police refused to tell her where they were taking the baby.
″I had to tell something to Mary Beth,″ Mrs. Messer said. ″I thought the newspaper would help me find out where the baby was.″
The baby’s court-appointed guardian, attorney Lorraine A. Abraham, asked Mrs. Messer what she would do if Mrs. Whitehead were denied visitation but the grandmother were allowed to have the baby visit her in Florida while her daughter was there.
Mrs. Messer said she would have to deny Mrs. Whitehead a chance to see the child.
″It wouldn’t mean I don’t love her,″ she said of her daughter. ″But she would be happy. At least there was some contact with the baby.″
Social worker Judith Brown Greif testified that Mrs. Whitehead should be denied visitation for at least five years because she overidentifies with the baby.
″The mother is threatened by the child’s attachments to her own father,″ Ms. Greif said under questioning by Ms. Abraham.