Ringing Up Baby

Cashing in on the adoption biz is easy in Texas, where lax rules let almost anyone play. Take Jennalee Ryan, for instance...

It's not clear who ran with the story first, but the nonexistent First Human Embryo Bank became worldwide news, with stories of boutique babies and apocalyptic bioethical ramifications.

By January 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took an interest in what The Associated Press called "a business that produces batches of ready-made embryos." In an anticlimactic finale, the FDA announced that month that, because there was no actual embryo bank, there was nothing for the FDA to investigate.

Ryan told the San Antonio Express-News that the media was under the erroneous assumption that her business was hands-on, rather than merely an advertising service.

In some states, adoption advertisers and facilitators can make lots of money off birth moms and adoptive parents.
Mark Greenberg
In some states, adoption advertisers and facilitators can make lots of money off birth moms and adoptive parents.
Jennifer Potter or Jennalee Ryan—figuring out her adoption business is as hard as pinning down her name.
Jennifer Potter or Jennalee Ryan—figuring out her adoption business is as hard as pinning down her name.

Today, Ryan is careful to make that clear from the outset, perhaps because state laws dealing with adoption-esque services often require a Ouija board to decipher. In Texas, only a parent, guardian or licensed child-placing agency can act as an intermediary between adoptive and expectant parents. And only a licensed child-placing agency can advertise to place, provide or obtain a child. (The Texas Family Code, as it pertains to adoptions, defines "child" as a person under the age of 18 and does not say anything about embryos.)

Ryan is able to circumvent the regulation restricting advertising of such services to a licensed child-placing agency by not actually matching birth moms to adoptive parents. Instead, if an adoptive parent calls the Abraham Center for Life (i.e., Ryan's house), she can give the parent a list of phone numbers for licensed agencies. But she cannot introduce that adoptive parent to a birth mother.

And since she's only advertising, Ryan expressed amazement that the Houston Press would be so interested in her business and personal life. When she finally returned a call to the Press, she said through laughter, "A biography? This is so exciting! I'm that important—wow!" She later added, "How did I get to be the lucky one that gets a whole article written on them 'cause they have an interesting background?"

They were odd statements for a woman who, in 1997, commissioned a California freelancer to write a book about her. In 1998, that writer filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau in California that Ryan (Potter-Clay at the time) stiffed her for $840 worth of work she had done on a brochure Ryan wanted to promote her business. (The book was to follow the brochure.)

"I believe that a person's ethics—or lack of ethics in one instance—often carries over into other facets," Marilyn Campbell wrote in her complaint, "and as Ms. Clay is involved in something as sensitive as private adoptions, I think any lapse should be seriously considered."

Fortunately, Campbell still had some notes from her 1997 interview with Ryan in a San Diego hotel room she was sharing with Cornelius "Temporary Restraining Order" Braxton. One highlight of Campbell's notes includes Ryan's talk about interviewing celebrities such as Steven Seagal, David Carradine and Kim Fields (Tootie on The Facts of Life).The notes also state that Ryan talked of being raped, kidnapped and knifed. She of course talks about her eight kids and how she proudly "cut the cords" on the adopted ones.

But when told the Press story would address her time in California, as well as her children and their fathers, she downplayed parts of her biography. For one thing, she explained, the name change is hardly significant. It was simply because, when she was born in 1957, Jennifer was not that common a name. But by the dawn of the 21st century, the sheer number of Jennifers was such that sometimes both an adoptive mom and a birth mom might be named Jennifer, creating a nightmare of a conference call.

"There are so many dang Jennifers out there, it's so confusing," Ryan says, explaining at one point that "it's like being named Sue or Cathy."

Ryan's enthusiasm for the Press article did not extend to questions about her most recent husband, Jamie Quinonez, aka Jaime Quinonez, aka Joe Torivio Quinonez. In 2004, in Riverside County, Quinonez was charged with battery against a spouse and willful injury or harm to a child, among others.

All Ryan would say about the charges were that they resulted from an incident in which Quinonez shot her with a BB gun. She would not describe how or which child was involved. Quinonez pleaded guilty to the willful injury charge; the spousal battery was dropped, according to Riverside County Court records. Quinonez was placed on probation until 2009 and ordered to attend a child battery program. (While Ryan says they are no longer married, Riverside County court records show the couple filed for divorce in 2005 but changed their minds; no divorce records are listed in Bexar County District Court's online database.)

In general, Ryan says, "I don't really like talking about who I fucked and got pregnant by. I'm just not comfortable with that. I didn't think that was anybody's business, you know what I'm saying, who I used as a sperm donor."

And as for her kids, how they behave has nothing to do with the Abraham Center of Life or Abagails Silver Spoon Adoptions. But she was eager to clear up the misunderstanding behind a restraining order filed against her children (and her) by a Riverside County neighbor in 2003.

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