What I want you to know about being a victim of adoption fraud

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.  Today’s guest post is by Amy.

I hate to use the word "victim" to describe us, but when it comes to our attempts to adopt the boy we thought would be our first child, there's really no more appropriate term.

My husband and I have wanted to adopt since before we were married. After college, I worked for an orphanage in Haiti, and I became very connected to the plight of kids without parents. By the time I left, I was sure that I had been put on Earth to be Mami Amy (what the kids called me). As a strong believer in the idea that parenthood is FAR more than making PB&Js and changing diapers, I wasn't sure if being Mami Amy meant advocating on Capitol Hill or adopting eight kids from foster care, but I was fine with whichever way the path led - domestic or career-based advocacy.

While adoption was always a goal, we didn’t think we could afford it, and we also assumed we’d get pregnant quickly and need some time before adopting. As Catholics, we weren’t using any hormonal birth control, and my family was actually joking (and perhaps taking bets?) on how soon we’d be expecting. After over a year and only negative pregnancy tests, I thought something was wrong, and began working with a doctor. We continued to try to conceive, but also began to look more closely at adoption. We never viewed one as better or more preferable to the other, and just figured whatever happened first would be great. When I eventually got a medical diagnosis that made pregnancy look like an even more difficult option than we’d previously thought, we really got serious about our adoption plans.

We interviewed a few attorneys and agencies, and learned about our options. A few months in, we got a strong recommendation from a friend who had just completed a successful adoption in another state. He called one morning and said his attorney had an unmatched case with a baby due in just a few weeks, and asked if we'd like him to recommend us for placement. We said yes. He made the connections, and for seven days we sat on pins and needles waiting for the birth mom to make a decision, all the while thinking we could be parents in ONE MONTH. I didn't sleep, and could barely last two minutes without checking my email and phone. At the end of the week, we found out that this birth mother really wanted a local family, and therefore didn't choose us. This felt like a big loss to me, probably because it was the first case and it seemed like the stars had just aligned themselves without much trying. But we still had beginner’s zeal, and pressed on without hesitation.

Over the next six months, we lost (or failed to "stick" as a match with) two more cases. In each case, the losses were very early but still upsetting. We hadn’t gotten too attached and, cynical as it may seem, we realized that disruptions are a very real possibility in adoption, and we just shouldn’t get too excited off the bat. When I heard of friends getting pregnant, I had a bit of a pinch inside, but I was ok most of the time. At this point, I wouldn’t even admit to many friends and family that I wanted a child. But inside, I was beginning to really, really feel the sting.

In March, we got an out-of-the-blue call that a birth mom had picked us. We were tentative, but thrilled. We thought that since she'd already decided to place with us, the hardest part was behind us. Statistically speaking, things were likely to go according to plan and we were going to be parents. It was a high-risk case (advanced maternal age and drug exposure). The birth mom was 20 weeks into the pregnancy, which seemed to us, at the time, to be a good thing. Plenty of time to get ready. We waited about a month before telling all of our friends and family, but I was so excited that I could barely contain it, so the news spread a little faster than I'd intended.

In April, I went to Florida to meet the birth mom and went with her to an ultrasound to determine the gender. A boy! We spent most of the day together, and while I was really unsure what to make of a number of things she said, both the attorney and the social worker told me that her statements and feelings were normal, and I shouldn't worry. 'We want her to have an attachment to the baby so she takes care of herself,' they said. 'We expect her to get really, really emotional when learning even the smallest facts about you, since she’s making such a hard choice,' they said. And what they said, I accepted. After we met, she and I would text somewhat regularly and talked on the phone once or twice. All was going according to plan. At this point, I started sewing up a storm for the baby, thinking about names, and making a registry. By the end of May, I had a maternity leave scheduled, a babysitter lined up, and 1,200 ounces of donated breast milk (which I drove all over creation to get) in my freezer.

Then, the day after our anniversary, we got the call. I knew it was bad. The attorney's first words were, "Is there any way to conference in your husband?" Since he was at an internship, the answer was no. She hesitated, then proceeded to tell me that we weren't getting the baby. We weren't going to be parents. Not now. This wasn't our baby. I couldn't breathe.
______

Earlier that month, the expectant mom we were matched with had moved in with her mother, after being evicted from her apartment. In doing so, she returned to her hometown, where she reconnected via phone with her old boyfriend (who was one of two potential fathers of the baby). Because he was a potential birth father, he'd been contacted by the agency to sign off his parental rights, and thus, knew about the pregnancy. She, though, hadn't told him herself. She called and asked him to come see her at her mom's house. When he arrived with his mother (they'd been out together), he was shocked to see a full nursery set up, complete with bottles, onesies and a new car seat. He asked her why these things were there, given that she was giving the baby up for adoption. As it was relayed to me, she looked right at him and said, "Oh, well I'm not really going to do that. I just had to tell them I was going to and some lady who can't have babies would pay my bills during the pregnancy."

Yep. That happened.

Upon further investigation, the attorney learned that she had, in fact, told everyone who would listen about this great money-maker she'd discovered called Lying To People About Giving Them Your Baby. She had told her doctor a few weeks beforehand that she was keeping the baby, but he didn't report it to the agency, even though he was forwarding all bills to them (for us to pay). Also, her Facebook page (which we didn't have access to) was apparently littered with pregnancy photo shoot pics and comments about how excited she was to have her baby boy in her arms soon.

In short, we got scammed. It was my constant nightmare for all those months, and still, I didn’t see it coming.
________

The emotional effects of all of this were... intense. We lost about $10,000 in expenses we'd paid for her. I had to call my boss and cancel my maternity leave. I had dozens of friends to un-tell about our baby, and now, worst of all, we were back at the beginning. Back to the numbing, blinding, endless abyss of waiting and hoping. Right about this time, I lost my cool, emotionally stable, “Oh yeah, I can totally listen to you jabbering on and on about how birth control is God’s gift to women and you’d just DIE A THOUSAND DEATHS if you got pregnant” attitude. I had lasted two years without feeling jealousy, but at this point, it got ugly in my mind for a few days.

I had to mourn. I had to grieve the loss of this baby, because while (Thank God) no physical harm had come to him, he was lost to us. To our family. A priest told me that I should let myself experience this like a death, because to us, it was. Mostly, I spent my time practicing therapeutic gardening, praying for him, and apologizing for the fact that I couldn't save him from his mother's bad choices. His mom has five other children, and all of them have been removed from her care by the state. Five separate times she's been declared an unfit mother, and yet she will be permitted to take this baby home. There is no Three Strikes, You’re Out (or in this case, five strikes) rule. I pray that her choices are different the sixth time, and that she chooses to parent rather than neglect. But I fear that's not reality, and that he'll end up in the system like all of her other kids. There is no justice for the baby, and there is no justice for us. All we can do is pray and hope for the best.

After a month of grief, we are beginning to see the sun again. Though we've been hurt, and lost a lot in the process, we don't regret our decision to choose adoption. In fact, after losing this case, I have even more desire and determination to provide a home for a child without one, or without an appropriate, safe one. This little boy, for a small time, and only in my mind, was my baby. And any mother will tell you that watching your baby go through a struggle will give you more motivation than ever to fight for the end of that struggle. There are laws that need to be changed, systems that need to start fighting for the kids and not just for the biological parents, and punishments that need to be put into place for crimes like the one this woman committed. That type of change is slow-going, and may never come to full fruition. But, there are lots of us who have the power to do one very important thing to protect vulnerable kids: open our homes, our families, and our hearts. At the very least, in doing this we show our willingness to be there, whether it’s taken advantage of or not.

The mom we were matched with is being investigated for adoption fraud, but whether she'll ever be convicted is very much unknown and honestly rather unlikely. I am pushing for her to be punished criminally, not out of revenge or some sort of retribution, but because I think if she’s not charged, she will do this again. And I want to do my best to prevent her from hurting someone else.

As for us, we continue to wait. We have begun the registration process with another agency, a local one this time. I pray everyday for God to bring us our baby, but even more strongly than that, I continue to pray the same prayer I did all those years ago in Haiti: I want to do all I can to make a difference for kids in crisis. Maybe I’ll have the great honor of having one or two in my home who will call me mama. But if not, I will still fight for them, in whatever way I can. Write a letter to a congressperson, open my home for a night or a year, or maybe just a silent prayer. Whatever way the road leads is ok with me. And maybe that’s the point, anyway.



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