WATERLOO — Sara and Brandon Kelsey are preparing for a new baby, a baby they feel will make their family complete.
The couple, who married last year, have three boys, ages 7, 9 and 16, in their blended family. They have no children together. Sara is no longer able to have children following a medically necessary hysterectomy, so the couple is looking to adopt.
“We aren’t done raising kids,” Brandon said.
They have gone through background checks and home visits and are now approved to adopt a child.
“We’ve been buying everything we need,” Sara said. “We’re ready. And all the boys are on board.”
The Kelseys have decided to pursue a private adoption, mostly because of the high cost of going through an agency.
“Private adoption will cost us about $15,000 for the lawyers,” Brandon said.
“Going through an agency would cost at least $30,000 and up to $50,000,” Sara said.
Though the Kelseys have not signed with an adoption agency, they are talking with one.
“The agency said we need to market ourselves,” Sara said.
To that end, the couple took to the internet. They created accounts on social media platforms, such as Instagram, and Sara is chronicling their adoption journey on her blog, “Love Made Our Family.”
So far, that journey has been a difficult one.
The first woman to contact them — and tell the Kelseys she was pretty sure she was going to pick their family to place her child with — turned out to be insincere, giving the Kelseys a fake phone number and deleting her account.
The Kelseys were heartbroken.
But their ordeal was just beginning.
Soon, they were contacted by a woman from Georgia who said she was expecting a baby in May, and she and her husband were not in a financial position to keep the child.
Sara communicated with her through texts and phone calls for hours.
The next evening, Sara got a call from the woman’s husband saying his wife’s water broke and she was having an emergency C-section. (The mother later explained she got her dates wrong and she was actually due in March.) The baby, a girl, was 11 weeks premature, the birth parents said.
The Kelseys received updates and photos of the new baby, and the birth parents continued to act like they wanted the Kelseys to adopt their child. They even asked the Kelseys what they were going to name her and referred to the baby by that name in posts on the internet. The birth mother even sent Sara a picture of her incision from the C-section.
Since they were first contacted by the woman, the Kelseys had been trying to verify what she was telling them. They Googled names and phone numbers and did reverse searches on photos they received from her. They found no red flags until they searched for the incision photo. It came up as part of an article published in 2014.
The Kelseys were devastated.
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“It was all a lie,” Sara said.
Several subsequent contacts also led nowhere. One woman said she could not send proof of birth because her boyfriend’s parents had been murdered by gang members. Internet searches found no evidence of such a crime.
The Kelseys went online with their adoption hopes about a month ago and they have already received at least five different contacts. All seemingly fraudulent.
“I think it’s the same person contacting us every time,” Brandon said.
Though none of the women have asked for money, the emotional toll the encounters have taken on the Kelsey family has been significant.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” Sara said. “From going from being so happy to really, really hurt. And then angry. Why would anyone do this? I feel like this is a sad, sad person who needs some kind of help.
“It’s been really confusing for our youngest son,” she said. “The whole concept of adoption confuses him anyway, but he doesn’t understand why people are doing this.”
Sue Gauger is the program manager at Adoption Connection, which is located in Clive but serves the entire state. She has been in the adoption field for 36 years and has seen this type of scam — and worse — many times.
“Oh, it’s out there all right,” she said. “I’ve had people travel all over the state and still come back with no baby. It’s very, very tragic.”
While Gauger recommends adoptive parents work with an agency, she said for those pursuing private adoption it is important to have good advice and not to hand over money.
“Know the laws,” she said. “They are different in different states. Take precautions. People do get scammed. A birth parent will say ‘Hey, I need money for rent’ or ‘Hey, I need money for medical expenses.’ It’s hey this and hey that. People with no guidance will send money.
“You can get into some awful situations. It’s very risky to not involve professionals.
“There are a lot of desperate people. We don’t always know their circumstances. People will do pretty desperate things to provide for their family or provide for their drug addiction. You just don’t know.
“I’ve had someone pay more than $10,000 to a birth mother out of state and get scammed. We’ve had a birth mother promise her baby to multiple agencies with no intention of giving the baby up. I’ve literally had people go to the hospital to get their baby and the mother had checked out against doctors’ orders and disappeared. And there’s no recourse.”
Gauger brought up the case of Tracy Leann Bess-Thacker, an Ankeny woman who scammed adoptive parents for years.
According to a March 2015 Des Moines Register article, Bess-Thacker was arrested after taking money from a couple trying to adopt. Bess-Thacker faked the pregnancy and used photos and sonograms from a previous pregnancy to fool the adoptive parents.
Also, according the article, in 2011, Bess-Thacker used multiple aliases to connect with adoptive parents across the country.
The experience the Kelseys have been through has made them more guarded, but they aren’t ready to give up.
“I’ve talked with people who went through the same kind of thing, but ended up with a baby eventually,” Sara said. “You just have to have hope.
“I’ve learned I have to be more direct, and I can’t be afraid to ask for proof.
“I would tell people to be careful and hopeful at the same time, if that’s possible. You can’t discredit every situation. I know our baby is out there somewhere.”