“We had a tough road with infertility,” Beth said as she looked at her husband Rocky from the dining room of their suburban Pennsylvania home.
That road led the couple to adoption, and they were all in.
“It’s like you’re having a baby. We got matched. We’re excited,” Rocky said.
He said they both agreed to mimic, on their end, the pregnancy. They did the nursery and many of the other things expectant parents do.
Beth and Rocky went through a legitimate adoption agency, spent tens of thousands of dollars, and shared phone calls, texts, even ultrasound photos with the birth mother who lives in Alabama. Beth felt a genuine bond with her.
“You kind of have this love for them because of what they’re giving you because it was something I couldn’t do myself,” Beth said as her eyes welled up. “She is offering her child to me, and how do you ever thank somebody for that?”
But that Alabama birth mother, Shareen Gurnsey, was also forming bonds and promising three other couples in three other states her unborn baby boy, according to police.
Rocky and Beth’s Alabama attorney in Mobile, Richard Shields, discovered the scam.
“Probably the worst phone call I made was to tell them what was being done to them,” Shields said as he fought back tears just recalling the conversation. “It’s bad and they cried.”
But not all that unusual.
“It definitely is prevalent,” said Erin Komada, a Midstate adoption attorney with Scaringi Law. “We don’t hear it every single week, but we hear a couple cases a year.”
Komada says the scrutiny of an adoptive family is intense because that’s where the baby will end up. Their backgrounds and finances are probed and their homes are inspected. But, she says, birth moms are not put through the same ringer. She recommends wanna-be parents ask lots of questions and do some cyber snooping.
“Certainly check out their (birth mom’s) social media pages, check out their criminal background information, Google them, find as much information as you can,” Komada said.
The system doesn’t offer enough safeguards, Komada concedes. All four duped couples went through legitimate agencies and all four thought Gurnsey’s baby would be theirs.
“There are no checks and balances for them to say, ‘hey, she’s already registered here, but she’s doing the same thing elsewhere’ because those other agencies don’t communicate with one another,” Rocky said.
He and Beth are both calling for a national registry to protect adoptive parents from scammers.
Despite the financial and emotional toll of this chapter in their lives, Beth and Rocky are hoping the next is much brighter and includes a bundle of joy.
“What’s next is that we get to adopt a baby and that we get to add to our family, and we have so much love to give and so much to offer,” Beth said with a smile.
But then she added nervously, “that would be ideally what’s next, but there’s no guarantees in this.”