Illegal Cross-Border Adoption Traps Two Mothers

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Two mothers, an American and Guatemalan, inadvertently get caught in an illegal international adoption scam. In this excerpt from her book, "Finding Fernanda," Erin Siegal describes their frenzied search for the same child.

(WOMENSENEWS)--The morning of January 21, 2008, Betsy Emanuel awoke early in her Tennessee bedroom, heart fluttering. It was 5:00 a.m. and she'd tossed and turned all night. Leslie, her husband of 29 years, remained asleep. She crept into the bathroom, curled on the floor and broke down in silent, racking sobs.

Although her adopted daughter Emily Belle had been home from Guatemala for two months now, Emanuel just couldn't stop wondering what had happened to 2-year-old Fernanda, the other little girl she had been trying to adopt. Fernanda seemed to have simply disappeared. She'd contacted the State Department, the Department of Children and Families and the U.S. embassy in Guatemala. No one had answers. Her husband had started worrying that the stress was taking a toll on Emanuel's health.

Through the two-year adoption ordeal, Emanuel's staunch faith had kept her going. She believed that Fernanda was watched over and that all answers would be revealed, in time. Still, she was growing tired of waiting.

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The past year of prayer had yielded few answers, let alone concrete details about the child's safety and well-being. She prayed from the bathroom floor, her body heaving with sobs. "Please God," she pleaded. "Release me from this child. Take the love out of my heart."

There seemed to be two answers: either she had to somehow stop caring about Fernanda, or she needed to understand exactly what had transpired. Neither option seemed likely.

'I Can't Wait'

Finding FernandaThe bedroom alarm clock went off and Emanuel eased to her feet, worried that her husband might catch her coiled pitifully on the floor. Leaning into the mirror, she splashed water against her puffy eyes. I can't wait any longer, she thought, padding into the kitchen.

None of her children was awake yet and Emanuel silently fixed herself coffee. There didn't seem to be many possibilities. If Fernanda somehow turned up in Guatemala, there was a good chance she'd be found living in an orphanage. If that were the case, another family might be in the process of adopting her, oblivious to her family's own attempt.

Coffee in hand, she stepped down the small steps into her office, an old broom closet her husband had lovingly renovated into a makeshift office for her. Clicking through various adoption blogs, she tried to see who, if anyone, might have accepted an adoption referral for Fernanda. It was a process she had done many times. As always, nothing came up.

She clicked on, and began typing the names of people associated with Fernanda's adoption into Google's search engine. Marvin Bran, the Guatemalan adoption facilitator working for their adoption agency, Celebrate Children International (CCI). Sue Hedberg, the agency's director. Alfonso Close, another one of CCI's many Guatemalan attorneys. Mildred Alvarado, the birthmother who was supposed to have relinquished the child.

Guiding her browser to, a popular website used by adoptive parents to share news about Guatemalan adoption, Emanuel typed Fernanda's name into yet another search field.

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