Freelance journalist and lifestyle blogger Jeannine Morris Lombardi had wanted to pursue adoption for as long as she can remember. So when she married Joe Lombardi in 2014, the couple hoped it would be part of their love story. Five years later, the Lombardis got their wish: They welcomed daughter Amaya Jo via adoption this past April.
While Jeannine says their new baby is “the most perfect piece of our family,” bringing Amaya home to New Jersey was long, complicated and emotionally draining. In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, she opens up about how several Instagram users posing as potential birth mothers manipulated her during the adoption process.
Instead of applying with an adoption agency — a process that can take anywhere from two to seven years, according to adopt.org — the New Jersey couple chose to invest time and money into pursuing a private adoption. After the devastating loss of their first and only biological daughter (who was stillborn at 32 weeks gestation), the couple were desperate for a baby.
So with the help of a lawyer, the Lombardis were largely responsible for finding a birth mother on their own. They launched an informative website, and got a new email address and phone number to communicate with pregnant women exploring adoption. Jeannine, a popular social-media influencer with nearly 30,000 followers, even went the extra mile by using Instagram as a marketing tool.
“The thing is, when you do a private adoption, you’re the ones dealing with the bulls—,” Jeannine says. “We went through six months of speaking to 16 different women — or so we thought — trying to figure out who was serious about it.”
Want all the latest pregnancy and birth announcements, plus celebrity mom blogs? Click here to get those and more in the PEOPLE Parents newsletter.
RELATED: Mariska Hargitay and Peter Hermann Open Up About Adoption and Their Unique Brood
The worst of these interactions started over Instagram direct messages, when a user claiming to be Ashley (@ashleymamabear2019) reached out.
“She contacted us saying she was 16 years old,” Jeannine tells PEOPLE. “She sent us pictures throughout her pregnancy of her and her bump. We knew about the weight she gained, we knew that she craved ice cream.”