The baby seemed real up until the moment she was supposed to be born.
Laura and Matt Trayte were in the waiting room, wondering why they couldn't seem to find her. They had flown all the way from Orange County, California, to witness the baby girl's birth at a hospital in Kingsport, Tennessee, a few miles from the Virginia border. The couple had struggled with infertility for years and planned to adopt the baby from 34-year-old Elizabeth Jones. Hudson, the Traytes' 6-year-old son conceived through in vitro fertilization, was wearing a shirt that said, "Best Big Bro."
But before long, the Trayte family's excitement drifted toward anxiety.
In text messages and phone calls early the morning of Nov. 29, 2018, Jones told Laura she had gone into labor on the way to the hospital, had to flag down an ambulance on the side of the road, and then, without any medication, painfully gave birth to the baby girl as the ambulance roared toward the emergency room.
"There's so much blood," a frantic Jones texted Laura from the ER, according to messages provided to The Washington Post. "Omg. . . . I don't think any of us expected this to happen like this."
"You did it!!" Laura responded, trying to push Jones through the pain - until realizing something was wrong.
"Elizabeth," she texted minutes later, "we are in the ER in Holston Valley and they are saying you are not here??"
There was no Elizabeth Jones in the hospital who had given birth, the nurses at the front desk told the couple. There was only an Elizabeth Jones who had checked herself in for back pain. Laura needed to see for herself, so she followed a nurse to Jones's bed. The nurse pulled back the curtain that concealed her, and there was Jones: calm and fully clothed.
There was no blood.
"There was no baby," Laura said. "There was never a baby."
Since leaving the hospital empty-handed that morning, the Traytes have been tormented by a bizarre question that, as far as they can tell, doesn't have an answer: Why would someone make up a pregnancy? Why would someone then deceive two excited adoptive parents into believing it was real?
"Well, that's the million-dollar question," Jones herself told local news station WYCB 5 in January. She said she honestly didn't know the answer either.
On Monday, Jones was arrested on nine counts of felony larceny for allegedly obtaining gifts and other perks from the Trayte family under false pretenses, according to court records. Prosecutors in Scott County, Virginia, accused Jones of eating out at restaurants on the Traytes' dime; accepting numerous presents from the couple; and causing them to pay for an expensive professional photo shoot for the announcement of the nonexistent baby's birth.
The Traytes called Jones's deeds a "psychological attack." But since they did not pay Jones for the adoption, and there is no law on the books in Virginia outlawing invented pregnancies, prosecutors were limited in how they could charge Jones. In fact, Jones said in previous interviews that because no money was exchanged, she didn't see how her conduct was criminal. "People get emotionally hurt every day," she told the Southern California News Group in December. "How is that a crime?"
Prosecutors got creative after the Traytes provided them all of their receipts, the Traytes said. Because Jones has multiple prior credit-card fraud convictions in Virginia, prosecutors were able to enhance the larceny charges to felonies. She was also charged with violation of probation, a felony for which prosecutors are seeking a five-year prison sentence, according to the Orange County Register, which identified Jones as an Army veteran and former cake decorator.
A bond hearing is scheduled for Jones on Wednesday morning, court records show.
"We have gone through a lot of struggles over the past 10 years on our journey to have a family," Matt Trayte, 40, told The Washington Post in an interview Monday, "and so we're unfortunately used to things not working out. But there was no thought in our mind that anything remotely close to this could have happened."
The fiasco began in September 2018, when the Traytes met Jones on Facebook. They had created a website and Facebook page called "A Sibling For Hudson," where they welcomed expecting mothers who wanted to put their baby up for adoption to consider the Traytes as prospective parents. Over the past decade, the couple had endured five cycles of in vitro fertilization, only one of which was successful, giving the couple their "miracle son," they said. But the failures were exhausting, and so when Hudson began asking for a sibling, they turned to adoption instead.
Right away, Jones seemed like a good fit. Other expecting moms who reached out on Facebook said the baby's father was in prison, or had committed suicide. But in Jones's case, she said she was just not ready to have a third child. She was a working, married mom of two who said she just needed to focus on finishing school and starting a career, according to the Traytes.
Soon enough, Jones and Laura were talking every day. It was "like when you're dating someone," Laura said.
"We were just getting to know each other: how we were raised, our backgrounds, our hopes and dreams. We talked about everything," 41-year-old Laura said. "I remember telling my sisters she felt like a sister to me."
In early November, Laura flew cross-country to Nickelsville, Virginia, to meet her. They went shopping for baby clothes and for their own matching shirts for the photo shoot: "Birth mother strong," Jones's read. "Adoptive mother strong," read Laura's. The two met with a lawyer, who drew up the paperwork that authorized Laura and Matt to have power of attorney to make medical decisions after the baby's birth. The signed document, which was provided to The Post, listed Jones's due date as Jan. 7.
But when the time came for a hospital visit so that Laura could meet Jones's doctors, everything seemed to fall apart.
Just before the doctors called Jones back for her appointment, Jones asked Laura if she could run out to the car to get her water bottle, Laura said. Laura obliged - and returned to find Jones had gone to the appointment without her. In retrospect, Laura said, it should have been a red flag. But her first instinct was never to worry the pregnancy was fake, she said. She only worried Jones might change her mind about the adoption.
"In fact, I tried several times to convince her to keep the baby," Laura said. "I said, 'You have such a nice family. You can do this.' That was her out, really. She could have been like, 'You know what, I think I will keep the baby.' She could have released us from this lie so many times along the way, but she decided to keep it going until the day our daughter was supposed to be born."
Her birth date was coming a lot sooner than expected, Jones soon informed them, and so just after Thanksgiving, the family flew to Virginia with a baby bag. For several days, Matt said, "she was literally faking contractions."
The night before the baby was born, Jones started sending Laura and Matt photos of all the blood, they said. Blood in the toilet. Blood on her sheets. Early the next morning, Laura woke up to a text: The pain was unbearable, Jones said. She couldn't wait anymore.
"I'm sorry," Jones later wrote, "I have to push her out."
The baby seemed so real, Laura said, that she was helping Jones through breathing exercises over the phone as she screamed in pain. So real, Laura said, that just before the baby was born, she and Matt had decided on a name for the girl: Noella.
Upon finding Jones behind the curtain, Laura was so confused she didn't think to ask for an explanation. "How could you do this to us?" she asked, before storming out of the room.
Jones has since publicly apologized to the Trayte family in her interview with WYCB 5. She said she would try to figure out why she did this through therapy. "I mean, I don't know if I just needed someone to talk to or . . . I don't know," she said, adding that perhaps the Traytes should have noticed "the red flags" sooner.
But her explanation of the faked pregnancy has shifted, the Traytes said. She said in a Facebook post viewed by The Post in the aftermath of the botched adoption that she had a miscarriage at 13 weeks, long before the birth date, but that she was afraid to tell the Traytes. The couple said she told them the miscarriage happened much later. She told WYCB 5 she was never pregnant. The truth is unclear. She could not be reached by The Post for comment, and no lawyer was listed for her in court records.
"What I did . . . I never should have done it," she told WYCB 5, "but I'm not a horrible person. I'm really not. And I really wish people would see that. People make mistakes all the time."
The Traytes are now in therapy, too wounded to decide whether they will try to adopt again, they said. They were also worried about their son, afraid he was still hoping for a sibling. But when they asked him, he told his parents he would have to think on it. He came back with an answer one recent Saturday afternoon.
"He said, 'I think we're okay,'" Laura recounted. "'I like our family the way it is.'"