We used Instagram to adopt our baby
Last June, high-school English teacher Jaimie Dorn found herself facing down an unexpected challenge: how to make an Instagram profile that would convince a pregnant stranger that she and her husband, Brian, would make good parents.
The 39-year-old from West Islip, NY, created the account, @JaimieAndBrianAdopt, then began uploading cheery photos of herself, Brian and her two stepchildren (from her husband’s previous marriage) engaged in fun, family-friendly activities such as fishing and celebrating the Fourth of July.
“We were told [by friends in the adoption community] to post every day, because that’s what would keep you active and out there,” says Dorn. “And then I would just
Just six weeks after she created the page, Dorn received an email from a 21-year-old woman in Kansas, who was then in her first trimester and wanted to place the baby with a loving family. After months of close communication, their son Christian was born in December 2017, and the adoption was formalized five days later. “Social media is amazing in this sense,” she says. “We completed our family because of it.”
‘The social-media aspect of adoption has really blossomed.’
Private adoption — where people set out to find a baby themselves instead of hiring an agency to broker the connection — is as old as the penny saver. But these days, instead of taking out carefully worded ads in local newspapers, hopeful parents are leveraging the web to connect with expecting mothers. They’re building elaborate websites filled with upbeat biographical info, creating picture-perfect Instagram accounts of their lives, and using Google and search-engine optimization (a combination of tactics that are said to increase page views) to draw birth parents to their sites and social media accounts. Some are even hiring ad agencies specializing in adoption to help them craft their message and reach their target audience.
“The social-media aspect of adoption has really blossomed,” says Joseph Driscoll, an adoptive father and resident of Bethpage, NY, who runs First Steps Advertising for Adoption with his wife, Kathi.
They started the agency in 2010, after bringing home their now-8-year-old daughter. They found her via a newspaper ad, but saw the potential of web advertising for parents looking to adopt.
“When we started our journey in 2009, our attorney said, ‘Don’t bother with the internet. All you’re gonna get is weirdoes, kooks and con artists,’” says Driscoll, who now builds websites, sets up social-media accounts and creates profiles on adoption-centered networking sites, such as Adoptimist, for anywhere from $45 to $675.
Jeanine Castagna, a longtime attorney who oversees both agency and private adoptions, says she’s seen an increasing number of her own clients successfully connect with their children’s birth mothers through the web. “With each passing year, the percentage becomes higher and higher that people match through internet advertising, and less through newspaper advertising,” she says.
Brooklyn-based couple Christopher Michaud and Andrew Cohen worked with two different advertisers to help promote their website, ChrisAndAndrew.us, which featured sweet, candid photos of the married duo along with various family members, as well as descriptions of their life together. They initially spent “about $500 a month” on Google ads that were designed to respond to adoption-related search terms.
But, after four months went by without a single promising lead, they decided to switch gears.
The pair hired another adoption advertiser, who suggested bumping up their budget to $500 a day. “Doing a splurge like that would mean that our site would get seen a lot more broadly, more quickly,” says Michaud, a software designer. “So we could do a short run of expensive days, versus a long run of inexpensive months.”
The gamble worked. “We went from having three or four visitors to the site in a day, to probably getting more than 100,” recalls Michaud, who says they heard from the 30-something South Carolina woman who became their now-1-month-old daughter, Eleanor’s, birth mother, within days of increasing their ad spend.
While private adoptions are also known as DIY or independent adoptions, there is still government oversight. Would-be parents must hire a social worker to conduct a “home study,” a series of visits and interviews that will ultimately determine whether the state deems the applicant, or applicants, suitable for parenthood. Still, proponents of this approach say it gives would-be parents more control than going through an agency, where one might have to sit back and just wait for years for good news about a baby.
Independent adoption can also be cheaper. In 2015 and 2016, the average cost of a domestic adoption, be it private or through an agency, was $37,000, according to Adoptive Families magazine. Meanwhile, as attorney Castagna notes, “there’s the potential on the private end for it to be much less expensive, if they only spent $500 a month and they’re successful after only three months.”
But she adds that this scenario is relatively rare. The typical local agency fee — before any other costs — is around $15,000, and couples who go the private route can, and frequently do, spend as much on advertising before finding a baby.
With independent adoptions, there’s also the issue of scammers.
“When you’re trying to adopt a child, you tend to be fairly vulnerable,” says Driscoll. “There are people who try to scam you” financially and also emotionally. With the latter, he says “there’s probably not even a pregnancy, but they will drag a family along, making them think that there’s a pregnancy.”
Castagna says red flags include immediate requests for money and a refusal to communicate with an attorney or supply prenatal records.
Even with the potential pitfalls, advocates of private adoptions in the internet age say that the web allows for an unprecedented amount of communication between birth mothers and hopefuls. When Long Island native Meagan Bohner accidentally got pregnant at the age of 20, she knew instantly that adoption was the right choice for her. At her lawyer’s recommendation, she browsed a number of sites for hopeful parents, and landed on Laura Rogacki and Scott Jackson, a pair of speech therapists from Islip, NY, on the now-defunct AdoptionOnline.com. “I was looking for someone who was like me,” Bohner says, “who would raise the child the way I was raised.” Bohner says she liked the couple’s “green grass backyard,” as well as Rogacki’s Ed Hardy T-shirt.
“I guess it was cool to wear Ed Hardy at the time,” she says, laughing.
Now, eight years later, they have an open adoption, and Bohner has frequent contact with her son Parker, who calls her either Mommy, Mommy Meagan or just Meagan, depending on his mood.
The 28-year-old nursing resident lives in Sarasota, Fla., but still sees her son frequently.
“Going into it, I never thought that this is how it would be,” she says. “But now, I couldn’t imagine any different. I’ve gained friends, I’ve gained family, I’ve gained a child.