Brett and Danielle want a baby. They’ve been trying for nearly two years but sadly, haven’t had much luck. Danielle has experienced four miscarriages. Her doctor says it’s simply “bad luck.” There’s nothing “wrong” with either Brett or Danielle. But after the tragic circumstances of the past two years, the couple decided to focus their efforts on adoption, rather than getting pregnant themselves. And in doing so, they’ve turned to Facebook.
In the US, where private adoption (direct contact of the birth mother and adoptive family) is legal (it isn’t in Australia), it’s common for families to find a birth mother, and hence, a baby, through their own social networks. Private adoption is less expensive than going through an agency, but can take longer than agency matches (though agency matches aren’t always quick). So prospective parents put the word out that they’re looking to adopt, someone else passes on the news and if they’re lucky, they’re put in touch with a birth mother looking to give up her baby for adoption. Adoptive families still use their own social networks, but more and more, they’re using Facebook too. “Facebook was a quick way to get the word out to a lot of people,” says Danielle, who has a profile page called “Looking to Adopt – Brett and Danielle.” Much like a dating profile, the page explains who Brett and Danielle are – what they do, why they’d like to adopt and why they’d make great parents. So far, the page has over 1000 “likes,” and has been shared with people in 14 US states.
Brett and Danielle aren’t alone. Maryland-based couple Brad Letson and Brad Benton (“The Brads”, to their friends) made headlines when they adopted their little boy, Kyler, through Facebook. They simply placed an ad on the site, targeting women of a certain age range, and within hours, found a match. It’s an open adoption and Kyler now keeps in touch with his birth mother via Skype. How thoroughly modern. And even traditional adoption agencies, who do not deal with private adoptions, are getting on the Facebook bandwagon, acknowledging that using social media is a great way of giving birth mothers a better idea of who the adoptive family is, and vice versa. One Illinois agency, The Cradle, has even made an instructional video to show how families can best connect with mothers on Facebook. The Cradle’s vice-president of marketing, Joan Jaeger, says Facebook is “a way for [birth mothers] to not just hear about the family, but see the pictures and their story. It can be a really personal way to connect.”
Interestingly, the site has also been used by third parties to find adoption matches on behalf of birth mothers. In July, The Washington Times reported that a Virginia-based pastor advertised an unborn child on Facebook on behalf of the birth parents. They confided to him that they were going to abort the baby as they had discovered he had Down’s Syndrome. He offered to place an ad on Facebook to look for adoptive parents for the baby boy. Within a day, the church had received over 900 responses. The birth mother decided to go through with the pregnancy and give up the baby for adoption. While it is undoubtedly a blessing for the adoptive family, the pastor’s interference raises many ethical questions.
And of course, there are risks. Brett and Danielle have been “Catfished” (deceived by an impostor online) by a woman who said she would give them her baby. They directed the woman to their lawyer, who pretty quickly discovered that she was lying. Like all adoptions, this process is subject to legal scrutiny and of course, it’s not as simple as sending a friend request. The Brads initially made contact with Kyler’s birth mother through Facebook, but then met face-to-face and after months of contact, she decided that she would give her baby to them. Brett and Danielle say the benefits of using Facebook outweigh the risks. “When you go through a process like this,” says Danielle, “it can be emotionally trying. It’s been a real blessing to see the encouraging messages from people on Facebook.”
So what does all this mean for Australian couples looking to adopt? Sadly, not much. Since private adoptions are "strongly discouraged" by the government (working definition: basically outlawed), searching for a birth mother on Facebook, or through our traditional social networks, is not an option for prospective adoptive parents here. Adoption in Australia is a highly regulated, lengthy and bureaucratic process that makes doing your taxes look like a day at the beach. As well as that, our attitudes to abortion aren't as puritanical as those of Americans, meaning there may be fewer babies to adopt here. Still, given the fairy tale ending of The Brads, and given that most of us probably know couples who'd give just about anything to be parents (and who'd make fabulous ones), it would be nice if Australia's laws were relaxed to allow this type of adoption. After all, it's a no-brainer: people who want to be parents plus children in need of care equals happy families.