Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Article: "Looking for Juno"

Anyone who thinks you should "just adopt" needs to read this. ($495 per parent profile?? Sheesh, I think I've missed the boat as a writer...!) The article will be up on the paper's website for about a week. Go over & have a look at the comments.

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Looking for Juno

Canadian couples desperate to adopt are going directly to the source, setting up websites to sell themselves to pregnant women, Hayley Mick reports

FromTuesday's Globe and Mail
March 18, 2008 at 8:44 AM EDT

The competition seems so fierce that Marion Walsh can't bear to see who she's up against any more.

Six months ago, she and her husband, Gus Curtis, posted their profile online, describing why they would make great parents. The B.C. couple, both in their early 40s, then paid a consultant to tweak the letter and photos. Then they posted it on a second website to increase their exposure.

So far, they have received a half-dozen e-mails from scammers in Cameroon.

Nothing has come close to their dream scenario: contact from a pregnant woman who's chosen them - out of all the waiting couples in cyberspace - to adopt her baby. "I don't go to the websites because it bums me out," says Ms. Walsh, an ESL teacher who underwent failed fertility treatments before turning to private adoption. "You start comparing your picture to everyone else's picture, and your letter to everyone else's letter, and how long people have been waiting. It's just too agonizing."

It may be agonizing, but with adoption waiting lists spanning three years or more, couples like Ms. Walsh and Mr. Curtis are trying to improve their odds by marketing themselves straight to the source.

They're creating websites and blogs to promote their merits to pregnant Canadian women looking for adoptive parents. They're spending hundreds on designers to help them distinguish themselves from other couples. And they're advertising anywhere a young woman might stumble across their beaming faces.

"If Juno can find her adoptive couple in the Penny Saver," a Toronto couple recently wrote in an online notice, referring to the lead character in the recent movie Juno, "then why not on Craigslist?"

A small industry has sprung up to meet the demand. In the past year, two new Canadian websites have begun posting the profiles of couples, for a fee. Consultants now help couples shape their profiles to make them more attractive to pregnant women. Last summer, one adoption website, CanadaAdopts.com, began offering a $495 "parent profile writing service" to help couples "stand out from the crowd."

The trend has striking similarities to Internet dating, with couples distilling their lives into a few paragraphs, citing their love of eighties music and Thai food in hope of finding a match. But unlike online dating, the scales are one-sided, with waiting couples vastly outnumbering birth mothers, who have the power to choose.

It's the "job interview of your life," one consulting company, AdoptionProfiles.ca, says on its homepage. But without an interview with the mother, dreams of parenthood hinge on mere pictures and words. Couples are tormented by second guesses: Does this photo make us look old, or too generic? Am I turning a teenager off by listing Bono as my favourite singer?

"It's unfortunate, but it's all about marketing yourself," said Meagan Sweet, a 34-year-old flight attendant who is hoping to adopt privately with her husband, Paul.

As attractive, Caucasian professionals in their 30s, the Sweets have been told by adoption consultants that they're "shiny," meaning, in blunt terms, easily marketable. But that's no guarantee, Ms. Sweet says, because lots of people wanting to adopt fall into that category. So couples scan their lives for competitive advantages.

"Little things that set yourself apart from everyone else increase your odds," Ms. Sweet says. "Even if you're Mormon; a birth mom might be looking strictly for Mormons. You never know what they're looking for."

For Shelley Ibbotson, a single mother who, at age 32, became pregnant and did not want to raise a second child alone, criteria included non-smokers, a university education and no children of their own.

Ms. Ibbotson remembers weeping in a lawyer's office, trying to decide between two couples who, in print, seemed to fit the bill perfectly. At the time, in 2001, only CanadaAdopts.com listed hopeful Canadian parents, and there were only a dozen or so couples to choose from, she said. (Now it is the most popular website, with about 40 profiles posted at any given time).
Today there are two more online companies listing profiles, including AdoptionProfiles.ca and AdoptionConnections.ca, which Ms. Ibbotson started running last October.

There are strict adoption laws in Canada, which vary from province to province. Before a couple can adopt, they must be approved by a government ministry in their home province, a process that includes background checks, interviews, financial assessments and home visits.
Only some provinces allow a couple to advertise their search for a baby, including British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Quebec. And even if a birth mother selects them, she has to notify an agency, or licensee, then go through the proper channels for the exchange to take place.
But for birth mothers, websites allow them to scan potential couples in the privacy of their homes, said Ms. Ibbotson. They can also e-mail couples to solicit more information before officials become involved.

"It's so competitive," she said. "There are so many more couples looking to adopt than there are babies available."

There was a time when almost all adoptions happened domestically, and most couples received a Canadian baby within a year or two. But by 1990, domestic private adoptions slowed dramatically. In 1997, there were 314 private adoptions in Ontario. Ten years later, that number has dropped to 111.

Similarly, international adoptions are taking longer, with Chinese restrictions increasing the wait time to about five years and other countries quickly filling up quotas.

The appeal of going online with their pitch, couples say, is they feel like they have some control over the process. They can put their best foot forward without relying on an adoption licensee to give it to a birth mother.

"We're not just sitting here passively waiting for someone to find us a child," said Lewis GrantSmith, a 41-year-old lawyer from Toronto. "We're going out there trying to find one ourselves."

Mr. GrantSmith and his 40-year-old wife, Denice, have a cheerful, colourful, professionally designed website. They describe Mr. GrantSmith's love of swing sets and the fact that Ms. GrantSmith was adopted as a child. They describe their front garden that's "an excellent place to hunt for worms."

Their next move, Mr. GrantSmith said, is to create a profile on MySpace.

But even great sites don't guarantee success. AdoptionConnections.ca has had no matches attributed to it so far, Ms. Ibbotson said. CanadaAdopts.com, which has had hundreds of profiles since 2001, has had 23 direct matches.

Still, some couples, including the GrantSmiths, report that they have been contacted by birth mothers who have seen their sites or profiles online. Mr. GrantSmith said a woman who contacted him and his wife hasn't decided how she wants to proceed with her pregnancy, but had some questions for them.

In the end, there's no way to predict or influence what birth mothers will want for their children, says Kim Gray, a social worker and adoption practitioner in London, Ont.

In 16 years of facilitating adoptions, Ms. Gray has met some birth mothers who want other siblings for their babies; others want to help a childless couple. Some want rural homes, others want city slickers.

Elaborate profiles don't necessarily have the advantage, Ms. Gray said.

"Adoptive parents don't have a lot of choice here," she said. "It's a birth-parent-driven process. ...We work very, very, very, very hard to get them what they want."


  1. such a quagmire. but a wonderful post. you should write an article -- uh, I think you just did! ~luna

  2. Luna is right - quagmire is an appropriate word. Three years - wow, that is a long wait and usually by then the couple has already been through a fair share of heartbreak already. Wow.

    You would be an excellent writer btw - maybe a little freelance? :0) Picture it - you and your laptop on a nice warm beach . . .

  3. Yeah, $500 a pop... I'm in the wrong business! [she snorted cynically].

    Yet another fine response to the old "just adopt" saw.

  4. Interesting article. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I think the adoption process is long if you want a perfect newborn with your skin color but if you are willing to take a child just a little older, who is not your race or is of mixed race it moves along more quickly. Why is it that most couples only want newborns? I would take a child up to four or five years of age and be just as excited about being a mom....I guess I wrote too much...I should save this for my own blog!