Adopt Dot Com

Jane Hawes
Doug and Sarah Pirtle adopted their son, Frank, nearly two years ago.

When an adoption plan fell through for Sarah and Doug Pirtle this summer, the Worthington couple didn't get mad. They got digital.

Within five days of meeting the newborn boy whose birth mother then decided she would parent him, rather than place with the Pirtles, the couple launched a Facebook page

and a website, each designed to let family, friends and - most importantly - friends of friends know they were looking to adopt. A new state law, enacted in March, made their networking efforts legal.

"Previously, no advertising (by prospective adoptive parents) was allowed," said Sarah Pirtle. "You could network but they didn't say what constituted networking. Was Facebook OK? Some attorneys would say yes, others would say no. It was a gray area with social media."

When the Pirtles first adopted nearly two years ago, they couldn't communicate about themselves using the tools they have now. Since becoming parents to son Frank, all that has changed and they were ready for it.

Their Facebook page is loaded with pictures and videos of the young family and it links to their website, which furthers fleshes out their story and provides contact links for their adoption agency and references. The goal of both endeavors: to find the baby and the birth mother who will become a part of their family through an open adoption.

Sarah, 33, previously worked in marketing and describes herself as an avid user of Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest. Doug, 36, is the self-described "math nerd" who works for a national insurance company and isn't as active on social media.

"From the networking side, Sarah's really good at that," Doug said. But they work together to decide what is and isn't appropriate for them.

"We don't want to 'lure' people in," Sarah explained. "We want to use this as a tool for people to get to know us. Also, in the (time) that we have been adoptive parents, we've realized there are a lot of misunderstandings about open adoptions. Expectant mothers aren't always 14 years old or drug users. There are lots of reasons women choose to place. This is our chance to educate people."

Until retiring last month, Cherie McCarthy was the director of Adoption Connection, a small Ohio adoption agency. She explained that the new law, which also allows prospective adoptive parents to fund up to $3,000 of a birth parent's living expenses, is changing the adoption process significantly.

"Before, (only) agencies could advertise," McCarthy said. "We no longer need to be that intermediary. Now I think families are going to be able to do a lot more on their own."

But McCarthy said self-advertising and networking is not for everyone and prospective adoptive parents need to understand the risks.

"It's already a roller-coaster ride," McCarthy said, "and, here, you're putting yourself in a position where you're even more vulnerable. You have to have good boundaries."

McCarthy explained: "Sometimes the (prospective) adoptive parent will have to take on almost parenting a birth parent. What do you if you get a phone call saying there's no food in the house? Do you run out at night to go food shopping because you want this baby to be healthy?"

Because Ohio law also prohibits a birth parent from signing a "permanent surrender" of a child until at least 72 hours after birth, an adoption plan could fall through - without any compensation, or return of compensation, to the prospective adoptive parents. And McCarthy said that only about 25 percent of adoption plans do come to fruition: "For a couple, they have to know how much they can emotionally deal with."

Hal Kaufman is a St. Paul, Minn.-based adoptive father who runs My Adoption Advisor, a consulting business that guides prospective adoptive parents on networking and self-advertising. His website is located at

One of the online workshops Kaufman conducts focuses on setting boundaries and avoiding scams.

"An emotional scammer is someone who just wants attention," said Kaufman. "There will be tons of emails and texts. They may be pregnant or not."

"Another red flag," he added, "is if they don't want to meet with an adoption agency or attorney where they live. It happens, not frequently, but it happens. They're successful (when) a prospective adoptive parent is not working closely with an agency or attorney."

The Pirtles, who experienced failed placements this summer and before matching with Frank, said they now "move the conversation" to their adoption agency immediately after making that initial online contact with a birth parent. Sarah Pirtle said it's not just about the adoptive parents.

"Everyone gets the counseling and support they need," she said. "Sometimes there are expectant parents who wouldn't have placed if they had been counseled. (Plus) it's important to have someone there who can deal with everyone, when there are heated emotions."

For now, the Pirtles remain at the ready. They have set up a nursery for their future child - "in gender-neutral green," Sarah said - and are preparingFrank for his future sibling.

"He's started bringing his baby doll in and rocks him in the (baby) seat," Sarah said.

"And then he chucks him in the crib," smiled Doug.