For many it's the go-to place for a kitchen table, a roommate or tickets to a sold-out concert. But Craigslist.org has also become a key place for people looking for something much more personal: A baby to adopt.
Search for “adopt baby” in the community listings and you’ll find bulldogs (and even chinchillas) looking for a home -- along with dozens of couples asking birth mothers to let them adopt their babies.
The posts are heartfelt appeals from parents who are desperate to adopt. According to the National Council for Adoption, in 2011 there were about 18,000 domestic infant adoptions, but the number has been declining.
Irene and Greg, who didn’t want their last names used, are one of those couples looking for a child online. During their three-year search for a baby, they have used Facebook, created a website, obtained a toll-free number for potential birth mothers to call and even made rubber bracelets with their website address to give to family and friends.
But the majority of their leads come from just one place.
“We’ve had 40,000 hits on our website and probably 95 percent of them came from Craigslist,” Irene said. “The communication where someone actually reaches out to us, that also comes from Craigslist.”
While experts, like the National Council for Adoption, recommend using Craigslist only in coordination with an adoption professional, the services of an agency can cost tens of thousands of dollars, compared with a free ad on craigslist and the minimal expense of a toll-free number.
“There are people who are like, ‘Wow. They are putting out an ad where I’m trying to buy a couch,’” Irene said. “I understand that it is a little weird, but in this day and age people are more on the internet and using online services for everyday things, so why not try to find a birth mom or try to adopt?”
An approach like Irene and Greg’s also allows adoptive parents to maintain direct, personal control over the process, they say.
“It’s being hands on,” Greg said. “You like dealing with this stuff yourself. It gives you a better feeling that you’ve done it yourself and not paid somebody to do it for you.”
It’s legal in most states to directly solicit babies for adoption. But the direct approach also comes with risks.
“You're just hanging your shingle there out on the internet, in the marketplace where anyone can come across your ad,” said FBI spokesperson Jenny Schearer. “I could just see a scenario where someone could string a very hopeful couple along unnecessarily just because they might not have the best of intentions.”
Irene and Greg have tried to avoid some of those problems by not posting their full names or exact location, but that lack of details hasn’t stopped some alleged birth mothers from toying with the couple’s emotions.
One woman who contacted Irene and Greg said she was pregnant with twins. “She would call my cell phone almost every day for two hours at a time and just talk. I think she just needed that audience and someone to just listen to her because she probably did have a lot of stress in her life,” Irene said.
But then, suddenly, the woman stopped all contact. “To this day I don’t know if she actually delivered, if she was actually real or fake or not. It’s just something you have to put yourself out there for and see if the risks are worth it,” Irene said.
Irene and Greg will continue to take those risks, they say, until they run out of the money the set aside for their search.
“I see my friends with all their children,” Irene said. “It’s great to see them all happy with their children, and everybody on Facebook… but it would be great if we could be parents.”