When Detroit couple Sherry and Karl Ditmar decided they wanted to adopt a baby girl, they didn't look to an agency. Instead, they turned to MySpace.
They were already using the popular site to share music and family photographs. Why not use it to share their most heartfelt desire; finding a birth mother willing to give up her baby?
Welcome to the new world of adoption. For couples such as the Ditmars who are seeking an edge in the sometimes fiercely competitive world of U.S. adoptions, social-networking sites such as MySpace that attract many teens have opened a whole new way to tap potential birth mothers.
As a stay-at-home mother of three boys whose husband works as a truck driver, Ms. Ditmar wasn't able to afford a pricey adoption process, or the fees charged by adoption-specific websites.
"It's very expensive to place an ad," she said in a phone interview. "You pay a lot of money - $400 [U.S.]to $800 - to get your pictures up there for just two weeks."
While in most U.S. states adoption fees are regulated, adoptive parents are allowed to reimburse birth parents for medical expenses, some living expenses, counselling fees and travel costs, according to the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse's website.
In Canada, regulations governing adoption fees are tighter and costs tend to be lower, says Paul Conlin, an Ottawa adoption lawyer.
Adoptive parents are restricted to paying for counselling fees and are otherwise not allowed to compensate the mother, he says.
But domestic adoption through a private agency can cost upward of $10,000 (Canadian), according to Lawrence Morton, who runs http://www.canadaadopts.com, a Toronto-based resource site for adoptive parents.
By turning to MySpace, Ms. Ditmar says, she also thought she could avoid competing with "pediatricians and nice pictures of their big houses. ...
"We're great people and we're stable. We're not poor but we don't have a huge adoption budget. We really want a little girl."
Ms. Ditmar, who has two adopted sons and one biological son, says she wasn't necessarily looking to MySpace for a teenaged mother.
"It's not all troubled teenagers," she says.
"A lot of mothers that place children for adoption are in their 20s and 30s. There's people of all ages."
The Ditmars' site, named for one of their three boys' hobbies - myspace.com/skateboardersmom - features a photo of the young, smiling couple. Below it is a "Dear Birthmother" letter and photos and profiles of the boys, aged 11, 9 and 5.
At the bottom of the page is the couple's "adoption philosophy." They believe in open adoption and hope to find a birth mother who may stay in touch. In the case of a baby of colour (the Ditmars are white), they write that it would especially help if the mother stayed in the picture.
The page has had about 2,800 visits. The Ditmars have heard from 40 people.
And as of yesterday, there's one lead. Ms. Ditmar says she has been indirectly in contact with a 17-year-old due to give birth in July who is considering giving her baby up for adoption.
"A lot of people are looking at it, so hopefully it will help us find someone," she says.