Becky Gomez was ready to give up. For almost eight years, she and her husband, Jim Gomez, had tried everything to become parents.
They had awakened at the break of dawn on seemingly endless occasions to rush to the fertility doctor's office, where Becky had endured a string of uncomfortable and costly treatments, including in vitro fertilisation and countless other procedures with names she could barely pronounce.
But nothing worked.
She had become pregnant – more than once – and excitedly listened to her baby's heartbeat, only to have it go mute a few days later.
"And each time, it was more heartbreaking than the last," she said. "But we still really wanted to be parents, so we decided to try to adopt a baby."
At this point in the story, most couples looking to adopt would have gone to an adoption agency. Not the Gomezes.
Instead they put out an ad. On Craigslist.
It read: "Loving Hispanic married couple wants to adopt a baby or young child."
"We also created a website, a Facebook page and an Instagram account," Becky Gomez said.
The 46-year-old from Medford branded all of the couples' profiles with the name @BeckyandJimAdopt and started posting happy photos of herself, Jim and their caramel-coloured Jack Russell terrier, Honey.
"We also shared photos of our wedding, of ourselves on a date, Jim grilling in the backyard," she said. "Food, because we're both big-time foodies, and I would include hashtags like #adoption, #hopingtoadopt and #adoptionjourney."
The Gomezes said though they received numerous inquiries from expectant mothers on their social media pages, their Craigslist ad clocked a whopping 985 replies.
"It was time consuming, but I wrote back to every single one," Becky said. "I wanted this child. I didn't care what it took to find her."
Finally, an expectant mother who lived upstate contacted them after seeing their Craigslist ad, visiting their website and looking at their photos on Facebook. She was four months' pregnant at the time and eventually gave birth to the Gomezes' daughter, who is now three.
"She said she liked how in love and happy we looked in our pictures and liked that we liked going out to eat because she's really into food, too," said Jim, 45.
After months of almost constant contact, including frequent calls and texts, a trip to Syracuse to meet the expectant mom and several visits to accompany her to doctors' appointments – all with the blessing of their adoption attorney, Faith Getz Rousso – their daughter, Gracie Elise, was born in November 2015.
Getz Rousso, whose practice oversees private and agency adoptions, said it's important for families, even those pursuing independent or private adoptions, to use an experienced adoption attorney.
"Adoption attorneys guide families through the process, protecting them from scams by helping them identify red flags, and ensuring that all adoption laws are followed," said Getz Rousso, herself an adoptee.
Getz Rousso said red flags include an unwillingness to communicate with an attorney and immediate requests for money.
At her Garden City office recently, Getz Rousso met with prospective parents Bobby Stolz, 31, and his husband, Michael Merritt, 34, explaining how the couple could use social media as a tool to reach expectant mothers for a private adoption, a practice she began about a decade ago. She helped the family from East Meadow create a media plan that included assistance creating a website and profiles on platforms ranging from Facebook and Pinterest to Twitter and YouTube.
Using social media to adopt – though at times frustrating – was worth it, said Becky Gomez, because it led to the "surreal" moment when she finally became a mom.
"When she was born I got to cut the umbilical cord and hold her. I was the first person Gracie saw when she opened her eyes," Becky said. "It sounds crazy to say this, but thanks to the Internet and to social media, we finally found her, our daughter."
Ryan Hanlon, vice-president of the US National Council for Adoption, a Virginia-based nonprofit that advocates for adoption-friendly practices and legislation, said social media is "playing a very special role" in changing the dynamics surrounding adoption. He noted the trend has grown in the past several years.
Although private adoptions or DIY adoptions – in which prospective parents take it upon themselves to find a baby to adopt instead of paying an agency to match them with an expectant mom – are far from new, gone are the days of printed flyers tacked on community bulletin boards or pricey ads in the newspaper's classified section. With social media at their disposal, a new generation of would-be parents are empowered to market themselves – and for a fraction of the cost than in years past.
"Social media has opened the floodgates for a more direct line of communication between prospective adoptive parents and birth parents," Hanlon said. "Couples can go on Facebook or Instagram and share quick-hit snapshots of their lives, giving birth parents a window into who they are and what they're like, basically painting a picture for them of how the child might be raised."
And by employing tactics said to increase profile viewership – including targeting paid posts to a specific area or demographic – Hanlon said would-be parents "can get their message in front of as many eyes as possible".
Those eyes could belong to "the one person who could change their lives forever – an expectant mother," said Joseph Driscoll, who in 2010 opened First Steps Advertising for Adoption in Bethpage.
Driscoll's company works with prospective parents to create profiles on adoption-focused sites (Adoptimist and Adoption.com, for example) as well as set up social media pages and build custom websites.
Later on, Driscoll added, social media can serve as a bridge for adoptees wanting to connect with their biological families.
The Gomezes, who have an open adoption, travel upstate once a year to spend Thanksgiving with Gracie's birth mother. Becky said the two women, who are still friends on Facebook and often like each other's posts, will forever be "linked".
"When Gracie is old enough, she will know her story," Jim Gomez said. "There won't be any mystery, any secrets."
In years past, secrecy and adoption went hand in hand, but today more than 90% of adoptions – private or otherwise – are open on some level, Hanlon said.
"Closed adoptions are almost non-existent," he said. And they're less feasible as more states change laws that once prevented adoptees from receiving original birth records.
Social media has played its part here, too, Hanlon said. "Because of it, everyone is just so much more connected."
Parody to parenthood
Joseph Thomas DeBello Gaglio, 32, and his husband, Gabriel Gaglio, 40, knew their journey to parenthood would be short of conventional. But the Babylon couple never imagined it would take a viral Facebook video to complete their family.
The Gaglios, who got married in 2014, took out a US$30,000 personal loan that year – money destined to cover adoption expenses.
"We knew adopting would be expensive, one way or the other, but we chose against the agency route because it was much more costly," DeBello Gaglio said. "However, a private adoption also meant we'd have to do all our own outreach to find a baby, so we knew we'd have to be resourceful and creative."
Patricia O'Connor, a Bellmore-based social worker who did the required home study for the Gaglios' adoption, said agency adoptions can cost upward of US$40,000, whereas private adoptions "in which couples do their own marketing and set their own budget" average about US$20,000, between legal fees and birth-mother expenses.
But couples doing their own marketing should spend their money wisely, she said.
"The people who seem to be the quickest in adopting," O'Connor said, "are not only those who spend money to boost or sponsor posts but those who treat it as a part-time job, continually sharing posts and asking friends and family to do the same."
The Gaglios took to social media at the suggestion of their attorney. But despite creating a website and for six months posting regularly on social media, DeBello Gaglio said, it felt as if the couple wasn't doing enough.
"We were getting likes and comments and building our community," he said. "But I thought, there has to be something else we can do to really get noticed. And that's when I turned to Gabe and said, 'Let's just do a video, let's do a video and show ourselves how we really are, a fun couple, who does funny things together'."
After paying a songwriter to pen lyrics for a parody inspired by Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen's 2012 hit Call Me Maybe, the Gaglios turned Joseph's iPhone camera on themselves to record Our Own Baby at the couple's home, singing: "Hey, I haven't met you and this is crazy, but we'd love to call you our own baby ... we'll raise you just right, we're not lazy ... so, here's our email, let us adopt your baby."
"We uploaded it to Facebook, and the rest is pretty much history," Gaglio said. "We were shocked because it was shared almost 500 times and got about 40,000 views."
The video, which shows Joe gardening and Gabe swinging on a colourful hammock in the backyard, caught the eye of a young pregnant woman in Pennsylvania.
"She thought the video was hilarious and it piqued her interest, so she checked out our website and looked at our photos," DeBello Gaglio said. "It turns out we had a lot of things in common. We're both crafters, and we both have a good sense of humour; she told me she loved our kooky Christmas cards, and we continued communicating from there on."
Nine months later, Vice, the Gaglios' "beautiful, blue-eyed boy", was born. And 18 months after that, the couple, who remain such close friends with the mother that they often go on vacations with her, welcomed his sibling, another "precious boy" named Vahn.
"People can say whatever they want," DeBello Gaglio said about the couple's untraditional approach toward becoming parents. "But despite the sceptics ... in the end, it works. I mean, look at us. We're so happy. We have our family."
What's a 'Facebook'?
Maria Metzger and her husband, Greg Metzger, had never had a social media account in their lives. But in August 2017, the high school science teachers from Ridge, frustrated in their attempts to adopt through an agency, created a Facebook profile with one goal in mind: find a baby to adopt.
"I went from not knowing anything at all about Facebook and not being on any social media," Maria said, "to posting several times a day on multiple sites."
For the Metzgers, who have been together for 15 years and describe themselves as "very private people", the hardest part of pursuing private adoption "in a very public way" was the constant exposure.
"I was posting and sharing so much that at one point I was recognised because of it at the supermarket by a complete stranger. It was bizarre," said Maria, 46. "I was entirely out of my comfort zone."
But Maria, who had undergone extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast cancer, experienced numerous miscarriages and eventually had her ovaries removed, wouldn't be deterred from her dream of becoming a mother.
"We had done everything else and had even signed on with an agency for a year and a half," she said. "But it just wasn't happening for us so, I said, 'All right, let's give this other way a try'."
Greg, 41, admits it took him a while to come around. "I went from 'There's absolutely no way I can do this' to 'OK, I think I can'," he said.
The Metzgers connected with their daughter Harley Brynn's biological mother, a married woman who had other children and lived in a nearby state, after she saw one of the couple's "boosted", or sponsored, Facebook posts.
"I texted Harley's birth mother two to three times a day, and eventually we asked if she'd like to meet us," Maria said, adding that the prospect of meeting face-to-face was "nerve-racking" for both women. "But we met and it was just great."
When Harley Brynn was born in late January 2018, Maria Metzger was in the room to greet her.
"I was feeling so many emotions," Maria said, recalling feeling torn between comforting Harley's biological mother and wanting to hold the baby. "But she (the birth mother) graciously said, 'No, don't worry about me' and 'Go on, hold her. She's yours!'"
The two women still text and they chat regularly on a private Facebook page, where Maria shares "milestone" videos and photos of her daughter.
"But we also talk about so many other things that have nothing to do with Harley. She's very special to me and the line of communication will always be there." – Tribune News Service