Erin and Jaime Quick of Bainbridge Island said they didn’t have a horrible time adopting a baby. But they’d heard the horror stories.
So when Erin decided to open an online adoption business last summer, she decided on an agency with a modern twist called PairTree.
If couples can be united online by sharing information about themselves, why couldn’t the adoption process be the same way? PairTree already has more than 800 adoptive families and more than 150 expectant moms registered and has had seven successful matches. Self-matching is the fastest growing method of adoption in the U.S. It means expectant moms connect directly with adoptive parents then use an attorney or agency to finalize the adoption.
Advantages of self-matching include: Expectant moms and adopting parent(s) can build a direct relationship without a middle man. On average, self-matching shortens the time and cost to adopt by 75 percent — which makes adoption a reality for many more people. Instead of a year to 18 months it takes six to nine months. Instead of up to $60,000, it costs around $15,000.
PairTree isn’t the first online self-matching adoption business — the Quicks actually used one — but it has some unique characteristics.
Couples who want to adopt create an online profile, answering questions. Some may seem rather odd, such as: What scares you? What famous person would play you in a movie? Would you rather live in an RV or on a sailboat? Others are not odd at all, such as, What’s your philosophy on parenting?
Erin came up with the questions and an algorithm to sort the answers to them. After creating a profile, expectant mothers look at their answers. When the mom finds someone she likes, they get in touch and arrange it.
As a working woman, Erin said she delayed getting pregnant until it was too late to happen naturally. After three years, three miscarriages and $70,000, the Quicks decided to adopt.
Looking at the traditional route, they were “blown away at how expensive and slow moving” it was. “We can’t spend that much and wait two years,” she said, adding they had to find another way.
They used an online self-matching agency where they had to find their own expectant mom on the internet. It only took a month, and they were in Michigan holding their son Emerson.
Erin said they went to a one-cafe town, had lunch and not long after was picked by the mom to receive her son. Erin said the birth parents had a long-term relationship, loved and respected each other, but wanted different things long term.
“How lucky we were. We know how great it can be,” Erin said, adding much of the time babies are adopted out the new parents are asked, “What kind of drugs is it OK that the birth mom uses?”
The Quicks used the same process three years later when they adopted Abigail in Houston. In that case, the mom found the Quicks online months before the due date, “so we had more time to get to know what our relationship would look like,” Erin said.
“It was clear to us from the get-go she wanted to be more involved,” Erin said, adding a direct relationship with your expectant mom is invaluable — as you’ll most likely be connected for the rest of your lives.
She said it’s always a tense time during an adoption after the birth because parents have from 48 to 72 hours to change their mind. Erin said about 95 percent of adoptions now are open, and birth parents can stay as involved as they want, as long as adoptive parents agree. Erin said they hear from Emerson’s birth family a couple times a year, while they text weekly with Abigail’s birth family. The Quicks have birth family pictures in their house.
Emerson is quick to correct people when they ask about Erin. “I didn’t grow in my mom’s belly,” he says, according to Erin.
She said the “dynamics work almost exactly” like a dating application. The adoptive couple creates a profile, and PairTree, based on the 12 personality types, does the matching.
Erin said the mom doesn’t go through the same personality matching process because she may not want the adoptive parents to match her. She may want them to be different. “She may want her child to see the world and go on planes and be an explorer,” something maybe the mom never has done, Erin said. “Or she may want someone who will smother the child with love and attention – the caregiver type.”
Erin said the expectant moms really like the “more meaty information on these families. We make sure people feel connected.” She said it’s great when people let their personality shine through. On their profile, for example, they had on a horse head costume. “Abby’s birth mom said, ‘Oh, we found them.’ You never know what’s going to resonate with expectant moms,” Erin said. “What makes you different?”
One of many things Erin thinks makes PairTree different from other online agencies is it really cares about the birth moms, so much so that is donates 5 percent of profits to organizations that help those mothers. “They way they’re treated today is borderline negligence,” Erin said. Many find out “it’s harder than they thought it would be” and as a result need to go through years of therapy. “One of best things is making the world a better place for expectant moms. Birth moms give the most and get the least,” she said, adding their process is free and confidential for those moms, and they get to make the first move.
Erin said one of the major reasons people don’t use online adoption is the fear of getting scammed. She said they were scammed when they tried to adopt the second time. Fake moms prey on adoptive parents. “It shook my confidence to the core,” she said, adding it’s easy to be scammed because you want a nice environment so you make allowances for things. “It’s a much different situation than you’ve ever been in.”
To make sure her clients don’t have to worry about that, they all have to go through a home study with an approved social worker. “That takes that fear off the table,” Erin said, adding, “You get a genuine connect from day one.” Traditional adoption methods are costly because they are “slow to adopt technology, which makes the process much more efficient,” she said, adding once they do that “costs should drop.” PairTree works with many other organizations. “We don’t compete, we collaborate,” she said.
Erin said they would work with Planned Parenthood and Crisis Pregnancy Center — both sides of the political spectrum of pro life and pro choice. “Our only requirement is they’re open to all people — no discrimination,” she said. They work all over the U.S, but not internationally because those connections can be “pulled based on political whim.” Erin said working with these families, “We feel a really strong connection. These famlies are the most resilient people.”
For example, one of their first PairTree customers were within two weeks of picking up their child after trying for 3½ years. But when they drove the eight hours to pick it up they found out it had died. “We were all heart-broken about this. I can’t even imagine that grief,” Erin said, adding PairTree decided to comp their membership for life so they can keep trying. “I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will happen for them again.”
Erin said she feels tremendous pressure for the adoptions to work. “There’s two sides through every adoption. It’s the heaviest feeling you ever go through,” she said of the obligation to the birth and adoptive families. Previously, Erin was a global consultant for 13 years so she’s “been down this path before” starting a new business. But I’ve “never wanted to work more than do now. I’m much more passionate about this one.”
The traditional approach to adoption — hiring an agency — includes fees up to $60,000 per child, long timelines of between a year and 18 months, and is fraught with fraud. The primary pain point is the ability to find and connect expectant moms to adopting families — which is the focus of PairTree’s self-matching platform.
PairTree is leveling the playing field, to make adoption a viable path to parenting for more people. Similar to dating apps it provides meaningful insights into adoptive parents, helping mom pick a future for her child, not just the family.
Testimonials from people like Amber and Treavor in Washington state say:
“We have experienced two disrupted matches. We have built relationships with mamas, we have traveled literally across the country, we have poured our heart and soul into them (as they have done to us, as well), we have walked away from a hospital empty handed and heartbroken. When we first began this journey, PairTree was not around yet. After our second disruption we found PairTree, and loved the simplicity and mission of the program.”
Changing birth-mom stigma during adoptions
Jess Nelson wants to help change society’s perception of the stigma associated with moms giving up babies for adoption.
They are not all 16 or drug addicts. “People think we’re just a mess,” she said.
Nelson said she is 33, has two college degrees, and has a great job. But she’s not perfect and knows she’s made mistakes.
“I knew what I wanted. I made a conscious decision to give my daughter a better life,” she said, adding at the time she would have been a single mom on welfare. She now works for an adoption attorney. She said clients are surprised when they find out she was a birth mom. “They’re taken aback,” she said, adding, they say, “You’re not what we expected.”
Another fear she wants to ease is to let people know that it’s actually great to have birth moms involved in the life of the adopted family. She said clients eyes bug out when they find out she has a relationship with her daughter. “They have this Lifetime movie image of the birth mom showing up at the front porch and kidnapping her baby back,” Nelson said.
It’s not like that at all. While it’s not co-parenting, both parties agree on how much involvement will take place before papers are signed. It’s a healthy relationship with both parties doing “truly what’s best for the adoptee,” Nelson said, adding being able to quickly find out a family’s medical history is another benefit.
Nelson, who lives near Baton Rouge, La., just started working with PairTree. She found them online while doing research for work. As a birth mom, she appreciates the power PairTree offers in having them pick their matches. She also likes how the adoptive parents answer questions so birth moms can compare personality profiles. “They force adoptive parents to be authentic,” she said of PairTree’s personality questions. Many other adoption agencies write impressive profiles for their clients to “make them look appealing,” Nelson said.
But the biggest difference that sets PairTree apart, she said, is that is verifies expectant moms. “Any woman can create an account, sign up, and say, ‘I’m pregnant,’” on many other sites, Nelson said, adding that’s how scams happen because many other companies don’t check.
Nelson is so impressed with PairTree that she is setting up an adoption coaching program at her work, which will include a three-month subscription to PairTree. She’s excited to work with the Bainbridge Island company, as her agency has a huge waiting list.
Nelson actually has adopted out two daughters. The more-recent one was through a family friend. Nelson was pregnant and wasn’t sure what to do, but had considered adoption. After meeting her friend’s friend, they went out to lunch and talked for 10 hours. “We’ve been best friends ever since,” she said. “It was pretty much the dream adoption experience.”
She talks to her daughter’s mom almost daily, and recently helped them move into a new house about 20 minutes away. Her daughter, who will be 3 in April, calls her “My Miss Jess. We live in the south, and kids are taught manners at a very early age. It’s a term of respect.”
Her first daughter she had adopted was when she was in college and was a “terrible experience” with a huge agency. It also was supposed to be an open adoption, but once it was “finalized I never heard from her again. It took me a lot of time to heal from that,” she said.
After going through therapy for years, what helped her finally was finding one who specialized in grief counseling. She recommends that for all birth moms. “You have a feeling of loss and abandonment and sense of self. You work through all the emotions and feelings,” she said.
Nelson has now reached the point that she is starting a support group for birth moms because there isn’t one in her area. And she’s going to be pushing for PairTree because they support birth moms. “That’s how it should be — the birth moms in control,” Nelson said, adding with some larger agencies they choose the adoptive family. “They’re our children — we should make the decision on choosing the family.”
Gay couple finds PairTree removes barriers
Barret Anspach and his husband, Seth Garrison, started the adoption process a couple of years ago.
Thanks to PairTree, they will be getting a son at the end of May. Between that time, they tried a number of different methods. They started out at a reproductive clinic in Bellevue, looking into invitro fertilization with a surrogate mother. It was “prohibitively expensive,” Anspach said.
Then they looked into fostering leading to adoption. But after attending a seminar that was out. “Fostering is a really tough job,” and you don’t always end up being able to adopt, Anspach said. He added they know some people who did that, and it worked out for them, but “not without serious tribulations. We wanted something that was less emotionally up and down.”
So then they signed up with a traditional adoption agency to get a newborn or young child. While they were waiting for a match a friend of Garrison’s told them about PairTree. After looking at their website they got excited. “They take down barriers for a lot of people,” Anspach said.
In setting up their profile, they found the questions to be interesting. “Some questions are meant to disarm you a little bit — get you into a vulnerable space, like what are your deepest fears?” Anspach said. He said he likes that because then the birth mom can really get to know you.
He said he likes the power PairTree gives to birth moms. “They put it in the birth mom’s hands,” he said. “They look at the adoptive profiles rather than the other way around.”
Within a month or two a birth mom in the Midwest saw their profile and contacted them. “A simple Zoom chat after that” and that was it. They were surprised how quickly it happened. “We had resigned ourselves to waiting for a long time.”
Anspach said the birth mom had been looking for an adoptive couple for quite some time using different avenues. “A real strength of PairTree is birth mothers get a more-comprehensive view of adoptive parents,” Anspach said. “PairTree makes it so easy to find a good match.”
He said their relationship is still developing on how much the birth mom wants to keep in touch after the baby is born. “It’s hard to know the level of involvement until the birth happens,” Anspach said, adding that’s when she’ll “take the pulse of her feelings.”
The more-open adoptions of today is a nice change from a few decades ago when most were closed, he said, adding he thinks it’s healthier for a child to have a relationship with the birth mom.
Garrison and Anspach have been together for 10 years and got married in 2017. They live in Bremerton. They both work in the tech industry in Seattle, but have been working at home due to COVID-19. “My husband has always wanted to have kids,” Anspach said. “He harbors the dream of becoming a teacher one day.” Anspach said he hasn’t been around kids as much but “adores” them. They haven’t picked a name yet. “We’re toying with a couple of options. We’re almost certain but it’s the order of the first and middle name, and whether it should be hyphenated.”
Anspach said they would recommend anyone thinking about adoption to try PairTree. They might even use it again. He reiterated that he appreciates how PairTree respects the birth mom. “Not everybody can raise a kid, and that’s OK,” Anspach said. “There shouldn’t be any shame attached to that.”
He said prior to working with PairTree there was an uncomfortable part of the process. “Is this actually what the birth mom wants?” he asked. “I try to put myself in the birth mom’s shoes, and I don’t know if I would be able to make that decision.”