The top part of this post is on what NOT to do in an adoption profile. For 8 tips on what TO do, scroll down.
I have reviewed dozens of adoption profiles, some in the draft stage and some that had already languished at an agency for months and months. I thought it might be helpful to reveal some of the common issues I see with ailing profiles. I call them the “Terrible Toos.”
7 Common Mistakes in Adoption Profiles
1. Too perfect: Alan and Jackie* had perfect teeth. Their parents and siblings had perfect teeth, too, AND flawless skin. They took perfect vacations together and tended a perfectly manicured lawn. They were blessed and happy!
Of course, they were only showing parts of themselves they deemed “acceptable.” And, of course, a reader might be put off by a couple that belongs on a magazine cover. I encouraged Alan and Jackie to add dimensions to their profile by getting real and opening up about their dreams and heartaches. Three dimensions is more attracting than two.
And REAL is the real draw.
2. Too much: this 20-pager for Debbie and Curt went on and on. It left nothing to be revealed and came across as self-centered. Sometimes more is less and vice versa.
3. Too self-indulgent: similar to the lengthy profile is the us-us-us profile. It is a monologue rather than an invitation to a dialog — a subtle difference.
Sunny and Blake each wrote about themselves for several pages, not even acknowledging that there was a reader. Their narratives were not composed out of true egotism, but rather just not knowing how to write about and present themselves in a conversational way.
Once Sunny and Blake changed their approach from a “book report” style to something else, their profile got noticed — and chosen.
What was this magic style? Instead of each one telling about him/herself (which is hard), Sunny and Blake told about each other (which is easy). Moreover, doing so invited the reader into the profile: You should see Sunny when she’s coaching soccer. The children flock to her like pigeons on bread crumbs. And it allowed the reader to see the couple through loving eyes.
4. Too pretentious (I haven’t actually see this trait in a profile, but I bet it exists): there’s no need to show off the driving range in your back yard or your annual trips to Paris or your collection of sports cars. Such shows of wealth are not what an expectant parent finds comforting — wealth of time and love are. Plus, pretentiousness can build a barrier instead of finding common ground with your reader.
5. Too guarded: while there may be photos and text, the reader is left not really knowing anything about the hopeful parents.
Gina and Ken had recently been scammed and were understandably cautious. They wanted to protect themselves from repeated heartbreak. In doing so, they built a wall to keep Bad Things out. But the funny thing about walls is that they are multipurpose. They also keep Good Things out.
Throughout their pages, it was clear that Gina and Ken didn’t want to reveal too much about themselves. Reading their profile was the equivalent of trying to have a conversation with a person whose arms are tightly crossed over the chest.
The wall was evident in closing line of their profile:
Please contact us only if you are serious about an adoption plan.
Clearly, this wasn’t a problem that would be solved just by word smithing. I counseled Gina and Ken about what a true (not scamming) expectant parent considering adoption might be going through. We talked about the myths surrounding birth/first parents, and what they could expect to find when working with an ethical adoption professional. A deeper understanding of their intended audience helped them to risk more revelations and invitations in their profile.
6. Too blah: Katie and Gil were careful not to put anything in their profile that was too anything. They were rabid Cornhusker fans, but didn’t want to offend anyone who might back an opposing team. They loved to ride motorcycles, but didn’t want to freak out a reader who might be more cautious. They attended their church regularly but didn’t want to mention it in case theirs wasn’t the same faith as the readers.
In short, Katie and Gil hid their lights under a bushel.
I interviewed them to find out what made them unique and vibrant and found the qualities mentioned above. Once they revised their profile to show themselves OUT LOUD, it wasn’t long before their profile was chosen as the perfect match for an expectant parent.
7. Too footloose: Sam and Bill’s profile had photos of them on a honeymoon in the Bahamas, toasting each other with umbrella drinks. There was also a photo series of them zip-lining in the cloud forest of Costa Rica, and more of them scuba diving in crystal waters. To round off the seasons, they told about how they loved to ski during the weekends during the winter.
It’s hard for a reader to envision Sam and Bill with a child.
I asked them to tell me what their lives would look like once they had a child. With their answers, they revised their profile to reflect their future (as parents) as well as their past (as an active, spontaneous couple).
I must say a word (or more) about being real.
More than scrapbooking abilities, more than a gift with the written word, more than anything else, authenticity is the key to an adoption profile. SHOW WHO YOU ARE. Not who you WISH you were, not who you think someone ELSE thinks you should be, but who. you. are.
Imagine back when you first met your spouse. If you misrepresented yourself just to make an initial good impression, eventually your house of cards would fall and your opportunity for love would have evaporated. It was vitally important with a partner, and it’s equally important with the first parents of your future child: don’t HIDE who you are, but rather REVEAL who you are. And show yourselves in your best light.
* Names have been changed
What makes a profile work? I gathered anecdotal research from first parents and adoption counselors. While each first parent comes with a viewpoint as unique as a fingerprint, here are some commonalities I found in what attracts and what doesn’t in a profile.
Here are some do-it-yourself tips:
- Accurately represent yourselves and avoid playing to your audience. One expectant mother might love dogs while another might be allergic. One might want the baby to be the couple’s first, while another might want ready siblings. To bring about the best match simply be truthful about who you are and what your lives are about.
- Show what makes you unique. Have a horse? Show it. Bilingual? Write a few words in another language. You want to differentiate yourselves from the others in the stack. “The mother I chose proposed to her husband at an NFL football game on the big scoreboard,” says first mother Jessica. “I liked her spirit!”
- Find balance. Describe your life as full enough that you are not dependent on a baby to make it complete, yet not so full that you have no room for a child. Gwen reveals, “Both people had high-powered jobs and were involved in so many things that I just couldn’t see how they’d fit in another responsibility.”
- Inject humor. Include an amusing anecdote or funny photo that shows that humor is one way you deal with life. “They had a picture of the whole family wearing 3-D glasses and watching fireworks, “recounts first mother Kelly. “This family had a good time just being around each other.”
- Remove all hints of desperation. It’s as much a repellent to an expectant mother as it was to a potential spouse. If you can’t come by this honestly, you need more counseling before you embark on adoption. “I didn’t want my baby to be the one thing that saved these people from a life of misery,” explains Sarah, so I passed on them.”
- Choose an agency based on your expectations for future contact. For example, if you state you want very little or no contact, you may be in for a long wait if your agency is known for open adoptions. “We went to an open adoption agency because we wanted SOME contact,” say first parents Heather and Jason. “so we rejected a couple who wanted us to disappear after the birth.”
- Be brutally honest with yourselves about your profile. Or better yet, have a trusted friend – someone less vested in the outcome – look over your masterpiece. Ask this person to be candid about the photos, letters and tone. Maybe you can’t see that Aunt Tillie looks awful in that family photo, but you need to know. “In one picture of a family picnic, they all had red eye,” explains first mother Gwen. “I know it wasn’t real, but my impression was ‘how demonic!'”
- Tinker. Tweaking just a word or an image can dramatically change results. If you’ve been waiting a while, make a minor change, like the stationery or the lead photo. “If your agency is having activity but your profile isn’t garnering interest, a semi-annual review with minor changes might help,” suggests Karen, an Adoption Counselor at a Denver-area adoption agency.
Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life.