In 2010 I stood on the edge of our adoption journey, wondering if I had the courage to take the first step. The problem was, there were many paths laid out before me, and I wasn’t sure which one to take. There were many different adoption options, and each one would hopefully lead to the same result: We would add a member to our family. But, even though the end result was the same, the different ways to get there seemed overwhelming. Which path was right?

We looked into foster care, international adoption, special needs adoption, agency adoption, and private adoption. Each one had its list of pros and cons, and as one who had never had much experience with any of them, they all seemed quite frightening. Ultimately, we were led to work with an adoption attorney who matched us up with our son’s birth mother, and with a few bumps in the road, everything finally fell into place.

The second time around we felt led to pursue the path of private adoption without the involvement of an agency. By then, we had experienced an adoption from start to finish and felt much more confident in the ethics, laws, and procedures that facilitate a successful adoption. Though the right situation has yet to find us, we are confident it is out there, and in the meantime, we are doing things that actively promote our family’s desire to adopt.

If you are hoping to adopt without an agency, here are some helpful tips for getting started:

1. Get going on your home study. Everyone must have this in place in order to adopt. Without a valid home study, you won’t be ready if a situation arises quickly. There are many independent home study providers throughout the United States. Costs for these studies vary, so do some homework and ask friends in your adoption community who they used. Home studies can be rushed in case of an emergency, but even expedited they’ll likely take a few weeks. It’s much better to start now so you have it in place and ready to go when the need arises. Once that is taken care of, you are legally approved and waiting to adopt. Now it’s up to you to take charge.

2. Start an adoption blog. That was the first thing I did. Ours is very basic, since I’m not super tech-savvy, but it works. It’s an easy “get to know you” on our family. Blogs are fairly easy to create. Most blog hosting sites give you step-by-step instructions on getting it all set up. It just takes a little time and effort. Blogs are also easy to share through email and on Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram—and that’s the key. You have to SHARE IT, and ask all your friends to share it as well. I still remember feeling like I was going to throw up the first time I shared our adoption blog on Facebook. I was so afraid to put our tender, prayerful, heartfelt desire out there for the world to see, but I also knew that I didn’t have an agency to “market” my family for me, so I had to do it myself.

3. Create an adoption-specific Facebook page. This is also a simple, yet very effective tool for sharing your family. Make sure your page is set to “public” so anyone can view it and share it. Update it frequently with pictures, quotes, funny moments, and videos of your various activities. Provide links on your page to your adoption blog and other adoption profiles you may have. Once again, invite your Facebook friends to “Like” your page and share it.

Encourage interaction with your page by asking questions along with your posts, such as posting a picture of you dressed in your favorite team’s gear with the caption, “We cheered for our Cougars this weekend! Who were you cheering for?” The more people who like and comment on your picture, the farther the picture spreads. It shows up on their friend’s pages, and so on. A month ago, we asked our friends and adoption page followers to please share our page on their Facebook pages. Our awesome supporters shared our page eighty-four times, and that post had a reach of over 14,000. Our profile on Adoption.com went from zero views to 134 views overnight. Never underestimate the power of social media.

4. Talk about your hopes to adopt. It’s not as hard or as scary as it may seem. When your hairdresser starts to talk about her children, bring up your desire to be a parent someday and then say, “We are hoping to adopt!” When the cashier at the grocery store comments on your beautiful child, say it again, “Thank you! We are hoping to add another to our family through adoption.” Write about it in your yearly Christmas letter that goes out with your cards. Send an email to your friends and family, linking your blog and Facebook page. Let them know you are hoping to find the right situation and ask them to please keep your family in mind if they hear of anything. Print up business-sized pass-along cards with your picture and blog/profile information and keep them handy. You won’t ever find a situation if the people around you don’t know you are looking.

5. Sign up with a private profile hosting site. Most have a monthly fee, but it’s minimal compared to the cost of working with an agency. Work hard to create an eye-catching, warm, inviting adoption profile and, once again, share that link wherever you can! Expectant parents come to these sites and are able to view lists of hopeful families. Many successful matches are made through these sites every year. (Check out Adoption.com’s Parent Profiles!)

Now, let’s say that through your efforts, you are put in contact with an expectant mother considering adoption, and things start to fall into place. What then?

1. Remember this is not your baby. Until a baby is born, and adoption papers are signed, the baby growing within her is HER baby. Your role is to sincerely love her, support her, and help her through this difficult time. Never pressure her or do or say anything to try and coerce her into placing her baby with you. Your job is to be her friend.

2. Hire a good, ethical adoption attorney. Let the attorney’s office take the lead on the legal end of things. Some states require that the adoptive couple and the expectant parents have separate legal representation, while other states allow the same attorney to represent you both. Your attorney will let you know what your state requires. It is also important to let your attorney obtain proof of pregnancy and medical records verifying the pregnancy. Unfortunately, adoption scams are common, and letting your attorney obtain these things helps you avoid a painful, expensive situation where you fall victim to a scam artist instead of a woman sincerely choosing adoption.

3. Build your relationship. Once your attorney is on board, and a mutual agreement has been made that an expectant mother has chosen you, enjoy the relationship the two of you share. Take the time to build a foundation of love, mutual respect, communication, and trust. A relationship built upon those things will be able to withstand some big storms down the road. Expect them—especially after the baby comes and emotions are high on all ends. Commit to riding them out together as a team of people who ultimately want what is best for baby.

No matter what path you take, adoption is never easy. It is full of twists and turns, joys and heartaches, but it is possible to adopt without the help of an agency.  As social media continues to make our world a smaller place, more and more adoptions are happening through word of mouth. You just have to get people talking.

Do you have a successful private, non-agency adoption story? What advice do you have for those wanting to adopt without the help of an agency? We’d love to hear your ideas.