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Published April 21, 2012, 11:30 PM

Moorhead couple taking proactive approach to find child to adopt

MOORHEAD - The poster looks a little out of place on the bulletin board at Cash Wise in Moorhead. There, among ads for lost cats, used furniture and puppies for sale, Erick and Nicky Nelson posted a flier that declares their interest in adopting a child.

MOORHEAD - The poster looks a little out of place on the bulletin board at Cash Wise in Moorhead.

There, among ads for lost cats, used furniture and puppies for sale, Erick and Nicky Nelson posted a flier that declares their interest in adopting a child.

“Longing to become Adoptive Parents,” the hand-lettered heading reads above a photo of the smiling, 30-something couple in front of their Christmas tree.

The handbill comes complete with tear-off tabs bearing their contact information, much like you’d find on an ad for yoga classes.

Like many aspiring adoptive parents, the Nelsons have become more proactive in their adoption search. The Moorhead couple is trying “outreach” – using methods that range from word-of-mouth among relatives to social networking – to supplement their traditional search for a healthy, adoptable baby.

The Nelsons admit their approach may seem unorthodox and that they themselves weren’t comfortable with it initially. “It was difficult to put ourselves out there,” says Nicky, a 35-year-old OB-GYN nurse at Essentia Health.

“We are more of a private couple. We changed because we wanted to know that we had done everything we could to find the birth parents we were meant to be matched with.”

Besides posting fliers in places like grocery stores and Moorhead Center Mall, they have added a window slick to their car, launched an adoption Facebook page and included adoption-minded business cards (complete with their social worker’s contact information) with their Christmas letters this year.

Their social worker, Vicki Haugen of Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, actually encouraged the young couple to market themselves after two years of more traditional avenues came up short.

It’s part of a national trend of prospective parents using more public methods to woo the ever-dwindling pool of birth parents who wish to make adoption plans.

Haugen says outreach can range from low-key efforts – like asking family to spread the word – to more overt approaches, like printing message

T-shirts or advertising on highway signs.

The bottom line is that it can help. More than half of the healthy-infant adoptions facilitated by LSS in the past few years involved birth parents and adoptive parents who found each other, Haugen says.

“The trend toward networking and outreach has really taken off in the last three years,” Haugen says.

Took usual route first

The Nelsons’ own adoption story started in 2010 after a big family wedding.

After being surrounded by relatives’ children for several days, the couple agreed it was time to have kids of their own.

Nicky and Erick, a computer-department supervisor at Best Buy, couldn’t have children of their own. She has a genetic condition called premature ovarian failure, which required getting a hysterectomy in 2005.

So they began working on an adoption plan with Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota in the summer of 2010.

They also were listed as prospective parents on the LSS adoption website and “the book,” a catalog birth parents peruse to help find the ideal adoptive family for their children.

The book is an important way to connect with birth parents, but there’s a waiting list to get in it. And once you’re included, there’s no guarantee someone might pick you.

More than a year passed with no nibbles, and the Nelsons began considering outreach. At 35 and 36 respectively, Nicky and Erick felt they only had so much time before they were too old to adopt a newborn.

On Dec. 10 – Nicky’s birthday – she left her first business card in a mall restroom in St. Cloud, Minn. It wasn’t easy.

“It’s scary to put yourself out there,” she says. “You have no idea who is going to come across it.”

But the couple has found their efforts have grown easier over time. Several locations in Moorhead have agreed to hang their fliers, although a few refused.

They also learned they couldn’t cross the state line with their leaflets because advertising to become adoptive parents is illegal in North Dakota, according to state law.

“There’s so many places I would like to go around Fargo, but we can’t,” Nicky says.

As recently as March, the couple thought their waiting game was finally over. Their social worker called to tell them a birth mom had seen their profile in the LSS book and wanted to meet them. They arranged to meet at the hospital on March 28, the baby’s due date.

But the night before, the birth parents changed their mind.

And so the Nelsons wait, and hope, that the best person out there will eventually see a flier or Facebook post and contact them.

“We’ve had no calls at all,” Nicky says. “But you’ve got to just keep trying.”

Safety, privacy vital

Although outreach is effective, Haugen says it has taken time for private Midwesterners to adjust to it.

“Their own families tell them, ‘This is not your job. That’s what you pay an agency for,’ ” Haugen says.

Yet some find it reassuring to take an active role in a process that can feel arbitrary and uncontrollable.

Even so, Haugen would never advise a couple to arrange its own adoption without working through a licensed agency.

For one thing, state law requires a home study, paperwork and background checks, Haugen says.

For another, it could be devastating or unsafe if hopeful parents were approached by someone who had malicious intent.

The Nelsons’ seemingly public campaign does have built-in safeguards. They set up a special Google voice number and email specifically for adoption-related queries, and they posted Haugen’s contact information in case potential birth parents don’t want to contact them directly.

Nicky and Erick say they want to share their story so people understand that any average couple can be proactive.

“You see it’s just people like us – just normal, middle-class people,” Erick says.

Adds Nicky: “We’re just waiting for the child we’re meant to have.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525

To contact Erick and Nicky Nelson: ErickandNicky@hotmail.com

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