Adoption, adoptees go online Internet: Would-be parents and children who have been adopted are using the Web to help their searches.

August 24, 1998|By James Romenesko | James Romenesko,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Sonia, a little girl born without arms in India, faced a difficult life in her native country.

"It's bad enough if you're a girl in India, but if you're disabled, you're really in trouble," said Jody Johnson, who stumbled on the 8-month-old's picture at an adoption Web site. "You can't marry, you can't work, and you spend your life in an institution."

The 32-year-old Richfield, Minn. woman had been interested in adopting a child since her high school days, when she read a book about special-needs children without families.

"The fees were a barrier for a long time," said Johnson, who has two children, ages 3 and 5, with her husband, Michael Boyer.

Last March, when her family got an Internet account, Johnson punched "adoption" into a search engine to see what would come up.

"I wasn't actively looking to adopt a child at that time - I was just playing around with the Net," she said. "I came up with a ton of listings."

And then she saw Sonia at a site called Precious In His Sight.

"They had a profile of her saying she was a wonderful, social child, but she has a challenge in that she was born without arms," said the mother. "I carried the profile around in my pocket for two weeks while trying to figure out how to come up with the money."

Months later, the forms have been completed, and the family has been approved to receive Sonia.

Burdened with $15,000 in fees and expenses, the Richfield family has taken out an adoption loan, borrowed money from friends and relatives and will be holding fund-raisers.

Meanwhile, Jody Johnson is preparing her home for Sonia, who will be escorted from her Indian orphanage to Minnesota within six months - something the mother said would not have happened if she hadn't gone online.

"It makes the child so much more visible for you," she said.

In the very recent past, the adoption process seemed like a never-ending nightmare of red tape, paperwork, studies and headaches. While it can still be an ordeal, the World Wide Web has helped demystify the process. There are Frequently Asked Questions pages, pictures and descriptions of waiting children and detailed explanations of what one can expect in the required home study.

For adoptees looking to find their birth relatives, there are several sites offering assistance and encouragement in chat rooms and on message boards. "I am a successfully reunited adult adoptee," a woman writes on the Adoption Registration Coalition board. "For the first time in my life, I look like somebody other than the dog."

Birth parents, too, have places to go online for help in finding the children they put up for adoption decades earlier.

JoAnn Erickson is one mother who spends much of her time online, putting out messages that she prays will lead her to a son she gave up for adoption in Minneapolis in 1963.

"In 1968, I seriously started to try to find my son," said Erickson, now 54 and living in Florida. "But what I found is that because I don't have a birth certificate, I've run into more difficulty."

Erickson also has a 25-year-old son, Scott, who grew up as an only child and, as a young boy, often asked if he would ever have a brother.

"When he was 8, I finally told him that he did have a brother, and he was so excited," she said.

Last spring, Scott gave her a computer and an Internet account as a gift.

"He gave this to me on Mother's Day because he wanted to help," said Erickson. "He kind of led me through the basics [of Internet navigation], and then stood back and let me search. He didn't want to interfere."

The mother has posted information on several message boards, and she continues to use the Net to come up with new ways to do her search.

"The reason for my search is to make any information available to him if he wants it," she said. "But it would be wonderful to hear he's doing well and he's happy and has had a good life."

She's surprised by the number of encouraging e-mails she's received from other mothers who are looking for or have found their children.

"With all the assistance that people are trying to give me - people I don't know - you never know, maybe something will happen," she said.

Of the hundreds, if not thousands, of adoption sites on the Internet, the one that gets the most reaction is Bastard Nation, a radical site started by regular newsgroup message posters at alt.adoption who wanted to fight for adoptees' rights.

"This was a group of adult adoptees who agreed that the sealed record laws violated our civil rights and our dignity as adult citizens of this country," said Damsel Plum, co-founder of Bastard Nation.

"The whole premise of calling ourselves Bastard Nation is obviously to get attention - for the shock value," she said. Her group members see themselves as radicals of sorts involved in a civil rights struggle, she said.

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