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Web Making the World Smaller for Adoptees

September 03, 2006|Russell Working | Chicago Tribune

The Funk family went to China two years ago to adopt a baby girl who had been abandoned on a sidewalk near a textile factory. They named her Mia.

Last year, the Ramirezes went to China to adopt a girl who had been abandoned on the same spot a week later. As it happened, they also named her Mia.

The Funks live in Lyons, a suburb of Chicago. The Ramirezes live near Miami.

In May, Diana Ramirez wrote about her daughter's upcoming birthday on an Internet site for parents who had adopted from the orphanage in Yangzhou.

Holly Funk saw it and wrote back, "Diana, I have a Mia as well and she is almost 3."

A flurry of e-mails followed. Then DNA testing provided evidence of what the families had come to suspect: The girls were fraternal twins, separated hours after their birth.

The girls were reunited last month when Diana and Mia Ramirez flew to O'Hare International Airport.

The girls, whose parents had dressed them identically, shyly surveyed each other. Urged closer, they finally reached for each other's hand.

"I'm just awed," Holly Funk said as she looked at the girls, a little island in the flow of travelers. "It's a miracle. In the sea of humanity, these kids found each other."

If it is a miracle, it is one that is happening more often as international adoptions abound, the Internet reunites people and DNA technology establishes evidence of blood ties.

Such discoveries -- made possible in part by Web groups focused on orphanages -- are pulling back the curtains that separated previous generations of adoptees from their past and their biological kin.

The news can change children's lives, linking lost family members and perhaps even providing a lifelong soul mate.

One website geared toward linking adoptees with their biological kin is maintained by Jim and Susan Rittenhouse of Lisle, Ill. The site has a membership of 137, with 15 sets of twins and seven sets of siblings who have been confirmed. Members have adopted from Cambodia, Nepal, Guatemala, Russia and China.

The Rittenhouses themselves are on the list. In 2004, they discovered that their daughter, now 6, appeared to have a twin sister in Alabama, a matter strongly indicated by DNA tests. These twins also were independently given the same name: Meredith.

"They're best friends, in the deepest sense imaginable," Jim Rittenhouse said. "I didn't believe in twin bonds until I saw these two together."

The relationships provide a fertile area for observation of child development, said Nancy Segal, director of the Twin Studies Center at Cal State Fullerton.

"This offers us a wonderful window into so many questions about nature and nurture," Segal said, "because we can see the perspective unfolding of development in genetically identical and non-identical kids in their different homes."

Mia Diamond Funk first became known to the world at 6 a.m. June 14, 2003, when workers found her on a broken sidewalk outside a textile factory in a poor district of Yangzhou, a city near the central coast.

The factory is a shabby building on a narrow street crowded with linen shops, taxis, street vendors and the tricycles that peasants use to haul loads. In China, with its one-child policy, boys are preferred and girls sometimes abandoned.

Officers from the Fuyunmen District central police substation, who picked up the baby, concluded that she had been born the night before. They took her to the 200-bed Yangzhou Children's Welfare Institute.

One week later, Mia Hanying Ramirez was found on the same spot. Whoever abandoned the girls may have thought it would be less conspicuous to drop them off separately. Mia Hanying also went to the orphanage.

The girls were made available for adoption. But because Mia Hanying had a correctable heart defect, she went onto a separate special-needs list.

Far away, in a neighborhood in Lyons, Ill., Holly and Douglas Funk were preparing for a baby. They had five biological children, ages 6 to 21, but they had been touched when they saw a TV special on orphans.

Holly Funk recalls her husband telling her, "I feel like we're supposed to adopt a little girl from Asia."

She agreed. And she felt she heard God tell her, "You're going to name her Mia."

The Funks are not wealthy. He is a machinist and she occasionally performs as a clown. But an inheritance allowed them to buy the bungalow next door for their older boys, making room for another child at the family compound. With the help of a second mortgage, grants and a 401(k) loan, they came up with the $22,000 for Mia's adoption.

Holly Funk cannot say why, but before she adopted Mia, she found her thoughts focusing on the number "two." They applied to adopt twins, and she bought everything in twos: two cribs, two blankets, a tandem stroller, two fuzzy musical lambs that play "Jesus Loves Me."

After a home screening and months of waiting, they were told they had been approved for one girl. They got rid of the tandem stroller and extra crib. But for some reason, Holly Funk kept the second lamb.

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