Rebeccah Beushausen wove a tale for two months about being an unmarried mother who chose to carry her terminally ill child to term rather than have an abortion because of her deep Christian faith.
She posted her story on a blog that got nearly a million hits until one of her followers exposed the lie last week. Now the suburban Chicago woman is apologising for the hoax.
She posted her story on a blog that got nearly a million hits until a few of her followers grew suspicious and helped expose the lie.
Beushausen posted a lengthy apology on her blog, saying she had lost pregnancies in the past.
"I have suffered this type of loss, more than once, to varying degrees, and while the circumstances and the times vary ... the pain is very constant," Beushausen wrote.
She had said her baby was diagnosed with Trisomy 13 syndrome, a chromosomal defect that can cause severe mental retardation and death. Followers promised to pray for her and her baby, April Rose, and sent letters and gifts to a post office box she listed online.
But when she wrote about the child's birth and posted photos last week, one reader recognised the baby as a lifelike doll.
Jennifer McKinney followed Beushausen's blog and helped promote it. She said the apology did not include enough information to explain why Beushausen lied.
"To be honest, I think she is far from recognizing the true gravity of the situation," said McKinney, who writes a Christian blog that dealt with her own difficult pregnancy.
Beushausen's sister, Anna, said Monday that the falsehood began before the blog and that her sister has dealt with a lot of pain in her life. She said the blog, which she didn't learn about until last week, was a way for her sister to work through it.
"I do understand why people are mad, and so does she," Anna Beushausen said. "I see pieces of her life in there. She is so remorseful, and she is in immense pain."
Rebeccah Beushausen didn't respond to an e-mail sent Monday. A woman who answered the phone at a number listed for her mother declined comment.
In her apology, Beushausen said she began writing the story as therapy but became addicted to the attention it generated. She said she lied "to a community of people whose only intention was to support me through this time and that is wrong, and for that I am sorrier than you could know."
Beushausen moved back to her family's home after her hoax was exposed.
It doesn't appear that Beushausen profited in a substantial way from her blog. She said she made an agreement with an advertiser but was never paid because the ad was not up for the required minimum 45 days.
Police Sgt. Randal Stumpf said his department was not investigating.
Don Blumenthal, an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University who specializes in Internet security and cybercrime, said it's difficult to prosecute such cases.
It's hard to establish jurisdiction and even that a crime has occurred, and few people have the legal skills to prosecute such cases, said Blumenthal, who previously led the internet investigations center at the Federal Trade Commission.
"It's an area of law that needs a lot of development," Blumenthal said.