Adoptive families come in all shapes and sizes, and their adoption stories vary. In honor of National Adoption Month this November, we've interviewed three local families to raise awareness about adoption – meet Barbara and Craig Johnson; Michelle Ashby and Matt Coleman; and Susan and Jonathan Witmer. Whether or not you are a family that has welcomed home an adopted child yourself, or you are considering adoption, we hope that their stories and the information they share inspires you. A special thanks to these families for sharing their stories and information about their adoption processes.
Barbara & Craig Johnson - Parents to Dagny (5)
“As long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to adopt,” says Barbara Johnson. Barbara and Craig's plan was to have their first child biologically and adopt their second, but when Barbara was having trouble getting pregnant, they decided to move forward with adoption. “Once we started the process and the more we thought about it, we thought it was a better idea to adopt first,” says Barbara. “This would give us more time and opportunity to put all our attention into her and working on our bonding.”
How old was your daughter when you adopted her?
Dagny was 11 months old when we met, 12 months at court, and 13 months when we came home.
What was your adoption process like? We worked with an adoption agency (About A Child) based out of California. We also worked with Jewish Family Services of Rochester to help prepare our home study and our post placements. As for the team that we worked with in Russia we couldn’t have asked for a better experience. They were with us throughout both of our visits to Russia.
What was your wait time between deciding to adopt and the day you welcomed your daughter home? We were extremely lucky. From deciding to adopt to bringing Dagny home, it took us nine months!
What advice would you give to other parents who are seeking adoption? Be patient. Many things are out of your control. Even in gathering your paperwork together, you have to rely on other people to do their jobs. Once you are ready to submit your dossier – then the hardest part starts, waiting. Just keep remembering that at the very end of your journey your child(ren) will be in your arms.
Describe your parenting style in one word: Involved. Craig and I knew the minute we became parents that our lives were no longer about us, but about making sure we are there for our child in every way. We try our very best to be as involved parents as we can. We know at this age Dagny wants to “hang out” with us, but we know the time will come when that won’t be the case.
What's one trait you hope your daughter learns from you? To be kind-hearted. I hope she will look at the world and see all the possibilities and not all short comings. To be a kind, respectful person that has compassion for people.
Last meal you made for your family: Dagny has become a very picky eater lately, but she loves my Rainbow Chili. I try and make it for her as often as I can.
Last thing your daughter did that made you laugh: It’s funny listening to her tell jokes, because it’s the same punch line over and over again. At this point we don’t see a future in stand up comedy for her.
Best piece of parenting advice you ever got: Patience. This is by far the best advice I got from my mother. She told me you will have good and bad days, but have patience that good days are around the corner when you’re having a bad one.
How would your daughter describe you? Funny. “Mommy gives great raspberries” and “Daddy can tickle the best”.
Last book you read to your daughter? Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson
Michelle Ashby & Matt Coleman
parents to Brad Coleman (7) & Brett Coleman (2)
“Iwas over forty and having trouble getting pregnant,” says Michelle Ashby of her decision to adopt. Michelle and her husband Matt decided to go through an agency in Buffalo, but after failed attempts, they were led to other sources – Facebook, Twitter, networking, classified ads. But nothing was seeming to work. “We had just about given up,” says Michelle when their caseworker received a phone call from Friends in Adoption in Vermont who was able to connect them with a birth mother. It was fate. “When we met our birth mom, Tierra, she immediately connected with Matt…and his tattoos,” says Michelle.
How old was Brett when you adopted him? Newborn
What was your wait time between deciding to adopt and the day you welcomed your son home? The whole process took about 3 years – after factoring in the paperwork and two failed adoption attempts.
What advice would you give to other parents who are seeking adoption? Though it can be exciting to have a new child in your home, be prepared for the ups and downs. Adoption is NOT for the faint of heart. Talk to many people who have adopted and ask them what their journey was like.
Do you keep in touch with Brett's birth mom? We love our birth mom and keep in touch with her. She came to visit on Brett’s first birthday and she brought his sister, Angel, along. She is a strong, young woman who is trying very hard to go to college, find a job and care for her daughter while being single.
Describe your parenting style in one word: Playful
What's one trait you hope your children learn from you? Michelle – “Anything is possible.” Matt – “How to love deeply and passionately.”
Last thing your children did that made you laugh: There are so many! Brett and Brad had a “dance party” in the bedroom with flashlights and a nursery rhymes CD. The “dancing” had a lot of tumbling and hopping…and baby yoga moves. We also loved it when Brad told Brett that his ibuprofen was bubblegum flavored. Ever since then, Brett’s been calling it “gugglebump.”
Best pieces of parenting advice you ever got: From my brother: Get down on the floor and play with them. Let them show you how to play their games. From my child care provider: Listen, look them in the eyes, be present and hug them often.
How would your children describe you? Smart.
Last book you read to your children? Brad: Amphibians. Brett: Five Green and Specked Frogs.
Susan & Jonathan Witmer
Parents to Victoria Elena (13), Jack Alexander (13), Paige Elizabeth (12), Michael Dmitriy (12), Tessa Rosario (5) & Lucia Lourdes (5)
“We’d always considered adoption,” says Susan Witmer. After failure with fertility treatments, Susan says adoption became more of a 'sooner rather than later' option for starting their family. “Initially, we thought we’d adopt from within the United States,” Susan adds, “but once we attended an Adoption Resource Network conference and participated in a class on Eastern European adoption, we both felt strongly that we were meant to adopt from Russia.” Susan and Jonathan went through World Child International, where they adopted Victoria and Jack in October 2000 – Victoria at 21 months old and Jack at 13 months old. After a successful experience in 2000, they decided to expand their family in 2003 (adopting nearly 3-year-old twins Paige and Michael from Russia) and in 2008 (adopting 9-month-old twins, Tessa and Lucia from Guatemala).
What was it like to adoption internationally? The process wasn’t an easy one but the agency really did everything they could to lead us and assist us. We learned quite a bit about other agencies when we traveled to Russia and spoke with other parents. It only increased our confidence in World Child International. The orphanage where they [Victoria and Jack] lived was very old and a bit in disrepair, but it was clean, and we felt the people that worked there genuinely cared about the children. They truly did the best they could given their limited resources.
What is it like to welcome home a child for the first time? I can honestly say there is nothing like bringing new sons and daughters to meet their family, extended family and friends, and to be really home! The happiness and joy exploding in my head and heart were indescribable.
What was is like for the older kids when Tessa and Lucia were added to the family? There was definitely some initial jealousy the older kids felt and expressed. Over time, however, they’ve all come to love and enjoy their little sisters. Paige once told me, “They are so cute and I love them so much. I can’t believe they’re ours!” I know the feeling.
What advice would you give to other parents who are seeking adoption? It’s challenging, it’s stressful, but so, so worth it. I would recommend to anyone pursuing adoption to keep the goal in mind and submit to the process.
Describe your parenting style in one word: Engaged
What's one trait you hope your children learn from you? Faith
Last meal you made for your family: Homemade pizza
How would your children describe you? Involved.
Last book you read to your children? The Giving Tree