With fewer children, or fewer "infants" available for adoption in the US, more American couples are expanding their search for a child, worldwide.
After having two kids on their own, Brendan and Jana Johnson decided they wanted to adopt their next child from Ethiopia. And like many other American couples, the Johnson's preferred to adopt an infant.
But it wasn't long after that search begun that the Johnson's found themselves doing something very few other couples would even consider.
While 10-year-old Trualem and 8-year-old Peneal settle in to their new surroundings in Sioux Falls, mom and dad are just trying to keep up. Brendan Johnson says, "Its chaos. In one word, its chaos...but it's a good chaos…it's a chaos we surely love." Jana Johnson says, "They haven't been physically more work it's just more laundry, more cooking and more food."
It was about a year ago when the Johnson's decided to adopt a child from Ethiopia. Jana Johnson says, "Our initial plan was to get one infant baby girl.”
It was actually a book that lead the Johnson's to a small orphanage in Ethiopia. The book is called "There Is No Me Without You" by Melissa Green. It's a story about this particular orphanage and the woman who started it.
Jana says the book touched her heart.
She was so moved by it, Jana actually e-mailed the author, something she has never done before. It wasn't long before Jana and Melissa Green became good friends. Jana says, "And after she decided we were normal people and trustworthy, then she sent us pictures of our daughter and said she knew her real well."
In the weeks to follow, Melissa Green kept in touch thru letters and e-mails and sent the Johnson's plenty of pictures. Green, who also has adopted children from this orphanage, also mentioned how hard it was to find foster homes for older orphans, like Trualem.
Brendan says, "When you reach a certain age at the orphanage it becomes very, very, unlikely you’re ever going to get adopted and I would imagine that both of them came to that conclusion."
While the Johnson’s prepared for the arrival of their new, 10-year-old daughter, Jana found herself staring at these pictures from the orphanage, and one boy caught her eye.
Jana says, "He has such a beautiful face and soul and really came thru in the pictures so I would always stare at him in the pictures."
More time passed. And after a few more lengthy discussions, the Johnson’s decided that adopting two kids, from the same orphanage would help make the transition to America a little smoother. So Jana contacted Melissa Green again.
Jana says, "And I said who do you think in your view is one of the most special children there. And she said I'll send you a picture. And she sent this picture and I opened it up and it was this child I had been staring at for months."
It was 8-year-old Peneal, who arrived at the orphanage with his little sister shortly after their father died.
Brendan says, "In Ethiopia there is nor safety net. So if the primary bread-winner passes away the other spouse is left to care for the children."
Peneal's mother couldn't afford to keep her kids so she had to give them up. Peneal's younger sister was adopted right way, while Peneal settled into his new life at the orphanage.
Brendan says, "It is pretty rough, especially by American standards. There are several children living in a pretty small room."
A life-style that will soon be coming to an end for eight-year-old Peneal.
10-months after the adoption process began, the Johnson's landed in Ethiopia.
And then something happened that nearly knocked Jana and Brendan off their feet. Peneal's birth-mother actually showed up at the orphanage just to say good-bye.
Jana says, "She had a dream, two or three days before we left that something was happening with her son, that two little boys were kissing him."
Peneal's mother begged her way across Ethiopia just to see her son one more time. At the time the Johnson's didn't even know if she was still alive. As you could imagine, it was a very emotional good-bye.
Jana says, "Watching a mother say good-bye to the most precious thing she has on earth. And then watching him leave his only human connection on the planet will haunt me, probably forever."
But she did give the Johnson's her blessing and shared pictures and stories about Peneal's past. The Johnson's really didn't realize how unusual this adoption was until they boarded the plane back home. Jana says, "There were a lot of families leaving with adopted children. We were the only ones one’s on the plane with a child older than an infant."
Brendan says, "A lot of people have called us naive, perhaps going into it with not knowing what to expect...in part because we've never had a 5th grader and a third grader we've raised on our own."
And how would they react to their two new brothers waiting for them in South Dakota? After that first, face-to-face meeting, Jana and Brendan knew it was meant to be. Jana says, "It was almost instantaneous. When the four kids met and they ran for each other and the older ones scooped them up and were kissing on them and it was like they've always been here."
It's been about three weeks since they've been back and despite an early on-set of homesickness, the transition to America has gone better than expected, but some things are hard to get used to, like American food.
Brendan says, "But there are a lot of things they don't like so we are kind of mixing American foods and also there are several very good Ethiopian restaurants in Sioux Falls."
Although some overseas adoptions can take years to complete, this adoption took 10 months. Having a father on Capitol Hill helped expedite the process, but Brendan says those resources are available to everyone, not just a senator's son.
Brendan says, "We use the same people in my father’s office that everyone that's adopting can...and should use to help with the process. We feel like we're a very blessed family. We are lucky in so many ways and now we have four wonderful children and they're going to be able to meet their "nana" and "papa Tim" here real soon, we're very blessed."
Both Peneal and Trualem will attend school at the Immersion Center in Sioux Falls. And they already have a head-start on their English. The Johnson’s hired a private tutor to work with both children while they were still living at the orphanage in Ethiopia.
If you are interested in more information concerning overseas adoptions here are some links to help you out. These are the same resources Brendan and Jana used to adopt Peneal and Truelen.
Sen. Tim Johnson's Office
U.S. State Department
The Office of Children’s Issues in the Bureau of Consular Affairs provides brochures describing the adoption process in numerous countries. Call 1-888-407-4747 for more information.
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