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*Blog post by Nemili Johnson, T4A’s Educational Coordinator and workshop speaker at CAFO’s upcoming Summit.

Friends and acquaintances are constantly surprised, and I will humorously admit, that even though I am an Indian adoptee (currently working for T4A), I am relatively new to mainstream adoption. Even after the Internet made connecting with people more and more interactive and easy, it did not occur to me to use this tool to seek out other adoptees or adoptive families. Instead, growing up in rural Wyoming, in the 80s with no internet at the time, I got used to using my immediate and extended family stories as the example of “how-to-be-an-adoptee.” Sounds strange, I know! However, my immediate and extended family has 12+ adoptees, all of various ages and ethnicity. I figured that since we were all in the same boat, I may as well use their successes and failures as a reference point through my own adoptive issues. Little did I realize how much their presence in stories benefited me growing up as a TRA (transracial adoptee), but also how limited my perspective became regarding the enormous world of mainstream adoption.

I believe that part of my limited experience with adoption was other people’s limited experiences with adoption. I in no way blame anyone for their own limitations on the topic of adoption, it’s just a realization on my part that for most people, this topic is only skin deep. I didn’t have to scratch beneath the surface of what I knew about my own adoption and self-awareness because there were no persistent scratchers/diggers of this topic for me growing up. Most of the questions I received throughout childhood, adolescence and now into adulthood have only ever been skin deep. These conversations tended to follow a common trajectory in subject matter. For example, here is a summary of many of the questions I have had at one time or another:

Friend: “Oh, so you’re adopted?”
Me: “Yep”
Friend: “Can you talk about it? I mean, are you ok if I ask you something?”
Me: “Sure! What do you want to know?”
Friend: “How did your family find you?”
Me: “Long story there, but the short story is that I lived with a relative of my adoptive father’s in India. She helped me find my family.”
Friend: “How old were you when you were adopted? Do you remember anything from before?”
Me: I was 18 months old and I don’t have any memories of what happened before I came to the States.”
Friend: “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
Me: “Yes, I have one older brother.”
Friend: “Is he adopted too?”
Me: “No, he’s biological to my parents?”
Friend: “Oh, so he’s your biological brother?”
Me: “No, he’s biological to my adoptive parents.”
Friend: “Oh, ok, that makes more sense.”
Friend: “Will you ever look for your real parents?”
Me: “Ummm, maybe. I haven’t thought all that much about it.”
Friend: “Do you want to go back to live in India?”
Me: “Maybe some day but I like the States too.”
Friend: “Ok, that’s cool.”

End conversation.

It’s not that I wasn’t open as a young person to having more discussion about my adoption, it was simply that there was nothing left for my friends or acquaintances to ask. I can only surmise that these universally asked questions are how non-adoptees relate to such a strange situation for them. It makes sense…ask about family connections because adoption is largely about family connections. I’m not saying that I would have been any more productive in my conversations about adoption had I grown up in my biological family, however, my young adoptive-self interpreted these short conversations about adoption as short-lived and something to be kept out of conversation. I quickly began to dumb down my answers about adoption and acted like it didn’t matter if people were interested in that aspect of me or not. Let me tell you now, it DOES matter.

Now fast forward to my 31st year of adulthood and my move to Georgia. Athens, GA proved to be one of the very first places that I began encountering families with adoptive kids on a regular basis. Through a church bible study, I met two other adoptive moms of kids from China. Once finding out I was adopted, both women began asking me some very intense, in-depth questions about how adoptees feel and how they, as parents, should address those feelings. What?! Funny, but I thought to myself “how should I know about what to do?!” These were questions I was certainly ill-prepared to answer. But even in the midst of my lack of understanding, I was completely intrigued by finding answers to these questions, not only for these moms but for myself. Having gone into psychiatric nursing, I understood the need for coping mechanisms and communication skills, but these skills can only get you so far. I felt that adopted kids needed something more substantial to deal with the multiple layers of emotion adoption presents in themselves and their families. My GA friends continually commented on an organization that was “so cool” and “totally centered on the doctrine of adoption.” In 2011, I finally flew out to Arizona to check out this “cool” organization. That was my first Together for Adoption experience and it truly transformed me as a person. Hearing the hope that scripture provides about adoption and then being able to link that with my own coping mechanisms and communication skills is something I strongly feel every parent could use in conversations with their own adoptees.

That is why the month of May will be so exciting for me. For the first time ever, I will be presenting at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit 10 conference. This conference represents both local grassroots efforts and international global initiatives that directly support orphans and adoptees. As I was praying, God lead me to look at adult adoptee bloggers. I wanted to gain a better perspective on adoptee voices as a whole. I thought blog posts might give the best collective truths of social and emotional trends experienced by other adoptees. After taking an analytic eye to 20+ blogs, I recognized one major missing element to so many of these lives…faith…and hope. Therefore, my CAFO talk not only discusses the practical research of social and emotional trends in adult adoptees, but also introduces ways to to bring hope and understanding into these incredibly complex lives. Attendees will walk away being able to use my model of ‘Living Adoption’ to help their children process feelings around adoption and see that there is a God who loves BIG…so big that He has planned for our own adoption as sons and daughters, co-heirs in Christ. If you have further questions about this topic, feel free to ask! Email Nemili.

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