Determined to adopt, Nancy Johnston wrote to the capitols of all 50 states in a search that lead her to the CAP Book photo listing and finally to her daughter, Amanda.
The Johnston family realistically approached the challenges of adopting a 13 year old and stuck by their daughter’s side, even through brain cancer.
“It was worth every minute of the battle to get Amanda,” says Nancy who finds it hard to imagine what she would do without her daughter, now 25 years old.
The battle began when Nancy and her husband Michael became frustrated with the slow and complex adoption process in their California county. The couple’s frustration did not cause them to give up; instead Nancy decided to take her family’s adoption search into her own hands. She didn’t know where to start or how to change things, but finally she says, “I had to do something about it.
”Mike and Nancy contacted their County Supervisor’s office and, after a combined meeting with the Supervisor’s representative and the head of the county’s adoption department, they were assigned a new, very cooperative caseworker. Nancy also began her own research to find out how adoptions of older children were handled in other states. Since the internet was not yet used to photo list children, she made calls and wrote letters. Her correspondence with adoption specialists from all over the United States revealed photo listings she had never heard of before.
In 1994, their hard work paid off and Amanda entered her family through adoption at age 13.
Nancy and Mike knew that it would be a challenging but rewarding process to allow Amanda time to transition into their family. The couple had experience adopting older children; their son, adopted at age 8, was 19 when Amanda came into the family.
The first challenge came immediately when adoption meant Amanda had to leave the loving foster family that she had grown attached to over the past 5 years. It was very tough for Amanda who was also adjusting to the difference between a small, rural community in Maine and the busy suburbs of Los Angeles. Even though the Johnstons knew a permanent, adoptive home was what Amanda needed, it was difficult for them to help her move away from a family she loved so much.
The Johnstons eased the transition by maintaining close contact with Amanda’s foster family. Amanda is now able to see her adoption experience, not as the loss of one family, but a gain of two, “I have two families that love me now,” she says.
Amanda’s mom Nancy describes her as a “tough, survivor kid”. In addition to adapting to a new, permanent family, Amanda was also working through the pain of a traumatic childhood experienced in her birth family. It was hard for Amanda to talk about her feelings and the Johnstons found it difficult to interpret Amanda’s reactions as negative or positive. They tried counseling and lovingly accepted that it would take time for Amanda to feel comfortable and close to them because of all she had been through. “We were waiting for Amanda to trust us,” Nancy says. “It took years and years, but it comes.”
In October 2005 Amanda was diagnosed with brain cancer. She spent five weeks in two hospitals, followed by many months of rehabilitation. Her family did not leave her side throughout the entire experience and Amanda began to realize that they would always be there for her. Amanda opened up for the first time and expressed feelings that she had been hesitant to share.
Amanda was surrounded by support from her family, fiancé, and even the County Supervisor whose deputy had helped her parents through the adoption process. The supervisor sent Amanda a beautiful bouquet of purple roses in the hospital.
Nancy was amazed by Amanda’s remarkable attitude throughout her fight with cancer. Even though she lost her hair and has been back and forth to the doctor ever since the initial treatment, Amanda maintains a positive outlook and makes sure others do too. Nancy says, “People would ask her, ‘how can you be so upbeat?’ and she would say, ‘What good would it do to be negative? It won’t change anything.’ …She has an incredible strength.”
Adoption has taught the Johnston family that strength and intimacy are the products of challenging life experiences. Nancy says, “If I could, I would do it again. It was a wonderful experience.”
They have also learned that problems from the past don’t disappear as soon as children are placed in a safe and loving environment. “Parents have to realistically understand that you do make a huge difference, but that doesn’t make the past go away,” Nancy says.
Amanda hopes her adoption story will show waiting children that there is hope that people of all ages can be adopted. “Even if you’re older, there are still people that want to take care of you and adopt you,” Amanda says, “There is hope for everyone.”