Voices of Youth: Washtenaw County's adoptive parents and kids form strong bonds, navigate challenges

This article is part of Concentrate's Voices of Youth series, which features content created by Washtenaw County youth in partnership with Concentrate staff mentors, as well as feature stories by adult writers that examine issues of importance to local youth. In this installment, student Sofia Fanzini examines how both adoptive parents and children experience the adoption process.

Have you ever thought about adopting a child? Can you imagine what it means to welcome someone into your family and let them disrupt your existence in the most wonderful way?

Those who have never done so might think of adoption only as an alternative to the traditional path of parenthood. In reality, it corresponds to its own intense process that does not end when a new member is added to the family, but deeply influences the lives of the child and its new caretakers.

According to the U.S. Census, there are about 1.5 million adopted children living in the United States, with around 135,000 children adopted per year. In Michigan, more than 1,650 children were adopted in 2021.

In 2014, Brianna Murphy and her husband welcomed their first adopted child into their family from China. Murphy teaches math at Lincoln High School in Augusta Township. She says the couple chose to adopt from China because the process was easier than trying to adopt elsewhere.

"Thanks to the efficiency and speed with which practices are carried out, I adopted two children in five years, with a break of a year between the two different procedures," Murphy says. "Additionally, only one trip of four to five weeks and two years of marriage [for the parents] are requested. For all these reasons, we chose China".

This is how Korben, now 10, came from Northern Mongolia to become part of Murphy's life. He is a thoughtful and sensitive child who longed for a little sister, so in 2017, the family adopted a child named Autumn, who is now 6, energetic, and talkative.

Deciding what to share with their adopted children and when is a choice all adoptive parents must make. Murphy decided to talk immediately with her children about their adoption. She felt it was important to give them an explanation of how they joined the family and also to help avoid unpleasant or complicated situations that could arise once the children had grown up.

Murphy's family has also bonded with other couples who took a similar path to adoption and are familiar with the emotions and challenges that come with it. In doing so, she also hopes to connect Korben and Autumn to Chinese culture. 

“I do feel it is very important to keep a bond with other Chinese families, because my children are Chinese," Murphy says. "I feel that they need to have some connection to their culture in order to know who they are.”

Cailin Brooks, a senior at Lincoln High School, had a similar upbringing. Like his older sister, Cailin was adopted from China at 10 months old. His adoptive parents were open about their family and taught them about Chinese culture and language, so Cailin grew up assuming everyone celebrated the Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival.

"My mum and I both have black hair; when I was little, I compared it and it seemed there was nothing special,” Cailin says.

Even for children who haven't experienced a specific trauma, adoption comes with its own psychological repercussions, but that doesn't mean it's synonymous with misfortune. More than compassion on a personal level, young people say they need society, and schools in particular, to focus on inclusion by showing an interest and giving them time and a platform to be heard.

For example, many girls in China were abandoned in front of orphanages with only their name and date of birth due to the country's one-child policy, which was lifted in 2013. This makes it difficult to find their family of origin if they want to do so. And for many, tracing their heritage isn't a priority after establishing themselves in a supportive adoptive family.

Others, like Mikhail Wisman — who was adopted from Russia — remember their adoptive parents in their earliest memories.

"Of my natural family, I know that my parents were very young, and that I have two brothers; I do not know where they are now," Wisman says.

Mikhail Wisman.
Today, Wisman is 25. As far as he remembers, he has always known of his Russian heritage, but he's not interested in actively preserving it or learning any more about his birth parents at this time.

"During adolescence, I suffered from anxiety and depression, but this was not only due to adoption. The uncertainty that comes from it was a reason in addition," he says. "I am an only child and I have always had all the attention of my parents, who have never made me miss anything. The choice of my natural parents years ago allowed me to have a better life than I would have had with them."

In addition to wanting to be a father, being able to offer new opportunities to a child living in uncertainty was one of the reasons Mikhail's father — who was also adopted as a child —  wanted to adopt. 

For those who decide to adopt, the process can be physically and mentally exhausting, as they wait to meet and embrace their child. Each adoptive experience is different, from the length of the process to the age of the children to health and other factors. In the end, however, what really matters is that a family is not based only on a blood bond, but on the willingness to welcome a new member.

"Parents are not perfect," Wisman says. "They make mistakes and repent for them, but that does not mean that they do not always try to do their best to offer their child a better life than those who have experienced or lived it personally."

Sofia Fanzini is an Italian exchange student currently studying at Whitmore Lake High School. Concentrate staffer Eric Gallippo served as her mentor on this project.

To learn more about Concentrate's Voices of Youth project and read other installments in the series, click here.