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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

"Adoption At A Glance" will showcase Siobhan's and Elijah's adoption journey.

In Arts & Entertainment

The show will feature 20-30 photographs taken by the twins' father, Doug Johnson.

Translator to exhibit photo essay on adoption


Doug Johnson enjoys taking photos. At one point in his life, he photographed primarily landscapes, but when his twins came along, the focus of his photography instantly changed.

"When you have great subject matter, you just keep snapping photos," says Johnson. "I love taking photos of them."

Johnson posted some of his photos of his children – a boy and a girl whom he and his wife adopted – onto Facebook and some of the photos received more than 100 likes. Encouraged by the social media support, Johnson started to think about doing a photo essay of his children's first few years of life.

The idea eventually came to fruition, and Johnson will have his first gallery show, called "Adoption At A Glance," during the next Gallery Night on Friday, April 25. The show is from 5 to 9 p.m. at Translator, 415 E. Menomonee St.

"If I can sell a few, I will give the money to adoptuskids.org," says Johnson.

"Adoption At A Glance" visually tells the challenging but rewarding story of adoption through Johnson's lens. The show will exhibit 20-30 photos in black-and-white, color and sepia depicting the everyday life of the twins.

Johnson and his wife, Aine McMenamin-Johnson, already had five failed adoptions in their past. On Oct. 11, 2010, they received a call from their adoption counselor who told them there was a woman in labor in Kansas City who was about to give birth to twins.

"We had one hour to decide if we wanted to try again with an adoption," says Johnson. "We were on a plane 14 hours later."

The couple met the birth mother after the twins were born, but then she did not want to see them again. Suddenly, something didn't feel right. By the next night, the birth mother decided she wanted to keep the twins. Johnson and McMenamin-Johnson were heartbroken, but unexplainably hopeful.

"After we came home empty armed, my wife said, 'we will see those kids again,'" says Johnson.

A week later, Johnson received a call at work from an adoption lawyer. He told Johnson the birth mother was losing her rights to the children and asked if Johnson and his wife were still interested in adopting them.

The couple received temporary custody of the children, whom they named Elijah and Siobhan (pronounced "Sheh-von"). The deal was, if everything went well, after six months they could legally adopt them.

Later, they learned that the children's maternal grandparents were suing them for custody.

"I thought, 'bring it on.' We'll sell the house if we have to, whatever," says Johnson.

The couple eventually won custody rights and are now the twins' forever parents. Although they have tried to maintain contact with the birth mother, she has not been in contact with them for many months.

Johnson is empathetic toward his children's birth mother. "I'm not a 23-year-old woman who gave up her twins. I don't know what that's like," he says.

Johnson is the director of booking at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Prior, he owned a business and booked bands for Summerfest and other venues and festivals. McMenemin-Johnson owns an Irish dance academy.

So far, parenting has been everything they hoped it would be.

"This has been a journey of perseverance," he says. "Adoption has meant everything to us, it's been very healthy for us, and we want to give back the most we can."


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