"How Johnson & Johnson Helped Us Adopt 11 Children"
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To many people, parenting 17 children probably sounds intimidating. And during a pandemic? It could seem downright terrifying.
He and his wife, Kelly, always dreamed of having a big family and were blessed with the hearts and support to make their dream a reality by adopting 11 children, in addition to their six biological kids.
We sat down with Bernadsky to hear how they created such a unique, large and loving family, the ways they're navigating the new normal and the importance of a solid support system.
Cameron Bernadsky: “Whenever I tell people that my wife and I have 17 children, they always ask the same questions: 'Where does everybody sleep? How much is your grocery bill? And how the heck do you all get around?'
I laugh and say that I should own stock in a bunk bed company, because we have lots of them in our house in Springboro, Ohio. As for our grocery bill, it’s definitely not small, but we budget. And when we’re all going somewhere together, our family piles into an oversized van that seats 15, plus another vehicle, to get there.
Once those questions are out of the way, there are other things people are naturally curious about, like how and why we built such a large family, and if Johnson & Johnson, where I’ve worked for nearly two decades, has been supportive along the way.
“Our Only Thought Was: How Can We Not Take These Kids in?”
Kelly and I were married for a year and a half when she became pregnant for the first time back in the early 90s. Happy as we were, carrying a child was tough on her body. She suffered extreme nausea, was put on bed rest and even required a home I.V. for hydration and nutrition. Still, when our son Max came into the world, we were overjoyed and definitely wanted more kids. Soon enough we found ourselves blessed with six beautiful children.
Unfortunately, the pregnancies never got easier for Kelly, so even though we wanted a seventh, it didn’t seem like a good idea. Then a friend mentioned that he and his wife were adopting a daughter from China, and I wondered if something similar might be an option for us. When I floated the idea by Kelly, her response was: 'Let’s do it!'
I knew Johnson & Johnson had an adoption benefit, which includes a reimbursement and paid time off, so it was a comfort to know that we'd have help covering some of the fees we would be facing.
Over the course of the next decade we adopted more children, all with varying degrees of special needs. At some point, we realized it made sense to arrange multiple adoptions per trip, so returned with two or three children at a time.ShareDid you like reading this story? Click the heart to show your love.
We found an agency that worked with orphanages in Vietnam and began the extensive application process. After waiting almost a year, we were finally able to adopt an 11-month-old girl from Ho Chi Minh City.
I still remember how excited and nervous Kelly and I were on the flight overseas. I also remember that when we arrived and I held Mia in my arms for the first time she wanted nothing to do with me! The girl cried like crazy whenever I picked her up! Luckily, she took to her mom right away and, in time, got used to her dad, too.
When we brought Mia home our kids welcomed her into the family and showered her with love from the start, taking turns holding and playing with her. As she grew, it occurred to us that it might be good for Mia to have a sibling with a similar background. Unfortunately, Vietnam had closed adoptions to America by then, so we began researching other countries.
That’s when Kelly and I discovered a special needs adoption program in China. These kids suffer a range of disabilities—some minor, others more significant—that keep them removed from the traditional adoption process at an early age. Sadly, the older these children get, the less likely it becomes that they’ll find a family, since China does not allow adoptions after the age of 14.
Once we learned about these children and the hardships of their circumstances, our only thought was: ‘How can we not take them in and give them a safe and loving home?’
Since Kelly has a nursing degree and worked for years as a neonatal intensive care nurse, she wasn’t afraid of caring for a child with physical challenges, and I trusted her confidence. Over the course of the next decade, she and I traveled to China, where we adopted more children, ages 5 to 14, all with varying degrees of special needs.
At some point, we realized it made sense to arrange multiple adoptions per trip, so we returned with two or three children at a time, and we used the Johnson & Johnson adoption reimbursement benefit with each one.
So that’s how our family grew to its current size, which now ranges from kids ages 28 to 11: Zach, Jake, Nick, Ali, Brittany, Jessie, Leah, Katelyn, Riley, Max, Ashley, Madison, Charlie, Luke, Caleb, Mia and Peyton.
Receiving Kindness and Care—And Paying it Forward
Johnson & Johnson allocates a significant amount of money for every child we take in but that’s not the only way we feel their support. Each adoption has required us to remain abroad for up to three weeks in order to complete mandatory, in-country paperwork and travel documents, plus arrange passports for the children, before we can return to the U.S.
When one of our daughters had complications from spinal surgery that led to her being hospitalized for three months, my coworkers at Johnson & Johnson rallied—someone always stepped in to cover for me if needed.ShareDid you like reading this story? Click the heart to show your love.
In all these years, there’s never been a problem with my taking time away from work for this crucial part of the process. What’s more, a few years back one of our daughters had complications from spinal surgery that led to her being hospitalized for three months. During that very tough time my coworkers at Johnson & Johnson rallied in support of our family. On occasions when I was needed at the hospital and couldn’t make it into work, someone always stepped in to cover for me.
The company culture and Our Credo, Johnson & Johnson's guiding mission statement, not only fosters a meaningful professional connection among colleagues, but it also leads to a deeply personal sense of care between us all. Even with the company’s financial support, raising a family of this size with so many special needs can put a strain on finances.
Over the years, my fellow employees have always made a point to check in and ask how things are going and if we need anything, and several have offered to help.
That immense level of kindness and generosity is something we try to instill in our children too, by raising them to always consider the needs of others in order to create a more fulfilling and rewarding life.
Navigating Life as a Family of 19
Over the years, so many people have commented that we should have our own TV show, but Kelly and I always say that’s not where our head is. Besides, most days are like those of so many other families. I get up early and race out the door for a busy day with my customers, though of course during the COVID-19 pandemic I often headed for my home office instead.
We are fortunate that since our kids are home schooled, their schedules didn't change dramatically during the pandemic. Every morning starts the same, with the kids getting up and getting started on the day. Our daughter, Madison, uses a wheelchair and requires an hour of prep in the morning due to her health issues, so Riley and Ali help her get ready. After that, they’re all busy with schoolwork. Evenings, we gather as a family for dinner.
One fairly new development: Mia, who’s now 14, has developed a love of cooking, which is lucky for us! She’s been whipping up everything from enchiladas to sushi to chicken noodle soup with the help of Kelly and the other kids who chip in with all the chopping and mixing.
Kelly and I carve out every Tuesday evening as our date night, when we go out to dinner or the movies. But during the pandemic, we've stayed in with the family.
People always ask us: Will you adopt again, or are you done? My answer is that we’re not going to do it again. Then again, I’ve said that before over the years and look what happened. So the truth is, you never know!"