Adopt a Chinese baby, move to China
From the four corners of the earth, hopeful couples travel to China, whether to fulfil a longing to become parents or simply to add another child to their family. The bittersweet adoption odyssey is lengthy and packed with emotion -- but ultimately incredibly rewarding.
Since the central government began allowing foreigners to adopt Chinese babies in 1992, international families have been required to finalize the adoption process on the mainland.
These parents come from all over the world, ride buses to remote provinces, wait to settle details at government offices and, ultimately, are united with their new children.
Between 1992 and 2000, more than 70,000 Chinese infants -- primarily female -- were adopted by U.S. parents. Some of these parents return years later with their Chinese-born children on “root-seeking tours.”
Guo Jiaming (郭家明), chief of Beijing-based adoption agency Love of Bridge, says his company began offering "root-seeking" services in 2009. The company has seen a growth in demand.
"Last year, 300-400 [international adoptive] families come to us for this service," says Guo.
For some families, however, a quick trip and tour are not enough. Some families are actually relocating to China, where their children can form balanced cultural identities and parents themselves can satisfy their own wanderlust.
His company chose 'the guy who had been to China'
For some parents, a longstanding fascination with China leads them to adopt and then move here. For others, adoption cracks open the door.
“It’s hard to say what came first,” says Alex Reid, 46, an Ohio native who with his wife adopted three Chinese children. The family now lives in Shanghai's Hongqiao area.
“It was my work [that brought me to China], but that was strangely connected to the adoptions.”
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Reid got a break when trips to pick up his first two children fell around the same time that his Ohio-based company was searching for someone to help it expand in Asia.
“I stood out as the guy who had been to China,” Reid says. “The idea of picking up our family, getting on a plane and traveling across the world, well, done that.”
Most of other (adoptive parents) couldn’t wait to get out of China. We loved everything about it. -- Ray Heraty, 39, from Ireland
His wife needed no convincing.
As a teenager, Elizabeth Reid saw her “ahead-of-her-time” grandmother tour China. She and Alex married at age 39 with the expectation that they would likely adopt.
A month after receiving an emotion-stirring picture of a Chinese baby in 2006, the Reids traveled with a busload of foreigners to pick-up then 15-month Keziah from an orphanage in Guangxi Province.
Now six, Keziah speaks with a pure Midwestern accent that some might say defies her tiny Asian frame.
She's practically a twin to Justice, adopted 18 months after her from Hunan Province and who is only two months younger. Their little brother Tao Tao (涛涛) was adopted from Beijing in November 2010 at age two, four months after the family moved to Shanghai.
Family fun in Shanghai
Irish couple Ray Heraty and Sinead O’Donovan, both 39, were living in the United States when they began a three-year adoption process.
A China adventure grew appealing as they waited for their daughter, Jin, and was finalized when they picked her up in Nanchang at the end of 2008.
“Most of the other (adoptive parents) couldn’t wait to get out of China,” Heraty recalls of parents who waited with them in Guangzhou for their children’s immigrant visa. “We loved everything about it.”
Less than a year later, Heraty took a leave of absence from his job as a pilot and followed his wife’s work to China.
“They’re both doing ballet, love to swim,” Heraty says, referring to Jin and her brother, Irish-blooded Kellen. Both are almost four.
“Both are bumming around Shanghai in scooters,” says Heraty.
The couple decided to extend their stay in Shanghai as much for themselves as for their daughter, Heraty says.
“We’re still having fun here, and everyday is an adventure,” he says.
Responding to locals
One of the biggest challenges for Heraty and O’Donovan is balancing the attention their kids receive from locals.
Chinese are more enthralled with their fair-skinned, curly-haired son than with their Chinese daughter.
When the Chinese do address Jin, it's often with confusion.
The Reids face the same questions.
The thing I like about Shanghai is it’s such a multicultural community. The fact that our children's ethnicity is different from their parents is not unusual. -- Elizabeth Reid, 46, from the United States
“Are these your own kids?” people often ask Elizabeth Reid.
“Yeah, they are my own kids,” Elizabeth responds, before clarifying that her children were adopted in China.
She sometimes points out that her boys were born with cardiac issues to ward off the common suspicion that they -- being boys as opposed to the more commonly abandoned girls -- were sold or stolen.
Traveling and extending their stays
The Reids have returned to the places from which their children were adopted, met foster parents and recorded three adoption journeys in photo albums. They're careful to use the word “placed” rather than “abandoned.”
By living in China, they're hoping that a connection to the children’s home culture will give them a stronger sense of identity and self-worth.
“The whole issue of identity for adopted kids is really important,” Elizabeth says.
Heraty acknowledges that his daughter will have to deal with the fact that she was left by her birth parents with little more than a note, transferred from foster parents at age one and placed with a foreign family that struggled with her the first year.
“We expected to instantly love her as we loved him,” he says. “Instead it grew over time.”
They use their daughter’s original Chinese name Wan Jinnao (万锦瑙) and hope to visit her hometown before they leave China. The couple plans to keep her enrolled in a Chinese school even after leaving Shanghai.
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Both families are considering extending their stays in Shanghai.
Elizabeth Reid especially likes the fact that her children are considered normal at their international school in Shanghai, which is filled with foreign and mixed-race children.
“The thing I like best about Shanghai is that it’s such a multicultural community,” Elizabeth says. “The fact that their ethnicity is different from their parents is not unusual. Nobody stands out as being different because everybody is different.”