Karen White has always known she wanted to be a mom – perhaps not the time nor place, but she knew it would definitely happen. At 47, she made the decision to adopt Keria Jaimie White (now 3) from Ethiopia. The little girl currently attends Dulwich College Beijing (DCB). Karen, who is the deputy head of Early Years at DCB, adopted Keria while living and working in Beijing. When we interviewed Karen, the Whites were still settling back into their normal routine after going to Ethiopia over Chinese New Year. As we talked, Keria greeted guards, ayis, and called out to friends on the playground. Karen smiled and said, “She knows everybody and everybody knows her. She is not shy, that one!”
What brought you here?
I came to Beijing in 2006 for work. I have lived all over the world and the reason I chose Beijing was because I had never been to China. The Olympics were going to be held here. My best friend in Japan at the time was Chinese; that made this easy.
Tell us about Keria’s name.
Keria means “black” in Amharic [the official language of Ethiopia]. She already had [this name]. I have also always liked the name Jaimie, which means “God protects.” I have never been religious, but I even had her confirmed in my church back home as I consider her a blessing. I decided to have both names.
Tell us about the adoption process.
I looked into adopting in China first, but the social worker I used here said that she wouldn’t approve me at the time, even as the laws had changed in China enabling [single-parent] adoption. She said I wouldn’t get a child unless they had special needs.
That didn’t put me off because I was quite happy taking care of a child with special needs. I am an educator, so I wanted to know what level of special needs. She said that the child would not have mild behavioral problems or a quick surgical fix; it would be special needs that had been turned down for adoption in America. Quite frankly, in an overseas posting you have to work for your visa and getting a UK citizenship would have been difficult [for the child]. This was the message I was getting at the time.
I was very upset I could not adopt from China. I called [the social worker]back and asked what the next thing to do was. She asked if I had explored inter-country adoption. I said I didn’t even know what that was. That’s when she told me she knew somebody who had adopted from Ethiopia and I could do that.
Given a checklist of the things I needed to prepare, I had to get a letter from the UK’s Home Office saying I was allowed to adopt, bank statements from the UK and China, a medical [examination], and notarized character statements from friends and family. [The adoption] did not happen until I had a home study done and the social worker gave me the OK.
I had to follow Chinese requirements for inter-country adoption and send a dossier to the Ethiopian Embassy before sending my application form to the relevant authorities in Ethiopia.
Also, my mum and I took an online course on dealing with the prejudices of adoption, from how to answer questions to setting an example for [Keria]. The social worker gave me a list of books and other resources.
I submitted my application to Ethiopia in December 2011 and was given my referral for a baby on February 2012. I went for a visit trip straightaway and signed the paperwork in Ethiopia. Following that trip, I had to wait for a court date. I returned to Ethiopia in March 2012 and brought Keria home at the end of the month.
Why did you choose to remain in Beijing instead of raising Keria back home?
When I adopted, my work was highly supportive and I was granted maternity leave, which took me to the end of the academic year; then I had the summer holiday, so it was perfect. For me, the childcare here was so good that I could still work full-time. There was already so much change in those few months, to create another was one too many. Also, I’ve not lived in England for over 26 years. I thought, “I am happy here, I can earn money here, I still do my job to the best of my ability, I can raise a child.” It just worked here.
Do you get pressure from your family to return home?
There’s no pressure, just the desire to have [Keria] get to know her grandparents and other members of her extended family. My mum comes over every year and stays for about two to three weeks with us.
In China, what kind of reactions do you get from others?
Most [locals]just refuse to believe that she is my daughter. In some areas, they just blurt out, “She’s adopted!” At this age, it’s not disconcerting but when she gets older, it’s going to be. Expats are more accepting.
Has Keria ever asked about your family situation?
She is too young to understand, but I do use the word “adoption” around her very much. When the time comes, I will not be introducing
What kind of a support network do you have in Beijing?
I used to have a support network consisting of families who had Ethiopian adoptees. We used to have play dates and [the kids]got to know each other. The families have moved back and currently I just have my close friends for support. I keep in touch. I was told about online forums, but I tend to keep away from those. However, my friends have assured me they’re a good resource.
What advice do you have for other single and/or adoptive parents?
Be secure. Do your research on the country where you are adopting; this will help when they start to ask questions about where they came from. Take online [classes]on coping strategies. Seek advice when you need it. Have a go-to person in case of emergency within your circle of friends. Take help when it’s offered. Nurture your relationship with your ayi; when living here, she’s your significant other. And finally, make time for you.
This article originally appeared on page 70-71 of the April 2015 Issue of beijingkids. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, contact email@example.com
Photos: By Dave PiXSTUDIO