Prairie Wife of the Week Katie Vigneri (overseas adoption/special needs adoption)
Posted February 14, 2014 by Prairie Wife - 48 comments
I am usually the stereotypical tough Prairie Wife. CollegeBFF and TallGirlJ can probably count on less than one hand, the number of times they have seen me cry. But, during this interview with Katie it took all of my energy not to hysterically break down in the middle of Starbucks. Consider this your warning to grab some tissue…I met Katie at Cowboy J’s school. Her son was in Cowboy J’s class last year, and her spunky personality and beautiful well mannered family instantly drew me to her. Frankly, I’ve been chomping at the bit to interview her for Prairie Wife of the Week. When I found out Valentine’s Day fell on a Friday this year, I knew she was the Prairie Wife for that special week, after all Valentine’s Day is all about love! With 8 children you can bet her house is full to the brim with love (and laughter and maybe a little chaos). Katie has a love so strong that it went all the way across the ocean to China, and brought her back three children, all with special needs. It’s the story of a love between a wife and husband that stays strong in the face of any challenge. And the love between 3 brothers and 5 sisters that makes a family. Katie’s determination to do whatever it took to create the family of her dreams, and the way she approaches each day with grace and grit makes her the perfect Prairie Wife of the Week.
Prairie Wife (PW): First tell us a little bit about you and your family.
Katie (K): I was born and raised in Wyoming and I have always lived in the same town. When it came time for college I couldn’t wait to get out, and I went to nursing school in Minnesota. I planned on being a hospital nurse after graduation, but there were no jobs for me in MN so I came back to Wyoming. The only job I could find was working with Community Health…in the STD clinic. Oh the crazy stories I could share! It wasn’t a terrible job, but it wasn’t where my heart was. When the opportunity came for me to travel to Belize and volunteer as a nurse in a clinic, I took it. I could go on and on about that experience! People would walk for miles and miles to get to us; we were their only access to health care. And they were always SO sick, the sick kids we saw was just heartbreaking. It was such a change for me, but it was so eye opening and allowed me to be selfless and learn to work hard to make a little go a long way.
I met Bob before I left for Belize, and when I came back to Wyoming we got engaged and married. We moved to Tucson, AZ where he completed his pediatric residency. I worked for Community Health once again, this time with a focus on pediatrics. I would make home visits and teach people how to take care of their children at home. Whether it was the basics of childcare or helping them navigate the needs of severely special needs and sick children, I loved it. Taking care of sick children became a theme in my life, and Bob’s too with his work as a pediatrician. We moved back to Casper before our first child Grace was born. It took me a while to get used to the idea of living in Wyoming again. But now I know there is no better place for us to raise our family. I never returned to nursing after Grace was born, instead I spent my time making and raising babies! All together my husband and I have 8 children ranging in ages from 14 years old to 5. We have 3 boys and 5 girls.
PW: What led you and your husband to think about adoption?
K: All three of my siblings and I are adopted. It was always normal to me to think of adoption as how families were made. As I grew up I felt, and knew, that I wanted to adopt children but also be pregnant. Bob had never thought about until he met me, but he was open to it. After we had our first child I said, “Let’s start looking at adopting!” Bob just wasn’t ready yet, and we decided to keep on having birth children. Now that I’ve been a part of the adoption process, and met more and more people that have adopted children, I’ve learned that it’s a fairly common reaction for the men. He had a lot of fears about his ability to be a good parent. He was concerned about loving our adopted child as much as our other children. Providing for another child in our already large family, and coming up with the money and even time for the adoption process, weighed heavy on his mind. Three children later my heart was bursting, and I had a feeling of urgency that it was time. We had spent years discussing and even times fighting about adoption, feeling out our extended family, and tossing back and forth the pros and cons. I was done with it, and I told him it was time to move forward despite all our fears.
PW: I know that a lot of people ask you why you chose to adopt children born overseas rather than children from America, what’s your answer?
K: We looked at foster care and adopting children from in our area, and then adopting domestically from other areas, and it didn’t seem like the right fit. We spent a lot of time praying and discussing our options. When we looked at China, we knew that was the right spot for us. It was in my heart and I had to listen to my instincts. I always say that China is where my kid was waiting for me, and that is why we were led to pick it.
PW: I’m sure there is no short answer to this, but do you have any advice for our readers that may be considering adoption, or are currently going through the process?
K: I started out by calling agencies; there wasn’t the information on the internet like there is now. Go through a state or church agency. Make sure they are Hague Accredited for international adoptions. This basically is a set of rules and guidelines that the agency must follow, it keeps them ethical and legal. Catholic Social Services was another wonderful resource for us. Do your homework, and trust your instincts. Every agency has fees but a legit agency will never ask for a massive amount of money up front. After you pick an agency, you start on the paperwork and do a home study. Then you wait to be matched with a child.
It’s important for people to remember that you can take time to decide if the match is right, and if you don’t think that child is the right pick for your family, you need to be honest with yourself. We looked at several children that we were matched with, and we decided they weren’t the right fit for us. It was hard, but in the end we knew it was the right choice for our family.
You need to be careful about what information you share with people close to you and who you choose to talk to about being in the adoption process. Develop a thick skin, not everyone is going to be as excited as you are. And that’s Ok, just you need to be. Once your child is there and a part of your family you’ll be surprised, some people that may have reacted negatively will begin to understand.
Everyone always wants to know the cost, but it’s difficult to say for sure because the financial spectrum is so broad. For adopting a child through the foster care system it can be free. For a private domestic (from the US) adoption I don’t know enough to even guess. For an overseas adoption of any age, I would say $20,000-$30,000 is a realistic guess. Basically I’m going to say it this way…You need to get over the idea of money. We thought of this as our children’s ransom money, it’s what we needed to pay to get their home country to let them go. Is it terrible that is cost so much? Yes! Does it make a good excuse to not adopt a baby? No! There are so many grants and scholarships available to adoptive parents through a wide variety of organizations. There are brilliant ideas for fundraising out there. Do the foot work; don’t let the cost keep you from your child!
PW: How can we be supportive to friends and family members going through the adoption process?
K: Not everyone is called to adopt and I understand that, but there are lots of ways you can help a friend who is adopting. Something as simple as praying for the family and child can be a help. Offer to watch their kids while they spend hours filling out paperwork. Help them run a fundraiser to help pay for the cost of adoption. Being gracious and welcoming to their new child can make such a difference to everyone. In a lot of ways adoption is just like having a new baby, you have jet legged exhausted parents, and a child that is completely new to everything and everyone around them. Think about helping them in the same ways you would help a friend with a new baby. Cooking meals, taking older children to school, coming over to help with cleaning and laundry, offering to stop by the store and pick up milk…even simply being a sympathetic ear during the process can be so helpful.
PW: All three of your adopted children have special needs, what challenges has that presented for you and your family?
K: The waiting for a non special needs child at the time we first looked at adoption was 2-3 years, now it is 6-8 years. The waiting time for a child with special needs was 18m. So we did special needs. Part of this process is filling out a special needs list. This is a list of special needs ranging from birthmarks to missing limbs, even severe brain damage; you check off what you feel comfortable handling in your family. Within two weeks of returning our paperwork we were matched with Nathaniel (he is now 7). He was 18 months old when he became part of our family, and he had a cleft pallet, which has since been repaired with surgery. You don’t have to pick the child they match you with, but we knew that was our kid.
The Orphanage/Adoption agency he came from had 700-800 children they were responsible for, all with special needs. He had 400 kids living with him in the orphanage. I can’t even begin to tell you the tragedy of what we saw. You think about how terrible the conditions are, but 1 person to 12-20 kids, how can they focus on all the children? The children would line up and open their mouths and they would simply squirt the food in. Children with a cleft pallet usually have trouble eating this way or even taking a bottle, so often they were moved to the dying room. Yes there is such a thing, and you can imagine the horror. There are so many emotional and physical issues for these kids after they are adopted. They have had to fight for their mere existence since the day they were born! It can be hard, but with love and patience, that survival instinct can be turned into such strength!
Our daughters Hope (now 9) and Camille (now 5) are from China as well, but different orphanages. We got them at the same time when Hope was 6 and Camille was 2. Both of them have Spina Bifida. Hope has a pretty severe case and it affected her nerves from the waist down. Hope was abandon at a month old with a note from her birth mother. By the writing, it was clear that she came from a poor peasant family. The note said “My baby my baby we are so sad. But we are poor. We love you very much and we want you to have a chance to have the medical care.” Since we have adopted her she has had to have several surgeries. I am so glad that we were able to make her birth mother’s dream come true. Frankly it is amazing that she can walk, but she has such a determined fighting spirit there is no way she’s going to let something like Spina Bifida slow her down. She has this inner motivation that makes her the fantastic strong girl that she is. I know in part this is due to the love from her birth parents those first few weeks, and I will be forever grateful to them for that.
Camille has a heart defect that repaired itself, as well as Spina Bifida. But, her Spina Bifida defect was repaired two weeks after her birth. Her agency was able to find a doctor that agreed to do the surgery on her. She is fine now. It’s amazing to see what a difference having that early medical intervention can make. It’s a reminder that even if you don’t feel called to adopt, there are so many other ways you can help.
Having children with special needs had been easily manageable for us, with the resources in both Wyoming and neighboring Colorado. It has not been a burden on our family, and has made our family much more selfless, patient, and accepting of others with challenges. We have learned so much from our children with special needs, and they have given us so much more than we can ever give to them!
PW: The face of today’s families has changed drastically over the last 50 years between divorce, remarrying, and adoption. What advice do you have for other parents with blended families?
K: I think that honesty is always the best policy. I always find that my little ones do better than my older ones when we have added a new child to our family, whether through birth or adoption. Leading by example is huge! If they see you freaking out, you can bet they will pick up on it. If you show them confidence and assurance they will follow your example. When you have a blended family things can get pretty emotional at times, you need to validate these emotions. You have to openly address the issue and validate their struggles with the transition. Then give them the tools to deal with their struggles. Kids need to be heard, and they need to know that you and your partner are solid. Consistency with routine, rules, and discipline are a major way to offer children comfort and security. Communication with your partner and other care givers is key to this part. It can be hard when you are emotionally and physically exhausted but it’s so important!
PW: What questions do you wish people would NEVER ask?
K: I am fairly easy going so I can’t really think of one particular one. In my experience it is less about the questions people ask and more about their intention and tone. If they are asking because they are genuinely interested and care, I am totally cool with almost anything. Though there are some questions that I won’t feel comfortable with answering in front of my kids. “Are these all yours, and the Chinese ones too?” “Do you love your adopted kids as much as your real kids?” isn’t my favorite one! I do get defensive when people ask “Why didn’t you adopt from America?” It makes me feel guilty, and it makes my heart heavy when I realize all over again that there is such a need. The feisty part of my always wants to say back “Why don’t you adopt a child from America?”
PW: When other children notice that your family is special, how do you wish their parents would respond to their questions?
K: Just saying there are a lot of different ways that a family can be made would be perfect. Teach your children the beauty of what makes a family… The way our children love each other, the simple act of me holding my daughter’s hand, my husband and I watching our family pray together over a meal. These are the things that make a loving family, not sharing the same birth parents.
PW: As a mother of 8 kids, how do you keep a balance between your needs and the needs of your husband and children?
K: Naptime is my time. My kids know that I don’t care what they do, but it has to be quiet and in their rooms. I take that time to read, sleep, catch up on Facebook, and watch brain sucking TV. With so many kids everything our life is scheduled. So, I make sure that Bob and I schedule a date about once a month. We take time to discuss our family and any family business for part of it, and then just relax and enjoy each other for the rest of the time. I also make sure I schedule time for me to get out; I need that adult interaction for my sanity!
PW: Any last Prairie Wife words of wisdom?
K: If you are in the place of deciding if adoption is for you, be patient but proactive. Get in there with your dukes up, and when it’s time, take the gloves off and fight for your child. Listen to your heart and don’t give up. Whether you’re struggling with your family or the adoption agency, use all your strength to get to where you need to be.
As always our Prairie Wife of the Week will be stopping by to respond to any questions or comments.
Read another interview with Katie (posted Oct 31, 2014) as we celebrate her winning our Prairie Wife of the YEAR 2014 award!
Some helpful links about adoption:
Link for our adoption Hague accredited agency based in Colorado but service the U.S. http://adoption.state.gov/hague_convention/accreditation.php
Chinese and Haitian adoption http://www.ccaifamily.org
Photo Credit goes to H.K. Walker Photography
Categories: Prairie Wife of the Week