All the babies on the bed in China before returning to the United States. Left to right: Lydia Gay, Jennifer Rochette, Victoria Vicidomina, Ann Maitland, Abby Titmas, Grace Hennage, Laura Boehmer, Nora Mahaffey, Ann Ming Samborski, Sara Bonk, and Zoe Higgins.

A Bond Ten Strong

We have all heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  This story provides proof of that old adage. 

by Lisa Haydel-Vicidomina, Metairie, Louisiana

In 1994, Holt called ten families to let them know amazing news: they each had a daughter waiting for them in China. In January 1995, my family met with nine other families in Hong Kong, and we cried during the introductions, knowing we would all be parents soon.  We were strangers from California, Wisconsin, Louisiana, New Jersey, Virginia, Texas, Montana, Massachusetts and Ohio. We each came from a very different world, but soon we would be tied together for life, bonded like one giant family.

After a week in Hong Kong, we flew to Guangzhou.  Another travel group was already there, getting ready for their departure home with their daughters. They were giving us hints and tips, but due to the jet-lag, anticipation and nervousness, I really don’t think any of us remember what they said. While the two groups were meeting in a small, cramped hotel room, a representative came to inform us that the babies would be coming that evening.  The representative asked the Vicidominas to raise their hands.  My husband and I raised our hands.  We were told there was a problem and that our daughter would not be coming until the next day.

We were disappointed, but joined the other families for dinner in the hotel restaurant — a group of 20 requesting to be seated together. Shortly after all of our orders were taken, our interpreter ran into the restaurant yelling, “The babies are here! The babies are here!”  Everyone except for my husband and I ran out, following the interpreter.  But even though we knew our daughter wouldn’t arrive until tomorrow, we looked at each other and said, “We are all a family! Let’s go!”

The hall was total chaos, with crying babies and overjoyed parents also in tears.  As our interpreters called each family’s name, the nannies would hand the family their baby for the first time. Everywhere, a picture was being taken.

Victoria Vicidomina meeting her dad, Frank, for the first time.
Victoria Vicidomina meeting her dad, Frank, for the first time.

Frank and I stood there crying with everyone, just so happy for them.  When the last family left to return to their room, we stayed behind. Then the elevator door opened and we heard a loudly crying baby.  We turned and looked, and there was our daughter, Victoria! We knew it was her right away. Her little red cheeks were hot with sweat and she just had this huge voice for such a small baby.  We tried to ask questions of her nanny, but it was so difficult to think. Our interpreter took a photo for us. And word spread quickly that we ALL had our children.

Since we had traveled to meet our babies during the Chinese New Year, we stayed in country for a month while waiting for a flight home. Holt arranged field trips during the day, and the entire group of 20 adults and ten children quickly became close.

We even celebrated Victoria’s first birthday while in China! We decided to have one big party for all the girls, and my husband and I ordered a cake with ten Chinese baby figurines on top. We exchanged small gifts, which we still keep today.

Gradually, families caught their flights in China to return home. As each family left, everyone cried and told each other that we needed to stay in touch.  We all felt that our daughters had been given a new life together, and that it was very important for them to remember where they came from and what they had been through. As for the parents, we felt that we had all “given birth” together and needed to continue to be there for each other through the rough times. No matter what, we started our new lives as one big family and would always be a family. It was an unspoken feeling that we would always stay connected.

While Lisa and Frank Vicidomina were in China, their recently adopted daughter, Victoria, celebrated her first birthday. Their fellow adopting families joined in the celebration.
While Lisa and Frank Vicidomina were in China, their recently adopted daughter, Victoria, celebrated her first birthday. Their fellow adopting families joined in the celebration.

Over the past 16 years, nine of the 10 families that traveled together have kept in contact. Our lives, of course, have changed a great deal.  Several families have added a sibling, families have moved, and health issues have shown up.  However, these families and “sisters” remain close through reunions, snail mail and social media.  Their sisterhood bond is strong and resilient.

Reunions have allowed the girls to see other parts of the country.  Each family takes a turn at hosting a week of activities. When the girls were 3 years old, the first reunion was held in California, with a trip to Disneyland.  To celebrate the 5-year anniversary of the girls’ adoptions, we reunited in New Orleans and rode in streetcars.  Then our family traveled to Wisconsin, where the girls visited a dairy farm to pick fresh chicken eggs and take a hayride.  Then came the Columbus Space Museum in Ohio, horseback riding in Montana, and most recently, whitewater rafting in Tennessee.

Every time we meet, we share hugs and kisses.  At the end of the reunions, we share hugs, kisses and tears.  It hurts saying goodbye to family.  All of the adults love the camaraderie of just being able to talk about life with our children.  We are able to vent about frustrations, laugh about the good times, cry at the times when our children are in pain, and give advice to each other about how to handle certain situations. Parents reminisce about our trip to China, the month-long stay, and the things that have changed since the last reunion. We cry, hug, laugh and lend a shoulder to whoever needs it.

In the beginning, we would send letters and tons of pictures to each other.  But as the girls grew older, family life became more chaotic with school, sports teams, cheerleading, gymnastics, dance, band — all the extracurricular activities children participate in! And the letters started to dwindle. So now we maintain contact through email, texting, phone calls, Facebook and Skype.

When Hurricane Katrina hit our family, we had to evacuate our home for six long weeks. During that time, our group of families created a web of contact, and remained constantly available to help. They took the time to comfort us, and their daughters gave Victoria an outlet to talk about what happened.

It has truly been a blessing to see these girls grow up from tiny little babies into beautiful young ladies.   Their conversations have grown as well.  There is no more hide-and-seek or dolls.  Now, they discuss boys, makeup, nails, clothes and college entrance test scores.

Ten girls, each adopted from China at the same time, enjoy a reunion in Wisconsin. Back row (left to right): Zoe Higgins, Laura Boehmer, Victoria Vicidomina, Nora Mahaffey, Jennifer Rochette, Sara Bonk Front row (left to right): Grace Rochette, Grace Hennage
Ten girls, each adopted from China at the same time, enjoy a reunion in Wisconsin. Back row (left to right): Zoe Higgins, Laura Boehmer, Victoria Vicidomina, Nora Mahaffey, Jennifer Rochette, Sara Bonk Front row (left to right): Grace Rochette, Grace Hennage

Abby Titmas moved several times during these years and now resides in Maryland.  She is an excellent swimmer.  Sara Bonk from Montana is an accomplished golfer.  Laura Boehmer lives in Wisconsin and competes in horseback.  Zoe Higgins, also from Wisconsin, loves sports and is planning to go into sports medicine. Nora Mahaffey was in her school band.  Jennifer Rochette is an accomplished artist.  Grace Hennage loves animals.  Ann Samborski is an accomplished swimmer. Our own daughter was a cheerleader for 10 years. All of these girls have excelled in high school and are going in different directions for college.  Even though our group has lost touch with one of the 10 families, we all think about them often and wonder how they are doing

The bond that this group has is extraordinary.  When the families started their journey, many of them compared adoption to pregnancy. The plane ride was like the nine months a woman is pregnant, the waiting for your child to be brought to you is the labor, and then the emotional happiness you experience when you hold your child for the first time is comparable to a doctor placing a newborn in your arms for the first time.

For me, this large extended family is truly my family. We were all there for each of our daughter’s “births,” and all of the adults are now like aunts and uncles to each of our children. We confide in each other, console each other and truly love each other – just like a family should. And through it all, we have learned that it truly does take a village to raise a child.

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