For Carrie Peter, being a foster parent was rewarding. However, she was hesitant in adopting a child of her own. One day she got a call about an 8-month-old baby, Katrina.
“I told them, ‘No, I’m really busy and I can’t take on a baby right now.’ My friend said, ‘You call them back and take that baby.’ I called them back and they said she had been placed,” she said. “But, then they called back later and said, ‘It fell through; do you still want her?’ and I said, ‘Uhhh, YES!’ They placed her in my arms and I just fell in love.
“She was sucking her thumb and was sound asleep. … I was just head over heels with her. I fostered her for about four years before I was finally able to adopt her. … I tell her this story all the time.”
As Carrie relayed this story once again, her now 14-year-old daughter, Katrina, smiled warmly and lovingly at her mother seated next to her at their kitchen table.
One of the hardest things for Carrie after she found out she had contracted HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) was giving up having her own children. Physically, she didn’t want to risk passing on the disease to a child or affecting her health even further. However, once she realized with the help of new medicine she would have a longer future, she decided to become a foster parent and then adopt.
Carrie has now devoted her life to her daughter as a full-time mom. Carrie’s unconditional love and respect for Katrina has helped mold her into the young lady she has become. Katrina’s eternal love for her mother motivates Carrie to live life to the fullest.
“Now, she is mine forever. We are pretty attached, which is another reason why I can’t die,” Carrie said, holding Katrina’s hand. “I know God would take care of her if something happened to me. But, she is pretty dependent on me and we are pretty close, so I am planning on not going anywhere.”
Being HIV positive
Carrie grew up in Jefferson City. After graduating in 1985 from Jefferson City High School, she headed off to college to pursue a degree in theater.
About a year into college, she came home at Christmas break and participated in an American Red Cross blood drive at her church. She then received a certified letter from the Red Cross saying she needed to contact them as soon as possible.
“They said you have tested positive for HIV, and we want you to come in to run another test and to bring your boyfriend. We both went in and got tested and we both tested positive,” she said. “Everything changed after that.”
Carrie said in the beginning, she started on AZT (azidothymidine or ziovudine) because of her extremely low T-cell count and to delay the development of AIDS. However, there weren’t many medications available at that time, and her doctors did not expect her to live past a year.
“I was in such a state of shock in the beginning. They say when you get that kind of news, you go through all the stages of grief. … And, I was also told early on to keep it a secret,” she said. “At that time, there were so many people out there who would take the information and potentially harm my family and be fearful to be around me. I wouldn’t do anything to put somebody else at risk and they couldn’t get it from casual contact, but other people didn’t know that. My whole family kept it secret for four years.”
A Christian all her life, Carrie later prayed, asking what God wanted her to do with her remaining time. The answer she received was to tell others what had happened to her.
“I said, ‘No, no way.’ It took a lot of time and a lot of convincing for me to think that maybe I could make a difference,” she said. I just knew so little about HIV, and I didn’t think it could affect someone like me. This is really why I decided I needed to start talking about it, because I didn’t want others to make the same mistake I did.”
A calling fulfilled
In 1992, Carrie started sharing her story, first breaking the news to the congregation at her longtime place of worship, First Baptist Church. The pastor set up a time for her on a Sunday evening. Normally a few people showed for special events at that time, but the church was packed.
“They were so loving and lined up afterwards and hugged us. I never felt like an outcast at my church,” she said. “The church was the scariest because it was people I knew … and I cared about their reaction. When I started talking out in schools, it wasn’t fearful after that. When I got the love and support from my church, then I felt brave enough to tell other people and not have repercussions.”
Carrie spent the next eight years or so speaking to schools and at other engagements throughout the Midwest, including appearing on several nationally recognized talk shows. Despite encountering some negativity, she said she was largely greeted with positivity.
“For the most part, they would come up to me, hug me and say that they were so moved and they wanted to get tested. … They’d say, ‘I really heard what you had to say today, and it meant a lot to me.’ That has meant a lot to me,” she said.
Many of the students asked a lot of questions about contracting the disease, ways to protect themselves and about Carrie’s boyfriend, who unfortunately passed away in 1996 about five months before new, more progressive medications were available.
While Carrie followed her calling to share her life story, she still dealt with the struggles of having HIV, an incurable illness. Over time, she had made peace and was prepared to go to heaven. Then in 1996 when the new medicine became available, Carrie was able to take it through her health insurance coverage. Her future changed once again.
“I never was angry at God. A lot of people have that instinctive reaction, which God can handle. I never really had that; I just became more dependent on our relationship. I was ready; I prepared myself, my family felt prepared. I was ready to go early,” she said. “(After taking the new medicine) I started getting these really good counts and started to become somewhat healthier. I still have health issues, but it looked like I was healthier and going to live longer. I had to retrain my brain and think, ‘I could live until I’m 80,’ and I’m not sure I want to do that… I had prepared myself and I was ready to go to heaven.”
Motivation through motherhood
It was difficult for Carrie to make that mental transition, even with continuous family, friend and spiritual support. Yet, Carrie pushed through, taking on entrepreneurial pursuits, achieving personal goals and living her life.
When Katrina came into her world, she knew there was even more to drive her forward.
“Katrina has been my motivation to be well and stay healthy, very much a motivation,” she said.
To protect her daughter, she did not tell Katrina or her niece, Tayler, about having HIV until about two years ago. Once seeing how a younger Katrina reacted as she had to rush her mother, Myra Craney, to the hospital after a nasty fall, Carrie knew she needed to wait until she could better understand her having HIV.
“Katrina was in the car and cried the entire way to the hospital for her Nana. With that type of reaction, I knew she would not be able to handle knowing about my health situation,” Carrie said.
Then, in 2011, Craney was diagnosed with leukemia and nearly died. Carrie said she was in the ICU for about three weeks and sedated. She was fearful her mother might not wake up.
“We really pulled together as a family. … But she pulled through and is doing great now,” she said.
Craney now lives with Carrie and Katrina, and the three generations truly enjoy spending time together.
“Most people my age say they couldn’t live with their mom, but she is so easy to live with. … If Katrina and I are having some issues, she stays out of it. I think she is just thrilled I got the opportunity to be a mother,” Carrie said.
Often with Nana in tow, the ladies love to travel, having gone to the Caribbean and twice to Disney World, in which Carrie and Katrina were able to see one of their favorites, Princess Tiana from the film “The Princess and the Frog.” The family also loves going for walks with their two dogs, Sugar and Wiggles, and Carrie and Katrina work out together at the YMCA and go to the movies.
Carrie enjoys scrapbooking, crafts and artsy activities, including having performed in multiple Capital City Players and The Little Theatre productions. Katrina’s creative side shines in her participation and competitions through 5-6-7-8 Dancenter in Jefferson City. As Katrina attends lots of practice and weekend competitions, Carrie is there, cheering her on at every event, helping to “stone” costumes and cleaning and helping out at the dance studio.
The two are also very involved at First Baptist Church. Katrina participates in the youth program and goes on mission trips. Carrie sits on the enlistment committee and continues to organize Mission JC, a project she helped start where church congregations throughout Jefferson City participate in community missions. In the past, the participants, made hundreds of cookies for local firefighters and visited nursing homes.
Carrie’s dream is to have a therapy dog she can take to interact with seniors. The family’s passion for animals is evident with their dogs and two cats, and Carrie’s past involvement in assisting with dog obedience classes when she lived in Kansas City.
“To me, that seems like a perfect fit. … I can see myself doing that especially when Katrina is off to college,” she said.
For now, Carrie and Katrina are thankful for each other and the tight bond they have as mother and daughter.
“She is always there for me a lot – a lot, a lot,” Katrina said, as both laughed. “But, she is really kind and super caring. She always forgives me.”
“You forgive me, too. Because we both need forgiving,” Carrie added.
“She just loves me no matter what,” Katrina said, as the two smiled and held hands.
“I always thought I would like the little kids better, and every age that Katrina has been I have loved,” Carrie continued. “I usually don’t say I love being a mom; I love being her mom. … Life didn’t turn out the way I planned it, but I think it turned out even better than how I planned it.”