The Happiest Kid on the Playground

April 11, 2016 April 2016 Feature - CNS, Central Nervous System, cerebral palsy, Family Stories, undiagnosed SN 0 Comments

In 2009, we were ready for children, but we felt no rush. At that point, we were not concerned that there were no children ready for us. But then there was infertility, followed by an extremely painful disruption of a newborn adoption during the revocation period. In the following six months, two more domestic adoptions would dissolve before they could be finalized. As we regrouped, changed adoption agencies (that’s a different story for a different day), and processed our grief, we kept on living life. We moved to an under-resourced neighborhood, launched careers, renovated a condemned home, and kept going.

True hopelessness that we would ever be parents began to settle in. There was doubt in our hearts; fear, pain, and anger. I remember prayerfully telling God that I was ready, I was following what I thought was his call, and why was he withholding his children who needed parents from me? When we started this journey, I was a newly graduated clinical psychologist, and my husband I were resettling back in our home region. Now we were two gainfully employed adults with a home, a backyard, and a wide and deep support system.

I signed up for email alerts from International adoption was not something we had considered due to our limited financial resources, but that was changing. I reviewed some files; realized we couldn’t afford many programs; continued to wait on a match via our new domestic agency. But one day, there was an alert for a boy his stateside agency had named “Eli.” It made me do a double take, because Eli is what we had named our son from the disrupted adoption. And reading “Eli’s” file, this beautiful little boy whose listed need was “hernia” captured my heart. And he captured my husband’s heart as well. The money looked daunting, the steps unfathomable, but we felt a tug, and we took a leap on July 4, 2012.


Our community was all in, as well. The folks who had showed up with meals when we brought a baby home with only two hours notice; the folks who had stood with us when we surrendered that child back to the social worker a week later; the folks who packed up our baby stuff and stored it away when we couldn’t handle the thought; they were in this journey with us. What followed was a mad dash of paperwork, learning curves, and house shows (musical guests) in our home to help raise funds.

Just before we sent our dossier to China, we received an odd email. Our agency forwarded an email from the CWI that our son, “wasn’t doing anything yet; does the family still want him?” In our hearts, this child was our son, but the new diagnosis of cerebral palsy that they stated seemed like too much. We were first time parents, with no idea what we were doing. We had few mentors or role models in this international journey, and we were not sure what to do. We told a very small circle of trusted others while we prayed and considered if we should reconsider.

Our agency acted as if it were no big deal, and let us view other files. They told us, “We can get you another little boy.” We were devastated at the thought of this child not being our son… until we realized that there was no reason other than our own fears and expectations that would keep him from being our son. Parenthood may look differently, our lives may be different, but no one else’s opinion or reservations mattered. What mattered was that we felt we could love this child, completely and fully. That part was already clear to us, so taking what felt like a second leap was the only reasonable choice.

A few days after stating that we were still “all in”, we received the update that let us know that while our son was not on target developmentally, he was making progress. That progress gave us hope for what might grow in a loving and enriched home environment.

We held our son in our arms on his 2nd birthday, which also happened to be Easter Sunday. Although he was two, he did not walk, talk, crawl. He was a drooly, terrified mess… who had scabies. But honestly, I only see all of that in retrospect. We were too happy and relieved to be holding our child in our arms, and far too in love to see reality in those two weeks in China.

Now I write this four years to the day that we first held him in our arms, and I can say that we were right to be worried and right to love him fully all in the same breath. Our son is an amazing, creative fighter. He had extreme medical anxiety; he banged his head for comfort, has had oral motor difficulties, vision correction surgery, MRI’s, five therapies a week, thousands in dental work, sleepless nights crying with no comfort, and a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder. It was, and can still be, exhausting.


But our son also loves with ferocity; he is social and creative; teachers call him the classroom “ambassador”. He worked for months at his preschool every. single. day. to learn to ride a tricycle. He said “Mama” as his first word, and took his first steps six months later. He is a walking, talking, breathing miracle of joy. When asked to describe him, children don’t notice his brace, his speech peculiarities, or the like. Nope, his friend recently described him as, “the happiest kid on the playground.”

He is perceptive and emotional. When we were discussing if we could ever adopt from China again, the cost, the paperwork, he volunteered to pay for it with his piggy bank of dollars and quarters. He now has a younger sister via domestic adoption, whose cries once triggered such trauma reactions, that he had to be separated from her at times for fear he would hurt her unintentionally. Now the two play “race” around the house, and take care of each other. They love each other ferociously.


As we plan another trip to China to adopt another little boy this year, he made his desires known. “I want to visit my orphanage, and if we don’t I will be very very angry.” So, we’ll go. I don’t know where the money will come from, but for this little soul who has fought loss, sadness, and tears, we will go.

The past four years have included a relentless pursuit to find the right surgeries, the right therapies, the right school, the right activities, the right responses to our son’s needs. But we have the right child, now and for always, no matter what.



Karen Pape, MD
Retained Primitive Reflexes as a Sign of Brain Imbalance

– guest post by Nicole

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