“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5
Cerebral palsy can feel like a scary diagnosis. On paper, CP can feel like too much to handle, but when it’s your child, it’s “beautiful,” as Quinn Mulvany put it.
So, what’s it really like to adopt a child with CP?
“Surprisingly under intimidating,” said Lisa and Quinn Mulvany, adoptive parents to Olivia, who has cerebral palsy. The Mulvanys are also waiting to bring home their 5th child, Ezekiel, from China who also has CP.
We sat down with Lisa and Quinn and their four children to learn more about why cerebral palsy isn’t something to be scared of, but to celebrate.
After deciding to adopt, the Mulvanys looked through the list of special needs, checking boxes for each need that they were open to. “We went through a list and considered each thing, but one thing we did not consider was cerebral palsy,” Quinn said. Another reason that the Mulvanys did not consider CP initially was because their home has stairs. They felt the layout of their home would be another limitation for a child with CP, but they soon realized that these perceived “limitations” were actually opportunities.
The perceived “bigness” of cerebral palsy faded away when they saw their future daughter, Olivia, for the first time. When the Mulvanys saw Olivia’s photo for the first time, they immediately knew God intended Olivia to be their daughter. After inquiring about her, the Mulvanys learned that she had CP. They knew they had to follow God’s call and rise to the occasion to meet her needs just as they would have if one of their biological children had been diagnosed with a special need.
God opened their hearts to CP through the love they immediately felt for Olivia. “When we saw Olivia it really changed our minds,” Quinn said. “Olivia is a pretty special little girl and we felt that one way or another we needed to figure out a way to bring her home. So then cerebral palsy became an option. CP is a condition that if you look it up, you find all the worst case scenarios and it just seemed kind of scary.”
While already in love with their new daughter, the Mulvanys still had concerns about how cerebral palsy would affect their family. With three young children, they worried their lifestyle was too active. “It turned out that wasn’t the case at all,” Quinn said. “Olivia has been very resilient. Anything we do, she figures out a way to do herself.”
While stairs and mobility had been an initial concern for the Mulvanys, they soon realized that what they initially viewed as limitations, God turned into opportunities. After Quinn rebuilt the family play structure in an effort to make it more accessible, Olivia wanted no part in it. Instead, she was more interested in the play structure as an opportunity to try new things and learn to play like her older siblings. Olivia’s siblings have also embraced their new sister and can’t get enough of her!
The Mulvanys were amazed at how quickly, given the opportunity, Olivia adjusted and improved. “She was two-and-a-half at the time of referral. All we knew about her was that she had CP and she could say 2-3 one-syllable words and that she liked songs and toys that made noise. She could not walk and I don’t think we knew if she could crawl at that point,” Lisa said.
Like so many stories, the Mulvany’s story is also a story of fear. Living in a small town, the Mulvanys worried they wouldn’t be able to provide Olivia with the resources she needed to thrive. In spite of their fear, the Mulvanys trusted that God would find a way, even though they couldn’t see how just yet. Just as they prayed, God provided. Upon arriving home, they found an amazing medical team to evaluate Olivia holistically and recommend the care she needed.
Within a month of arriving home, Olivia was growing in her abilities tremendously. Physical, occupational, and speech therapists come out to the Mulvany’s home once a week to work with Olivia through a free service provided by early intervention services. “People educated us to know what to do and how to help her,” Quinn said. Unlike some conditions, cerebral palsy does not get worse with age, it can be very mild (even nearly undetectable) and CP can actually get better.
“Just living outside of a crib I think we saw a big difference,” Lisa said. “She went from drinking from a bottle when we got her, to being able to feed herself and drink out of a cup within a month.”
The Mulvanys believe support was critical in helping their family and Olivia adjust. Like many adopting families, the financial costs of adoption and medical care were a serious concern for the Mulvanys. Initially unsure of where the funds would come from, the Mulvanys leaned on God and followed His call to adopt Olivia without knowing what the future held—and God provided! By letting go of the unknown and letting God show the way, the Mulvanys were amazed to witness God provide the finances throughout and medical care upon returning home.
Today, Olivia is a well-adjusted kindergartener! Olivia gets around on her own using her walker and loves playing soccer with her friends. “She does just about anything that anybody else does,” Lisa said. “She’ll probably always be a little bit behind the other kids in the class but she doesn’t let any of that hold her back. She’s always happy.”
The Mulvanys look forward to having Ezekiel join their family in the coming year. “We think it will be very good for both Ezekiel and Olivia to have a sibling that operates on their own speed. He is also being adopted through AGCI’s China program so they also share a culture. We just feel that he’s a real natural match and I can’t wait to add him to our family,” Quinn said.
Still nervous about the “bigness” of a special need like cerebral palsy? Sometimes, a shift in perspective is all it takes. “I think the biggest thing with special needs is that you’re not adopting a special need, you’re adopting a child,” Quinn said. “CP on paper seems terrifying, on a child it’s beautiful. When God designs it as a plan, it all works out!”
Want to learn more about what a adopting a child with cerebral palsy can look like for your family? Reach out to us today!