The baby was so easy. He nursed eagerly; he snoozed through the night at eight weeks. And even though Kim and Bill, both fervent Eagles fans, were so exhausted they dozed off watching the Super Bowl, the early days of parenthood -- like Kim's healthy, energetic pregnancy -- felt like a surprisingly smooth ride.
They'd waited for this. A chance meeting at a mini-golf course in Glenside, a conversation about cheesesteaks, a movie date to see The Rock (Kim hated the film but liked the company) -- within months, they were strolling a beach in Australia, where Bill had been raised, and he was kneeling on the bone-white sand.
"We live close to my parents, and we knew they were going to be a part of this journey more than Bill's parents," Kim says. "So we wanted to be engaged in Australia. That made it special for his family."
They married in 1997, at Paoli's Church of the Good Samaritan, with a rock-out band and toasts that went on for two hours. They knew they wanted kids -- on their second date, Kim had announced that she thought six would be ideal -- but they also wanted to spend time as a couple, buy a house, and sink into their careers. Bill was an IT specialist, and Kim, a clinical social worker, adored her job at Benchmark, a school for children with learning differences.
"As much as I loved children and wanted children, I wanted to work and get four or five years under my belt. I thought: We can have kids later," Kim says. When they did conceive, sharing the news with their families laced excitement with sorrow; Bill's father was dying of cancer and knew he probably wouldn't live to know his grandson.
Bill flew to Australia to see his father two months before Kim's due date. "He said to give Connor a hug from him. That was the last time I saw him. He died three days before Connor was born."
In the midst of that emotional tumble, Bill recalled his first glimpse of the baby. "I remember when I held him, he just stared back at me."
By six months, Connor's unwavering gaze -- often at the ceiling fan -- began to worry Kim. He wasn't smiling much or responding to his name. He began to babble, developmentally on cue. And then the babbling stopped.
A developmental pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia gave them a diagnosis: autism with verbal apraxia, a motor speech disorder. "It was disappointing, but reassuring, to get a diagnosis," Kim said. Now we could do something about it and get services and move forward."
"Doing something" meant a revolving door of specialists -- in speech, occupational therapy, and social skills -- who met with Connor at home. For years, the couple tabled the idea of having another child.
But then Connor was 6, thriving in an autistic support class at Exton Elementary, loving the outdoors, even speaking a little. A genetics counselor said the chances of having another child with autism were about 15 percent. They opted not to roll the dice.
Instead, they embarked on what became a 3½-year adoption journey, one that bumped through months of amped-up hopes and false starts: a birth mom whose baby turned out to have Down syndrome; a pregnant teenager at church whose grandmother decided, at the last minute, to raise the child; another birth mom who lied about her alcohol and drug use.
Last spring, the caseworker from A Baby Step Adoption called: a 21-year-old woman, five months pregnant, had chosen Kim and Bill. They arranged to meet at the young woman's favorite pizza shop in Lancaster. "I texted and said, 'I have to be honest, I'm a little nervous,' " Kim says. "She said, 'I'm scared to death, too.'"
From that frank start, their relationship deepened. Kim attended all of the birth mother's prenatal appointments, and, in June, raced to a Lancaster County labor room just in time.
At home, they had been preparing Connor, not through words, but through three years of pretend-play with a realistic-looking, infant-size doll Kim had bought. She'd tote the doll from room to room in an infant seat, buckle it into the car for trips to the store, and pretend to feed it with a bottle.
At first, Connor had a hard time waiting. Once, he exiled the doll to another room and shut the door. "Then he got to a point where he'd say, 'Baby? Where's the baby?' I had to get it and bring it while he did his puzzles or watched TV."
When the real baby arrived, Kim and Bill were determined to follow Connor's lead. At first, he wouldn't make eye contact with Jackson. "Put the baby in there," he ordered, pointing to the portable crib.
Then, one day, he started handing his mother Jackson's bottle. And close to Thanksgiving, nearly five months after his brother had come home from the hospital, Connor held out his arms, an expectant smile on his face.
"He wrapped his arms around Jackson and kissed his head," Kim says. It was a moment for tears, for cameras, for pausing to savor the unpredictable arc of their parenting journey.
"It was hard financially and emotionally," Kim says of their long wait for a second child. "Bill was ready to throw in the towel, but I kept saying, 'We are meant to adopt.' In the end, we agreed: We're not done. There's a reason we're going down this path."
Sometimes, Kim will ask Connor, "Who's Jackson?" just to hear him exult: "My brother!"