Family adoption

Kim and Cory Frank and their sons Hudson, 18, and Stephen, 9, celebrate more than Thanksgiving in November. They also celebrate National Adoption Month.

When members of the Frank family in Indianola count their blessings on Thanksgiving, adoption is at the top of the list.

It was a long process for Kim and Cory Frank – even heartbreaking at times. But without that journey, they wouldn’t have their sons, Hudson, 18, and Stephen, 9, at their holiday table.

It’s a reality they’re particularly mindful of in November. Even beyond Thanksgiving, it’s National Adoption Month.

“I think sometimes that having to go through such a tough time to get to the end of that journey – whether it’s going through IVF or whatever your journey is – I feel like sometimes you don’t take for granted the ability to have a child,” Kim said.

“You literally went through such a hard mentally and physically draining process, flying clear across the ocean to finally have him in your arms,” she added. “It’s amazing.”

The Franks savor a mostly typical life these days. Hudson, a senior at Southeast Polk, excels at athletics and is weighing options for college, where he hopes to study pre-physical therapy.

“Hudson by nature was a very caring child and is becoming a very caring adult,” Cory said.

Stephen is learning at home this year in light of COVID-19, but would’ve been a fourth-grader at Emerson Elementary. His passion is fencing and crafting educational, yet oh so entertaining, videos for his very own YouTube channel.

“He convinces all his doctors to get on and subscribe,” Kim said, chuckling. “He likes doing anything from stomp rockets to how to make chicken noodle soup.”

When Cory and Kim married in 2009, Hudson already was their cherished little boy. The then 5-year-old had been adopted from Korea by Cory and his ex-wife. Kim quickly “loved him to pieces” and embraced life as a stepmom.

She’d always envisioned having a baby, though, and more than one December, Hudson asked for a little brother for Christmas.

Cory and Kim tried to add to their family, but it proved to be a struggle, even after trying a couple of medications and surgery.

An idea began to take shape in Kim's mind. It had occurred to Cory even sooner, he said, but he wanted to give Kim time and space to process it for herself: Were they meant to adopt again?

Yes. According to Kim, it was Hudson who helped her to realize it.

“In the back of my mind the whole time, I thought, ‘I love Hudson.’ I mean, I love Hudson as if he were my own, right? I had such a love for that kid, and I’m not even his adoptive mom. So, I’m going to love this child regardless,” Kim said, referring to whoever they were meant to adopt next.

Cory and Kim enlisted the help of Holt International, its nearest office in Ankeny. The organization was “amazing from the beginning of the process to the end of the process,” said Kim.

Even still, adoption proved to be a long, at times daunting, road.

For instance, first the couple tried to adopt a 3-year-old girl from Uganda, where Holt had a pilot program at the time. In accordance with that country’s customs, the child’s extended family was consulted one last time before the Franks could finalize the adoption.

“A great-aunt showed up and said she wanted the child, so the adoption fell through with that little girl,” Kim recalled. “I was crushed. Like, completely crushed.”

Cory and Kim were determined not to give up, though. They decided to pursue adoption in China next, encouraged by that nation’s highly “regimented” process, Cory said.

Holt let them know what to expect: Any child available for adoption there would have some kind of disability. Their Holt social worker would call when a possible fit for their family was found.

But, by a chance that now feels more like divine intervention, an email was accidentally sent to Kim and Cory instead. That’s usually the step that comes after a phone call.

“The social worker was calling us as we were opening the file,” Kim recalled. “I still have the voicemail where she was saying, ‘I’m sorry. That shouldn’t have happened.’ … We were like, ‘No, he’s it. He’s it.’”

It was Stephen.

Little was known about his background, but it still spoke to Cory and Kim. He’d been found by police in a park in China, where they were known to heavily patrol.

He’d been carefully left with extra clothes and a bottle, but he weighed only 4 pounds despite being about a month old. His birth defects were extensive, including a cleft palate.

Kim said that today Stephen already knows an age-appropriate version of his adoption story. She’s careful not to paint it as “butterflies and rainbows,” but she and Cory believe his biological mother made her choice out of love.

“He knows, and we’ve had this conversation: ‘You know, your birth mother loved you so much that she knew you needed help, and she would not be able to provide that for you,’” Cory said.

In June of 2014, the couple flew to China to bring Stephen home from an orphanage. They remember getting off a bus with another couple also there to adopt. Stephen’s “nanny” brought him out, a somber toddler who “waddled” adorably in bib overalls and sandals, Kim recalls.

“I can’t explain, because I feel like I was born to be a mom,” she said of the enormity of that moment. “Like, people have the desires of their heart. That was mine. … I’ll tell you, that was a dream come true.”

But reality has been harsh at times, too. In the beginning, Stephen was unable to speak – in any language. The new family’s first night together in the hotel raised new fears for Kim and Cory that Stephen had more health issues than what met the eye.

“He lay in the crib in the hotel that night, and he grabbed his little bear that I got for him and put it on his chest and stared at the ceiling and didn’t make a peep,” Kim remembered.

The little boy was traumatized, the couple soon realized.

“Adoption is a blessing form God. It is amazing and it was wonderful for our family, but people cannot lose sight of the fact that there is trauma,” Kim explained. “There’s the trauma with the loss of their parents. And then there’s trauma with the loss of what they know.”

Even a new life as a beloved son isn’t without challenges. Stephen has needed 10 surgeries so far. Hudson has dealt with bullying at times, “not for the adoption,” Kim noted. “More for ‘You’re not white.’”

Even Kim and Cory have had to weather some trying questions, from strangers, those close to them and even courtesy of thoughtless Facebook memes: Is their spouse Asian? Why didn’t they help kids right here in the U.S.? Are they going to keep trying for “their own” child?

“This is my own child,” Kim said, her usually-bubbly voice taking on a steely tone.

But mostly, the Franks have settled into a life that feels like a “gift,” she added. The four of them revel in vacations together, friendly family competitions playing Mario Smash, even ordinary shopping trips.

In addition to birthday parties, the boys welcome "Gotcha Day" festivities commemorating the official dates of their adoption. Friends and family joyfully gather for another round of cake, balloons and gifts.

The boys, although born in different countries and adopted nearly a decade apart, are “inseparable,” said Kim. “You wouldn’t know that they’re not blood siblings.”

“I love the bond we have together and how easy it is to make memories,” Hudson said.

“I love that we’re all together, and we love to go on trips together,” added Stephen. “I also love my golden retriever. His name is Teddy.”

Both boys have expressed an interest in learning more about the countries of their birth. Stephen even talks about a plan to “save money and help the children in the orphanages."

The couple are ready to support them in whatever paths they choose. After all, said Kim, “the one thing you have to do is support your kids.”

Plus, Cory added, he has no doubt that his sons are going places in life, and with courage. His mind often wanders back to a pivotal moment with Stephen, back at the hotel in China all those years ago.

The toddler had been either unresponsive or tearful, ignoring the toys that Cory and Kim had brought him. But when Cory happened to wad up a piece of paper, playfully lobbing it at Kim, and vice versa, something incredible happened: Their little boy’s eyes lit up for the first time.

“At that point, I knew that no matter how difficult, how arduous a journey it was going to be, that was what God wanted for me and our family, and it would be OK,” Cory said.

“No matter what would be thrown at him in life, that this little boy had so much courage inside of him. It just needed to be brought out."

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Thank you for sharing a positive story where love triumphs.

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