ELKHORN, Wis. (AP) — Kimberly Prendergast pushed the photo aside.
The face in the photo was deformed in a way she and her husband, Brian, didn't recognize: The planes of the cheeks were unnaturally flat, and the eyes were too far apart.
In that moment, the Prendergasts almost missed the miracle of Molly.
Molly, a child whose quick wit and engaging smile has given them so much joy, was pushed aside because her appearance, The Janesville Gazette (http://bit.ly/1fBQNtc ) reported.
In the end, the Prendergasts adopted Molly. The light and cheer she brought with her inspired the couple to adopt another child with similar facial deformities, Brynn.
Soon they hope to welcome two more children, Jonah and Rees, into their home.
And Molly, their first miracle, is ready to help.
Once upon a time, there was a family of five: Kimberly and Brian Prendergast and their three children, Olivia, Ben and Jacob. When their children were in their teens, the parents felt called upon to adopt an older child from China.
"It came out of a child sponsorship," Kimberly said. "We were sponsoring a 5-year-old child and wondered if there were any older girls that we could adopt."
China's one-child policy means that many parents prefer boys to girls. Boys can carry on a family line and provide for their parents. Girls become part of their spouses' families. Children with any kind of physical or cognitive disabilities are rarely kept in their birth families.
Between 1999 and 2013, 71,632 children were adopted from China, according to state department figures. Most of them were girls, and most of them were younger than 2.
At an adoption agency, the Prendergasts were looking at photos of older children, all girls.
Two of the girls had cleft palates, and then there was Molly, her face full of strange angles and her eyes too far apart.
"I just put her photo aside. I looked at her picture and thought, 'I don't know what that is,' and I just went like that," Kimberly said, making a dismissive gesture with her hand.
Brynn watched as her mom told the story and then asked, "Why did you shoo it away?"
Her mom responded, "Because it's true. That's what happened."
"I didn't know anything about it," Kimberly said. "I didn't know what it was."
Brian added, "We didn't know if we could handle that."
When they got home, an email was waiting for them. The two little girls with cleft palates were already taken.
So Kimberly opened up Molly's file again and saw her photo in color.
The email that accompanied it said, "This is the last child on the waiting list."
Molly had facial meningoencephalocele, a birth defect that can cause a variety of problems. For Molly, it meant her eyes were not in the right spots. Her nose was almost nonexistent. The couple prayed hard and often about it, asking God to show them the way.
In the end, they picked Molly. For Brian, it was the phrase "last child" that spurred his decision. For Kimberly, it was the photo of Molly in color.
Since she arrived at her new home in 2006, Molly has undergone three surgeries at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
Her face was rebuilt, and her nose changed.
When she stops growing, she'll have to have more surgery.
Now, at 13, she is smart and kind and has long, beautiful black hair.
"When she had to have her head shaved for the surgeries, she could hardly wait for it to grow back," Kimberly said. "She doesn't like to have it cut."
About 18 months later, the Prendergasts decided to adopt Brynn, another child with a serious facial meningoencephalocele. She has undergone two surgeries and will have to have more.
Like her older sister, she is smart and kind and radiates joy.
Why another child with a similar — and challenging — facial defect?
"Because it's so fresh in my mind, knowing that I almost didn't pick Molly," Kimberly said. "She's the light of my life."
As for Brynn, it's difficult for the Prendergasts to imagine life without her.
"They are so alike," Kimberly said, on the verge of happy tears.
Brynn, 9, is going into fourth grade this year, while Molly is going into eighth grade.
And the Prendergasts have embarked on another adoption.
Kimberly saw "Billy" online. He is 6 years old, and he has a bilateral tessier facial cleft. Two open clefts extend out from the edges of his lips, making it look like an unnaturally extended smile. He has already had some work done, but the cleft still makes speaking and eating difficult. In his photo, he's giving the camera a heartbreakingly winsome glance.
"The description said his best friend at the orphanage was a boy named 'Alan,'" Kimberley said. "I didn't really think anything of it. It was late at night, and I knew I had to talk to Brian about him."
But then she opened up the description of the other boy.
Alan's photo is difficult to look at. His nose consists of two holes set wide apart, separated by a lump of skin. His eyes are set wide, and his lip has a small cleft in it. His gaze is uncertain, unhappy.
"I didn't think we could pick one without picking the other," Brian said.
Molly chimed in: "If we left one behind, he would miss his friend."
In early August, the Prendergasts received their letter of approval, meaning they'll probably go to China sometime in the next month to pick up the boys, whom they plan to name Jonah and Rees.
The two girls are excited about their brothers. Both have helped prepare a room for them.
The family is now fundraising to help with costs. The Prendergasts have medical insurance, but it doesn't cover diagnostic imaging. Like the girls, the boys must have images made of their skulls before and after their operations, and then again a year later to make sure everything is going well. Travel costs to and from Children's Hospital of Wisconsin also are not covered.
The family has hosted rummage sales and sold things on eBay. Church friends are holding a silent auction. Another fundraiser will be held Sept. 14 at Hernandez Mexican Restaurant in Delavan.
The two girls have donated their savings accounts. Molly offered hers first, and when Brynn heard, she said, "Mommy, you can have mine, too."
And Molly is cutting off her beautiful hair.
Ever since she was little and had to have her head shaved for surgery, Molly has wanted long hair, Kimberly said.
She doesn't even like to get it trimmed.
"Every time we go to get her hair cut, they ask her, 'Are we going to cut it short?' and she just shakes her head," Kimberly said.
But when she discovered she could turn a haircut into a fundraiser for her new brother, Molly was all for it.
Her hair, which extends 16 inches past her shoulders, will be donated to help make wigs for children who have lost their hair to cancer or other illnesses.
Molly's original goal was $1,000 or $100 per inch. Now she thinks she might be willing to cut 12 inches for $1,200.
She'll miss her hair, but it will be worth it if it brings two new lights into her already joyful family home.
Information from: The Janesville Gazette, http://www.gazetteextra.com
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by The Janesville Gazette