Lake Norman & Mooresville

Process of adopting can be rewarding

Valerie Harper, the actress known as Rhoda on the 1970s TV show "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," once said, "No matter how parenthood comes to you, it's a miracle."

Sarah and Ben Merigold would agree. After adopting their daughter Leila nearly two years ago, they're eager to share just how rewarding the process can be, and they hope to provide support for other adopting couples through a group that meets at Davidson United Methodist Church.

The Merigolds' journey began 3 1/2 years ago, when they signed with an agency that handled adoptions from China. But two years into the process, they realized they might have to alter their plan.

"When we realized that it was going to take even longer (to adopt from China), we began to consider a domestic adoption as well. We knew we wanted to adopt a second child eventually, so we just decided to adjust the order," said Sarah. They turned to a Florida-based adoption agency and asked how often they placed Asian American children, in hopes that they would one day have two children who looked alike.

Fate was on the Merigolds' side, when the agent told them there was a child immediately available, through an open adoption process.

Though the Merigolds had not previously considered an open adoption, the agency thought they would be a good match.

"We had the feeling of needing to open our minds to it," said Sarah. "How can we pray for something and then turn it down?" Their paperwork was complete since they were already undergoing the China adoption process, so they rushed a home-study profile and sent all their information to the birth mother.

Four weeks after a phone interview, the birth mother called to tell the Merigolds they had been chosen.

"It's tough putting into words how that felt. Incredible - so many dreams coming true - but also a reserved excitement," Sarah said. At that point, the birth mother's due date was four months away.

Three months later, Sarah and Ben traveled to Florida to meet the birth mother.

"She blew us away, with her maturity and responsibility," said Sarah. "The beauty of our relationship is that we know it's awkward."

Fast forward to October, when Sarah received a call - the birth mother was having contractions. The hitch? The call came as she was picking up a dress to wear to her brother's wedding - that weekend. "I think there were so many wrong things that made it right," she laughed.

The couple traveled to Florida with time to spare, and they were there when their baby girl was born the next day. They rented a house for the next week - "lots of late nights and falling in love," Sarah said - and it came time for the birth mother to terminate her rights.

"We were just flooded with emotions. It was everything we dreamed of, but also really painful, because we were taking it away from someone else," said Sarah.

They returned to Florida a year later, to celebrate Leila's first birthday with her birth family. "There are so many misconceptions about open adoption, and we think that this is a really good example of how good things can be," said Sarah.

Bearing that in mind, the couple felt that they could provide support for others going through the same process, and helped to form the group at Davidson United Methodist Church. "We hope to be a resource for others, no matter what stage they're at, and to share the excitement of everyone's journey."