Like many couples, when Bethany and Daniel Meola said “I do,” both hoped that together they would one day add to their family.
“We wanted to have children,” Bethany said. “But we figured out, as time went on, that wasn’t happening.”
It became clear to the Bowie couple after several years of trying to conceive that their plan for a family and God’s plan were quite different.
Like many Catholics, both Bethany and Daniel had grown up in families with adopted members, so when the couple was unable to conceive, they turned to adoption as a way to have a family of their own.
Adoption in the United States, and in Maryland, is not a quick, easy or affordable process. In fact, the barriers and hurdles to adoption can put it out of reach for many Maryland families.
According to Show Hope — a faith-based movement to remove the barriers to adoption through education and grants — out of every 500 families that consider adoption, only 1 will actually adopt a child, and the high cost of adoption is a primary obstacle. Show Hope advises that adoptions can cost between $20,000 and $40,000.
For the Meolas, it took more than 2 years and cost roughly $50,000 to welcome their daughter Zelie-Louise Meola into their lives, however the couple was able to recoup some of that cost through the adoption tax credit, a federal program aimed at easing the cost of adoption.
“There was definitely some sticker shock when we realized what it would cost,” Bethany said. However, she said the cost of adoption doesn’t just cover the administration provided by the state and the adoption agency, but also helps provide care for the birth parents, as well as education and outreach about adoption.
Bethany described the process of adopting like an emotional roller coaster, with ups and down and twists and turns. From being considered as the family for several children only to ultimately not be picked, to the exhaustive and detailed process to just apply and be approved for adoption, to having to travel across the country to finally meet their daughter, Bethany said hers and her husband’s eyes opened to the challenges that surround adoption. The process also deepened their relationship, bringing them closer together as a couple through the shared experience.
“It takes vulnerability to adopt,” Bethany said. “You have to be willing to let your life be examined in detail, in a way that you would not normally allow.”
To be approved to adopt, a family must complete a home study. This study can take months to complete — for the Meolas, it took 6 months — and required submitting financial documents, health records, employment records, driving records and more, as well as writing a detailed autobiography of their relationship, from how they met to their decision to adopt.
Once approved to adopt, the Meolas had to wait to be matched with a child and then wait to be ultimately chosen as the adoptive parents.
“It’s the expectant parents who do the choosing,” she said. “For us, as Christians, we believe in God’s providence, that if he had a child in mind for our family, that he would bring us together.”
And God did. After a long wait for their child, on April 6, 2017 they welcomed Zelie-Louise Meola into their lives and hearts.
The Meola Family.
The Meolas chose to adopt a U.S.-born infant, or what is commonly referred to as a “domestic” adoption, Bethany said. However, those looking to adopt can also choose to adopt a child from a foreign country — known as an international adoption — or to adopt a child in the foster care system.
According to the State of Maryland there are 16 private agencies that are licensed to facilitate adoptions, including The Barker Adoption Foundation in Bethesda, which worked with the Meolas. Also among those agencies is Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which focuses on helping to match families adopting internationally.
For expectant women considering adoption as an option, Bethany said that in Maryland pre-adoptive parents legally are not allowed to provide much material support to prospective birthparents — such as money for rent or other living expenses. She said that in her research, laws on this point vary widely from state to state, making a situation where expectant parents in one state may look to place their child for adoption in another state where they could receive more support pre-birth.
Going through the process to adopt their daughter developed in the Meolas a deep empathy and admiration for the women who choose life and adoption for their children.
“We certainly believe that birth parents are heroes who make that choice of life for their child, and who then make that very, very difficult choice of placing their child into the care of another family,” Bethany said. “In our day and age, it’s so easy to go and get an abortion but to experience a whole pregnancy and birth to then choose a new family for your child, we recognize the bravery and love that takes.”
“This is a choice of love for your child. This is not abandoning your child. This is not giving up your child. This is choosing a family for them out of love,” she continued. “It is so selfless and I can’t say enough about birth parents. They are unsung heroes of the pro-life movement.”
Despite the long wait and cost to adopt their daughter Zelie-Louise, Bethany said she and her husband are in the process of adopting another child and growing their family. And the entire process must be repeated.
“Emotionally, I am hoping this is a little easier journey because we are parents now and have our beautiful daughter, no matter how long it takes,” she said.
From their experience adopting Zelie-Louise, to now starting the process a second time, Bethany hopes that our state can be more supportive of adoption. Exactly how she doesn’t know, but suggested starting with efforts to remove the barriers to adoption for both families and birth mothers, and with churches encouraging families to choose adoption.
“If the goal is to support women in crisis pregnancy and make sure adoption is a living option for them, we have to ask what that looks like given our cultural and legal landscape,” she said.