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Beth and Jeff Leighton hold their adopted son AJ Matthew, who is a miracle baby for them because of the way he joined the family. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)

Detroit Lakes family adopts "miracle" baby

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One person's greatest sacrifice can be another's greatest gift.

Adoption.

After several years of trying to start a family on their own, Jeff and Beth Leighton, Detroit Lakes, decided it was time to check in with a doctor.

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They had tests done and were told it was a case of "unexplained infertility." They talked about taking fertility drugs and procedures, but, "it didn't feel right," Beth said. "This isn't what God planned."

So, they discussed adoption. It seemed to be a natural fit for the couple. Beth's cousin is adopted, and Jeff's niece gave her baby up for adoption, so it was nothing new for the family.

Two years ago, they moved forward and contacted Lutheran Social Services.

They filled out pages and pages of information, were the subject of a home study, and put a profile together to be placed in a book for expectant mothers to choose from. The Leightons were ready.

There are five of those profile books placed throughout Minnesota -- Duluth, Rochester, Fargo-Moorhead and two in the Twin Cites. An expectant mother quickly chose the Leightons. They had a "match meeting" and attended doctor appointments with the pregnant mother. She was due Sept. 1, and they knew she was having a boy.

"Unfortunately, she had a change of heart," Beth said.

The Leightons said they saw a red flag when the woman moved to Wisconsin, but she assured them and the social worker that she still wanted to give the baby up for adoption.

But that changed after she gave birth, and the Leightons were already on the way to Wisconsin to pick up the newborn.

They got the call and were heartbroken.

"It was tough," Beth said of the birth mother changing her mind. "They prepare you that it's definitely a risk (but) it was a huge loss."

Not only did they lose the baby, they had rearranged their lives in anticipation of having him in September. Beth, a teacher and volleyball coach in Detroit Lakes, had taken a year leave of absence. They had told all of their family and friends, as well.

"We felt bad taking people on that rollercoaster with us," Beth said.

But, they decided to move on and try again. They had their profile inserted back in the book, and in less than 30 days, they were chosen for a second time. They got the call Monday, Nov. 30. They picked up their son that Thursday in Duluth.

Luckily, if it can be said, they had gone through the previous experience and were completely prepared for another baby. The nursery was ready, they had plenty of clothing, diapers and formula.

"Usually you have weeks, months to prepare," Jeff said. They had hours.

When they got to the Duluth hospital, the nurses couldn't stop raving about how good a baby their new son was. They had even named him because they couldn't bare to simply call him "baby."

"I held him and in seconds -- it was the neatest thing in the world," Jeff said of the instant bonding with his son.

As short a notice as it was for the Leightons, it was for the birth mother as well. They said the social worker told them the woman decided in her eighth month that adoption would be right for her, but she hadn't picked a family until she had delivered the baby, which she chose not to see at all.

The social worker told them that she walked into the room with the birth mother and her friends and they were laughing. She asked why and they replied, "We wish we could be adopted by them (the Leightons), too."

"I hope one day we can say thank you," Beth said. "Her biggest sacrifice is our greatest gift. He's better than any toy for Christmas."

With everything they've been through, the Leightons have found a few silver linings, too.

When the first attempt at adoption fell through, Jeff said it was good that they never saw the baby or brought him home. A mother has a 30-day period to change her mind and take the child back.

Also with the first mother, they were able to experience an ultrasound, even though he didn't end up being their baby.

On the car ride home with their baby, the Leightons, who said they had never driven so carefully in their lives, still hadn't decided on a name for their son. It was between Jack, Thomas and AJ. By about Brainerd, they had decided he was AJ, but no middle name yet.

AJ, while it's not initials, represents the couple's grandfathers, Al and John Paul.

"Al John doesn't flow real well," Beth said with a laugh.

She sat in the backseat, reading through a baby book of names. They threw out the name Matthew and agreed it sounded good with AJ. Beth looked up the meaning in the book -- "Gift from God." They knew that was the perfect fit.

They got home, set AJ and his car seat on the floor and stared.

"What do we do now?" Jeff said they both asked.

The Leightons said they are amenable to an open adoption and relationship with the birth mother should she ever want to be involved. At this point though, they have no idea. All they know is that she requested to have a copy of their profile from the book.

AJ is the first grandchild on Beth's side and the 25th on Jeff's.

"He holds a special spot for everybody," Jeff said.

"Adoption is very positive," he said. Not only is it good for families to know that there are other adoptive families out there, but for a birth mom "to know if they're not prepared for motherhood, it's a great opportunity."

Although it may have taken the Leightons a few tries to get their son, they're settling into parenthood just like any new parents.

"Ultimately, I think the right one got to us," Jeff said with a smile, looking down at his son.

"This is just the start of our family," Beth added.

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