April 04, 2012 09:00 AM

Courtesy Good Housekeeping

Mariska Hargitay is used to dealing with heart-stopping situations on Law & Order: SVU, but nothing on-screen compares to her harrowing experience adopting two children.

In the span of six months last year, Hargitay and her husband, actor Peter Hermann, adopted both daughter Amaya Josephine, now 13 months old, and son Andrew Nicolas, 9 months.

Hargitay and Hermann have a biological son, August, 5½, whom Hargitay says is feeling “pretty good and pretty powerful” about his younger siblings.

“August thinks this was all his idea,” Hargitay tells Good Housekeeping in their May issue. “He said, ‘I want a baby sister,’ and Amaya came. Then he said, ‘I want a baby brother,’ and Andrew came.”

But in actuality, the process was not that easy. In fact, Hargitay says the building of their family was, at times, heartbreaking.

“I’m not gonna lie,” Hargitay admits. “There were wrenching moments. I say to everybody, ‘Adoption is not for the faint of heart.'”

Because Hargitay was 42 when she gave birth to August, she and Hermann were concerned about being able to have additional children, she admits.

“August wanted siblings, and Peter and I both envisioned this big family because we both come from that,” she says.

“I really did think that down the line, Peter and I would adopt a child. That was always part of the plan.”

She and Hermann began the process two years ago, meeting with an adoption lawyer and going through home inspections to get the ball rolling.

After a couple of failed attempts to connect with a birth mother, Hargitay says, they found someone not far from New York City. After Hargitay and Hermann met the woman, finalized the adoption plan, were present in the delivery room, named the newborn and parented her for two days, the birth mother changed her mind.

“It was nothing short of devastating,” Hargitay explains. “But … it was probably the greatest, happiest ending. I mean, it was so painful for us, but it was deeply joyful and deeply right for her.”

Hargitay says she still keeps in touch with the woman and, though she has not seen the baby again, feels that she is “forever connected to her.”

Then, just over a year ago, she and Hermann were connected with the woman who gave birth to Amaya. Though Hargitay says they were initially told the baby would be a boy, they were thrilled to find out they would be having a little girl.

Hargitay even helped to deliver Amaya in the hospital.

“I basically pulled Amaya out. Peter and I held her, and then the birth mother and I hugged for a long time,” she recalls. “That was profound. That was one of the most meaningful moments I’ve ever had in my life.”

Though they had wanted to wait about 18 months before adopting a second child, as fate would have it, they received word just half a year later that there was a premature baby boy awaiting adoption.

“It was a no-brainer,” Hargitay says. “It was like … a miracle. And I don’t use that word lightly. I’ve never made a bigger decision so quickly.”

They decided to name the infant Andrew, after a dear friend of theirs who had recently passed away.

Andrew still struggles with health issues, and the family has a private nurse living with them to tend to him, but Hargitay says she wouldn’t change a thing about how her family was formed.

“Adoption was a bumpy ride — very bumpy,” she notes. “But, God, was it worth the fight.”

— Liz Raftery

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