“Push Julia, push!” echoed in her mind as she zoned in on the excruciating pain through her belly and in her back. She gritted her teeth and took a deep breath, screaming on the exhale, loudly enough, she was sure, that people in the waiting room could hear her. She didn’t care. She was only aware of the pain, and her body, and the need to push. Everything else was a haze. When she finally gave the final push, and the baby was born, she laid back on her pillow, exhausted. 

A nurse was checking the baby to make sure she was breathing alright, and when she was satisfied, she looked up over her shoulder, “Marybeth, are you and Greg going to cut the cord?” When she turned her head, finally more aware of the room, Julia heard before she saw the couple. They were holding each other and sobbing quietly. They had slipped in during the last few minutes at a nurse’s prompting. This was all part of the plan.  Then why, Julia wondered, did she also feel like sobbing? She imagined it was for a very different reason. She had never, in a million years, imagined she’d be the woman placing a child for adoption. Now that it was happening, she wasn’t sure that her convictions were enough to keep her feeling okay. 

Her mother at her side, stroking her hair and holding her hand, “It’s okay, love. If you need to cry, cry. You’ve just done a hard, brave thing. I cried for almost a day when I had you. I was in so much pain I couldn’t even enjoy holding you very much. I passed you off to your father. I have never seen that man look so terrified as when I placed that tiny bundle into his arms. You would have thought he had never seen a baby before. I thought he would faint, and I couldn’t figure out what I would do if he did. All that to say, cry if you want. You probably need to after a day of labor. You are so strong. I am so proud of you, my girl.” 

And with that, Julia began to sob, first into her hands, then into her mother’s chest as she sat on the bed and pulled her in close. Marybeth and Greg were looking at her, their eyes exposing a  small amount of fear and trepidation. She could feel their pain from here, but try as she might, she didn’t really care at the moment. All she could muster was annoyance. Like they were intruding on something personal and meaningful. She knew that wasn’t fair, somewhere in her mind, but it was difficult to feel it at the moment.  

“Are you going to cut the cord, or should I have my mom do it?” Julia asked, wiping her nose and face with the edge of her hospital gown. 

“Oh! No, we’d love to. We just didn’t know if…you know.” 

“Yes, go ahead. Cut her cord. I would like to see her, though.” The couple’s faces first went up into smiles, then down into frowns in a breath. They tried hard not to let their unease show. Julia could tell they were holding their breaths. As they knelt, hands together on the medical scissors, they cut the baby’s cord. 

The tiny, beautiful baby girl began to cry in earnest as nurses hurried to weigh, measure, and wrap her up. Then she was carried and placed gently into Julia’s arms. “Mama, do you want to hold her?” She thought she heard a small noise coming from Marybeth and Greg’s side of the room, but she didn’t look to see their faces. She knew what she would see there: the fear that once again their hopes were going to be dashed against a hospital floor. 

She had heard as much of their story as they had of hers. They were friends, practically family. This little girl she just birthed was about to be theirs. She just wanted this one tiny moment with her mom. Then she’d pass her off to her parents. Her mother gently took the baby, hugged her to her chest once, and smelled the top of her fuzz-covered head. And then, with a nod from Julia, placed her into Marybeth and Greg’s open, loving arms. “Placing a child for adoption,” she thought, “may be the single most unselfish thing I have done my whole life. I wish that it wouldn’t hurt this much.” 

They’d see each other fairly often, and Julia knew, as much as this hurt, they would all love that baby with as much love as she could possibly stand. Marybeth surrendered the baby to Greg to ogle and walked haltingly over to Julia, suddenly shy and unsure. “Julia. You don’t have to do this, you know. We would understand,” her voice broke mid-sentence, but she wouldn’t have had to finish for Julia to understand. 

“No. She is your daughter, as much as she is mine. The paperwork will say as much. Have you decided on a name? I know we discussed Hannah.”

 “Yes, if you still like that name. Hannah Joy.” 

“That sounds perfect. Joy after my mom, right?” 

Her mother looked at both of them, tears in her eyes. “Oh, girls. Thank you. I—I need to leave for a few minutes to freshen up. Don’t leave without saying goodbye, okay?” 

“Wouldn’t think of it.” Marybeth hiccupped as she tried to suppress a sob. She could hear her mother suck in a breath when she turned her back to them, and she knew she wasn’t going to freshen up. She was going to cry in private. That knowledge hit Julia like a punch in the gut. She hadn’t until this moment thought how heartbreaking it would be for her parents to say goodbye to their first grandchild. 

 “Julia. Thank you. Thank you so much.” 

“Remember that when she has an explosive diaper on you at Walmart, okay? Remember this moment.” 

With wide eyes, unsure if Julia was joking or not, Marybeth nodded. “Of course. We will always be thankful.” 

“I’m kidding, Mar. Truly. We’ll talk more later. When I’m rested and clean.” She feigned a yawn and a stretch. “Go introduce Hannah to your folks.” 

Sobbing again, Marybeth, and Greg, cradling sweet Hannah to his chest, left the room. When the door was closed, Julia felt the weight of her grief and began to cry again. Tears dribbled down her face. She had no words to describe the ache she felt in her chest, to describe the emptiness of her arms. What a cruel trick nature and God played by making a mother chemically need to have her baby close. What she would give to make this feeling of loss go away. Her baby hadn’t died. She was just going to live somewhere else. 

As if out of nowhere,  wracking, choking, loud sobs shook her body. She rubbed her belly, felt the place Hannah had been just hours ago. No more sweet little kicks or hiccups to feel. No more indigestion from eating the wrong thing. No more baby until the next visit.  She figured she should be relieved. She could go back to her life. Back to college, back to her job. Her life was going to be easier now, while Marybeth and Greg’s would certainly be harder. Yet, she couldn’t help feeling that a chunk of her heart, an irreplaceable piece, was missing. 

Throughout American and around the world, similar scenes are playing out as women choose adoption for their babies. Placing a child for adoption, while a huge decision, is a decision that is often made because the living situation an adoptive couple can provide is much greater than the biological parents can give. Whatever the reasons, placing a child for adoption should never be coerced or done out of guilt. Studies have shown that the best for a baby is to grow up with their biological family if possible. Studies also show that a less stressed parent is beneficial to a child, and a single mom trying to keep it together for her kid will be under a lot of stress. Neither choice is easy. Both require preparation, thought, prayer, and good counsel from people who care about the mother and child. 

In our imaginary scenario, Julia is a young woman in college who has chosen adoption because she doesn’t feel ready to be a mom, and her parents cannot raise her baby. She browsed adoption profiles and finally landed on Marybeth and Greg. 

They seemed like a perfect match from the start. They enjoy many of the same things she did, though they are about ten years older. They have been trying for a child for years and cannot make it work. They have been chosen three times before only to have the birth mother decide to parent at the last minute. Knowing that made them both hesitant even to consider adopting a child from Julia, who, by all accounts, appeared as if she could be capable of raising a baby. After a great deal of consideration, they decided they would walk alongside Julia regardless of her choice because they came to love her. 

Of course, in the real world, placing a child for adoption takes time. It takes paperwork and caseworkers, lawyers, adoption agencies, and many other people who keep the works moving along. Deciding to place a child for adoption can feel overwhelming, frightening, and sorrowful by turns. Birth mothers have shared that they feel pain on their child’s birthday. They grieve the loss. It is not a casual decision.  

If you are considering placing a child for adoption, there are several routes you can take. However, a good start is to visit Adoption.com and click “expectant mothers.” There you will find resources to help you make informed decisions for you and your baby. There are counselors, therapists, caseworkers, and others standing by to make sure you are okay. They will get you the help you need regardless of your choice to parent or place your child for adoption.  

If you are a hopeful adoptive couple, understand that if a woman is placing a child for adoption, she is offering a piece of herself to you. She may be desperate, but that doesn’t make you any better or worse than her. Treat her with the respect she deserves. She is making a hard choice and deserves time to ruminate over that choice. She has carried a baby with her for nine months; you cannot simply expect her to forget that after the adoption is final. 

I have heard adoptive parents make sweeping statements about birth mothers, and I get angry. I only wish they would take the time to listen to the stories of the women who chose to give a family their biggest dream come true instead of choosing to end a life. As an adoptive mom, I cannot imagine what my life would be like without my kids.  As many unkind things I might think about my children’s birth families, ultimately they made the people I adore, so I have to be thankful for their very existence. 

If you need help making the decision to place a child for adoption, find a person you can talk to that can steer you in the right direction. If you feel you cannot talk to anyone in your circle, consider talking to a counselor online at Adoption.com. You won’t be pressured to decide on adoption, but you will be given resources to help make your decision easier. If you choose to parent, they will help you find resources to make that a reality. If you choose adoption, you will get assistance in making that a reality. You don’t have to do this difficult thing alone.

Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.

Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.