Giving Up Your Baby Can Be the Right Thing to Do—but That Doesn't Make It Easy

updated 04/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

On one side of the adoption equation are couples who want to have children but can't. On the other side are women, mostly young, who don't want to become pregnant but do. Diana Giaccardo, 23, is one of those women. An unwanted pregnancy two years ago forced her to make the most difficult decision of her life. She chose to have her baby and give him up for adoption.

Giaccardo, who currently works as a substitute teacher in New Jersey, comes from a middle-class Catholic family. Her father, an electrician, and her mother, a drugstore cashier, are separated. She received moral and financial support for her decision from her family and from the Golden Cradle, which found a home for her son. In the end, however, she was alone with her guilt, with the disapproving comments of strangers and with the pain of knowing that other people were reaping the rewards of watching her child grow. Giaccardo is sure that she made the right decision. She also very much hopes that when her son turns 18, he'll want to find her.

Giaccardo's reaction is normal for mothers who give up their children for adoption. According to Dr. Carol Nadelson, president of the American Psychiatric Association, "It is much more traumatic than having an abortion. Knowing that your child is somewhere in the world and you may never see him is traumatic. These women never forget it."

Giaccardo spoke to Assistant Editor Bonnie Johnson about her decision and its aftermath.

I was 21 when I got pregnant. I met the baby's father at a July 4th party in 1983. He was someone I had known before, but I hadn't seen him in six years. We had a great time and that night we slept together. We didn't use a contraceptive. The previous May I had been in a car accident. I had to be in a neck and back brace, and I was on a lot of drugs, like painkillers and muscle relaxants. I had a few drinks at the party. Due to the combination of the drugs and the alcohol plus the fact that I was so happy being around people for the first time since the accident, I just didn't think.

I realized later it was a bad time of the month for me, and six weeks later I had a blood test, and it came back positive. My boyfriend was the first person I told. He was just silent. I said I wanted to keep the baby. Abortion wasn't for me. The way I look at it is that we're human and the Man Upstairs knows it, and He gave me a chance to make a decision that I could live with. I knew I'd be getting some insurance money from the car accident, and I thought I was going to be Wonder Woman. I didn't want to get married. I just needed a friend, and I expected my boyfriend to be my closest one because of what I was carrying. He did give me some money, which I used for gas and maternity clothes, but that was it. I didn't see him again after that and it really hurt.

It wasn't until I was about four months pregnant that I told my family. I waited until I got on Medicaid and had an appointment with a doctor. I wanted to be able to go to my folks and say, "Hey, I've got it all under control. Everything's fine and this is what I'm going to do." I told my mom before my father. She looked at me and said, "Diana, I can't help you raise this baby." I was shocked, and for maybe a split second I was angry, but then I realized she was right. She's raised six kids and still has a 13-year-old and a 16-year-old home full-time. She asked if I had ever thought about adoption. Just a few days before, she had seen a 60 Minutes show on Golden Cradle.

The truth was that I had already thought about adoption, but I always kept putting it aside. My older sister, Miriam, and I once had a conversation, and she said that she would never be able to carry a baby for nine months and then give it up. I never forgot that and I kind of had the same feeling, but I was beginning to see how unrealistic it was. I wanted to finish college, I had no job, but I needed that push from my mother to finally make the decision.

At first I thought maybe we should go to a Catholic agency. My mom called one for me but they put their babies in foster care for six months. I couldn't do that to my baby, so two days later I went to see Arty and Nancy at Golden Cradle. We did a lot of talking that day, about my boyfriend's and my medical histories, how adoptive parents are chosen, my feelings. We did a lot of laughing too. I liked them right away and decided that was the place.

I put off telling my dad until the last minute before going back to school. I was scared to disappoint him. I told him I was sorry. He didn't say anything. He just hugged me. At school, my friends just thought I was getting fat. For a while I borrowed a friend's jeans, but finally I had to start wearing maternity clothes. It freaked some people out. When you're pregnant people look at you and then immediately look for a ring. They say, "Oh, you're pregnant!" I'd just pat my stomach and say, "Damn straight. Preggo and proud."

I dropped out of college in the middle of my senior year, when I was in my sixth month, and moved back home. I enrolled in Lamaze classes and went to them by myself. It was hard, and so was going for my checkups. The doctors were okay, but the other pregnant women in the office all had somebody with them. I was always calling Golden Cradle collect to talk to my social worker. I had friends and family, but I couldn't keep talking to them over and over about the baby. I'd call if I was feeling guilty or if I got into an argument about the adoption with my sisters. You see, it wasn't just me going through this; it was my whole family as well. My brother didn't care that I was pregnant. He knew that I was hurting and he was just there for me. But it was horrible for my sisters. They were confused. We were all hurting. I don't think they blamed me for their pain. It's just that I'm their sister, and it upset them to see me going through all of this.

I was at home when I went into labor. I was two weeks late. Everyone was there except my mom. She had gone to Oklahoma to see her parents. She hadn't seen them in 12 years. It would have killed me if anything happened to them and she had turned down the chance to go because of me. It wasn't really a good labor. It lasted 24½ hours. Some women tell you that you forget, but they have their baby. I don't, and I'll remember it as long as I live.

The next day we got permission from the head nurse to bring the baby into my hospital room when my brother came up. The kid did everything for him. He had hiccups, he went to the bathroom, he smiled. I would lie him down on my stomach, and he would pick his head up. He was very strong. I had him for four days. My last night in the hospital I just kept waking up. I knew giving him up would hurt a lot, but I didn't know how intense it would be. But who do you tell, who understands? No matter how much Golden Cradle was there for me, none of them ever gave their baby up; none of them had to tell their sisters they were aunts for only four days and their parents that they were grandparents for only four days. One of the nurses on duty had two adopted children and she told me the same thing I kept reminding myself. She said, "You don't know why right now, but God has a reason for choosing you, a reason that this is happening," and I believe that.

My social worker came over at 10 o'clock so I could sign the consent-to-adopt form, then I got dressed. My dad came to take me home, and I was asked if I wanted to go to the nursery one more time. I said, "What for?" I'd had enough. We were leaving the hospital when I started crying, no sobs, but the tears just wouldn't stop. As we drove away, I swear, if I had had a gun I would have killed myself.

The weeks after I got home I was in limbo physically and emotionally. I didn't feel good. I had stitches and I was sore; I was overweight, but I didn't have anything to show for it. I knew I had made the decision to give the baby up, but I also knew that I had two months before I relinquished my rights in court. I kept thinking, "Where would I put him? There's no room in this house." You know, going through all the arguments again in my head. The only time I came close to backing out was when my dad's brother and his wife came up from New Mexico. He's a professor at the university there. They said that the baby and I could come live with them until I got on my feet, that they would help me finish school and get a job. I couldn't believe it. My money and education problems would be solved. But all I thought about, and this really ticks me off now, was that I'd be taking the baby away from that couple. My dad always taught me to put myself in the other person's shoes, and that's what I did. I was hysterical and I called a good friend from college. She knows me like a book, and she said, "What are you worried about, Di? You're fertile Myrtle. You can do this again." She made a big joke about it and we started laughing. I was on top of the world again because of her.

As the court date got closer, it started getting scarier and scarier. It was the point of no return. I made the decision and I was sure of it. I knew I couldn't give my son everything I'd want to and that that would drive me crazy, but I felt I just had to see him one more time. Finally, the week before we were to go to court, I called my social worker. Her first reaction was, "Do you know what this is going to do to the parents?" I said I didn't care, and they set it up for the next day.

I asked my mom if she wanted to go with me. She had never seen the baby. Just as I was leaving, she said she was coming. I was very nervous and it made me feel a lot more secure having her there. She and I were upstairs in Nancy's office when the parents' social worker arrived with the baby. As soon as I held him, I knew he wasn't mine anymore. He was being loved by different people in a different way and you could see the change. I felt a tremendous separation, but I knew it was right. We stayed for only about 15 minutes. That's all I needed: just to touch him and say goodbye.

When the baby's first birthday came, I stayed home from work and cried all day. I called the agency. They expected that. I talked to the parents' social worker, and she told me that they had a big party for him and that they videotaped the whole thing. God, if only I could get a hold of that tape. Holidays are hard too. When the family is together, that's when you think about it most. I couldn't bring myself to send him any gifts, but my father did. He's also provided for the baby in his will. You see, he's had a hard time too, being a grandfather but not being one. My folks go through the same thing I do. They see a kid in the mall that's the baby's age and they wonder, "Is that my child, is that my grandchild?"

I feel like a yo-yo. Some days I'll be having a good time with friends or be at a party and then I'll feel guilty because if I had the baby, I couldn't be doing that. Other days I have regrets about giving him up, but then I remind myself that I couldn't give him everything that he has now, and more than anything, that I couldn't give him a father. I had one and he's really important to me. I wasn't going to deny my child that.

I feel cheated. I don't know by whom, maybe myself. I'm not ashamed of what I did. I just feel stupid about getting pregnant in the first place and putting everyone through all this. No matter how happy I made those parents, I made so many other people miserable, the people I love the most, and even the best agency in the world can't take those feelings away. It's been over two years since I gave up my son, and it hasn't gotten easier to think about. I have all this love for him, and I don't know where to go with it. The adoptive parents and I have written to each other, and they tell me about how handsome and good-natured he is and I'm missing all that. All I have is three pictures. I called Nancy once to ask for more, but she wasn't there. I'm glad. I have to start letting go.

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