The first thing I saw was a tear—an unforgettable, giant tear in the big brown eye of a ten-year-old girl. Then I saw tears in her mother's eyes. In these tears, just enough joy was mixed with pain to underscore the pain's severity: joy at seeing him, their three-month old brother and son, and intense pain at having kissed him good-bye when he was just two days old; the ache that he, flesh of their flesh, was being brought to them for a brief visit by two strangers who are now his parents; the affliction of knowing that the joy of loving him as a mother and sister usually do will never be theirs.

The joy and the pain in the tears of our son's birth mother and sister led me to a repentance of sorts. My image of mothers who place their children for adoption was not as bad as my image of the fathers involved, but it was not entirely positive either. I could not shake the feeling that there was something deficient in the act. The taint of "abandonment" marred it, an abandonment that was understandable, possibly even inescapable and certainly tragic, but abandonment nonetheless. To give one's child to another is to fail in the most proper duty of a parent: to love no matter what.

Somewhere in my mind, a famous verse from Isaiah colored the way I was reading birth mothers' actions: "Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you" (Isa. 49:15, NRSV). A good mother, I thought, ought to be like Israel's God, absolutely unable to "give up" her child (Hos. 11:8).

But a mother is not God, only a fragile human being living in a tragic world. So why think immediately of abandonment because she decides to place her child for adoption? The tears ...

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