THE PARENT: Virginia Saint, 34, of West Reading, Pa.

THE CHILD: Corinne, 7 months, adopted July 22, 2019

HER NAME: Virginia wanted a classically feminine name — “I want her to love being a woman” — that could also be shortened to a favorite nickname, Cory.

It was the first go-round with A Baby Step Adoption — the time the birth mother changed her mind — that taught Virginia not to view adoption as a zero-sum game.

It wasn’t a trade, she realized, after being present at the birth of the infant girl she’d hoped to adopt, then grieving when that baby remained with her biological mother. It wasn’t about “your baby” or “my baby.” It was about joining hands as family in the broadest, most generous sense, to give a child what she needed.

“I had the privilege to be with them in the hospital before her mom decided to parent,” Virginia says. “It’s a complicated grieving process because she is with her mother; there’s nothing better for her than that. I still miss her, but I’m thankful they’re together.”

Virginia wanted to parent for as long as she can remember. She’s the third of four children; she grew up with a gaggle of cousins (her father has eight siblings) and, for a few years, she worked as an elementary school health and physical education teacher.

“Being that close with kids made me want to be a parent all the more. I love teaching; I love that age. They’re so curious and excited.”

In her early 20s, she adopted a border terrier puppy — good practice, she says now, in adjusting life to another being’s schedule and in reading behavioral cues from creatures who can’t tell you how they feel.

Virginia figured she’d enter parenthood by the conventional route: marriage, then pregnancy. But when she turned 30, she began to rethink that path. “I had the desire to love a baby, and to love birth parents and to be part of their story. I thought: What am I waiting for? If the reason I’m not starting is fear, that’s the wrong reason.”

She found A Baby Step, where staff answered her many questions — about finances, about logistics — and supported her intention to be a single parent. The next step, after securing clearances and filling out stacks of paperwork, was to prepare her home — a metaphor, it turned out, for readying her life.

“I did a lot of cleaning, a lot of purging, looking around the kitchen or the office thinking: I’m going to share this space. What can I get rid of to make room for someone new?” She cast off rarely worn clothes and turned a 42-square-foot room into a snug nursery, with a white crib and a disco ball that catches window-light and casts stars onto the light gray walls.

Virginia hand-lettered lyrics from “Cecilia and the Satellite” and added those to the nursery: “For all the things my hands have held, the best by far is you.” There were stuffed animals from her own childhood days and blankets that were gifts from friends.

She became a waiting family with A Baby Step in October 2016; the disrupted adoption happened a little more than a year later. “When you go through something like that, it’s a natural response to be tentative about moving forward. It took me several months to be ready again.”

Last December, she got a phone call. Not the agency; it was a birth mom, about 35 weeks pregnant, calling to say that she and her partner, the baby’s biological dad, had chosen Virginia as an adoptive parent. “I was definitely feeling scared; would I be hurt again?” Virginia remembers. It was a nerve-wracking conversation. “I babbled a little bit,” Virginia recalls. “I wanted to reassure her that I was ready for this, and that I loved them all, not just the baby.”

This time, she kept the news fairly private, sharing it only with immediate family, the elders in her church and two people at work. “For me, that was to respect the biological parents. If you’re too vocal, it can sound like you’re claiming a baby that’s not yours.”

On New Year’s Eve, Virginia’s family came over to assemble baby furniture, do laundry, and fold stacks of infant clothes. Two weeks later came the call she’d been waiting for. A westbound flight, an Airbnb, a hospital room in which she watched her daughter emerge, cranky and crying.

“I remember just…this feeling of wanting what was best for her, whether that was me or her biological parent. And wondering: What will her eye color be? Will they stay this dark? How will this little baby change, even by tomorrow?”

Though the birth parents remained committed to their adoption plan, it was painful to be so close to their sadness, Virginia says. For several days, she, her mom, and Corinne stayed in a nearby room at the hospital. “There’s so much grief that happens at the same time that joy is happening,” she says. “That was the hardest part — being so close [to them] and feeling so far.”

Virginia and baby Corinne.
Virginia Saint
Virginia and baby Corinne.

Two weeks later, she took an eastbound red-eye with Corinne (the baby slept; Virginia stayed awake, worrying about her daughter’s ears popping and getting used to the unfamiliar weight of an infant on her lap). Friends and relatives trooped over with meals, diapers, accessories, clothing and toys. “A lot of people, not just me, had been waiting and praying for this little girl,” she says.

When Corinne asks questions about her origins — no, even before she begins to ask — Virginia will tell her everything. “It’s never going to be a secret. It’s her story. It’s my job to give it to her as she’s ready, to talk to her about where she came from, so she’s proud of her family and of who she is.”

When it’s time, Virginia will tell her daughter the other thing she knows: that life entails scary steps and leaps of faith. “Being hurt is not a bad thing,” she says. “I see that my life has greater joy and greater depth because of everything else that happened before this.”