Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am 34 and a professional. Last summer, I placed my firstborn child in an adoptive home, something I thought long and hard about before doing.

In the last two jobs I've had, my female co-workers judged me harshly for this choice. Every day I had to endure comments about my decision, to the point I dreaded going to work. I quit one of these jobs, in part due to the stress it caused me. Now I'm in a new job, and I vowed I'd lie about my decision.

Unfortunately, lying has gotten me nowhere. Now my co-workers think I have custody of my child and wonder why I don't bring pictures or talk about her. I don't talk about her or bring pictures because I fear it will open up more questions, and I'll get caught in another lie.

I haven't forgiven myself for abandoning my daughter. I couldn't meet her financial, emotional, physical or mental needs -- and yet I feel a tremendous amount of guilt.

I am fortunate that this was an open adoption. I get e-mails, letters, pictures, cards and gifts from the adoptive parents on a regular basis, and we have a great relationship. As much as I want to be able to be honest with my friends at work, my fear has kept me from saying anything and has caused me even more stress.

Please advise me, Abby. I really need some feedback. -- TORMENTED IN TEXAS

DEAR TORMENTED: Please stop punishing yourself. Since you have already divulged that you have a daughter, a short explanation -- that you placed her where she could receive what you were unable to give her -- is in order. If the questions and comments do not stop, you may have to change jobs again.

If that's the case, don't sabotage your work environment. When you mention to your co-workers that you have a daughter, you invite questions. When you are asked if you have children, you wouldn't be lying to say no. (Her adoptive parents "have" her; you don't.)

Since you were unable to meet your daughter's needs, placing her with a family who is able to do so was an act of love. I commend you for loving her enough to allow others to give her what you could not.

Counseling will help you come to grips with your decision. Your physician can give you a referral. Please don't put it off.

DEAR ABBY: Speaking as a physician, I want you to know that the issues you raised in your recent (Dec. 14) column about the subject of babies, touching and germs are controversial.

Of course we should wash our hands, avoid sneezing in people's faces, and generally act as responsible social individuals. But remember, if you don't get your cold from Sally Sneezy, you'll probably get it from Peter Presymptomatic.

And if we overuse antibacterial products, we run the risk of generating resistance germs to replace the benign, helpful variety, in a fashion similar to overuse of antibiotics. (Fortunately, the public is finally beginning to accept the principles of responsible antibiotic usage.)

Finally, there is evidence that excessive protection of our kids from germs and other allergens may increase their risk of allergic problems and asthma. It may turn out that folks should, in fact, encourage family, friends and admiring strangers to touch their kids. -- GUY ANTHONY ROWLEY, M.D., M.P.H., CHICAGO

DEAR DR. ROWLEY: Perhaps. Since as you say, the topic is controversial, parents who are in doubt about it should consult with their pediatrician about the safest way to proceed.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600