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Shelley Iverson started a hand-embroidered baby quilt about the time she started thinking about adopting a baby.

She worked on the quilt while she mentally wrestled over the pros and cons of adopting a baby. If she finally decided to adopt, the quilt would be for her baby, she thought. If she decided against adopting, she would use it as a gift.After three years of debating and quilting, Iverson decided to adopt. Eighteen months after signing her first paper, she got 3-month-old Whitney from Guatemala.

After 2 1/2 years of motherhood, some of the fears she battled while quilting seem silly now. Like the fear that adopting a child might limit her chances for marriage.

"My daughter is a very winsome child. She is very pretty and has a delightful personality," Iverson said. Whitney has proved to be a social plus, not a hindrance.

Iverson is so delighted with motherhood that she is preparing to adopt a second baby with the help of an adoption agency outside of the state.

It's tough for singles to get infants through agencies in Utah, she said. But several agencies in the rest of the country help them get babies. And for $25,000, an Arizona agency will get a Caucasian infant for a single woman. Whitney's adoption cost Iverson $6,500.

"I know the agencies that will work with me," she said. She recommended that prospective parents subscribe to a newsletter published by the Committee for Single Adoptive Parents. Among other things, it reports on the agencies most willing to work with singles. (The newsletter costs $18 for two years. Write: P.O. Box 15084, Chevy Chase, MD 20825. The committee has no phone number, responding only to written queries, Iverson said.)

Iverson advises single women interested in adopting not to wait too long. Many agencies and foreign countries will not give babies to parents over 40. Others set a cap at 45. Realizing that it can take two years to adopt a child, single women may be running out of time without realizing it, Iverson said.

Despite her training as a social worker, Iverson was stunned by how much of an emotional drain single motherhood could be.

Her greatest challenge is finding the balance between meeting her own needs and maintaining her individuality and being a mother to Whitney.

"Sometimes when you have given, and given and given and the well is dry, it is necessary to replenish it for yourself."

Iverson attributes her sanity to a reservoir of friends and family who will care for Whitney when she needs a night or a weekend off. "I think it is critical for singles to have that kind of network," she said.

Judy Diamond always wanted to adopt special-needs children. She envisioned three little boys. Five years after adopting her first child, she is the mother of five youngsters and is in the process of adopting her sixth.

Mary, 7, is a healthy child. Natosha, 6, has cerebral palsy; Travis, 5, has neurological birth defects; Brett, 4, has Down's syndrome and was just diagnosed with leukemia, and David, 4, is retarded, Diamond said.

She is thrilled with each of them. "We spend a lot of time sitting up here at Primary Children's Medical Center, but I wouldn't give them up for anything. We've all bonded and become really close," she said during a telephone interview from the waiting room of Primary Children's intensive care unit, where two of her children are battling pneumonia.

Ten days of anxious bedside waiting underscored the burden of single parenthood. There is no other parent - not even an ex-husband - to help with the well children while Diamond posts watch at the hospital. If a strong support system is important for a healthy infant, it is the crux of successfully raising handicapped children, Diamond said.

Diamond couldn't mother her youngsters without her family, neighbors, church members and the hospital. "You absolutely have to have a good support system if you take special-needs children or you would be overwhelmed," she said.

Despite the solitude of her responsibility, Diamond considers her life rich and happy.

"I feel much more fulfilled than before I had children. I've learned to look past things I used to think were important like new cars and fancy clothes. I feel like I've done something with my life. I have a legacy to leave now."

She advises singles seeking to adopt special-needs children to select an adoption agency that will remain an advocate for the children after they are adopted. "Particularly make sure you have a worker who will see that you get the finances to pay for the child's medical care, because your own insurance company probably won't pay for it," she said. Diamond could not begin to pay her youngsters' medical bills. But thanks to adoption subsidies obtained by her worker, she doesn't have to.