In one moment, a pink plus sign changed my life. For nine months, I carried a child, doing everything in my power to protect and nurture him. For two days, he was my son, and I soaked in every second.

Then, the papers were signed and he was no longer my son, legally.

In theory, my life should have picked up where I had paused it–college, work, friends. All I could think about was the little boy who was supposed to be in my arms, but I had broken my own heart to ensure him a life full of stability, opportunities, and love. At the time, all I had to look forward to was the next moment I could see him. Every week, I would get an email full of pictures and telling me how he was doing. Every week, I would check my computer, not-so-patiently waiting for the “1 Unread Message.” As a new birth mom, that was the only reason I breathed.

It wasn’t for many months that I began to remember that there other things that defined who I was. For those first few months, it was the updates and visits that kept me going on. They were visual reassurance that I had made the right choice. What I could witness through those things helped me grieve and figure out a way to live with the absence of the my son.

But what was I supposed to expect for that first visit? This child and I had an instant bond as soon as I knew he was growing inside of me, which only increased with time. When he was born, I felt like we were the only two people in the world; we were connected. What was it going to feel like when that first visit approached? As a child, he would naturally bond with the woman who fed him, clothed him, rocked him to sleep, and sang him lullabies. But that was not something I expected. I expected him to remember me–me, the woman who sacrificed her body for him. The woman who thought about him and prayed for him every second of every day.

The first visit came, and I held him in my arms. And I knew that he didn’t know who I was.

The reality was that I was at the mercy of the two kindest people I had ever met. Only they would determine how he knew me as he grew up.

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I felt my heart breaking all over again. The first month I didn’t have him in my arms was full of anguish and self-doubt. The first visit was supposed to silence those fears, which it did. But not in the way I had wanted. I wanted him to know me, I wanted his eyes to meet mine and some part of his mind to remember what I smelled like, how I sounded.

Instead, I looked into those eyes and he met me with a stare of curiosity. He didn’t know who I was at all, which makes complete sense for a 1-month-old infant. He began to fuss in my arms; I couldn’t hold him correctly. On the verge of tears, I handed him to his mother. She wrapped him up, shushed his fears, and laid him in my arms. There, he slept as sound as a baby possibly could.

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It was this moment that I realized he had everything I wanted for him. As odd as it sounds, that was what I needed. My broken heart was justified. I needed to see that his mother knew how to comfort him. I needed to hear his father talk about how proud he was of his son. I needed that perspective to remember that my suffering was justified–which made it seem bearable.

Now, my son is almost 6 years old. My arms will still occasionally ache for him. My heart is still healing. But it’s not as overwhelming as when it was fresh.

That first visit was so important to me. It was needed as a reminder as to what was really important here. They were a family, and my fears of him not bonding with his parents (and vice versa) were silenced. When my difficult days came around, I looked back on seeing them in person, loving him with all of their hearts. His life, his happiness, his love was worth it. My broken heart is healing, but I am a better person because of the adoption. That moment that I learned I was pregnant with him was the moment I decided to put his needs before mine. And that first visit with him was the visit I learned it had all been worth it.