It’s been one year since my birth daughter was born. It has been by far the most dynamic, life-changing year I have ever had. I did a lot of things right—but I also made some mistakes. Here are the letters of advice I wish I could have sent myself over the course of my first year post-placement.

Dear me, 365 days ago,

It was worth it, wasn’t it. The nine months of sickness, the contractions, the pushing and the pain. Because now you’ve got your beautiful baby daughter. Before this moment, you had no idea what love was. You made this tiny little person, and you are all she knows. Savor that,  savor her ten perfect fingers and toes, her cute, squishy, baby nose, her soft breathing in sync with yours as you fall asleep together. Treasure being a mommy. Take more videos, more photos, more time alone with her. Write down everything that happens so you won’t forget. Do everything you can to make sure you will remember this forever.

Dear me, 363 days ago,

You’re not a mother anymore. Today, you placed your child into the arms of another mother, and that destroyed you. You are reeling, weaving in and out of reality. Please remember that these feelings won’t go on forever. You are in shock. That is okay. It is okay to cry, it’s okay to wish you could just be a mother instead of a birth mother. It’s okay to be angry and sad and confused and hurt. It’s okay to not feel okay.

Dear me, 275 days ago,

You don’t need to feel so guilty about feeling peaceful about your decision to place. You know you did right by her, you know you love her and were doing what was best for her, not shirking your responsibility. No one else’s opinion matters.

Please, please understand the difference between the grief process and postpartum depression. There is treatment, you can get help if you only reach out for it. This shock and numbness and pain can be managed. I know the fog is thick, but don’t you sink. Don’t you quit on me, your future self. Survive and push through for me.

Dear me, 180 days ago,

Look around you. See how many people you have influenced for good by sharing your story. You are so fortunate to have an open adoption so you can watch this beautiful child grow. Try to focus on your successes instead of your failures. You are doing so well, if you will only let yourself see it.

Get out of that job, that relationship, that friendship, that attitude that brings you down. I know you think you can’t do it. But if you love yourself, you will start to see things fall into place. Please see that there is hope. You have the power to change your environment.

Dear me, 112 days ago,

I am so proud of you. So proud of you for seeking help, so proud of you for getting yourself out of that deep, dark hole. Getting out can feel like the hardest part, but look! Now you can see the light at the end of that tunnel. Don’t you give up now. The next little while will require you to be brave and vulnerable in a way you never have been before. Embrace the change, and good will come.

Dear me, 30 days ago,

You can feel it coming. The baby girl who holds your heart is approaching her first birthday. You are sad and scared, and that’s okay. Just don’t let that fear drive your decisions. It’s okay to be peaceful, grieving, lonely, and happy all at the same time. Just push through. I know you can make it.

Dear me, today,

It was worth it, wasn’t it. It’s still okay to cry, because you know that there is help. You have learned to love yourself. I am so proud of you. You can make it. Take it easy on yourself today. Go through your box of memories. Smile at the photos of all the times you’ve held her in your arms and made her laugh. Cry about all the firsts you’ve missed.

Since you became a birth mother, nothing will be simple ever again. You have reached a new level of understanding. Knowing that, because of that little girl, your heart will always have a soft, sad spot. And because of that little girl, your heart will always have a spot that can’t stop smiling.  You have learned the true meaning of bittersweet.

This year has changed you into a brand new person. One who loves fiercely, understands deeply, and can accept whatever comes with strength and courage. And next year will change you again. That’s how life works. And now you know how to truly embrace it. Because you know that with every misstep you take, there is beauty found all around you. You haven’t ruined your life—you’ve just changed it.

If you’re pregnant and considering adoption, know that you don’t have to figure this out on your own. Connect for free with an experienced, compassionate adoption professional who can help walk you through your options.