Pregnancy was the switch on the train tracks of my life. I was barreling toward a fine arts major at an out-of-state university and comfortably running on adolescent frivolity. When the doctor came in and confirmed my pregnancy, my future only felt nine months long. Every time someone asked me where I was going to college, I would internally rage at them, bitter that my focus that fall wouldn’t be on college. All the things I’d taken an interest in before seemed trivial and small to me compared to the child I would bring into the world.

I even felt trivial to myself; I only had one purpose. As soon as my baby was in better hands, what happened to me didn’t matter. For the first few months after he was born, I kept going because I wanted to make him proud. I kept going for my family, to assure them that I would be all right. It wasn’t until recently, nine months post-placement, that I’ve wanted to move forward for me.

I would like to extend an invitation to other birth parents to recognize their dreams and pull themselves up by the bootstraps. Whereever you are in your journey, have the courage to find your dreams and pursue them.

1. Take a moment.

After so many months of planning my life around the pregnancy and birth, I wasn’t able to jump immediately back into making my own dreams a priority. There was even some bitterness toward the opportunities I had to go to school all day or stay out late with friends; they were reminders that I wasn’t spending that time raising a baby.

Consider that you might not be ready to move forward. If you recently placed or are in a situation where taking the next step isn’t feasible, you must first prepare to prepare. Give yourself time to grieve and readjust to your new situation and life as a birth parent. A train can charge over pebbles and twigs, but it would be foolish to go headlong at a boulder. Your path doesn’t have to be completely clear, but make sure you have resolved what you can so that it won’t slow you down in the future.

2. Get the bigger picture.

This is the “dreaming” part. What do you want to do? Who do you want to be? Early after placement, the only real dream I had to cling to was motherhood. Time after time, older and wiser loved ones told me, “Your time will come.” I detested hearing that. As a teenager, accepting that having a husband and another child wasn’t only improbable for me, it wasn’t really what I wanted. I had to focus on the dreams I could work toward more actively–my educational and career goals–in addition to my personal expectations.

From our time as children, we are often surrounded by contradictory messages about what we can and cannot be. By our gender and cultural and parental expectations, we’re driven toward things that others see as appropriate for us.

But what really matters in our goals, whether they are personal or professional, is that we understand what we are shooting for and want it. Others may inspire us toward something, but we as individuals are the ones who have to drive toward it and live with the consequences.

3. What’s your next step? 

You can’t get from point A to point Z without first going to point B. As obvious as this might seem, sometimes we want to skip steps and have the gratification of seeing our dreams realized overnight. Sometimes, point B is very small. In my first semester after placement, putting my feet on the floor, getting myself to school, and walking into class was something to be applauded. Half the fight is showing up. Maybe that’s your next step.

Point B could also be applying for an entry-level job, making a phone call to a relative you’ve been avoiding, or choosing not to buy a pack of cigarettes at the gas station. Feel free to anticipate and plan the big steps, like making it though the semester or ending a toxic relationship. Appreciate each step you make, and applaud yourself with something special on the bigger leaps.

4. Plan a check-in.

In can be very helpful to create a timeline for your to-do list. Even if it’s not the end of your journey, finding a minimum point can propel you faster toward each accomplishment. Carrying “Spring 2016” in my mind as my graduation date helps me to hit the summer classes with more vigor. If your goal is to stop drinking, write down the date when you’ll have been sober for one month.

If your goal isn’t as measurable, like being a better person, make it measurable. Ask yourself what it looks like to be better, and the outline the steps. Your check-in can be periodic: once a week, etc.

Even though you are accountable to yourself first and foremost, telling a loved one about your progress is another way you can check in. The reward of hearing their praise or having their respect can be added motivation to continue doing better.

5.Never stop going.

Committing to a goal doesn’t mean that you will be perfect or that everything you do will further it. No matter how badly you fall, you can always get up. Don’t let anything take you down and keep you there.

You are what you spend your days doing. A painter doesn’t become an artist by avoiding the canvas. Make it a point to work toward your goal every day.

Even once you’ve graduated from college, scored that dream job, or cut an addiction, don’t let yourself stop or grow complacent. Life post-placement isn’t about survival; it is about thriving. Don’t let your experience become an excuse to hold back. Continue the courage you proved when you placed, and shoot for the stars.