I loved you before I knew you.

Words I’ve heard myself say to my daughters many many times. I’m sure they’re probably tired of hearing me say it, as the typical response these days is, “I know, Mom.”

Nonetheless, I’m sure I probably won’t ever stop saying it.

Because I want them to know.

I want them to know that they’d grown in my heart and my head long before we would call each other family. Long before I could tell them with words or show them with hugs and kisses.

B.K. (Before Kids), I had no way of knowing that just a couple of years later, these two I’d loved before I’d met them would call out to me at bedtime in their tiny sing-songy voices, “Mommy, I love you bigger than this room. Bigger than this house. Bigger than this planet!” I had no way of knowing back then that love has no timeline. Knows no before or after. Doesn’t measure the importance of a moment on societal expectations or typical “firsts” according to the latest parenting book. Love just is when it’s given the opportunity to be—in all of its beautiful happiness and, likewise, the sadness and heartbreak that also comes with the brave acts of giving and receiving. True love cannot be controlled or planned; rather, it’s a messy mix of life weather that hits you at precisely the moment your umbrella decides not to open.

And so, yes, as the mountains of adoption paperwork were finalized, and endless amounts of time passed, and the house was prepared, and the tiny clothing purchased—and even as the annoying red tape reared its ugly head, keeping us apart for an unfair bit longer—I loved them.

I loved them waking up leisurely in the morning to a quiet space to get ready for the day, knowing that someday it would no longer be so quiet.

I loved them getting ready to head out the door to wherever (with time to spare).

I loved them driving to work and becoming teary-eyed while sappy love songs played on the radio—reminding me that I hadn’t met them yet.

I loved them through clenched teeth while I responded to the 50th person that day who’d asked if we’d heard anything or knew anything yet.

I loved them spending time with my husband as we went about our days naively unaware of the challenges parenthood would soon bring, but ready and waiting for the day we would become a family of three and—eventually—a family of four.

I loved them going to bed at night, knowing I’d dream peacefully about what was ahead for all of us.

And although there was no belly to rub, no food cravings to satisfy, no pregnancy brain to physically remind me of what was on the way, there was still stress eating, adoption brain, and a never-ending stream of “what if” worries to remind me they were on the way—just arriving via a more windy and elusive road than usual.

I loved you before I knew you.

Words I’ve shared with my daughters at dawn’s early light when, as toddlers, they’d crashed through the bedroom doorway way too early on the weekends and usually already decked out in their superhero and princess garb.

Or standing “three across,” getting ready in the now too-crowded bathroom, rushing to get out the door to wherever (definitely with no time to spare).

Or bopping along together in the car on the way to hockey practice or dance lessons to songs on the radio that leave me teary-eyed with joy just listening to my daughters’ strong voices singing along.

Or through unclenched teeth to the unlucky person who makes the mistake of asking how my girls are doing these days. (Free therapy and/or a chance to brag about my loves? Why not!)

Or after a stressful day at the office, attempting to steal a hug and kiss from my husband in the kitchen between making dinner and finishing homework as the girls squeal in mock-disgust before plowing into us to make it a group thing.

Or while heading to bed, exhausted, but dutifully putting on the mommy ears to listen for coughs and sniffles or whispers and giggles that might quickly undo those best-laid plans.

You see, when we finally met, we found our way and clumsily fit together like families usually do—no matter why, when, or how they come to be. With or without saying it, I think we all knew. I had loved a child (children as the case would be) that I hadn’t met yet—I just hadn’t known that our love would grow and grow and grow bigger than this room and bigger than this house and bigger than this planet.

I knew I loved you before I met you
I have been waiting all my life
-Savage Garden