I wasn’t really sure how to respond when someone asked me what I loved beyond all doubt.

I loved knowing things just to know them. I loved my parents. I loved my siblings, my friends, and I really loved a few boys. I didn’t usually touch the boys I loved because if I did, they’d surely burn or break or disappear. I think I loved God, but I wasn’t sure. I loved myself in the same way people love their cars or homes; I was useful, I was meaningful, and I even had sentimental value. But I didn’t love myself as a person, like other people loved me. My concept of love was narrow before an unexpected pregnancy broadened every aspect of me.

Simply by nature, I loved my baby as soon as I became aware of his existence. I never felt inconvenienced by him or angry at him. Even when his foot rested on my liver or he cozied up next to my bladder, I loved him. He was the highest among things I loved. Because of what I did for him– from swallowing horse-pill vitamins to plugging a headphone of Bach into my belly button to moving in with a kind stranger four hours away– I fell in love with myself, too. I fell in love with God for taking care of me and with the parents-to-be for taking care of the future baby. I ballooned larger as the months passed, to make room for baby and for all of the love that I didn’t think I had room for before.

All I wanted was to be his mommy, to spend every day with his head over my heart and my lips on his hair. I would have traded almost anything for that. But I wouldn’t trade what was best for him.

If love was actual matter concealed in our bodies and cells, I would have burst from its excess the day he was born. He was a cannon-ball of my own flesh and blood, housing a new and utterly untarnished soul. I looked into his fac­e, overwhelmed by his intricacy: his pores, his papery bluish hands, his reluctant eyelids. He wrapped his hand around my pinky and held it with a sleepy gentleness. I sobbed and sobbed from the love, his new parents sobbing with me. All that is eternal seems to have begun in the moment I became a mother.

I had always known, though, that he wasn’t intended for me. I didn’t even have the financial means for the hospital bill. I didn’t have the mental preparedness. I didn’t have the relationship with his birth father that would have been conducive to starting a family. I loved his parents, the ones he really was meant to be with, and believed that they deserved a family too. I still had dreams to chase and experience to gain. I would have battled through all of those struggles if I believed keeping him was best for him. In the end, it wasn’t about my dreams or marital status or any of my own practical reasons: It was about him.

I was given two magical days with my boy in the hospital. Many birth mothers set up certain boundaries to prevent too much bonding during their time with the baby. Rather than fearing the bond, I yearned for it. I considered that bonding might make the goodbye more difficult, but I cared so little about what was difficult. I resented sleep in spite of my body’s plea to retire. The television remained black and devoid of attention. I held that little boy until my joints ached. I laid him over my heart and tucked his head into the crook of my neck. I wondered if we would become one entity again because of the way his sweat fused our skin. I fed him from my breast. I kissed his nose, his crinkled lips. Time in its exactness was insignificant; time only mattered in that it was limited. Even then, I wouldn’t let anxiety of the future ruin the bliss of each passing moment. I would have lived in those moments forever. All I wanted was to be his mommy, to spend every day with his head over my heart and my lips on his hair. I would have traded almost anything for that. But I wouldn’t trade what was best for him.

On the second day in the hospital, the autumn sun sagged wearily toward its western retreat. My eyes wandered from my dear son’s face to look east, where I would be speeding home with empty arms. The nurse consulted with his parents, instructing them on his needs. The time came to say goodbye. Every nerve of my body was frantic and unsteady. But my heart and soul were absolute; I would do what was best for him at any cost. I layered him in knitted things made in those months of anticipation. I secured him into his car seat, which I held in my lap. A nurse wheeled me down to the hospital exit. The nearer we came to the doors, the more I quaked and sobbed silently. As I’d arranged, I arrived at the curb, his parent’s car door open. The weight of his car seat held my frail body in that wheelchair. I just stared and stared at him; he was sleeping. He was warm. He was ready to begin. My mind was willing, but my body would not move. Joyous, weeping, breaking, it seems angels carried me. I gave him a kiss and a promise I’d see him again soon. Somehow, I turned away.

I’ve never been sorry that I bonded with him, nor have I regretted my choice. Life carries on for me, for him, for his parents. Insignificant as time may seem in the shadow of love, it passes. The pain comes swiftly, and the joy follows. Peace lingers with me knowing that I did all that I possibly could for him, all in a single act. And it lingers because I loved him more than myself, so I could trust myself to do what was best for him.

I am not afraid to love; I am not afraid to feel. I am not afraid to sob until I can barely breathe. I am not afraid to be angry with myself sometimes. I don’t fear relationships or closeness because I know that no matter the depth of the pain, love is always deeper. The strength of a heart is infinite if that strength is born of love.

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