“Oh baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more.” Haddaway not only had a great tune to bop your head back and forth to, but no lyrics have ever resonated as much as those have for me when it comes to the term love. What is love? Well, at different times in my life I would answer this differently but, as I have gotten into my thirties, I realize that I have had quite a messed up view of love and what a healthy relationship looks like. So I went back to the basics of what I heard love is throughout my life and how these different views have impacted me as a birth mother.

Love is choosing someone every day

This one is not an inaccurate description of love. Love takes work and we have to choose to fight for that every day. However, as an adopted child from a closed adoption, I saw this as someone literally choosing to love me. My parents literally took me home and chose me as their child. Now, this didn’t mean that they went through a bunch of kids and said, “That one!” as if I was the pick of the litter, but they did decide after facing infertility that adoption was how they were going to expand their family. I grew up having such pride in the fact that I had two sets of families that loved me so much. Again, not an inaccurate view, but I was blindsided by being the poster child of adoption that I did not realize that I didn’t know much about myself due to missing that connection from my birth family. So while I was chosen, I was also missing a connection that no one else could fill. 

Love is patient, love is kind

You know the verse: 

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV

Growing up, when the church doors were open, I was there. Or at least that’s how it felt. My grandfather was a pastor, and both of my parents are very faith-centered. Being involved and plugged in at church has always been a family priority. So I of course learned at a young age that love is described for us in 1 Corinthians. I knew that love was hard, but that seemed like a very high bar for love. I really always felt like it was an unattainable checklist. How could I find that? How could I provide that for someone? When I finally hit the age where boys were interesting—which didn’t take long at all—I began testing the theories that I had heard about love. My first love was Collin Smith. He was adopted like me, had blonde hair and dreamy eyes, and I felt like I could be my true self with him. Looking back, that is pretty understandable since we had that adoptee connection that many people didn’t understand. Just like 1 Corinthians, Collin Smith set that bar high for the boys that came after him. He was the perfect picture of an innocent first crush. Unfortunately, Collin didn’t live in Texas and was only visiting for the summer at his grandparents, so the only crush left was my little heart in the depths of my first heartbreak. As an adult, I know that the qualities of love mentioned in the Bible are definitely hard to attain, but if someone does show you patience, kindness, lack of jealousy, selflessness, respect, grace, and understanding, they truly are loving you to the best of their ability. It takes effort and it is not just easily gained like some childhood crush. 

Love Infatuation is fleeting

I’ll preface this with the fact that love is not fleeting. However, I did take a great deal away from the season of my life when I thought it was. While I wish I could tell you that I hung on to the bar that Collin set, I didn’t. I became intoxicated by the attention I could get from boys by the time that I was a teenager. I had had two boyfriends after Collin that also were innocent and sweet, but both also really wrecked my heart when it ended. So the more I learned about lust and what the world said love looked like, the more tainted my view became of how someone is supposed to act when they love you. It didn’t take long for me to find my way into a world of superficial expectations. I literally had the typical first sexual experience of, “If you love me, you will have sex with me,” and guess what? He broke up with me right after like a typical jerk. Boys that treat you like this are not worthy of you. I learned that the hard way, but I promise you that they are garbage. I began to let boys define my worth and when they found I was no longer of worth to them, I’d move to the next one. It was a vicious cycle, but it hurt much less back then to chase temporary highs than to invest myself in someone who was equally invested (if not more) in showing me that I deserved more. I was a wild child. Color me surprised that I ended up pregnant by 18. 

Love is indescribable

When I found out that I was pregnant, I knew that my parents would be disappointed in me, that I hardly had anything stable in my life to provide for a baby, and that I didn’t know the first thing about taking care of someone. I didn’t even take care of myself. I was so lost and I had no idea what to do. However, because of my pride and the fact that I grew up not knowing where I came from, I decided that I wanted to parent. I remember wanting to have a boy and when I found out in my sonogram that it was a boy—I cried. It was the first time I realized that this little being growing inside of me was a part of me and that I loved him immensely. Over the rest of my pregnancy, I realized more and more how deeply I cared for him. I was excited to pick out clothing for him, to sing to him, to decorate for him, and to dream about his life. When I gave birth to him, I realized what true unconditional love was. I had never felt my heart beat the way it did for him. It was as if he were a magnet drawing me to him. I felt like I could never be away from him; however, after six months of poor parenting, I realized that wasn’t in his best interest. 

Love is sacrificial

The truest thing I know about love is that it is full of compromises and sacrifices. After I’d been parenting my son for six months, I knew that he deserved more. Would he have developmentally been better off with me? There’s no way to say. Would he have been just as happy? Again, no way to know if that would be the reality. Did I want more for him than what I was able to offer in that season of my life? Absolutely. I was confident that no matter how challenging it would look, I needed to sacrifice motherhood and let my parents adopt him. The pain of signing those relinquishment papers is still so vivid and raw. It still feels like a knife impaling me every single time I think about that moment. Despite how unstable my life was and how immature I was, I wanted nothing more than to be his mom. I just knew it wasn’t my time to parent. I wish I could tell you that I never had to go through that again. In fact, I had an adoptive mother ask me before for advice because the birth mother of their child had asked them, “If I ever got pregnant again, would you adopt my second child?” The adoptive mother didn’t want to answer and wanted my input because it felt icky and unethical to answer her. I gently said, “I would tell her that I hope she never has to be in a place to lose motherhood again.” I also praised her for knowing that her words are powerful and that being ethical is a priority. That’s how I feel for my younger self. I am sad that I ever had to grieve motherhood again, but I did. When I was 21, I found out that I was pregnant again. I knew immediately thanks to my history, that I couldn’t go down the same road that I did with my son. While I had matured quite a bit from where I used to be, I was just beginning to get to a place of stability for myself. Not financially by any means, but emotionally. I knew that I needed to make a plan for my baby’s future immediately. So I went through it all again. This time, the beginning and the planning period were way different, but it all hurt the same. Thankfully because I had planned this out since day one, she had always been her parent’s daughter. It was easier for me to celebrate the completion of their family than it was for me to face the loss in my hypothetical family. I remember being in the hospital after I had given birth to my daughter and I realized how much I loved her at that specific moment. I was so exhausted, as any woman who had just given birth should be, and I needed sleep. I knew I needed it. However, one look down at that beautiful baby girl and I felt conflicted, to say the least; I didn’t want to send her to the nursery so I could sleep. I was alone with her and that was so beautiful and intimate but also so limited. I would never get those moments again where I was still her mama and where I was able to just exist with her still being a part of me. Every time I think of those moments I am reminded of my sacrificial love for her. It hurt to just send her to the nursery for a quick hour nap; imagine my pain when I signed my rights away as her mother. I learned through both of those situations that something being the right decision doesn’t diminish the hurt in the sacrificial act but it definitely shows the love. 

Love is complicated

As I have grown over the last 13 years of being a birth mother, I have also grown as an adoptee. I found my biological maternal family and I kind of got closure on my paternal side of biology. Through the many layers of my adoption story, I have realized that love is messy. Avril Lavigne relays my feelings perfectly when she sings, “Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?” Well, that’s just the reality when we are dealing with imperfect humans flawed with quirks and differences. However, regardless of our stories, backgrounds, beliefs, bodies, and other things that make us unique, we are all worthy of love. Sometimes that means having patience and grace, compromising when we really don’t want to, putting others’ needs before our own even when it hurts, and even sometimes not knowing what loving someone is supposed to look like. If you put effort into it then it’s coming from the right place—your heart. 

While all of these pieces have plugged into the big picture of love in this birth mother’s eyes, it’s still something I have to wrestle with daily. I don’t always love others well, I fall short of responding with love, and I question some days if I even have a good understanding of what love is. However, being a birth mother has taught me that I do in my core know what love looks like, and while that is a messy ball of yarn to untangle—it’s worth it.