I’ve heard mothers say, “It was just love at first sight,” when talking about their newborns. The way these ladies became mothers (birth or adoptive) has made no difference; it’s just something people say as they blissfully recount the first time they saw their child.

I wish I could say it. I wish I could say that I took one look at my child and handed everything over, resigned to the idea that this child would become the light of my life.

Unfortunately, I’m the mom whose guard was raised far too much. I had built a fortress around my emotions during our first adoption, having just experienced a failed match days before the birth of our son. Less than 48 hours after our four-month match crumbled, another call came through, and this time I was talking to a 17-year-old girl who was set to give birth less than a week later. The whirlwind didn’t give me time to process our first loss, let alone prepare my emotions for the upcoming roller coaster.

In that tiny hospital nursery in Texas, my husband and I put on our gowns and washed our hands. We were led back to a warmer near the window where a tiny, bleary-eyed baby boy laid squiggling with his legs outstretched.

The first thought that ran through my mind was, “Control yourself.” My next thought was, “Give yourself over to this.” The two contradicting messages battled back and forth, but ultimately, “Give yourself over to this” technically won while “Control yourself” pulled the reigns tightly as I tried to soak everything in. It didn’t matter how many times I told myself I could handle the heartbreak should we go home empty handed. There was something that kept holding my emotions at bay.

I remember how fiercely I wanted to be that child’s mother, how certain I was that I would love him with all my heart, and I remember asking myself, “Would you put your life on the line for this child, right here, right now?” The answer was “Yes.” At one point, it appeared we might be going home without him, and I sat in a silent car with my head between my knees and prayed. Hours passed. When the paperwork was signed and we got the call to come and get our son, I was in shock. I saw the pain on his birth mother’s face and was crushed by the grief she was feeling. Nothing else existed outside of her in that moment. When we signed the paperwork and I held him in my arms, I kept thinking, “Tomorrow is a new day, and on that day, I’ll wake up as your mother.” During a middle of the night feeding, he wrapped his tiny fingers around my finger, and it all felt surreal. That guard I had put up was reinforced and strong, and it wasn’t going to budge easily.

I didn’t do a daily self-assessment or anything, but a few months later, my son flashed this sneaky, sideways glance at me, and his eyes sparkled, and I realized I had given my heart completely over to him. There was nothing in my brain telling me to control the love; I just gave it freely. He felt as if he was a part of me, and we were indescribably connected.

Fast-forward almost exactly three years, and we were blessed with a daughter. In the hospital, I saw her from across the room, and she literally took my breath away. She was so gorgeous. As I held her, I was overtaken with her perfection. Some sort of mental time-warp happened and I remembered back to that time in the hospital nursery with my son. I began telling myself to hand it all over, to fall in love completely, and to enjoy these moments as if this baby was surely going to become my daughter because I was strong enough to pull through this should her mom and dad decide to parent.

This time, I remained cautiously optimistic. More than anything, I wanted to be respectful of the time they had with her as her parents. I wanted her birth parents to have every opportunity to enjoy those hours, and I didn’t want to encroach. Then, the night before placement, my phone rang at 4 a.m. The baby was crying constantly and her mom needed to sleep. She asked if we would come up to the hospital and just hold her. By the glow of the TV, we sat directly beside her mom’s hospital bed as she handed me her crying baby. I swaddled her tightly and laid her on my chest. She instantly calmed and nestled into me like we’d always fit together. In that moment, I closed my eyes and breathed her in. I marveled at how amazing open adoption is, how blessed we were to have stories like these to tell, and how sure I was that she was my daughter.

Regardless of the peace I felt in my heart that this little girl was a missing piece of me, bonding was tough. I wasn’t able to take the guard down, and the sadness I felt for her birth parents was overwhelming. The guilt was something I dealt with in our first adoption, but it blindsided me in our second. I thought I had processed all of the emotions I’d go through and had aptly prepared myself for them, yet they overwhelmed me once again.

I would have given my life for my daughter from the very first time I laid my eyes on her, but there was one evening, months after her placement, when I was playing on her bedroom floor with her. It was like I’d been shot by Cupid’s arrow. This little girl hadn’t just won my heart; she’d taken it by storm. And just like that, two children owned every ounce of love I had in my heart.