I have never known a pressure quite like the one I began feeling when I realized the weight of responsibility that now rested on my shoulders after adopting my first child. As I waited to become an adoptive mom, I had numerous adoption fears, but letting down my child via disappointing his/her birth family wasn’t one of those.

I sometimes think of being a hopeful adoptive parent as an infancy stage where wants and needs are very self-centered. We are naïve, slowly gathering information and hitting milestones. During this phase of adoption, a strong community is vital. Steps are unsteady, the unknown is scary. We sometimes look back at documentation of this earlier version of ourselves with utter embarrassment.

As a hopeful adoptive parent, my main fear was that I’d never become a mother. I couldn’t look ahead and realize that there was any step past that immediate desire. The second my son was placed in my arms, panic set in; I suddenly had a responsibility to someone other than myself. The pressure built as I realized the gravity of the responsibility I now had to not only be a great mother, but to be a true friend. I needed to take my actions to a place that exuded true empathy, care, love, and gratitude for his birth family. Suddenly, my actions became a make-or-break for another woman’s healing, and the peace my son’s birth mom was able to attain rested partially in my hands.

As I waited to become an adoptive mom, I had numerous fears, but letting down my child via disappointing his/her birth family wasn’t one of those.

Hopeful adoptive parents are ill-prepared and they’re incredibly unaware of their own naivety. They speak often about the roller coaster they’re on and how tedious the journey to becoming parents is, but they have no idea they’re actually floating in an ocean, holding on to a tiny life preserver, and a giant tidal wave is about to come crashing down on them.

The love all parents feel, whether biological or adoptive, is blindsiding. It’s that love that people talked about but you never quite understood before becoming a parent . . . that unconditional, overwhelming, terrifying kind of love. In the moment when hopeful adoptive parents become actual parents, a tidal wave of love rushes in, but it’s mixed with an eye-opening realization that we owe these children the very best of everything—and providing that is going to be harder than we could ever imagine. The reality of failing our children is incredibly real, and we might fail them despite our attempts at doing the very best we can.

All selfishness has to be cast aside as we realize we can never ask our children to accommodate our feelings. We realize that our own insecurities have to be drowned inside that tidal wave of emotion because they are a detriment to our children. The dreams we had of just being “normal” are cast out to sea because “normal” doesn’t mean what it used to anymore. Our new normal embraces the coexistence of tragedy and triumph.

Life changes so much when new adoptive parents suddenly have their eyes opened to the new reality of what they owe their children. It isn’t the same bread-and-butter of traditional parenting, though the basics are the same. We all owe our children a roof over their heads, a safe place to grow, and nourishment in the form of food and mental stimulation. Adoptive parents have an added responsibility because nourishment isn’t as simple as food and education anymore; nourishment means satiating our children’s need to be connected to their roots; to embrace their culture; to face race issues; to understand their stories; to have us grieve alongside them, to acknowledge their loss, and to fully embrace the people who gave them life.

The past six years have changed me drastically. I have gone from being a person who believed I was both in charge and invincible and took all my blessings for granted to being a person who realizes I am in control of nothing, stands in awe of how tragedy and triumph can exist side by side, and is grateful for every blessing, big and small. Adoption has humbled me in a way I never imagined, and I’m thankful I can now feel gratitude for being humbled.

The greatest thing that’s ever happened in my life came at the same time another woman experienced the worst thing that’s ever happened in hers. Losing a child is not something anyone should ever have to experience, but I know there is this small piece of the puzzle that belongs to me. It’s this piece that tells me that adoption doesn’t have to be a total loss for everyone, and that if I assume the responsibility of keeping family connected, I can minimize that loss and soften the blow for the people in this equation I now care about more than myself: the children I love and the people who gave them life.

Pressure has driven me to rise to the occasion. Fear has forced me to meet my demons head-on. A sense of responsibility has caused me to go the extra mile. Gratitude has given me the chance to exceed expectations. Love has made it possible for me to see my greatest fear as my greatest opportunity. My greatest fear of failing my children by letting their birth families down has enriched my life in amazing ways, and I’ve now come to see adoption as something that has turned me into a person I can be proud of.

My children are becoming older and wiser every day, their questions are getting harder to answer, and they are coming to realize some of the realities of their adoption stories. I am accountable to my children and the people who gave them life, and rising to the occasion for all of them is something that brings me intense happiness.

Maybe it was fear and pressure that initially drove me to do the right thing, but those negative feelings have now been replaced by a mix of gratitude, humility, a true sense of family, and unconditional love (for my children and their people). And now, my greatest fear has become the greatest opportunity I’ve ever been given to show my children how true my love for them is.