November is fast approaching, and while it brings many lovely things, my favorite part about it now is National Adoption Month. Story after beautiful story of families coming together, of healing and strength, just in time for the holidays.

Adoption seemed so romantic to me growing up, in the dreamy way that a foreign country might: I hadn’t been there, but I had seen some lovely pictures. I didn’t know what it felt like, but I could imagine being that kind of special. It’s incredibly naïve, but the idea that there might be pain along with the joys of adoption just never occurred to me. I had very little exposure to adoption before our decision to be foster parents, actually. I am positive that in my youth I was one of the well-meaning but ill-informed people that I now so often encounter, asking inappropriate questions and gushing loudly “Ohmygosh, you’re adopted?! That is so cool!” to unsuspecting adoptees (all of whom I would love to send apology letters to now).

Later, as we faced infertility and wondered how we would build a family, the thought of adopting was such a distant, terrifying concept. So many questions kept me up at night: What kind of adoption should we choose? How will we afford it? What if we aren’t approved? What if we are never matched? A thousand worries, all with potentially heartbreaking answers. For a heart already broken, it was so much.

But now, after adopting four beautiful children from our state foster care system, adoption is so much a part of our story. During our time as foster parents, we met amazing people who share that with us. Our kids have many friends who came to their families in a similar way. Our schedule includes equal parts birthday parties and adoption celebrations. I now have the opportunity to help others to understand, like I came to, that adoption isn’t idealistic or romantic, and it isn’t impossible or terrifying.

It’s family. It’s regular and challenging and messy sometimes, and it’s beautiful.

Last year during National Adoption Month, our dear friends adopted their little daughter: a micro-preemie who spent the first months of her life in the NICU and is now a thriving, bright-eyed toddler, rapidly approaching her second birthday. The joy in their family is so apparent and infectious. I can’t get enough of it.

The same friends went to court just days later for their other sweet babe, a boy, and got some good news. When she called me after court to tell me, I surprised myself by bursting into hot, happy tears, and realized that what another friend had told her–that they had never prayed so hard for a baby that wasn’t theirs–was also true for me. I had been praying so fervently for this beloved, joyful baby to stay safe and healthy. He was adopted five months later, in the same ceremony as our youngest daughter. I was just overcome.

The next week, I saw my new cousin officially become a member of our family at age three. It was an incredibly sweet ceremony in a smaller neighboring county courthouse, where all of the friends and family present came up and were sworn in. We all stated our names and relationship. We watched this sweet boy act adorably silly–knowing the attention was on him but not really knowing why–and saw my aunt and uncle smile from ear to ear as they held back tears.

The whole day was just lovely. It was gorgeous and simple and about family. Some of my cousin’s birth family was there, and I had the privilege of talking to them and seeing their love for him, and again I was overcome. It was so touching. We ate cupcakes and took pictures, and on the way home my husband and I listened to the sweet, breathy sound of our getting-bigger-babies sleep in the back of the car, and I just wanted to cry and scream and shout from the rooftops that family is amazing.

I thought that day of how he is now no longer one of the 100,000+ children waiting to be adopted. I thought of all the children adopted during National Adoption Month and hoped they would be as celebrated, and I prayed for families to find those still waiting.

A few nights ago, I read “Love You Forever” to my sons, and Alex, who has been struggling a lot in school this year and often asks if we still love him after a bad day, said “You will always love us like that because you will always be our mom.” It wasn’t a question. It made me want to burst.

The way his little mind processes this life is just so tender. He has had so much hurt. Being here to watch him heal is an honor.

Today it rained. It was really cold, and our kids stayed in their jammies all day while we played. We ate breakfast for breakfast and breakfast again for dinner. We had a few timeouts, a few raised voices, lots of whining.

We also had hugs and snuggles and dancing.

It was just family. Regular and challenging, and messy sometimes, and beautiful. It was family in the most natural form I can imagine. In the way I dreamed about it during the many months we struggled with whether we would ever have it. I told my husband today this is what I wanted, exactly this.

I still grieve what my children lost. I wish they didn’t have to know that pain because it will always matter.

Blood matters. So much. But it’s not the only thing that matters.

Safety matters.

Health matters.

Being there matters.

Love matters. It’s all about love.

How will you commemorate National Adoption Month this year?