Paulo Coelho wrote, “Important encounters are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other.” And I believe in those words with all of my being.

I was 21 years old when I placed my baby boy with his family. I had spent a good six months trying to find not just any family, but the right family–his family–the people that he was meant to be with.

As I prepared for delivery and placement, having absolutely no idea of the heartbreak and emotions to come, I wrote very deliberately in a journal to send with him. I wanted him to have every answer to any question he would ever have regarding me, his birth father, and our decision to place him for adoption. I wrote a complete health history, genetic details, personality traits, answers to questions, and letters of love and support. In my mind, I was wrapping and gifting a beautiful package of life, and in my letting go and moving on, I had no plans to return to that very difficult time.

And yet, in my weakness, I was made strong.

But life has different plans, as always. During a time when I was raising children of my own, two of which came to me by way of stepparent adoption, my mind would wander to that little blonde boy I had placed with his family years ago. The experience and emotions that sat deep within my heart for so long began to surface. The door that I thought I had closed, and locked, and buried so deeply, was calling to me curiously to revisit those days, those memories, and those emotions that I had promised myself I would never revisit again.

As I cautiously reached out to his parents–people who were dear and kindhearted, and very off limits in my own personal boundaries–my curiosity of how that sweet baby, now almost a teenager, was doing was met with big generous hearts. I know that for some adoptive parents, there can be hesitancy in welcoming any kind of interaction with the birth mother. Feeling threatened and insecure are very real emotions, and I wanted to make sure they knew I wasn’t showing up in their life to turn it upside down, but to let them know that my heart had softened. For me it was an olive branch in some ways, an offering of, “If he ever needs more than what I answered in his journal, I am here.”

His parents were angels, and they guided our interaction over email very tenderly, and very thoughtfully. They were protective of his feelings and emotions, which is what I loved and respected the most. I think it can be a very difficult situation for the adoptive parents to navigate. While they didn’t want me to feel unwelcome or unappreciated, there was a little boy with little boy feelings and emotions that they were mindful of, and for that I will always be appreciative. Just as my decision to place him for adoption was based solely on his benefit, their decisions were based on the same.

In my sadness I discovered an immense amount of joy.

Shortly after he turned 16, he found me on social media. And a tsunami of emotion ensued. I was excited, nervous, apprehensive, insecure, hesitant, relieved, and thrilled. A day that I once thought I never wanted, was here. He had a million more questions, of course, in addition to the ones I tried to answer years ago in my journal. Because a journal, no matter how detailed, doesn’t answer the deep and vulnerable questions that an adoptee has–the whys, the hows, the validation needed to know that he was loved from the very beginning.

My heart had softened, and the emotional fortress that was solid for so many years began to crumble as I shared my feelings with him. Yes, he was loved from the very moment I knew about him. And yes, I wanted to keep him. Oh, how I wanted to keep him. And yes, I eventually knew without a doubt that he was not mine to keep, but that he belonged to a different mom and dad, and how I searched high and low, state by state, profile by profile, prayer by prayer to find HIS family.

They say adoption is not for weary, or the weak. And yet, in my weakness, I was made strong. In my sadness I discovered an immense amount of joy. And in my sacrifice, I was made whole. Adoption is not for the faint of heart. And neither is reunification. But both are united in love. And that makes all the difference.